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Start your day with a gratitude list and also a mantra or affirmations list. Whether you write it down or say it out loud, get into a space of gratefulness first thing in the morning for everything that you already have (“I’m so grateful for…”), and separately, for everything that you are (“I am….”). I like to end my day with a gratitude list as well. Doing this will shift your energy and your mind into a place of love and a space to receive.
Asa part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Serena Poon. Serena is a leading chef, nutritionist and reiki master to the Hollywood elite. Serena’s passion and career for curating healing and wellness programs using integrative health, holistic nutrition and Culinary Alchemy™ began long before she started creating contemporary meals, menus and nutritional goodness for the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and Kerry Washington. Serena’s Culinary Alchemy is the practice of combining intuitive energetic techniques with guidance and education on functional & spiritual nutrition, integrating how food affects our bodies on a physiological level, as well as how it affects the energetic body. Serena’s goal is to optimize and heal the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of her clients. She is the founder of Just Add Water™, a wellness line of super nutrient foods and supplements, and Serena Loves, a lifestyle brand and blog, as well as the host for Serena Loves TV. View Serena on Instagram.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Serena! What is 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 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 (I truly believe), my father in heaven watching over her, 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. During my father’s battle, I began looking into holistic, herbal and natural remedies for everything from his cancer symptoms to alleviating the side effects of his treatments. 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 creating ways to heal and comfort people through the power of food.
I took it upon myself to be the ultimate caretaker, making it my passion, my mantra and my goal to make sure that the people I loved were happy and healthy. But in doing so, I took on too much for many years, overextending my own health and not addressing my own heartache and trauma from what our family had gone through. It felt like the sacrifice was not only worth it, because my intention behind my energy came from love and provided healing to others, but it seemed to make sense. My good intentions and drive for healing others led me to a place where I was sacrificing my wellness for the sake of helping others. As passionate as I was about healing, providing comfort and nutritional education to others, I did not realize the damage that the entire experience of my parents’ illnesses took on my heart, my mind, my body. What I didn’t yet understand at the time, was that full health and true wellness is about the whole mind, body and soul. That is, until I found myself fighting for my own health after I had a surgery and contracted MRSA straight from the operating room. Seven years, 8 surgeries later, and nearly dying twice, and years of self-development, I’ve learned to balance my energy, to take care of myself first so that I can take care of everyone else around me. During this time, my business evolved to include more than just service as a private chef and caterer. I developed Culinary Alchemy and became a wellness expert, coach, reiki practitioner and counselor to my clients. I was inspired to soft launched my health and wellness line, Just Add Water™. As I became aware of my influence within my own community, I realized that I could effectively teach and help so many more people by expanding my platform. By sharing my stories through the power of social media and my Serena Loves lifestyle brand, TV show and podcast, I’ve been able to reach countless others who gained insight from my knowledge, who have learned from my experiences.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
1) Start your day with a gratitude list and also a mantra or affirmations list.
Whether you write it down or say it out loud, get into a space of gratefulness first thing in the morning for everything that you already have (“I’m so grateful for…”), and separately, for everything that you are (“I am….”). I like to end my day with a gratitude list as well. Doing this will shift your energy and your mind into a place of love and a space to receive.
2) Have a morning routine. Routines and rituals create a place of comfort for our minds. That’s why it’s important to start your day and end your day with a certain pattern of habits. It helps to ease into our day or slow down our minds as we prepare to rest at night. For me, it’s my gratitude list and then my lemon water and elixirs in the morning. In the evening, it’s a guided meditation and gratitude list before bed.
3) Take time for you. Take 15–20 minutes a day. Or even just 5 minutes. Whether you meditate, read a book, go for a walk or a long drive — whatever it is that grounds you and gives you time and space to just be with yourself, do it. It is a form of self-care, and without taking care of ourselves, we cannot take care of others and we cannot take care of our dreams.
