Not many women use a painful breakup as inspiration to start a new business. But that’s exactly what Helen Troncoso did.
In 2009, the women’s health advocate was engaged to a man she’d been dating on and off for more than 10 years. Looking back, Troncoso says it was an unhealthy relationship, but she wasn’t able to see it. She was busy getting her doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
When she graduated in May of that year, she started to see the “cracks on the inside” and that she was tolerating “terrible treatment.” She was then 31, and says as a Latina she felt pressure from her family to settle down and get married.
But her mother, who has always inspired Troncoso with her tenacity—she learned to speak English after moving to New York from her native Puerto Rico—encouraged Troncoso to trust her instincts. Even though she was desperately afraid of starting over, Troncoso broke off the engagement, taking from her home just the clothes she was wearing and a small suitcase.
Three years later, she’s launched her own Manhattan-based company called Reinventing You, where she designs individualized health and wellness plans and helps her clients set realistic goals for themselves. She says the breakup was a turning point that helped her realize “even though you have failures, it’s a part of success”.
“I truly believe any woman can reinvent herself at any point of her life,” wrote Troncoso, now 34, in an email. “Starting all over again was so hard, and sometimes it still is, but I’m finally in charge of my life and my future. I want women to know they can do it too.”
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A HEALTHY START
Troncoso has always taken an interest in health. Her mother is a nurse and her father is an Ob/Gyn. Growing up, she remembers looking at her father’s medical journals and mixing his chemistry kits instead of playing with Barbies.
Now Troncoso has her own clients, many of whom are Latina, and she is frequently consulted for health tips by outlets such as Mamiverse, Latina.com, Fox News Latino and El Diario La Prensa New York. She also does outreach to raise awareness about HPV and cervical cancer, working with the New York chapter of the nonprofit Tamika & Friends; earlier this year she appeared on The Dr. Oz Show’s special about HPV. She is especially skilled at helping Latinas adjust their diets to be healthier, without losing the flavor.
“When I talk to my Latina clients I relate to them on food,” she says. “Food is such a big part of our culture. I know substitutes, I know the spices and the palate.”
For example, Troncoso says, she knows many Latinas wouldn’t swap brown rice for white rice, because the texture is different, but they would substitute a slice of avocado for mayo. She’s also a supporter of the mantra: Moderation, not deprivation.
“It’s okay to have your arroz con gandules,” she says, “but have it with baked chicken instead of a fried chuleta.”
LESSONS FROM A BEAUTY QUEEN
When Troncoso’s clients Google her, they’re often surprised by what they find out: She’s the current holder of the Ms. New York title, as part of the Ms. America pageant system is for women 26 and up. Troncoso got into the pageant circuit when she was about 13, though it was “not like anything you see on Toddlers & Tiaras,” she says. She competed to win scholarship money and stopped when she wanted to focus on school, because training was time-consuming. But as part of her reinvention, she decided to starting competing again. In 2011, she won the Ms. New York Belleza Latina contest, which set the wheels in motion.
“That really pushed me forward into this whole new life,” Troncoso says. “I had kind of withdrawn. I’m so grateful to the pageant because it pushed me to challenge myself and step up.”
But she found that doing pageants in her 30s wasn’t like doing pageants in her teens and 20s—it was harder.
“It’s so much easier for us to punish our bodies when we’re in our early 20s,” she says. “I really had to learn how to diet and exercise the right way. Starving myself was not going to produce any results.”
She took those lessons to her clients, many of whom are in their 30s and struggling with weight issues. Troncoso says her clients don’t get intimidated by her beauty pageant past. Instead, she uses her own personal history to inspire them.
“I am not thin naturally,” Troncoso says. “I don’t consider myself to be skinny now. I was a size 16 when I was younger. I know what it’s like to be chubby. I remember what it feels like [tolerating] others’ ignorance.”
Now she teaches her clients tips that she lives by: don’t weigh yourself, go by how your clothes fit and your body feels. Look at blood sugar and blood pressure, not the number on the scale.
“I want to help women by empowering them to transform their health,” Troncoso wrote. “I think feeling good and being healthy (mentally, emotionally and physically) about yourself spills over into other parts of your life and puts into motion change that we need to make.”