I was in my midthirties, single, and a vice president for Chanel, with an office overlooking Central Park and a clothing allowance that kept me in head-to-toe Chanel — including the handbags. I helped develop and then launched Chanel’s fine jewelry and watch division; it was an amazing career. I traveled back and forth to Paris and worked with incredibly talented people. I absolutely loved my life and my job. I couldn’t have designed anything more fun or more perfect for me at the time.
Then I met my husband. He lived in Virginia, and had his own company, a young daughter, and lots of responsibilities. It was love at first sight — well, maybe first lunch — and the dear friend who’d introduced us was shocked. She didn’t intend for us to fall in love and get married within eight months.
Each weekend, I traveled back and forth from New York City to his idyllic home in the Virginia countryside surrounded by acres of fields, horses, cows, and more horses and cows. We started riding every weekend. My instant mom status was a lot of fun and very quickly became an important part of my life.
After about a year or so doing the weekend commute, our first fine jewelry collection for Chanel launched successfully. Needless to say, by then I was tired. The travel was getting to me, and switching between big city fashion executive during the week and country stepmom on the weekends made my life seem too disparate. I realized one day that in a year of marriage, my husband and I had never spent more than five days together at a time. A change was needed.
I sadly resigned from Chanel, leaving the best job in the world. I shipped my furniture and piled dozens of overstuffed garment bags into my new husband’s SUV, along with two fancy city cats who could not imagine where their new life would lead. Get ready, city cats, this’ll rock your world.
I loved living with my husband (I guess that’s always a good thing!), but living in the country full-time was a challenge. I hadn’t yet made friends, and I was lonely. As someone who’d been working since age 12, I decided I finally needed some time off. My husband suggested that maybe some self-exploration was in order.
Wow, time to think? That would be new.
I signed up for painting classes and bought a horse. I started running every day for miles on dirt roads, hung out at the barn where we boarded my mare, and spent most of my time alone. It was a big change, but I was happily in love and sure that my new passion and career were on their way.
That was true, but I had no idea how painful the process would be.
One day a few months later, we took my stepdaughter and her cousins to a horse show. It was early June in Virginia, and the heat was over 100, with high humidity. I was worried the kids would overheat, so I pushed them to drink more water. I forgot about myself.
Suddenly, while sitting in the sun with the children dancing around me, I got a searingly painful headache. I managed to stand and murmur to my husband, “Please get me out of here.”
My head was splitting in two, I was dizzy and nauseous, and I needed my husband to hold me up as we staggered to our car. I tried to play it down so I wouldn’t scare the children, but by the time we reached our house I was unable to walk.
A friend decided I must be dehydrated and went out to buy electrolyte drinks. I lay in bed thinking I was going to die. An hour later, the pain was so severe I could no longer speak or move. My husband called an ambulance.
I stayed in the hospital for days while the doctors ran every test possible. The pain was unbearable; I was on a morphine drip to keep it at bay.
The frustrating part was that no one could say what was wrong. There was no diagnosis, although one doctor, after hearing about my drastic switch from high-powered VP to country mom, did venture to say, “Some people aren’t meant to retire.” I remember wanting to slug him, but instead I just said, “OK, thanks,” and left to go home.
My husband had to leave town for a few days the following week, and we both tentatively thought I was doing better. The hangover from the incident was a fuzzy, slightly nauseous feeling, so my parents came down to stay. Within two days, we were back at the hospital, I was down again, and my parents were beside themselves.
The cycle of blinding headaches continued all that summer. After seeing a lot of doctors, the only diagnosis they could come to was a cycle of migraines, triggered by the change in my environment and dehydration.
In the meantime, I’d developed sinus issues and what the doctors called allergies, something I’d never had before. Allergy pills and a nasal spray were prescribed. I was also given a migraine pill that never seemed to work.
Over the next few years, the migraines continued and so did the low-level fear. “What if I get a migraine?” was always in my mind, lurking like a monster in the closet. I developed a fear of travel and was hesitant to accept invitations. I did my best, but I know I disappointed many hosts with last-minute cancellations.
