Young entrepreneur draws hundreds to holistic health conference

Heeding the call to Photo: J. Haney

ARLINGTON, Virginia, October 23, 2011―Over 250 people came to Arlington, Virginia this weekend to learn about holistic health because of the efforts of a 23-year-old college dropout.

In December 2008, Great Falls, Virginia native Robin Shirley was in so much pain and experiencing such fatigue from rheumatoid arthritis that she could not return to finish her junior year at Virginia Tech. After a year investigating alternative treatments while living at home, she found the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York and began the holistic health training program, from which she graduated in July 2010.

Just over a year later, Shirley has, with the help of fellow IIN graduate Ryan McGrath, 33, pulled together this past weekend’s successful Take Back Your Health conference featuring nationally recognized speakers and scores of attendees eager to learn from them.

Shirley credits her diet and lifestyle changes for causing a dramatic improvement in her health. Having seen the power that food and detoxification protocols had on her body, she was inspired to create a space where others could have access to this kind of healing without medication.

“I went through ten years of immune-suppressing drugs,” she said, lamenting the waste of time and money. While in middle school in northern Fairfax County, Shirley quit playing lacrosse and was able to continue to study dance only because she was heavily medicated with painkillers, which eventually took their toll on her body.

After integrating superfoods into her diet and undertaking cleansing protocols, she is now free of the fevers, headaches and fatigue that caused her to miss nearly a third of her first semester in middle school. Gone is the depression she experienced throughout her teens. Gone are the rashes she used to have all over her body. Her joints still give her a small amount of trouble, but not the tremendous pain that once knocked her off her feet.

Even without having finished her college course of study in business, Shirley has begun a successful practice as a holistic health counselor and was able to fund the startup costs for this past weekend’s conference. She and McGrath expect to break even with their inaugural event but are already planning the next conference for the spring and hope to repeat some version of the event every six months.

“I want this conference to be an event that people look forward to every six months to get rejuvenated and refreshed,” she said a week before the conference, held at the Crystal City Gateway Marriott. When asked about the target audience, she said that practitioners can network, people on a health journey can be assured that other people are making similar changes in their life, and people new to holistic health can find resources and make connections.

Weston A. Price Foundation president and conference speaker Sally Fallon Morell signs copies of her book, Nourishing Traditions, in the Take Back Your Health Conference expo hall.


As the conference drew near, Shirley’s optimism was palpable.  “It’s going to be a really positive vibe,” she stated. All the speakers have followers who have healed from disease, but their paths are not all the same. While Weston A. Price Foundation founder and president Sally Fallon and holistic dentist Dr. Felix Liao discuss the need for healthy fats and traditional foods diets that contain animal protein, other speakers espouse raw and vegan diets.

 “It’s not about The Answer a lot of people are looking for,” Shirley said, explaining that the point is for people to know their options and go with whatever treatment, protocol or diet resonates for them.

Although the conference was not specifically targeted toward parents, Shirley wants every parent to have the best information about how to feed their children. She has a soft spot for chronically ill children in schools, having once been one. At one point, she could not raise her arms above her head and had to have her mother dry her hair for her. Thanks to eliminating foods that caused her body stress and integrating superfoods into her diet, Shirley now is inspiring people to take back their health. She also hopes to inspire young entrepreneurs to turn their visions into realities.

If the response to this weekend’s conference is any indication of Shirley’s influence, she’s off to an impressive start.

Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer, editor and tutor. Her writing has appeared in parenting publications and poetry journals. A former high school English teacher, Jessica is mother to a five-year-old son and a baby girl. She is passionate about holistic health and well-being and is a leader of a chapter of Holistic Moms Network.

Jessica’s blog is Crunchy-Chewy Mama,, and her writer’s site is

“Like” Crunchy-Chewy Mama on Facebook, and follow Jessica on Twitter @crunchychewy


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Jessica Claire Haney


This holistic mom dreams of a day when all kids -- and adults -- eat foods with only recognizable ingredients. Paying attention is not an option for me; it's a necessity.

A few years ago, my body started breaking down and let me know I wasn’t like all those other Jessicas who were still in their twenties. I began making the rounds of alternative health practitioners and nutritionists to deal with stomach problems, thyroid problems, chronic grumpiness, and infertility, issues that my doctors weren't addressing with any success. With a lot of help and a bunch of lifestyle changes, I managed to work my way back to healthy and happy. And pregnant!

Now a full-on convert to natural family living and a mom to a three-year-old, I’m on a mission to share my insights -- and my persistent questions -- about nutrition and holistic health with other moms and with anyone else looking for something that will work and feel good when other stuff doesn’t. As a leader of a local chapter of Holistic Moms Network, I've tried to build a community that supports other parents in making healthy decisions for their families.

My writing has appeared in parenting publications and poetry journals. I blog about life on the alternative/mainstream divide at Crunchy-Chewy Mama, and I'm a contributor for DC Metro Moms.

Contact Jessica Claire Haney


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