In her new book, The 12 Step Mind-Body-Food Reset, Jessica Sepel says, “… this was born from my deep desire to help women understand that they can still live a healthy life and feel good about their bodies without being on a diet or punishing themselves. Women are ready for a new way. Women are ready for balance. Women are ready to treat their bodies with kindness, not punishment.”
And with that, we were hooked. Launched on the back of her incredibly popular health platform – JSHealth – in The 12-Step Mind-Body-Food Reset, Jessica shares her 12 key pieces of practical advice for overcoming disordered eating, achieving weight balance and creating good habits for life.
Shutting down the noise of fad diets and confusing messages (Paleo, Keto, vegan, anyone?), Jess provides a refreshing voice of reason for ourselves and our children.
We spoke to Jess about her book and her health philosophies, and let’s just say, we are ready to adopt her mantras.
Can you tell us about your approach to dieting?
I believe in the un-diet, which means giving up fad dieting, calorie counting and blocking out the noise of the diet culture. That’s the basis of the JSHealth philosophy.
What sparked your own interest in approaching mind, body and food in this way?
I suffered through 10 years of disordered eating and obsessive calorie counting. It took a toll on both my mind and my body. I was utterly exhausted. My healing has been a slow but steady journey and I feel stronger as the years pass by. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered how to feel more confident and accepting of my body. It’s something that I’m very passionate about, and incredibly humbled to share with the JSHealth community.
What are some of the most common approaches you see women having to food and their bodies? Even if it wouldn’t be defined as an eating disorder, are there certain habits and behaviours that we adopt?
Calorie counting, emotional eating, bingeing, weighing themselves obsessively, overexercising and just putting too much stress and strain on their bodies.
Do we all have a weight that our body will naturally want to sit at?
I believe that our bodies are biochemically unique, so each of us has our own unique shape and size. I prefer not to focus on weight, because it can be misleading. It’s about feeling healthy and energetic in your body. I can say that even at my lowest weight, I didn’t feel ‘good’ about myself. There’s so much more to positive body image than how we physically look.
What do you think of scales, body weights and BMIs?
I encourage people to give up the scales and obsessing over their body weight and BMI. They aren’t indicators of our real state of health.
What are some of the habits or beliefs that hold us back from achieving weight balance?
As I said above, it’s important to remember that we are all biochemically unique, meaning that our bodies naturally have different shapes and sizes. I don’t believe that anyone should focus on achieving the ‘optimal balanced weight’ but rather focus on becoming energetic, healthy and feeling confident in your body. Common factors that prevent us from reaching this include hormonal imbalances, thyroid issues, excessive stress, yo-yo dieting – the list goes on.
What are some of the first steps you’d suggest we put into place to achieve a weight balance?
Give up the scales, focus on balanced nutrition, exercise in ways that you love and look at the emotional component that might be holding you back.
Many of us cling to restrictions in our diets - even if they are fleeting trends - to gain some semblance of control. What happens when we let go of these?
When we let go and stop controlling our food and our bodies, we feel a sense of peace and calmness. Honestly, restrictions are exhausting and cause stress in the body. There’s so much joy when you realise that all foods can be eaten in moderation. I personally follow the 80/20 approach, which means that 80 per cent of the time, I eat a very balanced diet with plenty of wholefoods. And for the remaining 20 per cent of the time, I allow room for indulgence. It might be a glass or two of wine on the weekends, dessert after dinner, or hazelnut gelato on a warm night. I believe in enjoying these moments with no guilt or punishment. That’s the definition of living a healthy life.
How does exercise form a part in all of this? Do you believe we all have a type of exercise that works well for our own bodies? Or should we be approaching fitness with a level of rigour?
I believe in exercising moderately and in ways that you love. I used to follow a gruelling exercise regimen – sometimes exercising for 2 hours a day – but now it’s about mindful movement. I listen to my body and alternate between HIIT, yoga, and walking in nature. I aim to exercise five days a week for 20-30 minutes with two rest days.