We decided we wanted to have a baby. I got pregnant within six months, and I sadly remember the joy of having a baby in my belly, only to lose him at fourteen weeks. We were desolate, heartbroken, and determined. We turned to IVF and immediately conceived again, to lose the baby a week after seeing a heartbeat. It was another boy.
Something in me woke up. I was determined to make having a baby a reality. We moved on to using donor eggs. It seemed my body didn’t want to carry anyone else’s eggs, either. No medical professional could ever explain the losses. In one year’s time, I’d been pregnant more days than not pregnant, and we still didn’t have our baby.
What I did have was a lot more weight than normal, mostly from the hormone treatments. I felt like I’d aged a decade in a few short years, and I looked it, too. I was tired all the time, I’d developed chronic sinus issues, and I had aches and pains all over. I was still in my thirties, but I felt like I was much older.
We turned to adoption the following year, and within nine months we had a bouncing, healthy baby boy from Russia. Our son had found his way to us. He was smart, savvy, and walking and talking by the time he was eleven months. He was a handful, but we felt blessed and happy beyond words.
New motherhood was challenging, and although I tried to get my health back after the miscarriages, nine months wasn’t long enough. In the first year of my baby’s life, I broke out in a viral rash up and down my arms and was diagnosed with mononucleosis. I was still recovering from the hormonal imbalance, and the baby’s schedule left me sleep-deprived. I wasn’t taking care of myself — I wasn’t exercising and I wasn’t paying attention to my food.
I kept going, renovating our newly acquired historic home and taking care of my baby son. By this time, I’d also stepped in to manage my husband’s business, and it seemed I was needed on all three fronts, all the time. Over the next few years, I struggled with my weight, trying every diet known to man — or woman. I did protein fasts and lost seventeen pounds in a month, only to gain it back and screw up my metabolism in the process. I signed up for Weight Watchers, Jenny, and other programs; I bought every book on dieting the moment it came out. Up, down, up, down, until I finally gave up. I was worn out. I remember thinking, as I ate my son’s mac and cheese, maybe this is just the way it is once you have kids. I tried to stop worrying about it.
I continued to get sick, often, and my sinuses were a constant problem. I’d developed pain points — the tender-to-the-touch points on the body that are a sign of fibromyalgia, which basically means unexplained muscle pain. It wasn’t horrible, but it was always there.
“What’s happening to me?” I wondered. I was in a doctor’s office at least once a month. One morning, I woke with purple bruises on the inside of my finger joints. That’s strange, I thought, I haven’t done anything to bruise myself. My doctor took one look and said, “Rheumatoid arthritis.”
The year my son turned four, I had seven sinus infections. We were forced to count them because it seemed to me that I was living on antibiotics, and my next step was surgery. Antibiotics had become my “feel good” drug, keeping the infections at bay and giving me a week or two of energy at a time. Once off the drug, I would go down again within three weeks. I’d begin to feel tired and groggy, and get frequent headaches. I had trouble getting out of bed, and I was taking antidepressants and struggling with feelings of hopelessness.
One evening, after rallying myself out of a two-week sinus infection and a migraine, I attended a lecture at a friend’s home. She asked how I was doing, and hearing that this was my first night out in weeks, she looked me in the eye and said, “Have you considered that your immunity is seriously compromised? Could your diet have anything to do with all this endless illness?” Something about that shook me to my core. What could happen when your immunity is compromised? The roster of ailments and diagnoses ran through my mind that night. Infertility, allergies, migraines, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, weight gain, mononucleosis, chronic sinus infections, hopelessness . . . fear. What would be next?
The next day I decided to seek alternative help. Before my marriage, I’d managed to be pretty healthy despite all the long hours, extensive travel, and stress. I always said it was because I was something of a self-taught student of nutrition. I ate a healthy diet even while I was wining and dining — or being wined and dined — as part of my job.
Through a fog of sinus headaches and migraines, I called the nutritionist my friend had recommended. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I realized that carrying an extra 40 pounds or more was having an effect on everything. Based on her recommendations, I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm and started receiving boxes of fresh, local, seasonal veggies every week. I started cooking every day, and vegetables became my friend again. I ate salads at every meal (even breakfast) and I gradually started to feel better. I lost a few pounds. I started walking every day and began yoga classes.
