At 31, Thomas has already turned her passion for healthy living into an innovative business. She is the brainchild behind Tender Shoots Wellness, a holistic lifestyle practice that serves to enrich women’s lives, particularly during the childbearing years. Founded in 2006, her New York–based company provides hands-on and Web-based coaching in nutrition, doula services (or birth coaching), yoga, green culinary arts and plant-based medicine. In addition to holding dual degrees from Columbia University in visual arts and environmental science, she’s a certified holistic health counselor. And now Thomas can add “author” to her résumé: She just signed a two-book deal with Hay House. Her first book, Mama Glow!, will be out next fall.
EL | Can you talk about a moment in your life that caused you to reflect on your path, and perhaps refine it?
LT | The birth of my son in 2003. It’s what inspired me to start my business. I knew that I would one day help people with nutrition, but I didn’t know it would be women specifically. The connection really solidified for me when I became pregnant. It became very important to me to figure out what my body needed now that there was somebody else dependent upon me. I wanted to help others do the same thing.
Another moment was when I was working on a five-year initiative called B-Healthy, which was a holistic program that focused on building healthy eating and lifestyle for youth. Besides teaching basic cooking skills, I also taught about food justice, food security, media literacy, self-development and stress-management techniques. One day someone suggested that we should do one of these classes specifically for young moms because some of the teenagers were pregnant. When I heard that, I thought, “Nobody is doing this. I have to do this.”
EL | How did you get interested in health and wellness to begin with?
LT | My grandfather was interested in healing plants, and that’s what sparked my curiosity. When I was 8 years old I made a cookbook with Polaroid pictures of all the plants in my aunt’s vegetable garden. I added notes: “how to make a salad” and “how to make soup.” My family put a chef’s hat on me and took a picture for the cover of the cookbook. It was very cute. I continued to explore my interest in plants during boarding school in Colorado. In college I majored in environmental science with a focus on plant systems and botany.
I became a vegetarian when I was 12 because I had a babysitter who was a vegetarian and I wanted to be just like her. But later I became more aware of the environmental and animal rights issues involved in eating meat, and made a deeper, more purposeful decision about how I wanted to eat.
EL | You’re still a vegetarian?
LT | I’m a vegan now. My pregnancy was also mostly vegan. When I was pregnant, people told me, “Oh, you’re not going to get enough calcium or protein,” or whatever. But when I would go for my check-ups, my blood levels were off-the-charts healthy. Not all of my clients are vegetarian or vegan, though. I believe there are many ways of eating healthy. My goal with most people is to help them incorporate more green into their diet so they develop a relationship with plant-based cuisine.
EL | When did you realize that your passion for health might ultimately become your professional calling?
LT | In college I cooked for other students in the dorms. I knew how to cook because I was always in the kitchen with my grandmother and my mother. So I would be cooking and people would say, “That looks good!” and they’d want to share. The next thing I knew, they were saying, “Let’s give Latham the grocery money and she can cook for all of us, and then we’ll clean up!”
So it became this thing where I was creating community around the table. And soon the other students started to ask me about nutrition. I’d done a lot of reading about nutrition because I was a nerd about that stuff. When people would ask me questions, I always knew what to tell them. That’s when I started to see this very specific shift and could see myself becoming more of a teacher. I realized that my interest in health and nutrition could be more than just a hobby.
EL | It’s a big leap to start a business. Did you ever hesitate?
LT | There were a lot of naysayers, people who said, “You can’t make a living doing this.” I just didn’t allow those sorts of thoughts to penetrate my consciousness. I knew I was on the right track. I was following this inner spark I felt inside. I think it’s about self-trust. When you believe in yourself you’ll start to make really aligned decisions. That’s what happened in my life.
EL | What is your own biggest healthy-living challenge?
LT | Making time for my own self-care. When you’re running your own company and you want to serve everyone, it’s really hard to say no. I have a high level of accessibility with the moms I work with, and if one of them texts me at night I’ll respond. Plus, I’m on a 24-hour schedule because I’m a mom myself.
But sometimes you have to draw the line. Because if you aren’t taking care of yourself, before long, you won’t have much to offer anyone else, either. What I learned to do in the last three years or so is really just be clear about what I need in any given situation, and then I write it down so I stay on track with it.
EL | What essential advice do you give to people who want to be healthier?
LT | First: Create community. We can only really succeed if we create community. We need people supporting us and helping us and cheering us on.
Second: Set attainable goals, not lofty things that you think look good on paper. I believe in solutions that you can do the same day, not something that you have to go out and buy all this equipment for and then start. If there is one simple thing you know you should be doing, you start with that.
Third: Practice forgiveness. If you’re trying to eat healthier, don’t berate yourself if you eat a cookie. It’s OK. You’re creating new habits, which take time. It’s so important to be forgiving. The world is harsh enough already, and when we’re not forgiving, it’s like we’re doing more of what the world already does to us. Just be loving and gentle to yourself. Forgive yourself, then just start fresh. Every day starts fresh anyway.