A certified holistic nutritionist and lifestyle cleanse expert, Elissa is on a mission to educate and encourage healthy, mindful living and to help others embrace the concept that we are a product of what we eat and how we treat ourselves. After being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 32 — followed by hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s and Celiac disease — she decided to commit to both the physical and mental aspects of recovery. And then: to doing the same for others. She has now helped thousands of clients manage various health issues through diet, lifestyle and emotional methodologies—and her S.O.U.P. Cleanse and Super Seed Bars are shipped weekly to legions of devotees looking to renew, rejuvenate and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Can you share a bit about your journey in using food as medicine?
I think I was sort of lucky and unlucky. I was not a very healthy kid growing up and had Type A parents who were very driven. So I was always feeling kind of chronically behind the eight ball. And I got sick a lot; my immune system wasn't strong. But in those days, we didn't know how to really balance your immune system except for sleep and things like that, but not with food.
My mom was an asthmatic... and she was always trying to discover new ways to make herself feel better. She was very smart and very much a thriving individual, wanting to live life to the fullest. So she actually was investigating alternative methods, when I was in my teenage years. She used to go to this health ranch in Tecate, Mexico called Rancho La Puerta—she would go there twice a year with 20 women. She took me in my teenage and early adult years... and I watched these women totally change. For seven days they were off the grid, they ate plant-based food, organic or homegrown. They exercised, they did yoga, they meditated, they had massages. I mean, it was way ahead of its time. So at that age, I didn't really want to be there, but I think that it was a lucky thing for me.
It was my first entrée into seeing how food could actually change the way someone feels—energy levels, sleep, skin—across the board.
In my twenties, my goal was to make as much money as possible and to be as successful as possible. So I didn't really live that healthy lifestyle. I dabbled in it a bit, but it was 80% hardcore, out late, alcohol, sugar—all that—and 20% healthy. When my husband and I got married at 30, we moved to LA... Then I got diagnosed with cancer at 32. That's when everything changed for me. It was like, Okay, life isn't working. My body isn't working. I was so stressed out and never felt I was doing enough or good enough. I wasn't reaching that high bar that I set for myself because of how I grew up and because I didn't understand what happiness was; I thought true happiness was notoriety and financial success (not being calm and happy and having a healthy body).
I just had no clue until the cancer diagnosis. You go right to the place of, I'm going to die. People still do today, but in those days, you really did. Even at an early stage. One of my doctors sat me down and he said to me, "Are you happy with what you're doing? Are you in a successful relationship? Do you love your husband? Do you have great friends? What's your stress level?" And I was like, "Oh my God, I am so miserable, really unhappy in my job. My marriage isn't going so great." He said, "We really need to get your wellbeing—your mental and emotional wellbeing—under control."
Then came the food. He said, "Next, you'll start eating healthier. And I think you could take care of this." So I went ahead and did some of the radiation... and then I changed my diet. I started juicing. I became a vegan. I started doing yoga and meditation. I went into therapy, hardcore, and I was really lucky. I was able to heal. So, food ever since then has been at the cornerstone of being able to change my life. Now, I haven't always lived incredibly healthy like I have for last 10 years. But 11 years after my diagnosis, when my husband passed away at 45 of cancer... That's when I said, Holy shit, I have to live this way.
I did not have a choice. I said to myself, If I'm going to raise these two girls who are 10 and 7, I have to elevate my health, my mental wellbeing, my emotional stability. Because if I raise them like I'm feeling now—scared and not healthy and potentially thinking I could get sick again and just emotionally traumatized—the three of us are never going to make it. So that's when I went back. I went to school and got certified in Eastern and Western nutrition. And I learned all these great modalities; all the Western diets, all the Eastern, Ayurvedic, Chinese and all the herbal remedies... and I learned about trauma and emotional healing and it was just so beautiful.
But what's interesting is that I went back just to heal myself and heal the girls and help them. But then, when you're so passionate something, things just fall in your lap. So I had Cafe Gratitude and M Cafe and Erewhon and Earth Bar literally fall in my lap saying, "Hey, we want to do a food program with you."
And basically I decided, Wow, I do all these kinds of food for other restaurants. So why not do my own food program? And at the time I had this really incredible assistant who was a massive foodie like myself. And we created this soup cleanse, a healthy, organic, all natural, 5-day real food program, and started delivering it. Now six years later, it's just been an incredible journey and something that I never dreamed was possible because I get to nourish and nurture people; I get to uplift them. In five days their body completely changes. They sleep better. Their skin's better. Their digestion's better. They lose weight with a ton of food. And their whole outlook on food and wellbeing changes so quickly.
What are your thoughts on CBD?
I love what Prima does, because we so desperately need stress relievers. I mean, yes, we have meditation. We have exercise. If you can sleep, sleep is great. But we need alternative things to keep our stress at bay throughout the day. CBD emotionally makes me feel that I'm going to stay more balanced. Especially with what's going on now, I just feel we can't afford not to raise the bar for ourselves with health and wellness. Stress compromises the immune system—it's the number one thing—so CBD is crucial. And then sleep is our number two thing. Three is food, real food.
What is your definition of wellbeing? How do you think of think about it as it relates to health?
I've searched my whole life for an inner peace—an inner calm—and I never found it until two years ago. I had to work on myself emotionally, spiritually and also in terms of experimenting with food, supplements and superfoods, and figuring out what exactly worked for me. Wellbeing for me is all of those things: emotional, spiritual and food. And mostly, if you don't have a sense of inner peace and you aren't really in love with yourself—really honoring who you are and that you're on this planet for a reason and a purpose—then green juice or a beautiful kale salad isn't going to make you healthy.
We have to find what really lights that fire in us and also what really keeps us calm and feeling, "Wow, we're enough."
In this uncertain time, what do you know to be true?
I know that we will get past this time. I know that we can heal from anything. I know I've seen stage four cancer heal. I mean, you can go to resigning... but we're really incredible creatures. The human body and the mind are just so exceptional. And if we treat them with respect and give them what they need, it's limitless in terms of what's available for us.
Even during these uncertain, funky times and being worried about the future—what the new norm looks like... I have to admit, that new norm is definitely nerve-racking for me. But when I really sit with myself, I know that the new norm is going to be better... because it always gets better. You always find a new way to incorporate what you need. Just like I never dreamed that I would heal from the cancer or the autoimmune, or really get past the trauma of my husband dying and raising two girls. I feel so lucky that I went through all that bad stuff. I mean, I know I'm going to have a lot more to learn still, but I just feel stronger and more capable, and know that I can get to the other side if I really put my mind to it.