Love your body — Imagine that you had a friend who was having a hard time achieving a goal. Would you tell that friend that they are worthless, that you hate them, and that you won’t be their friend until they achieve their goal? Of course not! So often I see people speaking to themselves in this negative way. Have you ever said to yourself anything along the lines of “I hate my body,” “If I could just lose 10 more pounds I would be worthy of love,” “If only I looked like her…” This type of self-talk is counterproductive. Telling your body that you hate it will only create an unhealthy psychological spiral. Practice speaking to yourself with love. Create a space where it is possible to love your body and work to develop healthier habits at the same time.
So many of us have tried dieting. All too often though, many of us lose 10–20 pounds, but we end up gaining it back. Not only is yo-yo dieting unhealthy, it is also demoralizing and makes us feel like giving up. What exactly do we have to do to achieve a healthy body weight and to stick with it forever?
In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve A Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently” we are interviewing health and wellness professionals who can share lessons from their research and experience about how to do this.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing certified nutritionist and celebrity chef Serena Poon.
Serena Poon combines her expertise as a celebrity chef, certified nutritionist and Reiki Master to serve her A-list clientele, which includes Kerry Washington, Jerry Bruckheimer, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and other high-profile individuals. Her passion for integrative health and holistic nutrition led her to create Culinary Alchemy®, a method of functional and spiritual nutrition that integrates how food affects our bodies on a physiological and energetic level. Her work optimizes and heals the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of her clients. Serena is practical too, offering real-life tips to transform daily moments into lifelong healthy habits. She understands busy professional lives and creates ways to make wellbeing realistic.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
My story began with my heart and soul, my parents. While I was in college at UC Berkeley, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. It was a genetic disease, the same thing his grandfather had passed of years before. He fought but lost a very painful battle after just a year and 3 months. He was 48 years old. Two months later, my mother was diagnosed with a very rare and extremely aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She was 45 years old at the time. So, before we even had a chance to grieve my father, we were in another surreal battle to save my mother, who could hardly process the death of her soulmate, let alone her own mortality. With experimental treatment and my father in heaven watching over her (I truly believe that), my mother is still with us today.
As you can imagine, this completely changed my perspective on life. All that mattered was the health and happiness of my loved ones. Both of my parents incorporated Western and Chinese medicine in their cancer therapy, but our knowledge at the time was limited when it came to nutrition and using food as healing.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
While my father was sick, I began looking into holistic, herbal and natural remedies for everything from his cancer symptoms, to alleviating the side effects of his treatments. Experiencing firsthand, the suffering that he and other cancer patients go through — I knew there had to be more that we could do, if we only had the information and resources. I studied Nutrition at college, but this drove my passion further and I decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu. I wanted to study the culinary arts to understand food and nutrition and to create ways to heal and comfort people through the power of food.
What I didn’t yet understand at the time was that full health and true wellness is about the healthy balanced systems of the whole mind, body and soul. I decide to study Reiki, a Japanese energy healing technique that channels universal life force energy to areas that need support and balance. I began to incorporate this healing modality into my practice with food and nutrition and Culinary Alchemy® organically came to life.
