About Jen - The Whole Truth
The first time I remember being told that my body wasn’t “good enough” as it was (a message that women of all ages are sadly very familiar with), I was in fifth grade and we’d just gotten our class picture back. To my surprise, a couple of the boys came up to me together and pointed out how “big” I looked in the photo.
Ballsy little bastards.
When I looked at the picture, I realized I did look big. I was taller than all the other kids in my class, and my baggy Luke Perry t-shirt didn’t conceal the budding breasts none of the other girls had yet. Given that the awareness around posing for pics was not what it is now, my thigh was squished against the bench at an unflattering angle, which made it look quite large in relation to the kids around me.
I went home that day, and scratched out the bottom of my leg in the picture so it would look the same size as the thinner girls in my class. I then hid it under my bed so my mom wouldn’t get pissed off at me, and went about my childhood.
The Diet Monster bit me hard, and early… but still not as early as what’s happening to young girls through social media these days.
My first diet was when I was around 13. I got sick and lost a bunch of weight because I couldn’t eat anything, and next thing I knew my friends’ mothers were telling me they needed to lose weight, and asking how I ‘did it’.
As normal life resumed and the pounds came back on, I can remember the feeling of desperation with each ginger step onto the bathroom scale. My mom found my journal a few months later detailing how I’d barely eaten in days as I tried to get back to my post-illness weight.
High school was awkward; I can remember squeezing the fat out of cafeteria french fries with napkins, skipping salad dressing, and coming in first place in our long distance gym runs.
In my early 20s, as a junior marketing associate for a top radio station, I jumped from Atkins to 12-week gym programs to rigorous calorie counting episodes all in preparation of some arbitrary goal: a new pair of jeans, a tropical vacation I wanted to look good on, or some stupid communal weight loss challenge they were hosting at my gym.
I even tried diet pills that were banned in certain countries, and can remember lying sideways on my bed staring at the ceiling with my finger on my pulse wondering if I was having a heart attack.
Then I found yoga. Bikram Yoga, to be exact. It was the hardest workout I’d ever done, and my body changed quickly and drastically. I was so pleased with my results and how it made me feel I decided to turn it into a career and in 2005 became a certified teacher. In 2007, I opened a thriving yoga studio just outside of Vancouver, B.C. with the loving help of my family.
I modelled for yoga apparel brands, posed for photoshoots, was regularly featured in magazines and newspapers, and even wrote my own column called “On Health and Yoga” where I dispensed dietary advice, preached on the benefits of hot yoga, and talked about weight loss as if it was what everyone wanted because in those days and in that circle… it was.
Little did I know, this was when my diet mentality was at is worst.
I taught workshops on how to lose weight through yoga and diet. Body talk was constant and unquestioned. I was vegan, raw, and HCRV… but vegetarian when I wanted to eat nachos with real cheese. I did juice fasts all the time, brought measuring tape with me on trips so I’d stay ‘on track’, and subsisted for weeks on the Master Cleanse.
At the time, I didn’t feel I was being weird with food. That’s just the way it was; for me and my community, diet culture was just a way of life.
I travelled the world doing yoga competitions and advanced seminars where the thin and bendy were the most celebrated in the community. I had no insight whatsoever into the body ideals and food rigidity I was perpetuating. I thought being thin was all I needed to make everything else happen for me.
That is until I discovered Vipassana meditation, and started learning how to listen objectively to my thoughts.
One morning, when I was getting ready to take a leap and sell my studio to pursue my writing career, I realized that I was thinking about what I was not going to eat that day before I even opened my eyes. I’d had a similar experience in my calorie counting days; I remember waking up feeling irritated and exhausted knowing that I only had a 400 calorie allowance for breakfast. Ugh.
There was a voice inside my head telling me “Today, there will be no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no processed food, no alcohol, and no carbs after 2pm. No cookies, no muffins, no bread… and JEN - NO COOKIES!”.
I’ve since named this voice… it’s called The Diet Monster.
After we sold the yoga studio, I sought help for a problem that became more and more apparent to me as I got to know myself better, and became more attuned to my thoughts and feelings around food and my body. I saw an eating disorder therapist every week for a year, attended workshops and read books to further understand our cultural preoccupation with being thin, and started to write down the ideas and breakthroughs I was having in my own book with the working title “The Diet Monster”.
In 2012, I went back to school to obtain my diploma in natural nutrition, and obtained my designation as a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, or R.H.N. My therapist then told me that the majority of her patients were nutritionists, dieticians, yoga teachers, and health coaches. This blew me away.
How was it that the people we were trusting for food advice were the most messed up of all with food?
I started to see The Diet Monster everywhere I went. In class, highly intelligent, educated people had heated debates and split the hairs of dietary dogma. At the studio where I was teaching, students discussed their latest smoothie programs, juice cleanses, and laxative tea blends after yoga like it was no big deal.
I documented everything, and started conducting interviews. Most of the people I spoke with told me that they had never talked about ‘this stuff’ before; it seemed like such a relief for each woman who shared her story. Doing so gave them perspective, and a sense of solidarity knowing that they’d struggled for years on their own with with dieting and body image issues, and here I was telling them there were dozens - even hundreds - struggling with the same thing!
We’ve since realized that this number is far greater than we ever could have imagined, and spans the entire world.
A big publisher in N.Y.C. was interested in my book, and in 2016, as I was preparing to start finally bringing this message to the world, I became very ill. Like, very ill. I’ll write about it and tell the whole story soon, but for now, suffice to say I’ve been on hiatus for 3 years. God it’s hard to even write that. But it’s true.
My husband has been the most incredible and supportive human in my entire world, and now, as I near the end of this health-related nightmare, I’m coming back to you with a whole new perspective, and a whole new angle on this story.
I had no idea just how misdirected I was in my pursuit of ‘real health’ until health as I knew it became a sad and distant memory.
While I painfully worked my way through a horrific health condition, I would have given anything to go back to my yoga-studio-owning, diet-promoting self and whisper in her ear:
It’s all a lie. The illusion of the ideal body and all this ridiculous focus on food is just a scam to keep you unhappy with yourself so you stay small and buy things. Drop it. You’re so fortunate just the way you are. Allow yourself to settle into a simple way of eating that you enjoy and that makes you feel good. Live your life and do what you’ve always wanted to do because dieting is a distraction that will eat at you from the inside out until there’s nothing left of your heart except the part that cares what other people think.
What I’ve chosen to do instead is create a course to teach you what I’ve learned, with the hope of helping liberate you from the ongoing struggle and trappings of diet mentality.
This does not mean giving up on healthy eating. It means choosing to honour yourself in your decisions, without the labels and impositions from agendas that do not serve you.
If you connect with my story… if you see yourself in my journey and you just know that your life would be better without the constant focus on food and body, then please stay in touch and let’s tackle this monster together.
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Here’s to your new way with food. 🥳