Put yourself on your calendar. We’re so quick to give away our time, so carving out time for activities and self-care habits that help you feel healthy and grounded serves as a powerful reminder that you matter just as much as the other million things going on in your day-to-day life. Scheduling time for workouts, therapy, breaks, catch-up with uplifting friends — whatever it is you need to take care of yourself — make those positive things more likely to actually happen.
Asa part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, INHC. Jessica is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping people streamline their wellness routine and establish a balanced relationship with food and exercise. Jessica is a member of the mindbodygren collective, is a frequent contributor to Forbes and SHAPE, among others, and is the author of the forthcoming book, The Little Book of Game Changers: 50 Healthy Habits for Managing Stress & Anxiety (Viva Editions, January 2020). Through her writing, consulting, public speaking, and counseling, she works with individuals, corporations, and the media to help make drama-free healthy living approachable and enjoyable.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Jessica! What is your “backstory”?
My passion for sane, workable solutions and seeking a sense of calm with food and exercise came about because I struggled with that in my own life. I grew up around a lot of sick family members — so much cancer, heart disease, and diabetes — and there was a lot of anxiety and mixed messages around food. I also heard a lot of negative talk from female family members about body image and weight.
Mealtimes were stressful.here was always some discussion about what foods were supposedly going to give you cancer or make you fat, and I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and afraid to eat anything at nine years old.
Thanks to my parents, I was lucky enough to be connected with a great therapist and dietitian who showed me that eating didn’t have to be stressful. I was given permission to feel comfortable in my body. That early experience spared me a lot of drama moving forward and helped me tune out the noise.
After obtaining my BFA in writing, I moved to NYC andI didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I took a few part-time gigs, including working as an office manager for an acupuncturist specializing in women’s health. That was when the bug set in to pursue a career in nutrition.
It took me four years, but it was the best decision I ever made. I talk about this more in my book, The Little Book of Game Changers, but I was interning at the hospital full-time and I needed a side-gig to make money. Going back to my roots, I reached out to many publications, and a few took a chance on me. That was the first time I realized that actually, I could combine my passions — writing, wellness, and nutrition..
I worked in clinical nutrition and corporate wellness as I slowly built up my coaching practice along with my writing and consulting business. As a new dietitian, I was a lot more focused on providing meal plans and education, but as time went on I began to see that there is so much more to health than what you’re putting in your mouth. I spent about three years as the dietitian for an ALS clinic, when it started to click — that eating can be joyful, and help you connect and share that experience with others.
I eventually got my health coaching certification, because I wanted to become more adept in helping people make lasting, positive lifestyle changes. My work began to focus more on helping others establish a balanced relationship with food and exercise and develop coping skills to help them stay on their goal track even when life gets hectic or overwhelming.
When my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017, I decided to leave my job at the hospital so I could help care for him. I started doing all my client sessions, writing, and consulting work virtually in the fifteen months he was in treatment. Being able to stay afloat, professionally, but still spend that valuable time with my family was a big eye-opener. Personally, it was also a big shift in terms of my values.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
-Put yourself on your calendar. We’re so quick to give away our time, so carving out time for activities and self-care habits that help you feel healthy and grounded serves as a powerful reminder that you matter just as much as the other million things going on in your day-to-day life. Scheduling time for workouts, therapy, breaks, catch-up with uplifting friends — whatever it is you need to take care of yourself — make those positive things more likely to actually happen.
-There is no shame in shortcuts. If having easy, healthy options handy like pre-cut vegetables, frozen produce, and single-serving packs of your favorite snacks will make it easier for you to stay consistent with habits that help you feel well, go for it.
-Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can be hard to ask for support, but acknowledging the things we can’t do or need help with takes incredible strength. We can’t do and be everything, and can end up burning ourselves out. We can accomplish so much more when we team up with others and accept their help.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I don’t even know where to start! I’ve got crazy hospital stories for days, and I’ve met so many amazing and inspiring people in my travels, it would be hard to pick just one! However, what comes to mind is an experience I had at my first job out of grad school, in a sub-acute rehab facility. I was twenty-seven at the time, and going through a really rough patch in my life. I was questioning all kinds of things — spirituality, relationships, my career path — and then a good friend passed away. I started finding feathers in all kinds of strange places. I couldn’t help thinking of someone who’d told me once that finding feathers, coins, that kind of thing, in our path was a message from loved ones who’ve passed on.
