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A Conversation With Yonni Wattenmaker

We first introduced Yonni last spring when she shared with us a healthy and delicious vegan recipe for our blog series. We still make her addictive Roasted Carrot Hummus all the time! Since then, we began working with her more closely as in her capacity as Executive Director of the Breast Cancer Alliance based in Greenwich CT – one of Starling’s primary causes we support.

Recently launching her own integrative nutritional health coach business – Yon Appetit, she has further devoted herself to the mission of educating and helping clients with integrative food coaching for their health and wellness needs.

She is tireless in her pursuits to help others, and her enthusiasm is contagious. We are thrilled to feature Yonni Wattenmaker as our first guest in a new ongoing Starling series called Conversations featuring influential women who are shaping the way we think of health, wellness and lifestyle.

Would you share a few personal things about yourself?
Though I raised my son in Bedford, NY I currently live in Stamford, Connecticut and have a second home in San Juan, Puerto Rico from where I often work remotely. I am a sucker for the sun and the sand. I just breathe differently when I am warm and near water.

Tell us about your role at Breast Cancer Alliance (BCA), and how you got there.
For the past 11 years I have been Executive Director of Breast Cancer Alliance. I had been looking for a career change, and one that would bring my closer to home than midtown NYC while I was raising my son. As the granddaughter of a male breast cancer survivor, I was immediately interested in this role when it was introduced to me. BCA was an inspiring and beloved local charity when I arrived and I am so proud of how far we’ve come, now one of the most prominent breast cancer charities in the nation. We support innovative research, future breast surgeons, provide essential education and resources and help underserved patients access critical breast health care. We have a very small staff so volunteers are always welcome.

We are thrilled for the opportunity to be a partner to BCA at Starling. It is a cause we truly believe in. Beginning this month we are donating a portion of our Pink Rose Deodorants profits to BCA. How do our customers help women with breast cancer when they purchase Starling Pink Rose Deodorants? 
COVID had a negative impact on so many things, in so many ways, and fundraising across organizations was one area that was hit. Proceeds from Starling sales will go towards future grants, affording BCA to further advance the field and improve outcomes for patients.

Now, let’s focus on Yon Appetit. What is your mission?  
I am a certified integrative nutritional health coach. I created Yon Appetit as a health and wellness platform, complete with original recipes and healthy living tips, that also offers personalized nutritional and health guidance.

I understand this was a personal endeavor for you and is a passion of yours. When did you first understand the effective healing properties of whole foods and how they could help you? 
In 2008, after years of struggle with gastrointestinal issues that were primarily undiagnosed, a team of specialists deduced that a vegan diet was the only one my body could metabolize. After two weeks of that protocol (to which I was very resistant), all of the symptoms I had been struggling with disappeared. Over the years, by adhering to a plant-based diet, studying and experimenting, I saw the value and positive impact of functional medicine on my overall health. That inspired me to create Yon Appetit and formalize my education at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I love helping people find success in their journeys too.

Coaching someone for the first time would be a daunting task, there’s so much to understand behind the surface to get the coaching right. How do you begin?
When I start working with clients, it is most important for me to not just look at diet, but to look at lifestyle. What does their day look like? Are they satisfied in their relationships? Career? Where does snacking come in? Is exercise in the mix? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their goals? The answers to all of those questions, plus personal and family medical history help to guide the path we take from there. I have worked with children and adults, breast cancer survivors and those in recovery from eating disorders but those questions are where the journey between me and the client begins. 

If there’s just ONE food to to add to your arsenal for optimal health, which food would you recommend and why? 
I don’t believe there is just one that works for everyone. For example, nuts are a terrific source of protein and vitamins but not if you’re allergic!

Vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains are important, as is keeping sugary, fried or processed foods and alcohol to a minimum. I don’t, however, believe you need to eliminate anything forever. French fries are my kryptonite … my overarching philosophy is it’s all about moderation. 

Do you have a favorite meal?
My favorite meal is a hard question to answer. I grew up on Long Island so I do love a great toasted bagel, but my favorite dishes are beautiful and flavorful – ones that inspire me to be more thoughtful and experiment in my own kitchen. Mediterranean dishes are surely at the top of the list.

Since you practice eliminations in the food you eat (Yonni mostly adheres to a vegan diet), is there a supplementation routine you follow to help ensure you are getting the right essential vitamins and nutrients?
I take a B12 supplement regularly because it’s the only way for vegans to get this essential vitamin. I also take fiber pills, vitamins K, D and C and some vegan collagen supplements which help with elasticity, skin and bone as you age.

Running two such separate businesses seems no small task. What motivates you to do it all?
I am SO type A! I just really want to be the best version of me – but I am for sure my harshest critic. It sounds strange but it is really motivating. 

Every time I see you at events, you look absolutely effortless and low stress, even though your work is super demanding. What wellness measures beyond food do you take regularly (ie exercise, meditation, yoga, walks outdoors, etc) to help manage your heavy workload and commitments, and stay so calm? 
You are seriously too kind ~ thank you! I refuel in different ways: spending time with people I love, feeling the sun on my skin, watching something that activates my creativity or allows me to escape for an hour or two. I love the high I get after a workout (even if I am sometimes struggling to find the time,) am an avid reader, an amateur artist and I love to cook. It’s a great creative outlet when I don’t have time for other things because I always need to eat! 

Do you have a morning routine that helps prep you for your extra long days and keeps you healthy? 
My morning starts by doing The NY Times puzzles before I even get out of bed. I brush my teeth, take a hot shower and then enjoy an equally hot cup of coffee and sometimes a splash of apple cider vinegar in cold water as well with my vitamins. I also apply Starling Super Boost Hyaluronic Serum and then a moisturizer to my face before adding any sunscreen or the little bit of makeup I wear, which is really just eyeliner and a little lip gloss most days.

What do you like to do on a Sunday when you’re not working?
My phone is never off, so “not working” is often really just working less. I like to stay in bed late, with my hot coffee, reading or watching tv. If I’m somewhere warm, I need to be outside. Beach, park, walking around the city ~ it doesn’t matter if I can feel the sun. Sometimes I draw or cook, and I love museums and theater.

Of course, we have to ask … what is your favorite Starling Skincare Product? 
I use quite a few, but my favorite is Super Boost Hyaluronic Serum. Unless I’m traveling and forgot to pack some, I use it every single day!

Learn more about Breast Cancer Alliance on their website.

Go to Yonni's Yon Appetit website here and find recipes and tips. Check out Yon Appetit's instagram feed too!