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IPMG's August Healthy Hero - Jennifer Wilson


Q: Were there any health events that lead to your decision to pursue healthier eating habits?

JW: My husband had a heart attack a few years ago while I was pregnant with our second child.  It was one of the most frightening experiences he & I have been through together.  He was only 35 but it really made us stop and take stock in our health & well-being.  We knew that we needed to make sure we were putting the best foot forward in regards to our health especially for our children.  We knew we weren’t eating well or getting enough exercise and had gained a bit of weight.  We started by identifying what was contributing to our increasing weight gain which was mainly a lot of extra portions at mealtimes plus excessive sugar intake and late night snacking.

Q: What goals did you set for yourself?

JW: I definitely wanted to work on getting my body closer to the shape I was in before I had children. Back then I was working mainly in the theater and dance world.  I am officially 3 lbs. away from my pre-baby weight for both kids of which I am extremely proud. I also wanted to see more muscle toning & definition especially in the upper body and my arms.

Q: Any new goals?

JW: Yes! Once I get to the pre-baby weight, I want to work on maintaining that for a month or so as opposed to worrying about dropping pounds. Eventually I’d like to work on dropping another 5lbs. Get to that point, learn what it takes to maintain that weight and then see if I can go another 5 lbs. The short-term goal for me is to have a body that feels good in motion, can keep performing on stage and, of course, keep up with my kids. 

Q: When did you start encouraging others to join you in your wellbeing goals?

JW:  It’s came about by just talking to my friends about their choices and then getting my husband on board too. I started instructing Zumba classes about 3-4 years ago. As an instructor I’m always checking in with my students and asking them ‘how are you feeling,’ ‘what are you working towards,’ and I cheer them on.  Then I tell them my goals & they cheer me on.  We celebrate our successes but we always hold each other up when things are tough and maybe we’re not hitting our goals.

Talking about my goals created this supportive network of people that kept me motivated and helped me succeed. I felt more positive and confident in myself and not just in regards to weight loss or working out. I felt like I could handle whatever the day was going to give me, no matter how challenging. I liked that feeling of confidence and motivation. I wanted to share that with others.

Q: What’s your favorite part about teaching a Zumba class?

JW: Really seeing people push themselves when they start to hit a wall or start getting tired. I can see it in their eyes & their movements when they dig a little deeper, find that extra little bit of effort and make it to the end of the song. They didn’t think they could but they did and I am just “Yay for you!” when that happens. Then I tell them to do that again next time and keep on getting stronger.

Q: For anyone interested, where can they take a Zumba class with you? 

JW:  Wednesday at SportsPlex @ 5:45pm in St. Charles.

Fridays at Dance Encounter @ 5:45pm in Geneva.

Sunday at Dance Encounter @ 10:00am in Geneva.

$10 drop in and we also have punch cards.

Q: What benefits have you seen from your decision to make a wellbeing change?

JW:  In addition to the weight loss and feeling more energetic, I’ve also been enjoying a more positive mental frame of mind. I’m stronger physically. The other day we were at the playground with the boys and both Jess and I got on the monkey bars. We were so proud that we could go across the monkey bars both ways.  It seems silly but now when we go to parks we’ll challenge each to pull-ups and going across the monkey bars in between running around with the kids.

Q:  What has been the hardest part of your journey?

JW: Learning self-control over cravings. Those cravings are tough. The last few days all I’ve been craving, literally, is fried cheese. I don’t know why. If it’s a late summer carnival thing but those cravings can be tough, especially late-night cravings. And not letting myself order out for lunch at work. My husband and I rarely eat fast food or out at restaurants so I have tried to make sure I don’t rely on fast food or ordering lunch in while I am at work.

Q: What has been the easiest part?

JW: Finding things to do that contribute to a healthier lifestyle.  There was a plethora of options to explore especially through the Virgin Pulse network. There’s research and materials out there regarding exercise, diet, lifestyle choices, etc.  I can experiment with what works best for me. That really helps a lot. I’ll get to a place, in my workouts or with my eating choices, where I feel like I have plateaued & the challenge isn’t as pressing.  For me, it helps knowing there’s always something else I can try - be it workouts, recipes, social interaction, budgeting, whatever.

Q: What did you find that worked for you and your family?

JW:  First of all, when we grocery shop, we don’t go when we are hungry. We make a list, a budget & we stick to it. We also plan meals by the week which helps take a lot of guess work out of what we are going to eat and prevents us from sliding into the Fast Food Trap. Our cooking repertory has expanded too.  We’ve stumbled upon 10-12 new recipes that are quickly becoming mainstays. Our boys are even starting to eat more foods, especially vegetables, they typically passed on before.

Q: How do you make time for personal wellbeing?

JW: I teach Zumba three times a week so that is a fixed regiment. Plus, I also try to find 5-10 minutes throughout the day where I will do a couple of sets of lunges, squats, push ups, planks, yoga poses or Pilates.  We were doing afternoon planks on the first floor at work for a while and I would love to get that going again!

Q: What (if any) were the tools IPMG provided to assist you?

JW: My Fitbit Flex is simple and basic but it serves as a great reminder for me.  I’ll look at it, see there’s only one blinking dot and think to myself ‘I need to get more dots!’  Checking in with Virgin Pulse is a great way for me to quantify everything and see it all come together.  I also enjoy reading the Wellnotes we get from the NCM Team. 

Q: What is your go to healthy meal?

JW: Protein, like a baked chicken quarter, and some vegetables. Right now, a lot of sautéed vegetables – especially garden vegetables like chard, green beans & zucchini – are on my plate for dinner.  My family is part of a community garden we founded with our friends. Not only do we get to work the land, which translates to a greater respect for where my food comes from, stay active & enjoy the outdoors, but we also enjoy eating some of the freshest, most delicious vegetables and herbs around.

Q: If you were to have a cheat meal what would it be?

JW: Jimmy Johns Sandwiches are kind of my kryptonite.

Q: Do you have any tips for fellow EO’s trying to make a change?

JW: Start small and build on it. You don’t have to do change everything at once – those kinds of changes typically don’t last.  Start small and then as you get a lot of little improvements going, you just keep building until, before you know it, all of these small choices are contributing to an overall healthier lifestyle.

More importantly, create a support network of friends, family members, work colleagues and challenge each other to make healthier choices. 

Q: Any final thoughts or words of wisdom?

JW: Do something every day that challenges you – you may surprise yourself which is an awesome feeling. Stay engaged. Use all of the tools & information you can get your hands on.

Keep trying to find new ways to live a full life & feel your best – body, mind & spirit.