Written by John A. Anderson
See the full article in Healthy Magazine HERE
Some people were born to move. For the ten years following her days as Miss Texas, then Miss USA 1989, Gretchen Jensen flourished as an on-camera sports reporter for ESPN, then a host on ABC’s Good Things Utah, and now the host of ABC’s Utah Works. Suffice it to say, Gretchen is a familiar face and has a list of public accomplishments that would exhaust any reader. But, it’s her private, more personal side that really shines when you sit down and talk with her. Despite all the praise and public accolade, her greatest joy is her five children and watching them become impressive young adults.
You come from a very successful, public image background. How has your perspective evolved as you’ve gotten older?
That’s an interesting question, especially now that I am a 50-year-old, single mother with small children at home. As I’ve gotten older, I realize the importance of my diet and how it affects my mood and overall health. As my children got older, and then as I faced the prospect and pain of my divorce, I realized how imperative it is to be healthy because I’m in charge of taking care of my kids. It really wasn’t about vanity and how I’d look, it was about being healthy and having energy and clarity as a mom. The mental and physical health necessary to raise children and keep a job became my focus.
So, what did you change?
I cut out sugar and soda. I haven’t had a soda in—I don’t know how many years. I’m not going to say I never have sugar, but when I order off a menu I think, OK, what’s actually going to fuel the system here? What’s going to make me feel my best? And hey, I’m from the South. I love all that Southern fried stuff. But again, it’s a matter of needing to stay healthy for my family and my profession. It helps shape my decisions.
As a society, we really can do better. We’ve got to educate ourselves about health. We really must stop the terrible habits. We need to change how we think about food—what foods we tell ourselves are ‘yummy.’ I loved your article on The Paula Deen Effect and her approach to food. It’s so true, she cooks over-the-top delicious food, but everything she cooks is prone to give you Diabetes or something. “Butta. Suga.” Those are her recipe staples.
When you made this change, how long did it take before you craved the healthy items?
Some things are harder than others for each of us. Part of the problem is how we feel about foods. The healthier foods are not marketed as tasty, and the junk is marketed as amazing. I’ve been modeling since I was a teen. That plays tricks on your mind because you look at food as what will give you a skinny form—food is all about a diet and deprivation. We are taught to look at foods in terms of our weight and how we look. And some solutions that get us thin can be healthy, but again, I began to search for foods that would make me my healthiest. But, our problem as a society is that we need to reset our minds from dieting towards healthy eating.
How has this realization affected you and your family?
Almost immediate results. When I started really focusing on cooking healthy foods and trying newer recipes, the first thing I noticed was an improvement in moods and the emotional makeup of my kids. Feeding them what was good for them made a huge change. Peace in my family actually started with food.
It’s interesting how healthy behavior seems to become more important during a divorce. I’ve often wondered why we don’t prioritize fitness and staying in shape as a way to strengthen marriage rather than a way to rebound from it.
It’s true, over time in our marriages most of us get comfortable and let things slide in terms of health. We put so many demands and other’s needs ahead of our own. And, relationships can suffer if both partners aren’t pursuing their best through the years. Divorce is tragedy in a family. It’s devastating on so many levels. It affects everybody and it’s not good for anybody.
I started working out prior to my divorce because I was so focused on staying healthy. My focus turned to my kids and getting back into a career to support us. And, in television you don’t just spring right back. It was like, “Former Miss USA—of what year?” It’s very challenging to land a position, but it’s what I knew. Still, for over a year I pulled weeds, cleaned houses and businesses—I did whatever I could just to get an income. And, eating clean and trying to be healthy was one way I helped my children and myself cope with a challenging time.
I do feel that sometimes as women we tend to give in to the fact that we’ve had kids and that’s why we are the way we are. Yes, we have stretch marks and our bodies change, but we don’t have to stay that way. It’s up to us to change what we want to change. Granted, I get that body shapes are different and that there are a lot of variables, and that body shape isn’t the key to happiness. But living healthy and eating right is always a choice, and the results from putting in healthy efforts is always going to be better than where we are right now. And yes, that can positively affect our relationships.
We aren’t out to pasture once we hit a certain age.
Are you saying that we should be happy with ourselves and simply look for ways to improve?
I think that we need to give ourselves permission to be loved and liked. When you look into a mirror, you see 1-D. We so often look at ourselves and say, “I hate my hair and I wish my skin wasn’t this or I wish I wasn’t so fat.” When we look at someone else, we tend to see 3-D. “I love her hair, or she has great skin, or what a nice suit.” We find things that we like about people, but when it comes to ourselves, we sometimes aren’t so kind.
So why is that?
I think that if we allow ourselves to like something about ourselves there is a stigma that you are vain. Or, maybe we feel guilty that if we put in time and effort to feel and look our best, we are taking away time from someone that we should be showing love to. We often feel guilty for making a commitment to doing something positive for ourselves.
Here’s the deal—whether you’re married or not, whether you’re a mom or a career person, you have divisions of stress in your life. And every one of those has a root in the ground. And if you’re not feeding it, something is going to die. You’ve got to collectively be healthy all around.
