Elisa Haggarty is the Founder of Culinary Farmacy, a company designed to help educate, empower and inspire everyone looking for nutritional and culinary guidance. She is the Chōsen Expert who helps participants kick sugar addictions, restore balance to their diets and incorporate mindful eating into their daily lives. Her rolodex-like knowledge of superfoods, healthy hacks and nutrition is unrivalled and something to behold. We chat to Elisa about her whole-food approach to eating, easy healthy habits to adopt and why it takes 22 days to kick a habit.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I grew up in a quiet suburb in New Jersey for most of my life. I’m the youngest of seven children and have a twin sister, Catherine. I’ve always considered myself to be lucky to grow up in the environment I did because I was challenged everyday by my sisters and brothers, yet, I always felt supported. I was a serious athlete growing up too which I know has helped me become successful as an entrepreneur and nutritionist. I spent countless hours playing basketball and was good enough to earn a full four-year scholarship to play in college. Looking back, I’m not quite sure how my body withstood so many grueling workouts because it wasn’t until my mid twenties that I really started to eat whole foods.
What inspired you to start Culinary Farmacy?
In my early 20’s I started to deal with clinical depression and anxiety. It was a scary time in my life and I ended up taking multiple variations of anti-depressants which basically numbed my emotions for a year. It was during that time that I embraced vegetarianism because I felt like there was so much suffering going on inside of me and I didn’t want to contribute to more suffering by eating animals. So, I went vegetarian for a few years for spiritual reasons and this period of time allowed me to expand my culinary repertoire and learn how to cook for myself. I started to connect the dots between my mental health and what I was eating. I noticed that when I ate whole foods like leafy greens, black beans, avocados and fruit, I could actually wake up in the morning. If I ate tons of cookies and sugar, I would sleep until noon.
Out of curiosity, I enrolled in The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, a holistic health-coaching program while living in Hong Kong. The curriculum opened my eyes to a variety of diets and also helped me understand the importance of maintaining healthy relationships and spirituality as a means to nourish the human body.
I started Culinary Farmacy because I was compelled to do so. Food and healing fell in my lap so synchronistically that I was driven to create a platform to help others find hope when faced with a daunted diagnosis and learn how to live a more fulfilled life. In Culinary Farmacy, I have created the support I wished I had had early on in my life to address food and physiology, lifestyle and community.
Can food really heal?
Of course food can heal. Food is information. Food literally informs the formation and expression of your cells.
Food has the ability to turn on or turn off the expression of your genes. For example, if Cancer runs in your family, most people think that it’s only a matter of time before they too get Cancer. This is false. Epigenetics teaches us that it is our environment that helps determine the expression of these genes. Our diet, lifestyle, toxicity exposure and community all help determine what our genes do. Food can cause illness, and food can also reverse illness.
Do you have a morning routine?
I am not married to one specific routine but I realize the importance of one. I write in my 5-Minute Journal, brush my teeth, drink lemon water, sweep the apartment as a way to gather my thoughts and focus on set intentions for the day. I actually find some of my best ideas come to me when I am sweeping or walking.
How do you stay fit, healthy and happy?
Everyday, I make choices that more often than not, serve my happiness and health. I am no different than anyone on the planet when it comes to my ability to be sick or healthy. My choices to stretch, eat organic, skip the sugar, workout and dance are all key factors that aid in my happiness and healthy. My favorite form of fitness is playing basketball. Next, I would choose a trail run or lifting weights.
Can you remember a time when you pushed past your comfort zone and what happened afterwards?
I feel that each time I do a video on the web or create a new course online I am out of my comfort zone, in the sense that I am open to criticism.
I am currently creating and editing a new online course called, “The Brain Fog Solution” which I am extremely excited about from a nutrition and practitioner perspective. I am finally mustering up the courage to say things others haven’t wanted to hear or don’t believe. “The Brain Fog Solution” is a course that challenges the status quo about mental health and the supposed inevitability of neurodegenerative disease with old age.
I guess as I am writing this, challenging the status quo is quite natural and comfortable to me. Either way, buckling down to study, create and edit a new course requires a lot of attention to detail and commitment, and for that reason, it moves me outside of my comfort zone
What’s the deal with sugar and why is it so addictive?
Sugar presents the false promise of joy and energy, but ultimately, it makes us feel dependent, anxious and leaves us exhausted.
Sugar stimulates the pleasure center of the brain called the amygdala. This is the same part of the brain that is stimulated when people drink alcohol or drugs like cocaine or heroin. In other words, on a biochemical level, sugar is addictive because it fires up your central nervous system to want more and it provides a small dopamine hit that leaves you happy, momentarily.