Basically, I fell in love with healthy food again. I healed, gradually. I lost weight, gradually. I began to feel like me again, ever so slowly. The migraines gradually went away. The aches and pains went away. One day, I realized that I hadn’t had a sinus infection in a year. It had been so long since I’d seen him that my doctor called to see if I was OK.
By working with a holistic nutritionist, I learned that I have some food intolerances that were contributing to my aches and pains. I eliminated those foods from my diet and started to feel even better.
Healing My Son
At the age of six, my son developed symptoms similar to those I had experienced. He had a chronic cough; the doctor diagnosed asthma. He caught every virus that passed through his school for almost a year. Then he was diagnosed with mononucleosis. That was the final straw for us both. We needed to make some changes for him as well.
After consulting with his doctor, step one was to take him off all the drugs he’d been prescribed. Step two was to take him out of school for a few months to avoid the constant exposure to germs from other kids. Step three was to eliminate dairy from his diet. I cooked healthy, organic, local food every day.
At the end of three months, we visited his doctor. The doctor drew blood and ran tests; he was impressed by how much more energetic, happy, and responsive my son now was. I told the doctor what I had been doing to improve my son’s immunity. He was skeptical, but said, “He looks ready to get back to school, but I’ll call you in a few days with results.”
When the doctor called me, he said, “Your son’s tests are perfect. Please keep him off pharmaceuticals and keep him on your home remedies. They’re working.”
This was my turning point. I thought: What if I hadn’t taken this into my own hands? What if I had kept going down the path to being overweight, tired, and exhausted all the time? What if I’d let the doctors continue to give drugs to a young child? I stood in our farm kitchen holding a green drink, wearing my skinny jeans, and watching my son run around outside with our dogs.
The thought came to me very clearly: People need to know.
I had found my passion after all. I enrolled in nutrition school to learn all I could about how food can heal. I became a Certified Holistic Health Coach (CHHC) through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City; I then became a Certified Natural Health Professional (CNHP) through the National Association of Certified Natural Health Professionals. I discovered the power of plant-based nutrition and how crucial organic and local food is to our country and to the world. I took classes in cooking and had new culinary worlds — vegetarian, vegan, raw — open to me. I began my consulting practice as a health coach specializing in nutrition. I advocated, I blogged, I took people on farm tours, I spoke to women’s groups, I went on TV, and I began effecting change in my community and beyond.
I continued to shop and cook with the seasons, and I discovered the joys of seasonal eating — the feeling of being connected to my community, to local farming, and to the weather. My family loved fresh applesauce from our old apple tree in late summer, and an abundance of squash and pumpkins in the fall. We ate hearty root vegetables with warming spices in winter, and in spring the asparagus and fresh greens felt clean and light, like the season itself.
Discover Your Nutritional Style was born. I was ready to get busy, to teach and empower other women to live their purpose, to be their best self, to achieve ageless beauty, vitality, and health from the inside out, using the healing power of food.
I became a health and nutrition coach, a certified natural health practitioner, and to make it fun, a nutrition stylist. The stylist part is my nod to my “glamorous” past life as an executive in the fashion and fine jewelry industry. (Anyone who’s ever worked in fashion knows the glamour part is way overrated, but that’s another story.)
As a coach, I work mainly with women, many of them entrepreneurs, most of them in their thirties or older. It’s a time fraught with hormonal changes, aging issues, energy issues. As I like to say, it’s the time in life when you reap what you have sown. It’s when you realize you can no longer get away with eating whatever is in front of you. The women I work with want to feel fabulous every day, they want to live life as beautifully as possible, and they want to take their family and partners along for the ride.
The people I coach are often successful, hard-working, and overachievers. They’re passionate about their lives, but sometimes they need help understanding their own needs. My clients are so competent they think they’re infallible — until they start to look older, or every meal upsets their digestion, or until aches and pains or a lack of energy forces them to take a look at their lifestyle and their food.
I work with these women to help them find their own Nutritional Style. Through food, we change their lives. We go back to the nutritional basics and take a holistic approach to eating and living, one that’s connected to the seasons and all they have to offer.
Excerpted with permission from Discover Your Nutritional Style by Holli Thompson.
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