Mario Sambolec. Also known as Dr. Feelgood. This nickname was given to him a few years ago by one of his clients and Mario made it his own. Absolutely justified. His main aim became to show people how to feel really good.
With his positive energy and a kind and friendly, yet professional approach, Mario absolutely personifies well-being. You can find him at www.drfeelgood.si.
1. Who is Mario? How would you describe yourself?
Both nutrition and fitness played an important role in my life. When someone mentioned me or my name, they simply could not avoid those two topics. My closest ones sometimes even criticised me that it was impossible to talk to me about anything else. (laughs).
Now it’s a bit different. I’m still entrenched in nutrition and exercise science, but my responsibilities have changed – I’m not a one man band anymore. Feelgood is growing into a team. A family. I take it as my duty to lead, which means to focus more on improving new set of skills: listening, communicating, trusting another, … accepting the responsibility for making though decisions.
Another important area of my life that needs more work is being able to recharge – restore the energy that I put into what I do. I can’t seem to be able to switch off. I either work on improving or think about how I should.
I would like to describe myself as a successful person. Success means a lot to me. But I do not mean the success set by social standards, which are a construct.
I want to reach and exceed my own standards. I want to be a good spouse, father, son, uncle, brother, … and the best nutritionist, coach and a team leader possible.
2. You used to be a very successful athlete but then you chose a different path. What was the turning point that made you realise what is was that you really wanted, what your true calling was?
My sister Vesna would smile right now. When I was still in secondary school, I was a professional athlete with a very bright future ahead of me. I dedicated most of my energy to basketball. All the rest was mostly unimportant to me, nutrition as well.
Back then I did not care what I put in my mouth, I believed that I would burn off what I had eaten. But from the aspect of nutrients and nutritional value that is not true, of course.
The more an athlete trains, the more nourishment he requires in order to be able to regenerate successfully.
I did not care for that. My body was suffering, I had problems with regeneration, a bunch of different injuries. And one of them literally made me crack. I needed a difficult ankle surgery, followed by a period of regeneration. It all took about a year. I struggled with identity crisis.
My life revolved around sports, training sessions, my teammates. And then this kind of surgery happens and it locks you down to the couch, the hospital, rehabilitation… All of the sudden, all the people you were connected to before, are not there anymore.
That was a strange time for me. A time of self-reflection. I began to ask myself who I was and where I was going. It became clear that basketball would not be a part of my life anymore.
Many of my medical issues were a consequence of a wrong approach and practice during my athletic career, concerning training planning as well as nutrition.
That was a big turning point in my life, and I turned over a new leaf. Many people who have known me for longer say that I have buried the old Mario. The change was really dramatic.
3. So why Feelgood? What does your brand name mean?
There is actually a very personal story behind the name of my brand. My good friend Špela Goltes came to see me some years ago. I remember her sad eyes. She had a serious knee injury and everything she loved to do in life (skiing, hiking, running) was taken away from her.
She came to me for advice about muscle strengthening because no one told her how exactly she should exercise. After about five or six months of working out together she was able to normally burden her foot and regain confidence.
Today she can ski, run, work in the garden… She is fitter and more active than ever. And it was her who told me that I was her Dr. Feelgood. Špela planted a seed which sprouted and is now growing strong. (laughs)
4. Judging by your experience, what are the biggest nutritional misconceptions and myths?
This does not get enough attention. We have distanced ourselves from these questions because we simply accepted all these myths and misconceptions and labelled them as facts.
The word “fact” is being thrown around a lot nowadays.
I often say that nutrition has reached the status of religion. Nowadays, we often discuss opinions, but we have completely overlooked or altered the facts.
I claim that there is truth in nutrition, we have just clouded it. These myths and misconceptions have developed from the disrespect of natural laws.
In the last 50 years, we have deflected away from real, natural food, we have started to consider industrially processed food as superior. We have convinced ourselves that an industrial invention is worth more than what Mother Nature has been feeding us with for millions of years.
Today, for example, we believe that egg yolks are incredibly detrimental, we favour margarine instead of raw butter, we prefer frying meat on sunflower seed oil than pork fat, because we are sure that the latter is bad for us. These are only a few misconceptions.
