It's amazing how one experience can change the course of our entire lives. Wellness blogger Chelsea Williams can completely relate as the health industry was never where she was headed.
After being diagnosed with Graves disease, and now, hypothyroidism, she knew she had to make a change in her lifestyle, but she didn't think that would eventually turn into a career change as well. Graves disease is a chronic disease in which the thyroid overproduces hormones and is commonly seen in younger women, under age 40.
After making the switch in 2012 to a plant-based diet, she also made the switch from pursuing a career in graphic design and advertising. Williams now holds a Masters degree in Public Health Nutrition (MPH), and is a Certified Communicator of Public Health (CCPH). The DC-based blogger started her platform, That's Chelsea, to document her journey and help others become a healthier version of themselves.
We were able to chat with Williams on her journey to a healthier lifestyle, how others can start to eat better and what it all means to her.
How has your blog held you more accountable when it comes to eating right?
I’m at a point where eating healthy consistently isn’t really a struggle for me. We all have days where we want fries, cookies or cake and there are days when I do indulge in those things, but as far as consistently eating healthy, I’ve got it down pact.
When it comes to holding myself accountable in other areas of health such as cleaning products, healthy cosmetics or being more conscious about the brands I'm supporting, putting credible information out there has helped me be more accountable to my audience.
Although your health diagnoses is what led you to go plant-based, what made you start your platform?
When I originally started my blog I thought it was going to be a way for me to showcase my work, since I work in the communications industry. It was a little taboo [back then]to put yourself out there on the internet and spill all of your business. I had my own domain name but never did anything with it.
I was going through my own health transition and there was no one on the internet that looked like me with a similar background. There was no one I could really relate to.
I really wanted to be a positive example for someone else, that I didn’t have at a time when I was ready to make a change. I did it because I felt like it was important that we share our stories. There's someone out there that needs this information and from specifically from someone who looks like me.
When I first started it was more about documenting my journey, it actually started at a Tumblr and not a lot of people knew about it. A lot of strangers were commenting saying the information was helpful and that’s when I started a [curated blog]. I wanted to end the cycle of [health issues in my family], and a lot of people don’t know or have the tools to do that.
How does your 9 - 5 job differ and overlap with your blog?
I work in health philanthropy. We try to make Howard County, Maryland healthier. We encourage residents to seek out access to mental health services, reduce sugary drink consumption and engage in advance care planning. There is some overlap involved. I recently started blogging [for them] and I do some social media. I just started in March so I'm revamping their social media strategy.
Where it differs is they aren't pushing a plant-based diet, just an overall healthy lifestyle. Less soda and more exercise. I would say that the messaging is slightly different.
What advice do you have for someone who’s thinking about transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle?
Don’t tell anyone at first. There’s a lot of nay-sayers and plant-based isn’t mainstream yet. When I was transitioning I told my family and they were excited, but I also heard things like “you don’t know anything about nutrition," which made me get my nutrition degree.
[Keep it to yourself] and then when you feel you can stand on your own two feet, share with other people.
But in the beginning, when you’re making major life decisions like this, I think it’s best to keep them to yourself first.
Do you have any healthy eating tips for anyone that isn’t ready to go plant-based?
The first tip is to eat at home. We get really busy and caught up but when you eat out, you don’t really know what the chef is putting in your food, you don’t know how much salt, butter, cream – really how many calories you’re consuming.
Make your own meals at home, meal prep and try to eat more whole foods and less packaged food. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Cut them up and have those things ready on hand. If you’re still going to eat meat or diary try to purchase those items organic, and not processed with chemicals. Do the best with what you have. Eating out too often is going to totally bust your diet.
What’s the hardest part about keeping healthy and eating right for you?
Traveling and the social piece. In the past, when I was visiting family, there would be limited options and I wouldn’t be prepared. I didn’t bring my snacks or meals and I’d say ‘Oh well I’ll just eat this way when I’m on vacation’ and I always ended up regretting it.
Now I try to plan a little better by bringing snacks and certain foods that will prevent me from falling off course. I’m very vocal so my friends and family [are like] ‘Uh no, she cannot eat this way, she will not eat this way, can we have something she can eat?’ Call ahead if you’re going on vacation, ask them what options they have available and what they can do to accommodate you, that will be a big help.
How do you tie your beauty, style and food content under one health- focused umbrella? How do you think you’re able to be a wellness blogger who talks about more than food?
People can’t relate to robots. People will come to my site and see some personal things about me, like where I’ve traveled or something I wore, and I only started posted that kind of content when people started asking for it. That humanizes you and gives you a stronger voice and shows people your personality. In the days of influencer marketing, I feel like people can be somewhat cold online but when you start interacting with your audience and sharing that side of you, it just makes you more personable. It makes people connect with you better overall.