4) Listen to your intuition. At the end of the day, prioritizing what you intuitively know is right for you is the most important practice you can have. I say this quite often, not just as a reminder to others but also as a reminder to myself. You know what the right decisions are. You know it with your gut, your instinct and that intuitive voice inside you.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Just Add Water™ soft launched two days after I had to have my 7th major surgery. I was actually still in the hospital recovering. To give a little history, I had contracted MRSA many years back, straight from the operating room after my very first surgery to remove some damaged but benign tissue in my chest area. That MRSA infection is what essentially changed the direction of my first company, as I went from primarily catering and private chef work with nutrition, to a period of 6 months where I only consulted for companies and clients because I severely hemorrhaged and nearly died post-op (after my 4thsurgery) and lost the ability to effectively use my left arm for that time. That period of time actually expanded my business because I was forced to think outside the box and create plans that utilized all my skills and knowledge, without being able to physically create in the kitchen. Fast forward a few years later when we were only a few months into the process of creating Just Add Water™ with a hard deadline of a partnered fulfillment the first week of December, the MRSA came back with a vengeance and I had to have another major surgery again to remove it. That last surgical experience taught me surrender, and it shifted my life again. With all my knowledge and all my prior experience with my other surgeries, I treated myself like I was my own client and had all the bases covered for optimal recovery. But, you cannot prepare for the random mishaps in life, you cannot prepare for mistakes in medication from the pharmacy or unforeseen post-op complications and in my recovery period, I allowed myself to fully surrender to the process, to this path of mine that has led me to where I am today. There were no tears of frustration despite the mishaps, just pure acceptance and acknowledgement that every step of the journey had a purpose and that this was all part of my purpose in this life. This past January, I had my 8th(and last!) surgery and my recovery this time was the quickest and with no complications.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake that I made is also the biggest lesson that I’ve learned. And that is simply to ask for help.There are some of us who can freely and comfortably ask others, even strangers for help. That’s evident in the power of crowd-funding. Then there are those of us who do not always feel comfortable asking others for help, even when within our inner circles. With my upbringing, I very much fall into the second category. As a person of service, who has spent most of my energy giving and helping others, it has never been comfortable for me to ask others for help. Asking for help felt like I was being a burden to others. Receiving help felt like I was indebting myself to others. It is a conscious, intentional daily practice for me to exercise receiving help from others when it is simply offered. When we first start off in ANY industry, there are more unknowns than knowns. As an entrepreneur, you realize that there is so much you don’t yet know and haven’t the slightly clue where to begin. Ask for help. There are mentors all around us. Mentors in our own circles and mentors who are kind faceless strangers online. When I decided to bring Just Add Water to the public, I really had no idea about the in’s and out’s of consumer product goods or the complexities of manufacturing a food product. And I was doing it all by myself. There were A Lot of mistakes during my self-learning process that could have been avoided had I simply asked for direction or help. I spent a lot of energy rectifying mistakes, putting out fires, missing deadlines on deliverables and burning out. It’s been a hard-learned lesson, but also a blessing because it’s a message I share with all budding entrepreneurs now whenever I have the opportunity to.
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
With both Just Add Water™ and Serena Loves, we donate a portion of proceeds to non-profits and charities from animal shelters to cancer fundraising. The fundamental ethos behind my core brand Serena Loves, my practice of Culinary Alchemy, and my wellness line Just Add Water is self-care and our intuitive abilities to heal our bodies and optimize our health. The purpose of everything I do and everything I create is rooted in service to others and to empower as many people as possible with the knowledge and tools to live a better life. The success I’ve achieved in the professional space as a chef and nutritionist, I am investing back into the creation of products that I know can help everyone achieve optimal health within their lifestyle goals. Just Add Water conceptually, and with every new product released, is based on prioritizing our own self-care through nutrient-dense foods and snacks that support and nourish our bodies.
The educational practices and courses within Culinary Alchemy is based on connecting with our intuition to make conscious choices that optimize our physical and spiritual bodies.
