Interview by Lauren Ash. Photography courtesy of Chelsea Williams.
This month at Black Girl In Om, we’re focused on sacred shifts. Chelsea Williams is emblematic of this concept. Having been diagnosed with Graves disease, an autoimmune disease impacting the thyroid gland, she transitioned to a plant-based diet to better manage her condition as well as the hyperthyroidism which developed as a result of her diagnosed disease. One of my favorite mantras, I am not a victim, I am a creator, signals the power of choice that we all have to look our circumstances in the eye and be mindful about how we will show up.
Chelsea’s transparency about her mindful lifestyle choices empower us all to identify the ways in which we can live healthier, more healed and more whole. From Live Sacred DC, her plant-based and woman-centered wellness series that encourages self-respect and affirms the sacred nature of every thread of our lives, to the incredible recipes with conscious, insightful tips she provides on her blog, Chelsea offers IRL and online space for more of us to transition into alignment with what truly nourishes our minds, bodies, and souls. I know that you will learn something from Chelsea’s insights below! Follow Chelsea on Instagram @thatschelsea and Twitter @HiThatsChelsea, like her on Facebook and subscribe to her YouTube channel.
Lauren Ash: Chelsea, I’m so grateful we’re connecting! First things first, who are you?
Chelsea Williams: I am a plant-based, public health nutritionist, Certified Communicator in Public Health (CCPH), and lifestyle media contributor. My passion is to help others become more knowledgeable, health-conscious consumers without being overwhelmed by positive health behavior changes. Transitioning to a plant-based, non-toxic lifestyle has helped me transform my life, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Through my work, I strive to help others do the same.
Lauren Ash: Your mission is absolutely felt throughout the world already! Can you share more about your conscious choice to shift to a plant-based lifestyle in order to better manage your diagnosed autoimmune disease? Was this challenging in the beginning? And how did your body respond?
Chelsea Williams: For most of my life, I have lived with some form of thyroid disease. In 2010, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which can cause symptoms such as extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, thinning hair, impaired memory, weight gain, and depression. After being informed by an endocrinologist that I would live with these symptoms for the rest of my life, I decided to do my own research in an effort to find alternative ways I could manage my condition. I discovered the power of a plant-based diet initially through watching documentaries, YouTube videos, and my own trial and error. This was long before "What the Health."
My body did not respond well in the beginning. I had frequent headaches and digestive issues due to improper food combining. In fact, my family and friends made it very clear that they were concerned that I was making such an "extreme" lifestyle change when I was already very ill. That's when I decided to pursue a Master of Public Health Nutrition. This is also partially why I started my platform. I saw very few vegan/plant-based Black women that I could relate to along my journey, in-person, or even online. I felt a sense of responsibility to share what I learned.
Lauren Ash: Thank you so much for sharing. My own transition to a plant-based lifestyle in December of 2017 really awakened me to the power of food to heal, transform, and prevent. Your testimony, ongoing personal development, and life’s work really illuminate everything we’re about at BGIO. What does Black Girl In Om mean to you?
Chelsea Williams: When I think of Black Girl In Om, I think of representation and community. When I first began my wellness journey in 2011, I remember scouring the internet for women in the industry who looked like me. I knew I was ready to do some intentional self-work, but I didn’t feel represented. Black Girl In Om is showing the world something those of us immersed in the space already knew; wellness has many faces.
Lauren Ash: And to that I say amen. The power of representation is everything and is one reason why I knew I had to start BGIO back in 2014. I’m glad that there’s now a thriving and increasingly visible collective of us standing proudly in our purpose and power and attracting more black and brown women to come together in the name of wellness. How do you identify with Black Girl In Om’s mission?
Chelsea Williams: “Affirming preventative actions” — that part! This line from BGIO’s mission resonates with me most. The wellness industry has a long way to go in terms of elitist projections. BGIO consistently affirms that women of color, especially Black women, deserve to be well, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Lauren Ash: Absolutely. We pride ourselves on sharing very accessible ways to be well, from making better financial decisions to making the intentional and vulnerable choice to journey deep within through various forms of reflection. What are your self-care and self-love practices?
Chelsea Williams: I have many self-care and self-love practices. Lately, I’ve been taking inventory of my life and removing anything that’s not supporting me or my future goals.
Lauren Ash: I love it. This is so underrated, but so very important!
Chelsea Williams: In the past, it was difficult for me to make the decision to remove myself from situations or end relationships that drained me. (Blame the September Libra in me!) I found myself on autopilot. Now, I’m making more intentional decisions as an act of self-love.
Additionally, I am still perfecting the art of not overbooking my schedule, so I can be more present in every area of my life. In the past, there have been days when I didn’t allocate enough time for myself prior to my next commitment. Now, I am more aware of my need to carve out time to breathe. I’ve learned that I don’t need to work myself until the point of exhaustion to get opportunities.
Lauren Ash: What’s one ritual you recommend more women of color adopt to cultivate inner beauty and wellness?
Chelsea Williams: Community through food. Something magical happens when women of color fellowship together while sharing home-cooked, plant-powered dishes. We spend too much time eating in our cars, in front of a television, or while scrolling on our smart devices. According to a recent report by the Food Marketing Institute, nearly half of eating occasions in America happen when we are alone.
When we gather together, we can easily discuss events of the day, plans for the future, laugh, and form a bond that cultivates a sense of peace. When you look in someone's eyes, you discover many truths that can't be masked by words. An offhand, “I’m okay,” allows for further discussion. This can't be found in a takeout bag or a to-go cup of coffee. Community yields accountability. Let’s start eating together so we can become healthier and happier.
Lauren Ash: Yes! Most of my most profound moments of spiritual awakening and community connection have been in conversation with other black women over an amazing, home created meal. I started hosting intentional gatherings at my apartment in 2015 in Chicago and when I transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle this year I felt even better about the nourishment I was offering my friends, although the spiritual nourishment of our words and time shared was always, and continues to be, so special. In the spirit of this month’s theme, are there any areas in your life where you are currently experiencing sacred shifts — intentional pauses and reflections that you know will yield conscious and necessary realignments?
Chelsea Williams: Although I currently practice nutrition and wellness related work, I know that I have more to offer. Plant-based living and wellness are my life's work. Therefore, I'm always trying to stay abreast of the changes within the industry. I recently made an intentional shift to pursue the Integrative Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner credential to better serve my community.
Lauren Ash: Always learning. And we’ll all be better off for your ongoing dedication to know more and, in turn, share more. I’m curious: what’s one wellness product you cannot live without?
Chelsea Williams: I cannot live without my Vitamix. I use this machine to make smoothies, soups, teas, tonics, lattes, nut butters, plant milk, raw pie fillings, and more. It truly helps me minimize the number of tools required in my kitchen. It’s not only easy to use, it’s easy to clean.
Lauren Ash: I’m so late to the game in getting one. I’ll add it to my vision board for 2019, ha! Chelsea, thank you so much for your insights and wisdom! You’re such a blessing and we’re so grateful to hear more of your story.