Interview with Cathy Holligan of Intentioned Wellness
Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month®? Created by the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, National Nutrition Month® is an annual campaign designed to inspire people to make informed food choices and to promote healthy eating. It’s also perfect timing for me to chat with my friend and fellow food allergy mom, Cathy Holligan, about the launch of her Holistic Health Coaching business, Intentioned Wellness.
I am a firm believer in the pivots that women make as our lives evolve. This is especially true of food allergy mamas – since our children’s diagnosis calls many of us into action to create change. We use our previous professional experience, coupled with our desire to make the world a safer place for those with food allergies, to launch our careers and lives in a new direction.
This is true with Cathy, whose work took a different path after her third son was born. I’ll let her tell you the rest…
Welcome, Cathy. Tell us a little about yourself!
I am originally from Connecticut, but I moved to Florida for my last two years of high school. I ended up staying in Florida to go to Rollins College and majored in Education. After college, I applied to the Steinhardt School of Education at NYU and got my master’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. Following graduation, I started teaching in New York City, first as an assistant teacher and then as a headteacher. I absolutely loved teaching but after my husband and I moved to Connecticut, I decided to stay home with our three boys. In 2019, I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and I’ll be completing the program as a certified Holistic Health Coach later this month.
Your third son has food allergies and asthma. Tell us a little about that journey.
We discovered our son was allergic to peanuts just before he turned one. I was feeding him crackers from a pre-made snack mix when my mother-in-law noticed he had hives on his face and body. We later took him to an allergist who confirmed he was allergic to peanuts, eggs, and tree nuts.
A year later, just prior to his second birthday, he was sick with what we thought was bronchiolitis or pneumonia. By this time, he had already had several upper respiratory infections, but this was the worst we had experienced. He was having a lot of trouble breathing. After two visits (on the same day) to the pediatrician, we ended up at the hospital, and he was later transferred to a children’s hospital so the doctors could figure out what was going on. After a few days of careful observation, the doctors determined he had asthma.
The most surprising thing I learned after Brody’s diagnosis was just how careful you have to be, which seems obvious. But I didn’t have any prior experience with food allergies, and my perception was if you were allergic to a food, you avoided it, and that was that. I now know there is much more to it. Keeping him safe requires a lot of forethought, including being very aware of his surroundings because he is allergic to contact as well as ingestion, and researching foods to ensure they are not processed in a facility with peanuts, just to name a few. The same is true of asthma. You have to be really on top of it and stay calm under pressure. Not always easy! I certainly have a lot of respect for food allergy and asthma parents.
The most challenging part is seeing how his food allergy and asthma affect him. Seeing the fear on his face when he is struggling to breathe because of asthma or his frustration from being itchy from hives. It’s very emotional, and as a parent you feel so helpless, but we have found a lot of support from other food allergy parents, doctors, and organizations like FARE.
Since first being diagnosed, our son has passed a few food challenges, and currently, he is only allergic to peanuts. He still suffers from asthma, but he has an amazing doctor who has been a wonderful resource and support system for all of my many asthma questions and concerns.
Sourcing safe food is incredibly important for a food allergy family, and I know that’s part of what led you to Holistic Health Coaching. Tell us about your program. What was the most interesting thing you learned?
I learned so much about the importance of sourcing our food from farms that follow safe practices for the consumer as well as choosing brands that make food with clean ingredients. There is still a lot of research ongoing, but so many studies link consuming foods grown with pesticides or those made with genetically modified and artificial ingredients with many different health issues.
One of the most interesting things I learned was about claims made on the packaging. They are often purposely vague and misleading to give the impression you are purchasing something healthy, when in fact, it is not. It is also very important for food allergy parents to know the facts when it comes to where and how food is made. As consumers, we really need to be our own advocates when it comes to finding wholesome food.
And now…you’ve launched Intentioned Wellness! Tell us all about it. If you could share one important nutrition tip for us, what would it be?
Intentioned Wellness is a holistic health coaching practice centered around supporting and empowering clients to achieve their wellness goals. I offer a few different services that range from working one-on-one with clients to a pantry makeover, which serves to educate clients about ingredients to avoid and replace foods with similar items made by brands that use real food ingredients.
As for a nutrition tip, I would say everyone would benefit from eating a diet that consists of whole, clean food as much as possible and really limiting packaged/processed foods.
Let’s wrap up with one more question on food allergies. If you could go back and tell yourself one thing right when your son was newly diagnosed, what would it be?
I love this question! I would tell myself that every struggle is an opportunity for learning and positive growth, and even though it doesn’t feel like there could be an upside to the situation at the moment, there will be silver linings.
Last thoughts to share?
If I could mention one last thing, I’d like to recognize just how important it is for all of us to employ understanding and to offer support, guide, and motivate one another during both good times and hard times. In my experience with raising a son who suffers from food allergies and asthma, the doctors have of course played a large part in guiding our family, but as I mentioned before, we have also found so much comfort from other parents whose children share the same struggles. Hillary, you and I were introduced by a mutual friend when Brody was having his first asthma attack post-diagnosis. We were home, and I had been given instructions several times from the doctors, but it was still scary, and our friend put us in touch. Your advice during that time was paramount to getting me through helping Brody and staying calm. I have since spoken to the parents of newly diagnosed children to offer the same. I think that is a really big part of all of this at the end of the day: find a support system, be a support system. It’s so powerful. Thank you, Hillary, for your guidance in those early days, for your continued support, and for all the work you do as an allergy advocate.
“Find a support system, be a support system.” I love this – such wise words for all food allergy parents and advocates. Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your story, Cathy!
Photo credit: Jen Goldberg