In terms of my presence on social media, I am very consistent with my positive mantras and my voice about kindness, mindset, self-care, empowerment and support of one another. Unlike an activist, I lean towards neutrality, compassion and love with a different kind of voice and I am consistent about educating everyone with my knowledge of food, nutrition and wellness. The purpose behind the content I am creating is to continually reinforce the power and strength we have as individuals, and collectively as a super power when we support each other.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been blessed with quite a few amazing mentors in my life and there are two whose words are always in the back on my mind, through my successes and failures and all the moments in between. The late Garry Marshall, who was not only a client but also like a grandfather to me, gave me volumes worth of life and professional advice. But there is one thing he said to me, that I often remind myself of when I’m feeling overwhelmed, down on myself or struggling with a difficult situation. He said, “Don’t disappear. You can take a little break, but don’t ever disappear. The world needs you.”
The other is Jerry Bruckheimer, also a client, mentor and friend, who gave me the little-known background story about the failings of one of pop culture’s biggest film stars and at the end of it, he told me, “you only need to succeed once. You can fail 9, 10, 1000 times, but you only need to succeed once. And then you’re on your way.” These reminders from people I respect so much, true icons and legends of our time who made their way to success on their own…For them to believe in me, to see the light in me and to share their knowledge with me….these are gifts that I am forever grateful for.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would LOVE to take our slogan for Just Add Water™ “Simplify Your Self-Care” and make it a real campaign to inspire people everywhere to stop and take a moment to reflect on how they take care of themselves. I don’t think it matters where you live, what your background is, what you do for a living, or if you’re responsible for a whole family, a pack of fur babies, a huge team at work or just yourself. Each and every one of us can benefit from taking a mindful moment to reflect on How and What we do to take care of ourselves. It can be as simple as a 5-minute meditation every morning and every night. It can be exercise or reading a book. It can be making a snack or a meal for yourself to enjoy. Or if can simply be disconnecting from your phone and the world for 10 minutes each day. It’s something that I believe every one of us can learn and benefit from, by sharing what we each did today that was an act of “self-care”, seeing what other people do for self-care and using that to give ourselves ideas. I think that the benefits would have a ripple effect. And I love the idea of simplifying it, as we do with our motivation behind Just Add Water™. Let’s see, share, support, encourage and remind one another how easy it is to take care of ourselves in simple ways, so that we can in turn, take care of all the things and people that are important to us. I feel that when we can be kind to ourselves, we can be kind to everyone.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1) Always keep learning and educating yourself so that you can stay present, connected and give value (something my father instilled in me)
2) Be aware that the people you surround yourself with are the ones you are also learning the most from. So, educate yourself through your network. Ask questions and make sure that the people around you challenge you and are supportive of you.
3) Do not get bogged down by the details but be detailed-oriented. Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve but do not be attached to an exact outline or playbook you have in your head. Be flexible, be open to change and allow things to flow as long as it does not go against the grain of your intuition.
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide!)
If I had to choose only one woman in wellness that I could take to brunch, it would be Oprah Winfrey. During the toughest times and my darkest hours, I found peace in her free guided meditations with Deepak Chopra and I honestly don’t even have the words to explain how powerful and comforting those teachings were for me. Without my own healers and guidance at the time, her voice, along with Deepak’s were the foundation for my own growth, personal development and healing journey. Now, as someone who has lived my own lessons, traumas, pains and enlightenment, I would love to sit down with someone I admire deeply from a spiritual place in my heart, as well as an entrepreneur and a thought leader wanting to help change the world and improve the lives of others.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I’m plant-based myself and am a dutiful momma to fur babies, but I think that topic closest to my heart would be that of mental health. We are all unknowingly subjected to so many environmental factors that can affect our mental and spiritual health and well-being. Currently, our system does not give the support people need to have access to alternative and holistic healing modalities to address mental health. Much of our society is running on a fight or flight, high-stress and burnout pace. Mental health is equally as important as physical health on the body. I think that educating and guiding people towards options for healing, for creating supportive community and towards resources for mentorship and personal empowerment are important foundations for preventative care in mental health.