Why is your sugar cleanse 22 days? Does it take this long to kick a habit?
I’ve heard many times it says 21 days to create a new habit, so I added one more day for good measure 😉 Also, since the 22 Day Sugar Cleanse is virtual, I wanted to make sure the course was long enough, but not too long that participants were able to “stick with it” and get results.
How has the internet changed the way you help your clients?
I learned very early on that 1-on-1 work was crucial to my growth as a practitioner but I couldn’t create the shift I wanted to in this world working that way. The internet has allowed me to work with anyone anywhere in the world as 99% of my business is virtual. It has also helped me create a platform for me to teach online courses so that I could more people in a group coaching setting.
Who are your mentors?
Andrea Nakayama of Holistic Nutrition Labs, based in Portland Oregon. I started studying under Andrea as soon as I finished The Institute of Integrative Nutrition in 2011 and it was the best choice I ever made for my professional growth. I also look up to and learn from people like Andrea Beaman, Dr. Jeffrey Bland, Dr. Hyman and entrepreneurs like Dale Partridge of Sevenly.
What are some of your favorite superfoods and how do you incorporate them into your diet?
First and foremost, my diet consists of mostly leafy greens, herbs, fruits, vegetables but if I want to get fancy and use some of the hyped up superfoods I’ll incorporate maca, cacao, lucuma, and matcha green tea powder. Fermented foods are superfoods really, they are teaming with good bacteria and fiber which aid in forming a strong immune system. They don’t get the hype that cacao and maca may get but they are the real MVP’s. I make an incredible hot chocolate that uses full fat coconut milk, raw honey, maca, cacao powder, cinnamon and sea salt.
You live in New York, what are your favourite food spots?
I cook from home mostly but when I go out there are a few places where I can eat without worrying about the oils/produce or quality of animal protein. I’ll go and get a Bison burger from Bareburger a few times a month and order sweet potato fries on the side. I also love going to Hu Kitchen in Manhattan because they are so diligent about sourcing the highest quality foods on the planet. Other than that, I don’t go out much to eat.
Guilt is often associated with indulging in food, what’s your take on this?
Guilt is never an emotion that I associate with food. I make sure to choose quality food all the time, so there is never any guilt. Plus, even if I went off the deep end and ate some random sugar filled cookies from a corner store (which I wouldn’t) my response would be more curiosity as to what triggered that impulsive decision and then a little bit of humor because me inhaling Keebler cookies in NYC would be a sight to behold for my growing brand ;).
Any easy healthy habits that are really easy to adopt?
- Drink more water, people confuse hunger for thirst all the time.
- Stop keeping junk in your kitchen or drawer at work, out of sight, out of mind.
- Adopt the habit of setting a daily intention to get grounded on HOW you want to live each day. Setting an intention allows you to check in before the reactivity of emails/social media begins and encourages more mindful behavior throughout the day.
What does your average daily menu look like?
Breakfast: 2 eggs pan fried in coconut oil, sautéed kale, blackberries and plantain chips.
Lunch: Salmon burger, raw leafy greens, beets or roasted broccoli, and a simple olive oil/lemon dressing.
Dinner: Loving a sauté of ginger/turmeric, onion, thinly sliced cabbage, and ground beef. I’ll add a huge bushel of parsley or cilantro to this at the end and a bag of pre-chopped cauliflower crumbles. I then add a little bone broth and let simmer for a few minutes until the cauliflower is cooked. Eat. 10-minute meal.
Top tips for staying on track while eating out?
I have the same principles at home as I do in a restaurant. I don’t eat gluten, dairy, sugary junk so when I go out, I’ll order something on the menu that doesn’t have these items. Restaurants are very accommodating these days.
- I’ll recommend sticking to eating fish/animal protein, vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, nuts/seeds and lentils.
- Skip most dressings as they are loaded with sugar, ask for a few wedges of lemon and olive oil on the side.
- Ask questions and stand up for yourself if you have a dietary restriction, you have to be your own best advocate when it comes to health.
Your favorite memory from a Chōsen experience?
I really loved our very long hike in Guatemala. At the end of the hike, a bunch of us decided to run back to the house which was another 2-3 miles. We were exhausted but it felt good to push our limits and support each other.
If you’re finding it hard to give up sugar, adopt healthy eating habits or simply nourish yourself with wholesome food get in touch with Elisa here. She would love to hear from you!