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

By the time Ormsby was in preschool, Thompson spent most days at home alone and depressed, often racked with migraines. In her bedroom, heavy blackout drapes blocked the sunlight. “I was living on this beautiful farm, but I was broken,” she says. And as much as she enjoyed being a mother, Thompson missed her days working in New York. “I didn’t know who I was anymore.”

Over the years, doctors prescribed migraine medication, antibiotics for her sinus infections, nasal sprays for her allergies and an antidepressant. But the drugs brought Thompson only temporary relief. One evening she was out with a concerned friend who suggested she
try strengthening her immune system.

Earlier in her life, Thompson had been interested in nutrition, and she remembered from reading books on the subject that certain foods promote strong immunity. She decided to consult a holistic nutrition coach, who helped revamp her diet. Thompson eliminated dairy -products—which, she had read, may promote congestion in some people—along with gluten and most processed foods. Under the coach’s guidance, she concocted protein-rich smoothies and high-antioxidant organic juices; she even began raising her own chickens.

Gradually over the next three years, Thompson started to feel better. She lost weight, and her sinus infections and migraines cleared up. She no longer needed her medications. As her mood lifted, she dusted off her business skills and volunteered in her community, chairing two local charity events that netted $100,000 each.

“I remembered that I know how to organize, to raise money, to lead people, to be creative,” she says. She started to think about going back to work. “I considered every career known to man: Maybe I’ll open a jewelry shop, become a lobbyist or start a store on eBay.”

Committed to focusing on her future, Thompson attended the inaugural MoreReinvention Convention in 2007, where several hundred women—many of them wrestling with the same career questions—came together in New York to explore new directions. Thompson was particularly impressed by a panel of enthusiastic entrepreneurs who talked about resources for women in business. “It was like a lightbulb,” she says. “It made me think that I was perhaps brave enough to start my own business.”

The right idea came from an unexpected source. Ormsby, by then seven years old, was having health problems of his own. He had developed sinus infections and a chronic cough and often had colds. Doctors diagnosed asthma and prescribed medication, but his symptoms continued. Alarmed, the Thompsons had him tested for a range of infectious diseases. The doctors found nothing.

Finally, Thompson decided that what had worked for her might work for her son. She eliminated dairy, gluten and processed foods from his diet and started feeding him organic and locally grown food. Soon his symptoms began to disappear. “You keep up with your home remedies,” Thompson recalls one of Ormsby’s doctors telling her. “They’re working!”

Thompson’s next step was clear to her. “Honey,” she told Moses, “I’m going back to school to study nutrition.”

After researching programs, Thompson enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), a licensed vocational school in New York City, in 2008. The program attracted people like her who were returning to school in midlife, and its mix of live and online study fit her schedule. Thompson would commute to Manhattan one weekend a month for classes.

Although she didn’t receive formal training in dietetics, Thompson studied dietary theories (about, for example, the relative merits of organic foods), how to take health histories and how to start your own business. She signed up for cooking classes at the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, where she learned to make a raw “meatloaf” from nuts and mushrooms. After a year of study, Thompson received a certificate in holistic health coaching from IIN.

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