"Seeking joy everywhere has been Jennifer’s key to surviving and thriving despite having a rare and life-threatening illness. She looks for joy in the seemingly ordinary moments of life and has found that some of the most beautiful gifts reside there." -Wellness Foundation
As we at MamaSezz well know, changing to a plant-based diet can change your life in ways you never expected. In this series, we talk with some of the world’s most soulful, dedicated (and often funny) individuals. We get to hear their stories of suffering, transformation, and service — and we learn how food is an essential part of their journey. We’re thrilled to talk today with Jenn Taylor, wellness pioneer and Vice President & Director Education & Programs Wellness Foundation.
What prompted your interest in a plant-based diet?
My plant-based journey began in 1998 when I was in my late twenties and had suffered with endometriosis since my teens. I was literally having surgery to remove the endometriosis at least once a year, sometimes multiple times in a year. The disease was horribly painful and surgery felt like a band-aid and I knew I needed to get to the root cause.
At that time, you couldn’t do a Google search to research something so I went to my local library and started researching the old-fashioned way. I found very little on the topic, but what I did discover was that estrogen was a fuel source for endometriosis so I looked at what I was eating and realized how much low fat dairy and chicken was in my diet. (In the ‘90’s red meat started getting a bad rap, but we lived like chicken and low fat dairy were vegetables and somehow healthier for us.)
One day, by chance, I came across actress/author Marilu Henner’s book “Total Health Makeover”. Plant-based wasn’t a thing back then, but Marilu had improved her own health by giving up dairy, sugar and animal protein and had a meal plan I could follow so I decided to give it a month to see what happened.
Despite being a healthy weight and exercising regularly, my cholesterol was too high and I was suffering every month from endo pain and I was determined to try to improve it. I remember being so excited when I took the book to my doctor and he told me that “nutrition had no impact on endometriosis”.
He told me to save my time and just schedule my next surgery for six months from then.
Back then, you couldn’t just go to the store and buy soymilk or plant milks, I had to special order soymilk from my local food co-op. Oh how far we have come! Thirty days later, I had lost weight, I had absolutely no allergy symptoms that spring, no sinus infections once I gave up dairy and best of all, no endometriosis pain! I decided to keep going and six months later, I was symptom free. Turns out all the estrogen rich animal foods I was eating thinking they were healthy sources of fuel were actually an accelerant for endometriosis.
Once I got to the source and stopped fueling it and started eating healthy plant-based foods my body responded by putting the disease into permanent remission. I never did need another surgery and I never saw that doctor again who told me that I couldn’t possibly reverse this disease.
That began my obsession with sharing this information with others. I worked for several years coaching women about plant-based eating long before there was a plant-based movement. I grew up in a rural community and dairy farming was a way of life so people thought I was crazy for eating this way, but I felt better than ever and I wasn’t turning back.
In 2006, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime when I crossed paths with a kindred spirit who had also reclaimed his health with a plant-based diet.
Doug Mercer is the founder of Wellness Foundation, a non-profit organization based on Long Island, NY. Doug offered me a job as the Executive Director of Wellness Foundation and together, we set out to turn our community into what we call a Wellness Zone.
For the past 15 years, I’ve developed programs and curriculum to educate children and adults on the power of plant-based nutrition to transform their health. All of our programs are based on cutting-edge, evidence-based research.
Our WKids in school program has educated over 25,000 children and their families on the power of eating whole plant foods and our life changing and often, life saving, adult programs Wellness Challenge 360° and Jumpstart 360° programs have helped thousands of adults take control of their health, lower their cholesterol, lose weight and reverse chronic diseases.
The work we do every day helps people take control of their health and in a world where so much is out of our control, it is so empowering to be able to prevent and reverse chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and many auto-immune diseases.I can’t think of more gratifying work and how beautiful is it that when we learn to make choices that heal and don’t harm our bodies, we are also helping animals and our planet?
From the moment I started my plant-based lifestyle, it was obvious to me that it was essential to surround yourself with like-minded individuals.
How were you able to stick with such a dramatic diet change?
My family thought I was nuts and my dear Mom was convinced it was “just a phase”.
Back in 1998, we didn’t have social media and online forums like we do today, so we met in online chat rooms and I formed friendships I cherish and still have to this day.
When I began my work at Wellness Foundation, I already knew the importance of building community and that drove the work we did to create a Wellness Zone. Through our programs and classes, we were able to provide a space where people who were committed to changing their health through lifestyle and nutrition could gather and lean on and learn from each other.
What makes the Wellness Foundation programs different? Why are the so effective?
The friendships that form in our classes are phenomenal. I love seeing the way people support each other and cheer each other on. During Covid, we moved all of our courses and programs online and I’m so grateful for the work I did with Marilu Henner back in the 90’s because I learned so much about building an online community.
Pre-Covid, all of our courses were done in person and now they are all online and we’ve been able to reach people from around the world and the United States. It thrills my heart to see the reach we are able to have online and to be able to create a community where people can turn 24/7 to support each other is fantastic.
I am so excited to share our Jumpstart 360° program with people who want to take control of their health and our Thrive Membership Community is the place to be if you want to be inspired every single month by amazing experts in the plant-based field, delicious recipes and to be supported by new friends who share your passion for living a healthy life.
What is your life like now?I have lived a plant-powered lifestyle since 1998. I’m not plant-perfect and probably never will be, I find perfectionism so overrated, but I make it work for my family and myself and that can be challenging when not everyone in your household is plant-based, but we make it work.
For the past few years, I’ve been living with a very rare endocrine disease that is caused my tiny tumors at the base of my brain. It’s so rare that less than 10 people per million have it.
What is your favorite MamaSezz food/dish?
Hands down, Lazy Lasagna – I like to steam a big batch of spinach each week and I roasted other veggies as well and then I have a serving of Lazy Lasagna with tons of veggies and it fills me up and tastes amazing.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the fact that I live in alignment with what I believe. I love animals, I love our magnificent Earth and I love people so knowing that the choices I make with my lifestyle is helping and not harming makes my heart happy. I’m so proud of the work we do at Wellness Foundation; we have helped countless people change their lives. Many people (and often many doctors) tell us that without our programs they wouldn’t be here and I can’t think of anything more important. To me, it isn’t just about living longer or healthier, it’s knowing that if you are healthy and energetic, you can live life fully and that means you can fulfill the purpose you have on this Earth and when each of us can do that, we all benefit.
I believe that healthy people are happier people and happier people make a better world. But perhaps the thing I am most proud of is that as a coach, people invite me to be a part of their lives and their wellness journeys. It is deeply personal work, it takes courage and vulnerability and a willingness to look at your life honestly and acknowledge what needs to change and then take the action needed to create the life you want. To be invited into someone’s life at that level is an honor and a gift that I do not take for granted.
If you could meet and have lunch with one person (alive or dead) who would it be?My faith is so important to me, so I’d have to say, I’d love to sit down and have a nice plant-based lunch with God.
Thank you Jenn Taylor for the wonderful work you do in the world.
For more information about the Wellness Foundation Programs For more information about the Wellness Foundation Jumpstart 360 program