MEET DR. JESS

With an interest in understanding the human body quickly evolved into a deep fascination with the human spirit and with the complexities of the human experience. Two decades later, this journey has led me to understand from a scientific and multidimensional perspective how health and wellness is truly cultivated.

Growing up, chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity were commonplace in my family. In fact, at a young age—well before my formal academic studies and professional work in the field—I had intimate knowledge of the complications associated with such conditions, as I witnessed some of the most important people in my life—including my mother and grandmother—experience blindness, amputations, heart attacks and renal failure.

In my teens I began working in the field of health and fitness, specifically starting my journey as a group fitness instructor teaching step aerobics, hi/lo and cardio kickboxing classes. Soon thereafter, I expanded my role to include working with individuals one-on-one as a personal trainer. While many of my fellow exercise professionals were drawn to the field as a result of their involvement in high-level athletics and upbringings in physically active households, I was drawn to this work for a different reason. My desire to learn about the preventative and healing potential of exercise and healthful nutrition felt like a matter of life and death—because quite honestly for the people around me, it truly was.

This early work in the fitness industry led me down a path of formal education, multiple certifications and extensive professional work centered around understanding and educating others about health from a physical perspective. However, what I continued to witness in my own family and in working with countless real life people was that (1) information alone does not lead to lasting lifestyle changes; (2) individuals are so much more than just their physical bodies; and (3.) true health and well-being involves—and is influenced by— far more than simply“eating less and moving more.”

I realized relatively quickly that in order to positively impact health and wellness and to effectively empower people to flourish and thrive in their lives I would need a deeper understanding of the whole person—body, mind and spirit, and the dynamic interplay between them.

Much of this work initially ensued through my formal studies and personal practice as a student and teacher of yoga and mindfulness, as well as through my early studies in health psychology as part of my graduate work along with my training as a health and wellness coach. Yet it was following arguably the most difficult and pivotal time in my life that the calling to deeply explore and genuinely embody, practice and teach a more integrative approach to health and wellness became abundantly clear.

In 2009 my sister died from an accidental heroin overdose stemming from years of opioid use as the prescribed course of action to address chronic pain accompanied by anxiety. One year later my father died by suicide, the summation of what one could only attempt to describe as unresolved grief, suppressed emotions, untreated
depression, and five and a half decades of navigating the complexities, challenges and continual changes of simply being human. Throughout this time my mother continued to undergo numerous invasive medical procedures, those which were conventional “treatments” for the complications of the continually worsening complex chronic
diseases she lived with, yet all of which neglected to address nor meaningful impact the root causes of any of these health issues.

These events, along with my own health journey, have radically shifted my perspective on health, health care, and on life itself in the most profound and ultimately positive of ways. Propelled by faith and with clarity as to how God has called me to be of service in the world, I’ve spent the last decade deeply dedicated to understanding and teaching students, professionals, and the general public about health and wellness from an integrative perspective. From my doctoral studies to my work in academia, research and professional practice, my life’s work is to contribute to the evolving and advancing of the outdated and narrow perspectives of health, health care and even health education, in which far too often the powerful role of lifestyle medicine is overlooked and individuals’physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social health are viewed in isolation—or sometimes simply not considered at all in preventing and treating chronic diseases. This calling has led me to spearhead the reimagination of the graduate education health and wellness professionals receive, equipping them with the scientific evidence and developed practical skills to effectively collaborate with other professionals and with the people they are called to serve in order to empower individuals to evolve from simply surviving day-to-day life to truly thriving in all facets of their life—and to transforming their health and wellness in the process.

You see, to me wellness is not a trend, nor is it “woo-woo.” It isn’t tied to any particular product or program, nor is to be written off as simply pseudoscience. Rather, wellness is a dynamic journey to unearthing and actualizing our personal potential amidst the conditions, complexities and characteristics that make us uniquely who we are – in all of our humanness.

And at the end of the day the most current science validates what many thought leaders have long believed to be true—that cultivating the conditions for positive heath and high-level wellness is ultimately an inside job.