Like many of us, Elissa Goodman began her career working long hours at a stressful job fueled by an excess of caffeine. Then her world was turned upside down. She felt a lump, and, after several specialists visits, a doctor diagnosed Elissa with early-stage Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She was only 32. As a component of her long path of healing, Elissa turned to holistic nutrition and nourishment in concert with medical treatment. That was more than twenty years ago.
Today, Elissa is one of the United States’ most influential holistic nutritionists 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. As a close friend of The Seam, we were so pleased to sit down with her to further discuss her origin story, her philosophy, and her vision for the future of self-care. Take a listen.
Amy Cohen Epstein: I am thrilled to be interviewing Elissa Goodman today. She is a holistic nutritionist, and this is interesting because Elissa and I have done so many webinars together that it is bizarre that we haven't done a formal interview for The Seam before. So to me, this feels like my 17th interview with you.
I'm not even going to try and introduce you, because your introduction is what sets the stage for your area of expertise, for everything that you do and your background.
Elissa Goodman: Well, first, I can't believe how lucky I am to be in your presence as well, and to have met you and just bonded and connected I constantly have to pinch myself every day because of the people I get to meet.
But anyway, I mean I came into the world not a healthiest kid. I had a low white blood cell count, and I'm 61. So in those days, no one knew what to do. They didn't even know what balancing or boosting the immune system even was… I was constantly playing catch-up in school and work, and I became an overachiever. So I massively stressed myself out for years. When I graduated college and really busted my ass to climb the corporate ladder and was sick all the time there as well and always searching for modalities to help me get stronger and healthier. It was a constant struggle because I'd go back and forth between bad diet, coffee, alcohol, just sugar to get my energy back up and then try to do something healthy for a while.
So I moved to LA at 32 or 31, and I got diagnosed with cancer. Hodgkin's lymphoma, and it was an early stage of Hodgkin's lymphoma…
That was a huge wake-up call. Everything came crashing down on me. I was working at Vogue Magazine in advertising and I thought that was the end all. It definitely wasn't the end all. It was the most stressful job I had ever had. So, it was good, in some ways, to get diagnosed with cancer, because I got to let that job go and gather my life back together, and start looking at the things that were working and not working.
One of the cancer doctors sat me down and said, "Are you happy in your life? Do you love what you do? Do you love your marriage? Do you love yourself?" It was so unusual, 30+ years ago, and I just burst into tears. I was like, "I don't even know what that means. I don't know what 'happy' means. I don't know what 'loving myself' means. I don't even know what 'calm' means." So no wonder I was just always driving myself into the ground.
That guy, I'll never forget him either. At that point, when I started to get into my treatment, I ended up realizing I needed to change my emotional, spiritual self to heal. I went to therapy, I read all the self-help books. Thank God I was in LA. I started eating organic and juicing and colonics and went to see a naturopath. I did it all, and to this day I've done it all, probably every modality out there, because I love trying new things, and I was lucky: I did a little bit of radiation. I didn't do chemo. I was really worried about the chemo in terms of my immune system.
Radiation wasn't so great either because it gave me hypothyroidism, then I got Hashimoto's and celiac, but I did heal and the cancer didn't come back. So I was still struggling. And then my husband, 11 1/2 years after my diagnosis, got diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was 43, super strong, go-getter, successful. Not the best eater; loved sugar, you know, lived on his stress and his caffeine. He gets diagnosed. He goes through two bone marrow transplants in a year-and-a-half and died at 45 of fungal pneumonia.
And that was my second huge wake-up call. Like, "Holy crap," you know? I've got these two girls at home that I need to start taking care of solely, and they had two parents who had cancer. That freaked me out enough that I went back to school and got certified in Eastern and Western [modalities] to take care of my girls and myself. I just needed to know more about how to get healthy and strong, and I started working on my psyche and how to let go of the trauma of it all. I'm still working on that, probably the rest of my life, and the girls too.
That was really a horrible thing that happened, but it was the best thing that happened. A friend of mine brought Café Gratitude down from San Francisco, and then she asked me to put a eating program together for the restaurant, and it was so easy to do and it was so much fun. Organic, vegan food, super clean tastes delicious, and I handled these cleansers for about four-and-a-half years and worked with them, and doctors and integrative doctors and naturopaths, and got to learn more about all the different ailments. Then, I also did that with M Café, a macrobiotic restaurant here in LA. I did that for six-and-a-half years. I developed some food for EarthBar at the airport, and then I started my own cleanse, as you know, seven years ago. I'm in my eighth year, which I can't believe.
