Miamian finds her calling in helping others live healthy lifestyles

By Jesús F. Jiménez, assistant director of editorial services

Every new year is an opportunity to take stock of our lives. Melissa Pfeister ’03 was able to find the perfect balance of career and calling while helping others take stock of theirs.

After graduating from Miami University, Melissa explored different careers ranging from sports journalism to being selected a Food Network Star finalist in 2016 for her food business, Naked Feast Foods. Her passion, however, was always in wellness and helping others.

Recently, Melissa was finally able to find the perfect balance in entrepreneurship and passion when she started a new company, Stripped with Melissa.

For Stripped, Melissa is a personal nutrition and fitness coach that helps people live a healthier lifestyle by planning personalized meals and workout routines.

“I’m super happy about Stripped and what I can do with it,” Melissa said. “Each person is different. We just work through whatever they have going on and get them eating better and losing weight.”

‘… that did nothing for me …

A native of Medina, Ohio, Melissa was passionate about basketball. She considered playing in college, but after two knee surgeries, she had to put her long-term health first and decided to give up playing.

She opted to attend Miami University where she majored in communications with hopes of pursuing a career in sports.

“Since I couldn’t be the athlete interviewed, I then wanted to be the one interviewing these athletes,” Melissa said. “I always wanted to host a show or be on TV or do anything that had to do with sports.”

Following her passion sounded nice, but the reality was that she needed to find the right fit financially.

“I wanted to do something with sports, but you have to make money and pay bills,” she said.

“I ended up moving to Washington, D.C., and it’s hard to get jobs – especially in D.C. – doing TV stuff. So, I got into medical sales, but that did nothing for me. It wasn’t my passion.”

Melissa had experienced both extremes: following her passion and making little money or making good money but not enjoying her work. She needed to find the right balance. That’s when she left medical sales and moved to Los Angeles, knowing no one, to follow her TV dreams.

‘You have to get really creative with what you’re eating’

Melissa’s motivation for healthy eating wasn’t all due to basketball.

“I grew up with allergies, and they kind of got worse the older I got,” Melissa said.

“You have to get really creative with what you’re eating, then you add on top of it that you want to be healthy.”

Melissa enjoyed watching cooking shows on the Food Network. She wrote down different recipes from the shows but altered them to be healthier and suitable for her allergic needs.

“That really got me into making food and understanding different ways of cooking but making it good for me,” she said.

One of the recipes she tweaked was banana bread. It led to her starting her first business.

“Banana bread isn’t the best for you – it’s high fat, high sugar and all of that, so I made a gluten-free, low-fat banana bread,” Melissa said. “It turned into that story where your friends and your family love it, then the people who live in the apartment near you love it, and then all of a sudden, you’re selling them to local mom and pop shops.”

Finally, Melissa had finally found something she was passionate about.

Star finalist

In 2016, she was featured as a Food Network Star finalist – a dream come true.

“It was super cool,” Melissa said. “Everyone who is remotely into food will know the Food Network. Food shows are all over the place now, but starting out, the Food Network was the only place you could find a cooking show.”

Her banana bread business evolved from mom and pop shops to Whole Foods and eventually was sold as a healthier alternative to muffins on Delta Airlines. Still, Melissa’s work-life balance wasn’t ideal.

“I would rent a kitchen from midnight to 5 a.m. and bake all through the night and deliver to all my stores and stock the shelves and do demos and I would be tired all day but the cycle continued,” Melissa said. “I never really slept anymore.”

That combined with the fact that Melissa and her husband had kids made it important to find a better balance. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the airline industry, Melissa’s banana bread sales diminished. It was time for a new challenge.

“When this banana bread business started, it just kind of happened,” Melissa said. “I started getting older and having babies, but I had a good run.”

‘To make an impact and help people – it’s amazing!’

Melissa credits her experience with sports with helping her form a mentality that, “whatever you’re doing, you need to be the best.” That’s a mentality that Melissa has taken into every aspect of her life – and a mentality that she’s using to help others.

“I have always been into healthy eating and healthy foods, so for years and years I would help people lose weight, eat better,” she said. “Initially I started helping family and friends, and my husband for years was like, ‘This is your calling. This is what you should do. You’re so good at helping people.”

As the worldwide health crisis continued, that’s when Melissa made helping people get healthy an official business.

Melissa and her clients start by exploring their eating habits and building meal plans. She said that both her parents have lost 40 pounds, and since June, she has helped clients lose more than 450 pounds combined.

Health and happiness; Miami alumna shares her journey.

One of the testimonials on her website, from Alexandra K, says Melissa has helped her lose more than 100 pounds.

“Between having kids and taking care of kids, I didn’t take care of myself,” Alexandra K. said. “Melissa got me to do that. Every question, any need, any support, anytime, she was there.”

With the holidays behind us, Melissa sees a parallel between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the holiday season.

“It’s like the holidays, people are like, ‘I’m going to eat anyway, when it’s over and the New Year, I’m going to get my life together,” she said.

But this is way longer than the holidays. And she’s already helped people lose hundreds of pounds.

“Taking that first step is always the hardest,” Melissa said. “I’m proud of the people who have been able to take that first step. To make an impact and help people – it’s amazing!”

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