I try to sprinkle in a little about me so my audience can get to know the person behind the blog, that I’m genuine and I’m not posting about things that I really wouldn’t use. If you’re any type of content creator it’s important to do that.
If you look at Myleik from curlBOX, she shares her personal life on Snapchat. We know she has curlBOX. But maybe we want to know what she eats for breakfast as a busy content creator or where she shops for furniture. Again, that makes people feel closer to you, connect with you and your brand.
What are some health myths you see being promoted online that should be debunked?
I wouldn’t recommend Herbalife as a health food. These products contain so many fillers and you become dependent. Those companies are what we call multi-level marketing companies, so they get commission and try to get you to sell it too. You get so tied up in trying to sell the product, I don’t think people really believe in the product. Or they’ve seen the results, and don’t really know how to eat real food. So they’re stuck on a shake or an energy bar when we really should go back to eating foods in their whole form. They have tons of preservatives in them and other things that aren’t natural.
These people aren’t experts in nutrition, they’re just really good marketers.
You really have to do your homework on the ingredients. Even on my platform, if you go to my page and see something interesting, you should still research it before you put all of your trust and money into a product or the person endorsing it.
What are some of your future goals for That's Chelsea?
I recently started a program at Duke University School of Medicine to become a board certified integrated health coach. There’s so many people out here calling themselves a health coach. However, not just anyone can call themselves a board certified health coach.
When you become a board certified health coach you can have your own practice and bill clients through their insurance. There’s so many influencers that are healthy but they’re not board certified.
So many people ask about my lifestyle change and if I can create a plan for them. It’s deeper than food for me. It’s more holistic and what keeps you being your healthiest self. In the fall I’ll have to conduct one-on-one coaching sessions so I may offer a some free sessions to my readers to complete my hours. Next year I’ll be able to start taking clients.
Who are some women who you look up to or have helped you in your career?
There are some women that I look up to, I haven’t had the opportunity for them to mentor me one-on-one but just watching what they do has really helped me on my journey.
Chef Ahki is one of them, a plant-based chef and author. I’ve been following her for years, before she had the platform that she has now - back in the MySpace days, when I wasn’t even ready to go vegetarian.
Also Lauren Von Der Pool, she's another plant-based chef who has prepared meals for Venus and Serena Williams. She’s also from the DC area and has been a great help.
Latham Thomas, she’s a wellness entrepreneur and has a book coming out as well called Own you Glow. She’s just amazing and transparent. She’s also very consistent.
What would you ascribe the success of That's Chelsea to thus far?
It's funny when people ask me because I don’t really see it as something that’s gotten to the level where I want it to be yet. I’ve only been blogging for a year and a half so I feel like I'm new here. The success I’ve had thus had I [accredit to] being transparent, engaging with my audience and answering their questions.
It’s crazy when people ask "Hey where’d you get your dress?" and they don’t want to tell you. It’s little things like that. Another thing is addressing topics that are prevalent. I wrote an article called, “It's not you it’s your cereal”, and I explained that cereal is really not a health food. It doesn’t matter if it’s Special K, Cheerios or Wheaties. Cereal is not food, it’s a food product and we really shouldn’t be eating it. People were up in arms, [throwing out their cereal boxes] and taking selfies and it was the funniest thing.
Just sharing [that used to be me], and I’m not judging you, just telling you what you need from this. Also researching and putting facts behind what I’m saying, so it’s not all opinion. All of that combined really helps people become more engaged and interested in the message I’m trying to put out.
Do you have a morning routine? If yes, please share it with us?
In the morning, I usually start my day with a spoon full of blackstrap molasses. I chase that with a glass of warm lemon water. When you transition into this lifestyle you want to make sure that you have enough iron. For me, in the beginning, that was an issue so I’ve gotten into the habit of taking the blackstrap molasses to ensure adequate iron intake. The vitamin C in the lemon water helps with iron absorption.
Typically after that I’ll make a green smoothie. I really like Kimberly Snyder’s glowing green smoothie recipe. It has spinach, banana, coconut water, celery, lemon and apple. It’s a way for me to get my greens early on in the day.
I have to have my blackstrap molasses, a green smoothie and I have to read the word.
As an ambitious and busy woman, how do you maintain balance in your life?
Being OK with saying no is so important. I know you have probably heard that before but it really helps me to maintain balance. If it doesn’t make sense or if I feel as if I’m doing it because I have to do it, then I’ll politely decline.
I used to be a people pleaser. I never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. I realized I was sacrificing my own health. I was moody and cranky because I was always saying yes to things I didn’t really want to do.
I really started to evaluate what’s worth my time and what’s not. I have no problem saying no because there's just too much in life going on. I’ve become really comfortable with saying no and not feeling guilty about it.