FOR CHELSEA WILLIAMS, THE ROAD TO WELLNESS BEGAN WITH ILLNESS
By Karen Fragala Smith
Chelsea Williams is a firm believer in the adage, “Your curses are your blessings.” After all, her journey to becoming a nationally recognized guru for plant-based/clean beauty living began when she was searching for natural remedies for her own health crisis.
Williams was a freshman at Radford University in Virginia when she began experiencing bouts of depression and periods of extreme fatigue. She had always been energetic and athletic growing up and was attending college on a basketball scholarship. But despite her rigorous workout regimen, it was becoming difficult for her to control her weight for the first time in her life. Worse, she was having frightening heart palpitations and felt as if her eyes were bulging out of her skull. Chelsea knew something was wrong, and she suspected it had to do with her thyroid. The thyroid is a moth-shaped gland in the neck that secretes hormones which control metabolism and are necessary for the proper function of every cell in the body. By the age of 18, Chelsea knew a lot about the gland because she had spent the prior seven years taking medication to slow down its over activity.
The prevailing wisdom, at the time, among endocrinologists, was that an overactive thyroid should be slowed down with radioactive iodine treatments and regulated as needed with medication. For a while, this method worked. Chelsea took her thyroid medicine and ate a standard American diet and felt fine. But after seven years on medication, she was beginning to lose faith in a chemical-focused approach to chronic illness. She was determined to find some other options.
Initially, when she began researching different food systems, Williams found many wellness acolytes to be elitist and intimidating. But an indigenous food activist from Oklahoma named Chef Ahki got her attention.
“Chef Ahki was one of the first women I saw on YouTube who I could relate to,” says Williams as she recalls the early days of her holistic journey. Ahki is a vegan chef and cookbook author who has become well-known in recent years as the resident chef on the Wendy Williams Show . “For a lot of people, a healthier lifestyle means cutting out certain foods,” says Williams. “But for me, the first step was just to add more vegetables into my diet.”
Incremental lifestyle changes yielded noticeable results for Williams. “As I added vegetables and reduced my intake of chicken and beef, I began to feel more energetic, and my heart palpitations subsided,” she recalls. Her handbook for personal transformation was Sacred Woman by Queen Afua, a tome by the renowned health pioneer that advocates natural living and alternative spirituality.
The more Williams learned about natural living, the better she felt and the more compelled she was to share what she had been learning. But not everyone caught on right away. In fact, her aversion to red meat raised red flags when it came to her mom and dad.
Williams is an only child, and both of her parents spent their careers in the military. They aren’t what you might classify as touchy-feely folks.
“My parents have always been supportive of me, but when I started telling them about my shift to a plant-based diet, their initial response was, ‘You already have health issues. Why would you try to adopt this extreme diet?’”
But over time, as they saw her health improve, they saw the promise of a “forks over knives” approach to eating.
The initial skepticism of Williams’ parents taught her an important lesson that has become her guiding principle in wellness: “No one is going to know your body as well as you. Do what works for you. It’s not about following fads or trying to compete with what other people are doing on social media.”
Williams was so inspired by her journey that she decided to pursue a master’s degree in public health (with a focus on nutrition) at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. After graduation, she spent several years working as a wellness consultant for various public health organizations while building her following as a health blogger and wellness consultant.
From the beginning, Williams designed her website (thatschelsea.com) and Instagram posts (@thatschelsea) to serve as a friendly, accessible entry point for anyone who wants to learn more about how to improve their diet and lifestyle.
“I want people to be more informed about the choices they have with no judgment and no guilt,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a big, expensive production. Start with a 20-minute walk after dinner. Swap out your standard household cleaners with non-toxic formulas. The industry is moving toward these eco-luxe products, but there are plenty of affordable options. Make your own body scrubs. Take the time to learn about new ingredients and cook for yourself.”
Williams’ affinity for farm-fresh vegetables garnered her first television appearance when a producer on WJLA News Channel 8 in Florida saw a post on her Instagram when she was in the state visiting family, and he invited her to share her recipes on the news. She has since been on television eight times in various cities along the Eastern Seaboard.
Last year, Williams broke free from the 9-to-5 routine to focus full-time on her platform and her corporate consultancy, which includes planning experiential events for companies such as Popsugar.
“Entrepreneurship has stretched me in a way that I never imagined. It’s all about faith,” says Williams, who identifies herself as a Christian and takes time every day to read the Bible. “When you think about it, wellness is faith-based because nothing happens instantly. If you’re someone who wants to feel better, you have to believe that making changes in your lifestyle will yield results over time, as long as you persevere.”