Now we're delivering to 70, 75 people a week, every week, and then we started making these super seed bars that we ship out every week as well. They're fresh, frozen bars, all natural, no preservatives. I just feel so lucky that I get to like feed and nourish and nurture people with food, and also, I get to help people, really motivate them to take small steps to get healthier, because it's not like rocket science. It's really about going back to the basics of real food and trying to get yourself de-stressed a little and sleeping well and hydrated. It doesn't have to be a million supplements, even though I love the supplement regime, but you know, it doesn't have to be restrictive and all of that as well. I'm just trying to teach people to go back to the basics.
Amy Cohen Epstein: Back to basics. You know, yesterday was the 24-year anniversary of my mom's passing, and I had spent a lot of years just being very melancholy on that day. It's a bittersweet day, no matter what. 24 years and I still miss her and I think about her every day… She was such an incredible woman and left such a legacy, but I was thinking a lot yesterday about her terrible habits, which was sort of funny. It just sort of popped in my head. I don't know if they contributed to her cancer. I don't. I don't think they helped, but I mean, my mom was a Tab drinker, for those who remember Tab.
Elissa Goodman: I remember Tab
Amy Cohen Epstein: We had lots of Tab in our house. Tab led to Diet Coke. I mean, I drank Diet Coke for many years. I don't anymore. My mom was a huge sugar person. She was a greasy eater too. Like she wasn't just sweet; it was a lot of salty too. One of her favorite foods was wing baskets, like she would suck the skin off the wings. It was pretty disgusting, and my mom was tiny.
Elissa Goodman: She could eat anything she wanted.
Amy Cohen Epstein: 5'3, like 102 pounds. Dhe was curvy, but she was little. So when she got older, it was like, she liked to have a cute figure and she did, but it wasn't an issue for her. Then once in a while, she'd do these weird diets…. I don't believe in completely depriving ourselves, and you and I have had those conversations too, but her habits were terrible. I also remember when my mom got a nutritionist before she was sick…. my mom found that she would ingest sugar and then have these huge highs and just dip. The things that nutritionist would give her was these like apples with — I don't know if you remember way back — this cardboard-y peanut butter. And that would be an afternoon snack.
Elissa Goodman: Yeah.
Amy Cohen Epstein: It wasn't satiating at all… The more stuff on the label, you know, the more you should steer clear.
Elissa Goodman: I mean, you would kind of think it's common knowledge, but it isn’t these days.
Amy Cohen Epstein: It really isn't —
Elissa Goodman: And there's more stuff going on the label, you know? I mean, there's just more and more processed food happening. Our body doesn't even know what the hell to do with it all.
Amy Cohen Epstein: The idea that bone broth is somehow this new amazing invention. And you're like, "Well, it's chicken soup. You know, it's the broth of our soups that our great-grandmas have been making forever and ever and ever.” There's a reason why we crave it when we're not well, because it's the hearty soul of the food that we want….
So take us through a day. Take us through your day. What is a good-eating day by Elissa Goodman?
Elissa Goodman: Well, I would say waking up, I do a mandatory of two cups of water. When I just tell a client to drink 16 ounces of water, when they wake up, it could be life-changing because the body's been detoxing and cleansing through the night. So you're really dehydrated. We don't really think about that. We have an intercellular dehydration epidemic going on, because the foods we eat are dehydrating and the medicine or the stuff, you know, pills we take are dehydrating. So 16 ounces of water before the coffee. I do love bitter food, so I love coffee. I do drink like eight ounces of coffee at the most in the day, and it's usually black, or I put collagen powder in there because I'm an intermittent faster. I've become a little addicted to waiting 16 hours before I eat from the night before finishing my dinner. I have felt so amazing weight-wise, energy, mental clarity, like creative, motility works better. I feel like I really could clean my intestines out. So I love intermittent fasting. So that's what I do.
I have coffee with the collagen powder and I'll have a green juice on a really good day. I never put fruit in my juices because it's still way too much sugar. Then for lunch, I do a plant-based meal usually with legumes or beans or edamame. I have loads of vegetables with the legumes or beans.
