June 20, 2016
Kim Kirschner is a wellness coach and Food for Life instructor, with a passion for the integrative approach of combining diet, exercise, and lifestyle, to achieve optimal health. When describing this approach she says, “it’s not any one thing that’s going to be important to health, it’s the contribution of a lot of different things.” Kim currently runs wellness workshops at Willow Star Haven, a health and wellness charitable foundation in Celebration, FL. She integrates these workshops with her pod group, “Plant-Based Health and Healing” which gives people in her workshop access to PlantPure Nation, and vice versa. If there is one way to describe Kim’s approach to health and wellness, it’s synergy.
Kim’s expertise in fitness and her experience as a Food for Life instructor has been instrumental to her workshops, which include cooking classes, and wellness coaching. When describing her classes, she says, “it really bridges the gap between people understanding that a plant-based lifestyle can be helpful and actually going out and chopping food and preparing it.” Kim makes the point that plant-based cooking is like learning a new language for many people, and starting with the foundations of plant-based cooking is key.
Not only does Kim offer cooking, and wellness coaching through her workshops, but she also uses these workshops as opportunities to engage participants with animal therapy. She works with rescue animals, trains, and restores them for therapy work. Kim says that simply having non-verbal, close communication with an animal can be extremely therapeutic, which she witnesses when bringing her dogs to workshops, saying “they know who needs the most therapy, and gravitate to that person.” Kim explains the mechanisms behind animal therapy, saying “anytime you remove or reduce stress in your life it has a positive effect. Transitioning to a new lifestyle can be stressful, and there’s a lot of stress when people have to try something new – we’re creatures of habit, we like to do things the way we’ve always done them. So anything that reduces stress, which can be exercise, having a companion animal, meditation…it’s all positive.”
In addition to animal therapy, cooking classes, and wellness coaching, these monthly workshops also feature different speakers, and wellness discussions on different topics every month. So we asked Kim how she came to such a holistic approach to wellness.
Kim’s passion for animal rescue begin as a child, growing up in Puerto Rico, where she started rescuing animals on the island. She recalls these experiences, saying “there were a lot of stray animals on the island, so I was constantly bringing animals home, and my parents were really good about letting me do it.”
Around age 12, Kim came to the conclusion that she simply couldn’t justify eating animals as much as she liked having them and helping them. So she says, “I announced to my family that I was going to be vegetarian, and this was in the 70’s, when vegetarianism wasn’t commonly accepted, especially in Puerto Rico. Also, nobody in my family was vegetarian. I think they thought it was a phase that would pass, and it never did. I always felt very strongly that this was an important lifestyle for me, but I wasn’t a good vegetarian, especially being a single mom and having my own business. I was working all the time and was more of a fast food and convenience vegetarian.” Losing her mother to cancer in 2007 was the catalyst that launched her pursuit of additional education in looking at the ways in which a plant-based diet is beneficial to improving chronic conditions. At that point she became fully plant-based, and has been for the past 8 years. In 2010 she completed a medical fellowship in integrative oncology and is currently pursuing a master’s of science in integrative health and nutrition.
Kim’s dream is to integrate all aspects of wellness taught in her workshops, through the [Willow Haven Foundation she and her family started ]several years ago. The idea behind the foundation is to develop a holistic wellness retreat center for food and lifestyle changes, which will include a housing center focused on integrating the synergies between seniors, children, and animals, in a holistic wellness setting. This center will allow her to reach more people, through bigger groups, and establish a model for this lifestyle.
Kim’s advice for those transitioning to a healthier lifestyle, or trying to bring this message to others, is to remember that people come to this through all sorts of channels. She says, “one of the things that motivates the people I work with is seeing how much better they feel while changing their diet and lifestyle, and it seems that the worse your lifestyle is, as far as diet and lack of exercise, the faster you can see results when you hit the transition to a plant-based whole foods lifestyle.”
Continuing to see success stories through her workshop participants and pod group members motivates Kim to continue teaching this lifestyle to others, and to continue developing a model for Willow Star Haven’s wellness center.
Find out more about her pod group and workshop by visiting their Facebook page:
You can learn about Willow Star Haven, the foundation, and their mission by visiting: