“It’s not about right and wrong – it’s about workability.”
When Jenna Coker-Jones, Certified Holistic Health Coach based in Chicago, said these words to me, I didn’t forget them. As a professional actor, she commands your attention. As a health coach, she knows her stuff and helps her clients feel better through their nutritional choices on a daily basis without disrupting their lives or making them feel restricted.
After years of seeing and taking part in crash diet cycles – the complete opposite of “workable” – she’s found her health coaching niche. If it won’t work in her clients’ daily life in a way that makes it easy for those choices to come naturally, it won’t be sustainable.
And here at aSweatLife, we often steer away from diets and the buzz words they contain. “Gluten-free,” “dairy-free” and the like emphasize what you’re not able to eat – an almost sure-fire way to not meet your goals, according to Psychology Today (restriction is bad for your brain and can trigger the opposite – binging).
Crash dieting: The opposite of workable
Coker-Jones illustrated this point with personal experience and explains how she’s come to take on this new approach.
“I was doing a strict program and I found myself under a table, in my kitchen, having an absolute meltdown, [first] because I’m starving [and second] because it took me two to three hours to make the meals of 35 ingredients, and I didn’t have time to do the two and a half hour workout.”
“I had a panic attack. This is not a life,” she said.
Turning towards a body-friendly approach to food
After her breaking point amidst her last “diet and restrict” experience, Coker-Jones flipped the script on her approach to focus on how she feels. Today, she starts every new client’s program today with the basics.
“If you were my client, we’d go through, ‘what do you normally eat?’” she told me. “‘What do you have time for?’ ‘What do you like?’ ‘What flavors do you like?’ What did you grow up on?’ ‘How do you feel when you eat this?’
That last question is key. “How do you feel when you eat (insert food here)?” It’s at this point during the process of figuring out what’s going to work for you that it’s up to you to decide what food choices you’re going to make.
“Once you realize how you feel with certain things, then it’s your choice,” Coker-Jones continued. “And choices are really powerful.”
She means that if you choose to be a veggan (yes that’s right, a vegan that mindfully chooses to eat eggs) or a pescatarian during the week and the burger-eating champion of your city on the weekends, as long as you make your choice and stand in it, there’s no need for guilt, restriction, crash dieting and binging or emotionally draining thoughts around what you eat.
Coker-Jones told me she currently adheres to a pretty specific “diet” (although she avoids that word) but she has never eaten so decadently. That’s because, through trial and error, she learned which foods feel good in her body, and she’s choosing to fill up on lots and lots of those.
For this health coach, it’s been a health journey for the past eight years – slowly eliminating the foods that left her feeling foggy, zapped of energy and less than herself. Beginning with dairy and meat, she slowly removed things that caused inflammation in her body. Through trial and error, she’s created a streamlined, body-friendly menu of foods that make her feel powerful and energized.
Her goal with clients is to help them find what works too.
Five tips to re-envision your health goals
To get a jumpstart on realigning your health values with your day-to-day choices, consider these pieces of advice from Coker-Jones.
1. Begin by flipping the script mentally.
As soon as you start seeing your food decisions as just that – choices – you empower yourself to make the one that supports you feeling your best. Then, you’re not setting nutritional guidelines based on what you can’t eat (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free), you’re setting them based on what you want to fuel your body with (veggie-forward, plant-based proteins, adding more super food to your diet, for example).
2. Remember, it’s all about workability.
Not every meal has to be purchased fresh from the farmer’s market and cooked that day. Coker-Jones recommends Hilary’s veggie burgers and Thunderbird bars, for example as easy additions or center pieces to a meal that will keep you full when you’re on the go.
Some days you (may) have time to re-create the dairy-free, sugar-free version of your grandmother’s homemade mac-and-cheese dish. For those other days, there are transparent brands available that will do the trick in keeping you fueled.
3. It totally can be done on a budget.
If you look at a super food-rich meal plan and think, “this obviously can’t work for me,” Coker-Jones tells you to think again.
She and her husband use specific grocery store debit cards with a designated budget each week to keep her accountable. She recommends checking Amazon for ingredients you can buy in bulk and have on-hand when you start to build your super food arsenal.
“I start every day with a green smoothie and lots of mushrooms for immunity,” Coker-Jones shared. “I can get 300 servings of organic shaga mushrooms on Amazon for $17. That’s 300 smoothies!”
4. Meal prepping is a non-negotiable.
In order to buy the goods on Amazon, you’re going to have to meal prep. But that’s not the only reason why saving half a day during the week to plan, shop and prepare as many meals as you can is an effective method to staying on track.
Eating is an emotional experience. When life throws wrenches in your plans or stress arises throughout the week, eating comforting foods is a common coping mechanism. While sometimes that’s a totally necessary call to make, it’s just that – your choice to make it. Prepping healthy options that excite you will help you stick to your goals in moments when an involuntary reach for a spoonful of ice cream might normally kick in.
5. Take on bite-sized changes at a time (literally).
Drastically changing what you eat may take away from your ability to create lasting change. But setting a big goal becomes more attainable when you break it down.
“I really do believe we’re all bio-individual,” Coker-Jones states. By slowly integrating new habits in a trial-and-error fashion, you can better assess what works for you.
If you’d like to work with Jenna Coker-Jones in-person, go on a grocery shop or schedule a long distance meeting, contact her here.