Amy Cohen Epstein: Are there any vegetables that you don't eat, that you don't think are good?
Elissa Goodman: Yes. There are some that don't agree with me. I mean I love all kinds of vegetables, but eggplant doesn't really agree with me. I know it's considered a nightshade, but when I eat eggplant, I feel brain dead. Crazy….
I don't eat a lot of red meat because my head has been sort of programmed, but every once in a while I will have a grass-fed burger. I'm a flexitarian. So I have become even more of a flexitarian as I've gotten older.
I used to be more vegan. Now I'm eating some animal protein. Trying to do clean sources of animal protein because there's amino acids in there for aging. Especially at my age, I need those amino acids to rebuild my tissue and muscle. I usually do animal protein once a day, probably five days a week. I usually never drink when I'm eating, and that has really helped my digestion because when you drink water, it can dilute your enzymes.
I drink water before and after, I usually drink like half my body weight at a minimum….
Amy Cohen Epstein: Do you need an early dinner?
Elissa Goodman: I probably eat around 7:00 and finish at 8:00. So, that's usually just that; I've gotten addicted to intermittent fasting. I mean, it's really helped balance my hormones too. I just overall feel lighter and better to do that, you know, to have two meals instead of three meals, but I don't always. On weekends I do have breakfast because I want to sit down and have breakfast, you know? So I don't always; I'm not restricted to that protocol.
Amy Cohen Epstein: Okay.
Amy Cohen Epstein: That's interesting. W is that connection?
Elissa Goodman: Salt helps increase your energy. When your adrenals are fatigued, and your kidneys aren't working so well, you crave salt.
Amy Cohen Epstein: And so how do you get it?
Elissa Goodman: I get it from chips and, like homemade potato chips and, you know. I'll stick my finger in sea salt and lick my finger. I tell clients to put a pinch of sea salt in their water.
Amy Cohen Epstein: Now what's your feeling about chocolate?
Elissa Goodman: I love it. Full of antioxidants, polyphenols, as long as it doesn't have added sugar and it's organic. Chocolate is in high demand. So it's super toxic in terms of where it's coming from. There's lots of bad chocolate out there. Just like coffee. Huge demand. So organics. There's a lot of mold and pesticides on these things, but I think 70+% dark chocolate with no added sugar is fantastic…
Even some of this healthy stuff isn’t great for you. Even gluten-free crackers. You know, we all think, "Oh, they're gluten-free and I can't have gluten." They have a lot of shit in them. Beyond Burgers. Impossible Burgers, you know, if you're a vegan and you want a burger — I mean they're so bad for you but if you want a burger every occasionally, they're not the end of the world — but they're just loaded with crap. It's better to have a grass-fed burger.
Amy Cohen Epstein: My almost 80-year-old mother-in-law the other night told me she has a Beyond Burger every single that's her new thing. She's a recent widow, and that's what she does. She puts it on top of an arugula salad she makes for herself, and she feels very healthy. So I wasn't going to tell her, "I'd be much happier if you made yourself a piece of salmon or a burger," because she thinks she's being really, really healthy. I was like, "Anything you can find that's frozen in the aisle down at Pavilions I don't think it's great for you to eat every single night." I just think that's not the way to go…
Elissa Goodman: It's hard when they're in their eighties and nineties. My mom is 92.
Amy Cohen Epstein: Wow.
Elissa Goodman: And she's going strong. It is crazy when we sit here and talk about sugar and you know, cancer and all that stuff. I mean, she has the biggest sweet tooth of anyone I've ever known. I mean, the woman has cookies frozen, like bags of them, in her freezer. I mean she lives on sugar, but here she is, 92 and healthy for the most part.
Amy Cohen Epstein: My grandmother, my mom's mom lived until she was 99 years old and drank at least one or two glasses of Chardonnay every single night, and had the worst diet on the planet. So —
Elissa Goodman: Right. I know —
Amy Cohen Epstein: Yeah, exactly, and she was never actually sick. She just sort of died.
Elissa Goodman: It's interesting how some people can get away with so much and others can't….
What's confusing these days is there's so much information out there.
Amy Cohen Epstein: Yes.
Elissa Goodman: It's a little information overload, which is scary with all the different diet protocols and the supplements. What to do and what not to do, what foods you can't eat, and what foods you can eat. It's overkill. That's the scary thing for me nowadays for people.
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