On the other hand, the life of an entrepreneur can be stressful. Very stressful.
“It’s all on you to make things happen, so you have to be focused and disciplined,” she says. “But without my health, I have nothing to stand on, so that’s always got to be a priority.”
Williams recently relocated to Los Angeles, so she could live in a place where wellness is part of the lifestyle. She usually starts the day at six, rising with the sun. A hot cup of reishi tea fortified with lion’s mane powder helps her feel energized and focused. Her first meal of the day is usually a smoothie, juice or a smoothie bowl laden with fresh fruit.
From 7:30 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon, she works from her home office, interfacing with clients, answering emails, planning projects and writing blog posts. Her afternoon meal is typically cooked quinoa with lots of veggies. She dedicates the afternoons to exercise, which could mean a trip to the gym or a hike with friends. Her evenings are decidedly lighthearted. After a warm shower, she spends time on the phone with friends and family or watching a bit of television. Her last meal of the day is usually by 6 or 7 p.m., so she has time to digest before bed at around 10. Buddha bowls are her favorite.
At age 32, Williams is the happiest and healthiest that she has ever been. When she first began her journey to better health, she felt very lonely. She didn’t know how to connect with other young women in the Washington, DC, area who were also interested in holistic nutrition. This yearning for a wellness tribe drove Williams to create Sacred DC, a series of gatherings for Washington women that focused on clean beauty, mindfulness, self-awareness and plant-based living. Williams plans to form a similar group once she becomes more established in Los Angeles and assesses the needs that people have in her new community.
As an African-American woman, Williams feels particularly compelled to share what she has learned about self-care so that she can inspire others the way Queen Afua and Chef Ahki inspired her.
“There is a gap of knowledge for a lot of black women on how to care for themselves for optimum health,” she says. “And there is also a lack of information out there on how to enter into the public health sphere as a health communicator. So I hope that my health journey and career path can serve as a blueprint for others.”
BLUE MAJIK SMOOTHIE BOWL
Smoothie bowls are one of my favorite meals to make for breakfast! I usually start my day with fresh fruit, so why not make it fun and filling? In this smoothie bowl, I used E3 Live’s Blue Majik Powder, a high-quality, raw vegan spirulina powder that is rich in B12. Yes, it’s naturally blue! Because I do not consume meat or dairy, I love to include this in my diet to help keep my energy levels high. It’s essentially flavorless, so feel free to add this to chia pudding, tonics, smoothies, and more.
INGREDIENTS (SERVES 1)
BASE 1 gram or 2 scoops of E3 Live Blue Majik Powder 1 organic frozen banana 8 oz organic coconut water – feel free to adjust as needed to get things moving in your blender! A few chunks of organic coconut meat. Young or mature will work just fine. 2 organic pitted dates
TOPPINGS 1/4 cup organic hemp hearts A few chunks of organic coconut meat 1/4 cup organic blackberries and blueberries mixed – fresh or frozen! Dusting of E3 Live Blue Majik Powder for decoration Add frozen banana, coconut water, dates, and 2 scoops of blue majik to your high-speed blender. Blend until thick and creamy. Pour the mixture into your bowl. Top your bowl with hemp hearts, blackberries, blueberries, coconut chunks, and a dusting of Blue Majik. Enjoy!
COZY BUDDHA BOWL
Buddha bowls have always been one of my favorite meals. They are super easy to create and a great way to ensure you are eating a variety of vegetables. For this cozy buddha bowl I toasted some quinoa with dulse (a great way to add a salty, savory flavor to your dishes without using salt!) for my base. Then I added kale, tomato, avocado, roasted chickpeas, roasted carrots, green onion, crispy shiitake mushrooms, and micogreens. I finished off my bowl by swirling avocado cilantro and tamarind date sauces on top. This bowl is so filling and packed with protein! My number one tip for making the perfect buddha bowl is to only use ingredients that YOU enjoy! If you see an ingredient below that you don’t like, swap it out for something else. There is no perfect formula! Get creative and make it your own.
4 oz cooked organic quinoa toasted with dulse 2 organic tomatoes, chopped 1/2 cup organic raw kale, chopped 1/2 cup organic shiitake mushrooms, roasted 1 cup organic sprouted chickpeas, roasted Handful of organic carrots, roasted 1/4 cup organic green onion, chopped 1/2 organic avocado Organic microgreens to taste
Surinder’s Kitchen – Tamarind Date Chutney + Cilantro Avocado Salsa I love these dressings! They set almost any dish all the way off! Enjoy!