From Fashion Exec to Health Coach

Former Chanel VP Holli Thompson suffered from an array of illnesses; then she discovered the healing power of food. Now she helps people live healthfully by eating right

By Lynn Rosellini
Photograph: Katherine Wolkoff

One morning last January, Holli Thompson’s country kitchen in rural Virginia hummed with activity. A juicer whirred with a blend of organic kale, romaine and celery; containers of rice milk and flaxseed crowded her wooden countertops; and a TV crew from WUSA9 in Washington, D.C., readied equipment to film Thompson, a nutrition coach, for the evening news.

As the camera clicked on, Thompson, a bubbly blonde, cheerily explained to a reporter the best ways to detox after the holidays. She touted the benefits of water infused with cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks and star anise as well as the cleansing power of nutrient-rich smoothies. Pouring a glass of green liquid from the juicer, she handed it to her interviewer. “This will make your skin glow,” she said with a confident smile.

Ten years ago, Thompson was decidedly not glowing. She was depressed, overweight and suffering from a number of illnesses; she’d walked away from a glitzy corporate job and wasn’t sure she’d done the right thing. But after hitting bottom physically and emotionally, Thompson rekindled an earlier interest in nutrition, transformed herself and built a new career teaching people how to change their lives by changing their diets. “I had to go down the rabbit hole and crash first—and then get educated to help other people,” she says.

Now a holistic health counselor, she advises clients, teaches nutrition workshops and appears frequently in TV news segments on healthy eating. She expects her income to top six figures this year.

In the 1980s, Thompson’s life was a sophisticated swirl. As a buyer of fine jewelry for Macy’s and later Tiffany & Co., she lived in Manhattan and regularly flew to London and Hong Kong to buy gems and attend jewelry fairs. When she left Tiffany in 1989 to become a vice president at Chanel and launch the company’s fine jewelry and watches collection, she often hopped the Concorde to Paris to meet with designers. “It was a totally glamorous life,” she recalls.

While working at Chanel, Thompson began to ask herself whether there might be more to life than selling fabulous earrings to gazillionaires. “I was dedicated to my career,” she says, “but I wondered if this was really my calling.”

In 1994 she married Moses Thompson, an international management consultant from Middleburg, Virginia, whomshe’d fallen for on a business trip in Paris. For the first year of their marriage, she continued working in Manhattan, spending weekends with him in Virginia on their farm. The difficulties of a long-distance relationship made her question her career choices even more.

Then, one gray winter day as she sat in her sleekly modern office on the 44th floor of a midtown high-rise, with its distant view of polar bears frolicking in the Central Park Zoo, she realized that the thought of another year of seeing her husband only on weekends was too depressing. “I was approaching 40, and I really wanted to have a baby,” she says. So Thompson quit her job and moved south, with plans to get pregnant.

At first, she relished the change. Middleburg is a tiny 18th-century village about 40 miles west of Washington. Thompson could walk the dirt roads for an hour and never see another human being. But before long, she found country life lonely and isolating.

She’d begun helping her husband at his company, managing the payroll and accounting, when a battery of health problems—allergies, chronic sinus infections, mononucleosis and migraine headaches—began to overwhelm her. On top of all this, Thompson struggled to get pregnant. By 1999, unsuccessful in vitro fertilizations and three miscarriages had plunged her into grief.

Thompson and her husband eventually adopted a baby from Russia in 2000 and called him Ormsby, which was the family name of Moses’s mother. Though very happy to have a child, Thompson was weak from unrelenting illnesses, and fertility treatments had further sapped her energy. She quit working at Moses’s office, stopped exercising and gained 40 pounds.

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