I went to work one day and had to do an intake for a new admission, a woman who was almost 100 years old and had flatlined in the hospital a few days before and was now on my unit to recover.
“I guess I just wasn’t ready to go,” she said. “I do wish the food was better, though.”
“Welcome back,” I said. I started to ask her about food preferences but she stopped me.
“Tell me Jessica,” she said, “are you a spiritual person?”
I didn’t know what to say. I looked down at the ground to collect my thoughts, and there at my toes was a tiny little feather. From then on the answer was “yes.”
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Not charging enough! When I first started doing private nutrition consults I was charging around $30 for an hour! The types of clients I was attracting were not my ideal clients and I was burning myself out. Finally, a colleague at my hospital job sat me down and said, “People pay more than that for a weekday mani-pedi special. You have a freaking license and Master’s degree — you need to charge what you’re worth!” She also pointed out that charging enough would also help other dietitians command fair pay as well. Not surprisingly, raising my rates allowed me to provide better care and the clients I worked with were more motivated to invest in themselves.
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I’m on a mission to help make healthy living more accessible and enjoyable. One of the biggest problems in the wellness world is that it has this aspirational halo around it and that there is this notion that we need a ton of money and time to truly “achieve” wellness. What I found over the years with my clients and patients was that if someone is struggling with meeting their health goal, it’s usually not a lack of information about what they “should” be doing or eating — the real struggle often lies in knowing what information to apply to their unique situation and how to navigate barriers that they encounter along their journey. That’s the piece of the puzzle I try to help solve. I want the people I serve through my coaching, writing, and speaking to develop the tools they need to help them meet their goals and maintain their results — it’s about setting yourself on a path to feel well for the long term and have a good experience overall.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been so many people who have generously shared their insight, time, and energy with me. I actually want to go way back to a high school English teacher who saw potential in me when I didn’t. I was never comfortable sticking out for being good at something, especially because I’d been picked on a lot growing up.
I remember my junior year of high school, there was this super-selective, scholarship-based summer writing program that sounded amazing, but I didn’t think I could get in. The day before the deadline, my teacher saw me in passing and asked if I had applied.
When I said I wasn’t planning to, she said, “Oh, yes you are.”
She helped me get my application in and I was accepted. Getting away from my hometown for a month and just getting to write my heart out with no fear of getting called weird or being told by a boy that I am not allowed to write about a certain topic” was powerful for me. I shifted from feeling like I had to hide my craft to really stepping into it and owning that part of myself.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
There is so much fear-mongering in the wellness world, and so many conflicting headlines out there that it can be hard to keep up. I always tell my clients, “You are the expert on you,” and “Your body is really smart — listen to it!” My goal is to help people learn to tune into what signals their body sends them about their physical and emotional needs and to feel confident in trusting themselves to make choices that support their goals. I would want to create a system to make that process more approachable. I want them to be able to feel empowered to acknowledge what works for them and to not feel pressured to purchase every product or supplement out there.
What is your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
Be patient. All around us, we see curated images of success and the transformative “after” shots, but everyone starts somewhere. It takes time to build something, and there is so much to learn along the way that will serve you further down the path.
Make time to rest. I struggled with feeling like I always had to be doing something, but when you don’t give yourself any time to rest and recharge, it makes it harder to put in the right level of time and attention in the things that matter most to you.
Believe in yourself. We are often our own worst critic and hold ourselves back because we don’t think we’re enough or that we deserve to be happy and successful. A big wake-up call for me was when I asked myself, “Would you talk to your best friend that way?” Um, no.
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
So many! Brene Brown is one person whose work has had a tremendous impact on me.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. Our mental and physical health are so deeply intertwined. Nurturing our mental health is an essential part of supporting overall wellness, so I’m passionate about improving access to mental health resources.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!