Thinking Big By Shopping Small, modelFIT

When we were younger, we were always told to think big; we’re still told that. Sometimes, though, big ideas come in small packages – and our partner American Express agrees. Over the next few weeks, we’re focused on featuring bespoke fitness destinations throughout New York that encourage us to go big, but Shop Small®. As we said recently – strong is the new skinny – so fitness and wellness has become a 360-degree experience, and the branding and lifestyle of that experience is everything. What you put inside your body is as important as what you’re doing at the gym, what you’re applying at night, what mantra you wake up with every morning, and even the splurges you’re allowing yourself to keep you sane. So go ahead, dream big by thinking small. 

There’s a reason why the fitness studio modelFIT has become somewhat of a craze here in NYC. At The New Potato we’re constantly searching for how people practice beauty from the inside out, and at modelFIT co-founder Vanessa Packer does just that by making bespoke fitness a lifestyle. Packer focuses on quality not quantity, personalization not homogenization; it’s not working out, it’s a way of living, and it happens in a small space.

Her health and wellness site Bonberi is also a testament to her daily approach to fitness as a lifestyle. And her head trainer – Justin Gelband – is widely known as ‘the model whisperer’ as his reputation of working with some of the most recognizable Victoria’s Secrets’ angels precedes him. How can this all be happening in such a small place? How could modelFIT possibly make so much headway in just under a year of being open? By having a vision, making that the priority, and sticking to it.

Packer makes it easy for us to support small businesses, and one of her favorite things about shopping small, is being able to get to know the person behind a business; we’re happy to say we did just that at modelFIT…

vanessa packer bonberi

What would an ideal food day be, from start to finish, for a modelFIT customer looking for the best results?

There isn’t one way that works for everyone, which is something we take into consideration with every client. We try to consider where each person is coming from and what their diet history is when mapping out their nutrition blueprint. That being said, personally, my daily diet recommendations progress from light to heavy, meaning that breakfast is the lightest meal of the day and dinner is the heaviest. Optimal digestion is always my focus when in comes to meal planning, and so proper food combination is something I try to teach all our clients about as well. I’ve found that these two elements yield the best results.

Should health and fitness be bespoke? How is modelFIT bespoke?

What’s exciting about this time now in health, fitness and well-being is how many options we have. It’s so exciting that the landscape is so diverse that the customer can really try and do everything. In my experience, bespoke fitness offers a personalized, very unique approach to fitness, that many of the bigger gyms can’t offer. Also, the concept goes beyond just fitness and into the realm of lifestyle, which is what we have tried to express through modelFIT. It’s more than how you workout, it’s what you eat; it’s how you live. The extension into your life, and finding a brand or a studio that best expresses that, is why I believe modelFIT has had the traction it has.


How do you personally practice beauty from the inside out? 

Oh, absolutely. Between Bonberi, my food, fitness, and well-being magazine, and modelFIT studio, my whole life revolves around healthful eating and mindful exercise. I’m not a big makeup person, so I rely on organic juices and food, a good daily sweat and a restful nights sleep to give me glowing skin. Whenever people come to me with skin issues, the first thing I look at is the diet and digestion.

When it comes to the fitness business, can smaller be better? Why? 

In my experience, having our own studio where we can offer our specialized method in a space that echoes the feeling and spirit of the brand has worked better for us in terms of communicating who we are and what the brand is. I don’t think the response would have been the same had we been in a larger space or had we been offering our modelFIT class in a larger gym. The boutique part of it also speaks to the size. Our studio is just big enough to do what we do, and offer an intimate experience where our customers feel that they are part of something special. Also, starting out small is a bit more manageable when you consider all that goes into starting a business, and all of the expenses.


What are some of your other favorite health and wellness small businesses in NYC besides your own? Why are they special?

There are so many healthy restaurants that have sprouted up around New York. I love supporting the growing community that makes the effort to source organic food, and rely on sustainable practices to run their business. Some of the ones I really love are The Butcher’s Daughter, Ellary’s Greens, Souen, Wild Ginger, Siggy’s, Magic Mix Juicery, Candle Cafe, sweetgreen, and Nourish Kitchen and Table just to name a few.

What does the phrase ‘Shop Small’ personally mean to you? How can it apply to health and wellness?

The concept of ‘Shop Small’ reminds me of the community that exists around independent small businesses. Even as our world grows, and becomes more expansive and global, one can still find the vibrant bustle, and hustle, of small businesses and their owners in each city and town. One aspect I love most about shopping small is getting to know the person behind the business. Understanding the ethos and mission of the business; it’s something I take quite seriously in my own life. That message, and communicating it to our customers, and to people interested in the brand, is what separates what we do from everyone else. Especially in the world of well-being, there are so many different theories and concepts around fitness, diet, lifestyle, and many different businesses that cater to each one. When I think about small businesses I also think about specialization, and supporting the vision of a brand and business I believe in. Something that is different from the other offerings out there.

Words to work out by…

‘Work That Body’ – which is painted on a piece the artist Baron Von Fancy made for especially for the studio.


3 ingredients that make one’s skin glow and why…

Skin glow:

Cucumbers because they are hydrating when you drink them in juice or eat them, and topically they take down puffiness and even out skin tone.

Papaya, both to eat and to apply to your skin. Full of antioxidants, and topically is a natural exfoliant.

Avocado, when consumed, gives the body a boost in Vitamin E and C which increases skin vitality and luminosity. When applied topically, avocado reduces skin inflammation.

What foods should you be eating before and after workouts? Why?

Honestly, everybody and every body is different. It depends how you metabolize foods and breakdown and digest ingredients. Personally, I don’t like eating much before a workout – maybe something light like a ripe banana or an apple. After I workout is when I sit down to a meal. I always try to stick to eating something clean and healthy post-workout. A salad with a piece of fish and steamed or grilled veggies, or I’ll do a salad and a grain bowl. It really depends how hard I worked out and what I had earlier in the day. If it’s a morning workout I just drink water, and I don’t do caffeine until afterwards. This is really at the heart of what we talk about at modelFIT – there is no one way that works for everyone. It’s important to listen to your body and understand what it needs. Then you can make the appropriate food choice, or workout choice.


Most rewarding experience with a modelFIT customer during your career thus far…

I’m so inspired by our customers. We’ve had a number of women come in with their wedding date as a body/fitness goal and seeing them reach that is incredibly rewarding. Seeing customers come in with minimal movement and tightness from doing improper workouts for a long duration of time, find movement and flexibility in their body is wonderful. Also, seeing women come in that want to lose weight and tone up, do that with our workout – which doesn’t push the body to rely on joints, and protects the form and stability. I love seeing people reach their goals, and the happiness and sense of accomplishment they feel when they do, as well as the appreciation they have. All of it is incredibly satisfying and rewarding; it really makes the method and the studio shine.


In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what’s ‘the new potato’ in terms of health and fitness?

I think ’the new potato’ of health and fitness is mixing it up. Not categorizing oneself as a ‘vegan’, ‘paleo’, ‘pescatarian’, or ‘raw foodist’, but mixing it up and being open to different diets and styles of eating. Much in the same vein, boutique fitness has people mixing up their workouts and adding variety to their routines. The same person in your spinning class took yoga on Sunday and will be in modelFIT tomorrow. Maybe they’ll do Pilates or run the next day.


This post is in partnership with American Express – committed to connecting small merchants to more customers through the Shop Small® movement. Are you a small business owner? Learn about the value of accepting American Express Cards here.