All these interests we submitted ourselves to have started to eat away our health.
5. Many people say that healthy nutrition is reserved for those with higher income. What are your thoughts on that?
The food industry convinced us that healthy food is expensive food. I have grown up with limited means. If I did not like something, I had to eat it at some point anyway, because otherwise I would stay hungry.
My parents have taught me to be economical and at the same time they showed me that despite the lack of means, you are not obliged to forgo all good things in life.
The industry dictates trends and sets prices accordingly. If we follow their outlines, we will never be able to exit the vicious circle.
The big part of Feelgood philosophy is showing how it’s possible to eat healthy and nutrients-rich food for a very reasonable price.
My sister Vesna is a mother of two children. She needs to feed all hungry mouth with the available means. She has fantastically succeeded to put this philosophy into practice. She has proved that it is possible to afford healthy food and now we are proving together at our cooking classes.
It is not about the labels saying something is bio, organic, … The point is elsewhere.
6. Where do you see yourself in the field of nutrition?
My position here is very clear. I would like to stress that nutrition experts are nowadays placed each on its own pedestal. Everyone praises their own way of eating.
Average individuals, as for example my grandmother, my mother, my sister with her two children and so on, then ask themselves, where do they belong if they cannot identify with any of the proposed ways of eating.
My job is to be able to adjust and help anyone. I need to know their needs, their wishes, goals, and their state of health.
I want to be the main advocate of nutritional superiority of real food. Nutritional value is something we have completely neglected. The fact is that in order for the human body to function normally, it needs certain nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids.
We need to be aware that certain foods contain more nutrients than others. So I stick to the principle of choosing foods that have higher contents of certain nutrients than others.
I help people chose real, natural food. The proportions of certain nutrients vary with each individual and their needs, goals, wishes. That is detail.
It would be difficult for us to damage our health if we kept a healthy attitude toward real food. Towards selecting natural ingredients, preparing them the right way and enjoying food without distractiions. On the other hand, we could and often do ruin our health with an overly restrictive and ignorant attitude. This means giving up something (food item or an entire food group, for instance) for no particular reason and not adequately replacing it.
7. Your views on nutrition are very basic, you take it back to the roots, but yet you distance your philosophy away from the “guruism” in the field of nutrition. How do you present your philosophy to people, do you make them relearn common sense?
It sounds easier than it is. When I was starting on my path I decade ago, I had the same view as I do today, but I had a different approach. I was pretty aggressive in trying to convince people and they were not prepared to make such a drastic step.
I have polished my approach thoroughly over the years. I always want to listen to people I work with and figure out how I can help them.
I can bring two completely different individuals to reach the same goals through two completely different paths. As an expert I cannot asses an individual, his opinions and beliefs, but I need to show him how his beliefs tally with his goals.
People often believe one thing and set our goals in a completely different direction. I need to be able to show people how to adjust their goals or beliefs. This seems more important to me than persuading people.
Nutrition is a very intimate matter and nutrition experts need to be aware of this.
8. Mario, what does feeling good and being healthy mean to you?
It is a matter of a comprehensive approach, an overall transformation of an individual. Every day I strive to be a better person than I was yesterday. I dedicate my time to things I find important and things that show a possibility for an upgrade or change.
Feeling good goes hand in hand with being satisfied with yourself. And we cannot have 30 or more important things in life. We need to be able to make a selection.
9. How do you see your professional path developing in the future? What are your biggest and most desired challenges?
I have been dealing with making a breakthrough for some time now. I am looking for ways to reach all those people I know I could help but who cannot hear me yet.
At the moment I do not stand out here yet, because people do not enjoy hearing what I have to say. I do not talk about what is currently popular in nutrition – I talk about how cooking is an lost art, and that sauerkraut and blueberries are actually superfoods (not goji berries and so on) and I am saying the opposite of what marketing and the food industry dictate. And this is why I am losing (in comparisson to popular media).
I want to pierce this sound barrier, the Slovene border … In a global context, there is no limits for me and my brand. I want to spread my word to where people are a bit more open to the truth.
Author: Andreja Košir
Photo: personal archive of Mario Sambolec