Throughout my journey, my business evolved to include more than just private chef and catering services. As I began practicing my Culinary Alchemy®, I became a nutritionist, wellness expert, coach and reiki master to my clients. I was inspired to launch my health and wellness line of super nutrient-dense super foods, Just Add Water®. As my consulting practice grew and I became aware of my influence within my own community and I realized that I could effectively teach and help so many more people by expanding my platform. Through the power of social media, I expanded my personal brand into a lifestyle brand, Serena Loves, which offers products and tools to support the spiritual and emotional body, as well as therapeutics and supplements to support the physical body. My journey has taught me that the power of knowledge, information and sharing experiences can literally help save lives. In an effort to provide more value to my community, I also host a regular streaming TV show and podcast, Serena Loves TV, where I interview entrepreneurs, visionaries, healers, and nutrition and wellness thought leaders as a resource to others.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
One of my clients and mentors, the late Garry Marshall, is someone who helped me more than he knew. He started as my client and I quickly became a part of the family at the production company. I helped him with his health, while he was like a grandfather, advising me about life. Garry believed in me during a time I didn’t believe in myself. He was there before my life-threatening surgeries, during and after, guiding me through heartbreaks and healing. He shared with me so many stories from his youth, as a young man navigating Hollywood, as a husband, as a father and a grandfather. His life experiences were life teachings for me and I still reflect back on certain pieces of advice that he gave me. There is a magic that comes from someone who sees you for who you are, especially when no one else does, including yourself. There is an invaluable exchange of energy that occurs when someone believes in you, during your deepest moments of struggle, and you choose to believe them. Their unconditional love is so great that you begin to believe in yourself again. I am forever grateful for his soul and I know that he touched the lives of many in much the same way. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to meet earth angels and we are to pass forward that energy when we do.
Can you share the funniest story that occurred in the course of your career?
I was fortunate enough to begin my career as a private chef to some of the most recognizable faces on the planet. As such, I’ve become well-accustomed to the privacy concerns of my clients. You will seldom hear or see a whole list of my clientele. Some of my clients really do live their public lives under a magnifying glass, so when it comes to their homes and private lives, they will often go outside the box to ensure that their privacy is maintained. I once was hired to prepare a dinner party for a couple — who, at the time, were the most visible couple in the world, not just because they were famous, but because of the nature of how they became a couple….they met on set and they were not both single at the time. So, I was blind-folded upon pick up, driven to a small private airport, put on a helicopter and remained blind-folded the entire time until we arrived at the house. It only took about an hour and a half, but it felt like I was playing out a kidnapping scene in a movie. I’ve also been cast in some popular movies by my director clients, but the blind-folded experience was far more interesting.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I share this quote often because it’s still the one that I live by on a regular basis, “No one is you and that is your power”. It’s just a reminder that even when you are not feeling strong, or when you feel lost or uncertain, that the power is within you to rise and that this is your duty — because no one can be you. The other quote I live by, quite literally now, is that “opportunities come from obstacles”. Even in your darkest or most challenging days, know that there is a gift hidden between the layers of the challenge or obstacle that is right in front of you. This is what helped me pivot my business when I was recovering from my 4th surgery, when I had nearly died, and I was not able to use the upper left side of my body for months. Without the use of both my arms, how could I be a chef? How could I serve my clients? I realized I had so much knowledge in me from all my studies and research that I poured into the food — I could just pivot and pour into consulting and programs. Treating myself like I was my own client, I was able to use food and nutrition to raise my hemoglobin from barely a 9, back up to 13, in 2/3 of the time the doctors told me it would take to recover. I realized that I had to rise up and be of service to my clients and community, and I had to do it in a different way. I began offering pre-operative and post-operative healing protocols to clients and my business ended up making 3x more that year than the years before — and I did it without the use of my left arm for the 6 of those months. Opportunities were hidden in the obstacles.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
The Alchemist. For so many reasons, but mostly because I resonate with the dreamer, the creator and the ones who believe in the power of magic. I am someone who is led by my heart, I believe in living in alignment with your soul and your purpose. I believe that kindness, love and gratitude are the foundation for our journey. These themes run throughout the book!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
We are currently making several exciting updates to the Serena Loves App, which will be the platform to run multiple programs that are carefully designed for our community. These programs will include shopping lists, meal plans, gratitude journaling prompts, daily affirmations, and mantras to practice throughout the self-paced journey. Our goal is to show more people the path to healing by providing the knowledge and tools to address their specific health needs.
