From a career that started as a waitress balancing five jobs, Cassandra Irvin has developed a reputation as one of Griffith’s most innovative entrepreneurs. She recently claimed the rare double of winning both the Outstanding Business Leader and Local Businesswoman of the Year gong at the 2023 Griffith Business Chamber awards, which recognise both workplace excellence and community contribution.
After growing up on a farm in Merriwagga, Ms Irvin opened Griffith’s first-ever personal training studio at the age of 23. Since then, she’s been immersed in the health and fitness industry, gaining qualifications and running programs, gyms and enterprises, while also raising three children.
Her latest business is called Elements of Health & Wellness, which offers personal training classes for women and private consultations on improving health – particularly gut health – through a holistic approach including nutrition advice and natural medicine. Region caught up with the 46-year-old health expert to find out more about what she does and the secrets behind her success.
You’ve started a new business during a recession and another during a pandemic. How do you overcome those challenges?
When I’m in that mindset of ‘this is what I want to do’, I jump in and say, ‘I’m going to do it and make it work’. It hasn’t always worked. That’s when you learn that as a business owner you learn you can’t always jump in, but back then I made it work because I worked really hard. You tend to get engrossed in the work when you love doing something.
I come from an amazing family, but I’ve always worked really hard. I’ve never really had any handouts. In my earlier years, there were months where I wouldn’t pay myself – because I loved what I did and I had to build my business, I understood I had to go through that.
How would you sum up your advice on how to lose weight?
If you Google ‘what’s the best diet to lose weight’, you’ll get every diet under the sun. There’s so many diets out there because it’s all so money-driven. Extreme diets take a lot away from people and play on their emotions.
My best diet advice is to not take anything out of your diet but have a look at what works best for you. I’ve never been a believer in diets, in saying ‘this is what you have to eat’. What I like may be different to what you like. But let’s educate you on what you’re looking at on your plate – can you identify what a protein is, what a healthy fat is and what a carbohydrate is? Do you know what’s going into your body?
I think gluten and dairy tend to be scapegoats for everyone’s conditions. If you can tolerate an amount of gluten and dairy, taking that out of your diet entirely can really restrict your ability to eat.
Is natural medicine an alternative to pharmaceutical medicine, or does it complement it?
I always say to my clients, ‘I will never get in the way of you and your GP or any other mode you’re dealing with’. My role is to complement every modality you work with. First, I check with my client to see what medication they are on. If we can’t give you any products because there are interactions, I’ll look at what we can do to your diet, lifestyle and movement to give you a better quality of life.
Who is a famous person you admire?
I think Pink is amazing. If there is anyone who can say, ‘I’ve been through really tough times, but because of what I’ve gone through in my past life, I can turn that on its head and do something amazing’, it’s her. I love her sensibility.
What’s it like balancing motherhood and running a business?
So hard. I’m not going to lie. Being a woman in business that also has family obligations – you still have to do groceries, you still have to clean the house, you still have to do parent-teacher interviews. There are constant interruptions. I’m lucky, though. My husband helps, he does dinner when I work late.
Any plans for the future?
I’m now starting to look at the online space. I want to try and get into more programs centred on education, nutrition and predominately IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Around 70 per cent of my clients deal with IBS, and I want to be able to improve my clients’ relationship with the food they are eating.