What about mindset? What are some of the things we tell ourselves that could be negatively impacting our bodies?
Mindset is one of the biggest blocks we have, which is why I encourage positive affirmations and gratitude. Instead of focus ing on the aesthetics such as “Look at my big thighs” or “Look at my soft tummy” try to flip those thoughts to appreciation and gratitude for how hard your body works for me. I like to repeat affirmations such as, “I’m grateful for my legs that carry me around all day” and “I’m thankful for my stomach that works hard to digest my meals”. The shift from hateful to grateful doesn’t happen right away. Like anything, it takes practise and perseverance. But I’ve been through it, and it’s so much healthier in the long-run.
Stress also plays such a big role in our lives. What does this do to our bodies? And any tips on how to manage it?
Excessive stress puts our bodies into ‘fight or flight mode’, where our cortisol and adrenaline spike. This has flow-on effects for our hormones, sleep, digestion – you name it. I recommend practising stress-reducing exercises such as deep belly breathing, gentle yoga poses and spending time in nature. Try to set aside 10-20 minutes a day to just be. It’s so healing.
How do you personally cut through the noise in the media/Instagram/etc to come to a level of peace with your own body?
I stay in my lane and don’t worry about what other people are doing. It’s all about the JSHealth Community, and sharing my thoughts, fears, struggles and wins. I try to share all aspects of my life because there’s a lot of hard work and determination that goes into running and owning your own business. That said, I do try to manage the time I spend on social media, so I switch off by 8pm and avoid spending too much time on my phone on the weekends.
For mothers of daughters (or indeed sons), what are some of the messages we can begin to share with them to encourage positive relationships with food and bodies before negative messages set in?
I think being a healthy role model is the best solution. Speaking to yourself with respect and kindness is something that will really have an impact on your kids. If you are speaking negatively about your body, your food or your weight around the kids, they will pick up on this kind of language and are more likely to replicate it. I would also encourage people to model a balanced approach to food – encourage the kids to eat well, but also give them permission to enjoy treats and a healthy social life without restriction with food. It’s also a good idea to monitor social media feeds and ensure children are not following people who are promoting extremes with dieting or ‘thinspo’.
What does an ideal food day look like from your perspective?
I prefer not to use the word ‘ideal food day’ because I believe it can be triggering for people who are battling with disordered eating and body image. I always have breakfast, lunch and dinner, with two protein-rich snacks throughout the day. I drink one coffee a day, two litres of water throughout the day, and sip on herbal tea at night-time. I focus on plenty of wholefoods including organic protein, chicken, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and spices. I enjoy a JSHealth treat 1-2 times per week.
What about a weekly exercise regime?
I alternate between walking, yoga and HIIT Monday to Friday and usually enjoy rest on the weekend. Although if it’s a beautiful sunny day, I’ll go for a walk with my husband, Dean.
What would a great morning routine look like - particularly for busy mothers?
I don’t have children yet, so I can’t really answer that one (I’m sure I will one day!). For me, it’s as follows:
- 6:30-7am: Wake up, breathe deeply, repeat some body affirmations. Then, I pop my exercise clothes on, take my morning JSHealth Vitamins, drink some hot water with lemon and exercise for 20-30 minutes.
- 8am-9am: After I’ve exercised, I’ll make a nourishing breakfast, get ready for the day and head into the JSHealth office.
What's your go-to breakfast?
I love my power protein smoothie, cinnamon scroll smoothie, overnight oats and chia pudding.
What about a go-to meal for a family?
Any of my one-pan dinners. They are so simple and easy to prepare, plus they’re delicious and such an easy clean up. Make extras for the kids’ lunchboxes the next day.
Finally, what are your thoughts on indulging? And what are some ways you’d encourage us to indulge?
I believe that moderate indulgence plays an important role in a healthy life. I encourage people to indulge mindfully 1-2 times per week. I love whipping up some of our JSHealth treats. There are so many incredible and easy ideas in the JSHealth app. And you don’t need expensive ingredients and fancy equipment. Simple is best.