To further this mission of optimal, sustainable health for all, I am in the final stages of launching a supplement line that will be available via the App and our website, serenaloves.com. I am extremely excited and grateful to be able to offer high-quality, well-sourced products to my community. At the same time, we are also launching 5 more products in our Just Add Water® line. Four of the new products will be a deconstructed version of the current Just Add Water® signature formulation. Originally, the Just Add Water® recipe was designed to be “everything you need in a day” to Simplify Your Self-Care®. It was a simple, one action product — add water and drink! I decided to break down the original formation into 2 categories of pea protein (chocolate and neutral flavored), 1 category of all your super greens and super foods, and 1 category of all your antioxidants. The fifth product we are releasing in the Just Add Water® line is a fizzy, highly bioavailable vitamin C drink. It’s delicious, and perfect for children as well.
Finally, I am working on several courses that will be found on the Serena Loves website, as well as partner platforms. These courses will cover everything from Culinary Alchemy® basics to success as an entrepreneur, and even how to take control of your brain health. I am so excited and grateful for all that is to come.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field?
As a chef, certified nutritionist, and reiki master, I have made it my mission to promote further education around the mindful combination of food, nutrition, and healing intuition through my unique Culinary Alchemy® programs.
I set myself apart in a saturated industry with my genuine passion for curating intentional healing and wellness programs designed to help people achieve optimal, sustainable health. Integrating energetic techniques with guidance and education on food nutrition, how food affects our bodies on a physiological level, and how it affects the emotional body, my goal is to optimize and heal the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of my clients. Alongside my Nutrition certifications, CN, CHC, CHN, I have degrees from both UC Berkeley and Le Cordon Bleu’s most esteemed programming, Grand Diplome. I am also certified as a Reiki Master for Usui Shiki Ryoho and in Quantum Touch healing. I have created contemporary meals, menus and nutritional plans for the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer, Kerry Washington, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Hugh Hefner, and other high-profile clientele.
In addition to my client work, I have my own health and wellness line, Just Add Water®, intentional lifestyle brand, Serena Loves®, and television show Serena Loves TV, where I bring my Culinary Alchemy® philosophy to life for my broader community.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about achieving a healthy body weight. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Healthy Body Weight”?
A healthy body weight is not necessarily a number, but a way of being in which your body functions optimally, protects itself from disease, and allows you to move through your daily life with ease. In my work, emotional and spiritual health play a crucial role in determining a healthy body weight. If your body is functioning properly, and the number on the scale seems “good,” but you have emotional ties to food or psychological stress around body image or weight, this would not be a healthy weight. From a Culinary Alchemy® perspective, a healthy physical body encompasses a healthy mind and energy centers. Many philosophies seem to view the body as a machine that gets us through the necessary motions, but from my viewpoint, there is so much more complexity, nuance, and beauty to optimal health (and body weight).
How can an individual learn what is a healthy body weight for them? How can we discern what is “too overweight” or what is “too underweight”?
A lot of my work in Culinary Alchemy® is empowering people to find balanced vitality, a place where they feel great and everything works optimally. The weight that supports this feeling is going to be different for everybody, and it cannot necessarily be quantified by body weight. You can use the Body Mass Index as a general reference point, but a true healthy weight is going to be a little bit more dialed in than that. With my clients who want to lose weight, we look at a holistic system including markers such as blood panels, subjective feelings, nutrient deficiencies, energy blocks, and emotional health. True wellness goes beyond the numbers on the scale.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons why being over your healthy body weight, or under your healthy body weight, can be harmful to your health?
Being overweight can lead to disease risk factors that can lead to serious conditions such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular and respiratory problems, inflammation, and joint pain. Being underweight can lead to issues such as nutrient deficiencies, problems with bone health, low energy and a weakened immune system. Often these problems happen in an extreme place and there are a lot of emotional, psychological, and energetic issues tied to this state of being.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few examples of how a person who achieves and maintains a healthy body weight will feel better and perform better in many areas of life?
