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Katia Smirnov holding a glass

Growing up in Russia, I didn’t give much thought to what I ate or where my food came from. Frankly, I didn’t need to. My grandmother was a gourmet chef who made sure I ate a lot of vegetables and fruits, and the produce we bought was always fresh.

But things changed when my family moved to the United States in the ’90s. Even though I continued living a similar lifestyle, eating the same foods, and maintaining the same activities, I started gaining weight, breaking out, and feeling really lethargic and down.

I was confused by these changes, but I attributed part of the reaction to the move and subsequent culture shock. As a 13-year-old city girl, I was having some trouble adjusting to small-town life in a new country, where I felt like a fish out of water. While working hard to adapt to my new reality, it made sense that my body would have a response.

Yet when two years passed without improvements, I decided I needed to do something. Together with my mom, I began researching possible causes and realized that the root of the issues I was experiencing might be the food I was eating.

Going Organic

This realization came as a shock at first. My diet hadn’t really changed since moving, and, in fact, I was mostly eating the same foods that I had eaten in Russia.

But when I learned about the chemicals, preservatives, fillers, hormones, and GMOs that are pervasive in the U.S. food supply, the issue became clear: Beneath the surface, the food I was eating wasn’t the same.

With that knowledge, I decided to adopt a more intentional whole-foods-based, organic diet, and the change was drastic. Very soon after adopting these new eating patterns, I noticed that my sleep improved, my skin cleared up, and my energy and mood bounced back. It was amazing: I felt like myself again.

Encouraged by my progress and eager to capitalize on it, I decided to join the Life Time near our family’s home in Columbus, Ohio. Though I’d never established any kind of stable fitness routine, my lack of experience didn’t deter me from diving headfirst into the club’s offerings. Right off the bat, I jump-started my fitness education by taking classes, trying different cardio machines, and testing my limits through strength training — and that’s when my efforts really started to pay off.

As a result of my new diet and fitness routine, I lost the extra weight I’d gained, and the difference in my well-being was night and day. I knew I’d found the lifestyle that would support me moving forward.

Finding the Right Fuel

My routine kept me energized throughout college and into the start of my career working for a global payroll company. There, I moved up the corporate ladder until I decided to branch off and cofound a company in the finance and real-estate industry.

For the next few years, I remained extremely busy. As the company became successful, I was on the go all the time, and with everything on my plate professionally, I simply didn’t have time to cook the whole-food, organic meals and snacks that had fueled me the past few years. I needed something quick to keep with me that I could eat on the run.

Protein shakes and bars seemed like the logical solution to my dilemma. The trouble was, I couldn’t find a single protein bar I liked. After trying a number of options, I noticed very quickly that if a bar tasted great, it probably meant that there were a lot of unnatural additives and flavorings I wanted to avoid. On the other hand, the bars that were “good for you” — at least according to their labels — often tasted like bricks to me.

I knew there had to be a better way, so I decided to create my own. Armed with my experience of cooking gourmet meals with my grandma, along with my knowledge of nutrition and whole foods, I approached the challenge with the conviction that I could make a delicious bar that would fuel my lifestyle.

I tried a bunch of different recipes — combining foods like spinach, kale, pomegranate, and lemon with other ingredients — and after some trial and error, I finally created a bar that made me think, Wow, this actually tastes really good. I was thrilled.

A Better Bar

After I found my winning recipe, I felt compelled to take this further than my own kitchen. I knew I couldn’t be the only one who wanted a better tasting bar.

But before I could pursue my dream, I wanted to make sure other people liked the bars as much as I did. I started bringing batches to parties and gatherings without telling anyone about my hope to sell the bars. I wanted honest opinions, and I knew that if people knew my plan, they’d be too quick to tell me what I wanted to hear.

Soon I had friends, family members, and colleagues coming up and asking if I could make bars for them to buy. I began cooking small batches as a side hobby, eventually creating two more flavors I liked. Finally, I reached a point where I felt ready to take the plunge.

I stepped away from my first business venture and created Katia Foods in 2019. I found a co-packer who ran a sample batch for all the flavors, and over the next three weeks, I took goodie bags of my bars to 45 different retailers in the area to see if they would be willing to carry my product.

That’s when things really took off. Amazingly, 40 retailers agreed to sell Katia bars. My bars hit the shelves in October 2019, and for the first couple of months, things were great. I couldn’t believe how well they were selling. But then COVID-19 came to the United States and threw a wrench into our progress.

Rather than lose hope, I used store closures as an opportunity to revamp my website and develop marketing campaigns — and I’m glad I did. My online efforts helped get the name out, and now Katia bars are selling better than ever.

Staying the Course

Though I’ve become only busier since I started Katia Foods, I’ve learned how to pace myself and set my priorities. I’m pretty structured when it comes to working out and eating, because I recognize that that works for me, and that my health is critical to the health of my business. The most important thing is to feel good and have enough energy to carry out the big goals I’ve set for my company, which I’ve learned I can achieve by sticking to a regular fitness routine and nourishing myself with food that’s free of preservatives and chemicals.

One of those big goals is to give back. I saw a lot of poverty growing up in Russia, and it broke my heart. My dream is to donate a portion of my company’s proceeds to organizations supporting abandoned children and impoverished elderly in other countries — and I’m thrilled that the reality is not far off.

It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come from 13-year-old Katia, who struggled to understand the changes my body was going through. Now, I feel incredibly grateful to have found the diet and lifestyle that fuels me, as well as to have the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with others.

Katia’s Top Tips for Success

  1. Nourish your body with nutritious food. After realizing the benefits of a mostly organic diet, Katia committed to fueling herself with fresh, organic products and foods whenever possible.
  2. Follow your passion. “Make sure you choose something you are truly passionate about,” Katia recommends. “It takes so much out of you, and you’re spending so many hours a day doing it, so make sure it’s something you really, truly, absolutely love and believe in.”
  3. Be patient with yourself. “Just take it one day at a time,” Katia advises for anyone making a big life change. “As long as you’re making little changes on a daily basis, it will eventually turn into a habit.”
Katia Smirnov

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