If you have found your personal place of balanced vitality, you might experience benefits such as:
- Increased energy
- Better sleep
- Improved focus
- Heightened productivity
- Lifted mood
- Ability to spend joyful time with friends and family
Finding the practices that support your personal health can truly transform your life in so many ways outside of physical appearance. People who go through my Culinary Alchemy® programs do experience weight loss, but also improved relationships, clearer skin, better sleep, and heightened energy. It can be helpful to shift your mindset from “I need to lose weight to fit into this dress,” to “I want to change my lifestyle so that I can savor every wonderful moment of my life.”
Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve a Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently?”. If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Learn the art of Culinary Alchemy® — The cornerstone of my Culinary Alchemy® programs is really to learn to tune into what your body needs and to use food to nourish and support both your physical body and your energy centers. What your body needs might be completely different from what other people need. These needs can also shift from season to season and even from day to day. By developing a relationship with your body in which you are able to listen and respond, you empower yourself to find your personal balance, vitality, and health under any circumstances. Culinary Alchemy® is about the practices that help you thrive within your unique constitution.
- Practice Mindfulness — One way to engage in Culinary Alchemy® is to practice mindfulness. I recommend a daily practice in which you check in with yourself to see how you are feeling and what you might need on that day. Simply sit in a quiet place, free from distractions, and ask yourself, “What do I need today?” If you are feeling anxious, you might need to eat a more grounding breakfast than the day before. If you are feeling tired and lethargic, you might need to eat something light and energizing like a fresh fruit salad. Your body knows exactly what it needs to thrive. All you need to do is listen. You can also practice mindfulness during meal times. When you sit down to eat, create focus by freeing yourself from screens and distractions and really paying attention to your food and how it is nourishing your body. As you eat, savor every flavor and texture. Expressing gratitude for the energy and life-giving properties of your food can help you create a positive and joyful relationship with food.
- Love your body — Imagine that you had a friend who was having a hard time achieving a goal. Would you tell that friend that they are worthless, that you hate them, and that you won’t be their friend until they achieve their goal? Of course not! So often I see people speaking to themselves in this negative way. Have you ever said to yourself anything along the lines of “I hate my body,” “If I could just lose 10 more pounds I would be worthy of love,” “If only I looked like her…” This type of self-talk is counterproductive. Telling your body that you hate it will only create an unhealthy psychological spiral. Practice speaking to yourself with love. Create a space where it is possible to love your body and work to develop healthier habits at the same time.
- Consider your nutrient intake and hormonal balance — Sometimes being over or under your personal healthy weight can be attributed to a nutrient deficiency or hormone imbalance. If you have a nutrient deficiency, you might be eating too much food to try to fill that void, or you may be eating foods that are causing inflammation instead of nourishment. Keep in mind that vitamins B6, B12, C, D, E, and Folate are all proven to support a healthy metabolism and that your vitamin and mineral needs might shift as you age. It is a good idea to visit a doctor or nutritionist to get your vitamin and mineral levels checked every few years, that way you can make educated decisions about how to supplement. There are a lot of confusing marketing messages out there surrounding supplements, but you really want to supplement only when you are vulnerable or have deficiencies. A hormone imbalance can also cause changes in your weight. Imbalanced hormones can be the result of a lack of sleep, stress, or an undiagnosed condition such as PCOS or thyroid issues. If you feel like you’ve gotten sufficient rest and you’re living a balanced and healthy lifestyle but have experienced inexplicable weight gain, I recommend asking your health practitioner to run a simple blood test that measures your hormone levels. The solution may be as easy as adjusting your diet and adding in supplements to support your adrenal system. Your body’s needs change as you age and also with the seasons or with your menstrual cycle. Sometimes a plateau may be nothing more than a cyclical shift. Tracking your cycles and symptoms can help you understand how your body changes from week to week.
- Rest and sleep — Rest and sleep are two of the most important components of optimal health. Your body heals itself while you are at rest. Pushing your body and mind past these limits can affect your hunger signals and metabolism. I find that oftentimes people who find their health plateauing are in a constant state of trying to add more, when really, they need to build breaks into their regimen. Take rest days, carve out time for ample sleep and partake in occasional fasting if your health allows it. Rest periods give your system the space to rest, recover, and grow stronger. Proper rest usually makes people feel balanced and stable, in a way that helps them make food and lifestyle choices that support their health.
The emphasis of this series is how to maintain an ideal weight for the long term, and how to avoid yo-yo dieting. Specifically, how does a person who loses weight maintain that permanently and sustainably?
One way to create sustainable eating habits is to stop dieting. Dieting puts you in a deprivation mindset, whereas shifting into a nutrient dense eating regimen full of fresh, nourishing foods can make you feel satisfied and abundant. Focus on how you feel when you eat fresh foods and give thanks for the vibrance that they add to your life. It can also be helpful to stick to foods and exercises that you truly enjoy. If you hate kale, don’t eat kale! Find something you like and try different ways of adding it into your meals. Optimal health is about finding regimens that are manageable and that make YOU feel your best.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to lose weight? What errors cause people to just snap back to their old unhealthy selves? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
The number one mistake I see is people approaching food with a negative or deprivation mindset. If you constantly feel as though you are letting go of your favorite things, you are going to be miserable.
I generally caution against calorie restriction, especially the kind in which you are allowed to continue consuming processed foods, sugar replacement products, and high fat foods which all have inflammation causing, gut damaging effects. I find this type of diet to cause short-lived and unsustainable weight loss. Your body truly needs whole, nutrient-dense foods to have a healthy metabolism. Meals that are full of fiber rich, wholesome foods, or foods that are considered to contain a low energy density are more satiating than a processed meal. Balanced portions of nutrient dense vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins will leave you feeling happy and full.
Don’t forget to continue speaking to your body with love throughout the transition. Changing habits takes time. Start slow, move forward little by little, and celebrate anything that makes you feel great. If you fall out of line with your plan, don’t dwell on it, just step back into the eating regimen that supports your vitality.
How do we take all this information and integrate it into our actual lives? The truth is that we all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
One of the best ways to feel truly great in your body is to let go of making weight loss the end goal. Focus instead on creating a lifestyle that makes you feel energized. I do love reset challenges in which you focus on eating only whole foods, just for a month or so. Usually when you cut the junk from your diet and subsist on wholesome foods (without cutting calories or trying to workout to offset your consumption), you will feel increased vitality and then want to continue feeling so. Finding an eating pattern that works for you and really understanding why it works for you can empower you to always come back to your balance point or “feel great” eating plan.
Another tip for incorporating habits that will support your vitality is to simply add more plant foods to your diet. Instead of thinking about what you are giving up, focus on just eating more vegetables and fruits. These foods supply nourishing phytonutrients and antioxidants as well as fiber which will help keep you full for longer. The more plants you eat, the better you’ll feel and the less and less you will want to consume foods that make you feel terrible.
On the flip side, how can we prevent these ideas from just being trapped in a rarified, theoretical ideal that never gets put into practice? What specific habits can we develop to take these intellectual ideas and integrate them into our normal routine?
There are so many ways to incorporate healthy eating into your life to achieve optimal health, but not all of them are going to be for you. Try a few different methods and stick to what really works for you. Some of my favorite ways to create sustainable eating habit changes include joining a whole foods or reset challenge, building community around your food choices, simply focusing on eating as many plant foods as possible, or keeping a food journal to note how you feel when you eat certain foods. Additionally, if you find food and exercise choices that you love, changing your eating habits will never feel like work! Try not to get caught up in the health and wellness trends (unless you find that you love them!), as there are a lot of confusing marketing messages out there and it’s really imperative that you find what works best for you. It is also incredibly helpful to find a supportive community who will cheer you on along the way.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can find me on social media @chefserenapoon and online at SerenaLoves.com
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.