And self-worth is the number-one thing that needs to happen. You are going to show love to others. You are going to manage your responsibilities. But self-love is the one thing that a lot of us, especially women, let die. We need to manage our choices, quiet our stress, and not live life with the guilt.
That’s a great point for all of us. With all the stresses and demands we face throughout life, we can handle them much more effectively when we take care of ourselves. Maybe we wouldn’t bring home our stresses and cares as much, and maybe it wouldn’t cause cracks in our relationships if we stayed healthy and managed our issues better.
My push towards fitness and getting healthy became almost a panic as I realized all the demands that would be put on my shoulders. I didn’t have a gym membership, so I went back to the basics of pushups and squats and things I could do around the house. It really wasn’t an issue of how I looked as much as it was about how I felt and getting my energy back and feeling healthy. I began to research products and foods. I read labels and studied ingredients.
The biggest thing for my family and me is to learn to make good food choices. Unfortunately easy food is not the best for us. I get that it’s easy, especially as a working mom. And yes, I’m guilty of that for some meals, but in general, when my kids are hungry they go for healthy things because they’ve learned that it makes them feel better. Good choices with food lead to good choices with other decisions.
When you see that the choices and the investment you put in is for a healthy, happy body, it makes the choices you make for food and other areas of your life easier. Fortunately none of my kids are on drugs or alcohol, and I think that it stems from them realizing that those are not good for the body.
That’s profound, and so simple. But it’s always a challenge to feed growing teens and teach them to make healthy choices.
True. My kids are athletes and can’t live on yogurt and granola alone. They have a ‘fill zone.’ They truly require a lot of fuel. But that’s the point—I have taught my kids that their body is a great machine, and it will run better depending on how they fuel it. They’ve seen that when you clog it up with unbalanced, unhealthy options, it doesn’t help them perform their best. I’ve also helped my kids see that what they eat comes out through their skin. If you want to have nice, healthy skin, you have to eat better. No, it doesn’t mean you have to swear off Slurpees or burgers for life, but you just need to know that if you love to eat the sugary, greasy foods, then you are going to pay for it. Would you rather have great skin, or greasy food? It’s a basic choice.
Again, the point is less about food, and more about teaching the freedom of making choices in life. Food choices are just a way to give your kids a chance to see small doses of success. My kids have been able to see the difference in their activity level by choosing water over soda. So, as my kids have gotten older, I see that they are able to make good choices on bigger life-decisions. I think it’s so important to teach our kids how to choose, rather than make all their choices for them. It’s the same with finances. I sit down with my kids and the bills and help them see the choices. It becomes an ownership issue. The last thing I want to do is raise five kids and send them out on their own and they have no idea about choice and consequence. They learn to micromanage what brings them stress and happiness.
Life is stress. Being a bread-winner is stress. Dental bills. Sports teams. Clothes. Electric bills. They all come up, and it’s stress. So I think about if I didn’t exercise and eat right, where would I be?
How do you feel our society helps or hurts women’s self-perception?
We live in a youth culture and as a result the majority of women are unhappy with how they look. I hate more than anything seeing an ad for a skin-care line aimed at women my age, and it’s advertised using a 20-year-old. Give me a break. That’s so unrealistic. I will never look like her, nor will that product give me those results. Show me somebody my age. Be real. Our advertising campaigns are so set on being young and pretty that it leaves a large segment of the viewers who may actually buy the product wondering what it would really do for them. We live on a hope that we’re going to look like that and we put our faith in a product. But what does that do for the internal perspective?
Again, I know that if I eat right and exercise I’m going to get a benefit from that. If you control what you can, you can age gracefully. Throughout life we go through changes, and times when our body is not its healthiest. Things happen, and we won’t always be the way we want. But, don’t give in to being upset about it. Think about that mirror, are you 1-D or 3-D? The bottom line is to value ourselves at all stages of life, and keep trying to improve.
In conclusion, how do you stay positive in a world of negative feedback?
The world loves to promote the negative, and rarely the positive. When I was in pageant mode, my mom said to me, “Gretchen, you can choose to take in every bit of the negative that people say about you, but it will come out and will be reflected in who you are. Or, you can choose to deflect it and close that wall and realize it’s their opinion and not let affect how you feel.”
I’ve learned to take the good and build on it. And, take the bad and analyze it. If it’s not true, just forget it. The worst thing you can do is to conform to what somebody else says you are. You conform to what you feel the best at. The best isn’t where you physically feel, the best is where your heart is coming from. If you feel good when you’re friendly, or honest, or when you work hard and get good results, then that’s where you focus your attitude. When you confront negative energy, simply move on. When things don’t go your way, have another plan—try something else. And when things do go your way, celebrate that.
The best way to combat societal negativity is to find the inner you—your true core—and then forget about yourself and find ways to serve others. It costs us nothing to build and validate others. That’s how we overcome negativity and how we get healthier.
To me, it’s all about aging with grace—Not going back to my twenties—(I don’t even want to look like I did in my twenties) but simply being my best at this age.
- Miss Texas USA 1989
- Miss USA 1989
- 2nd Runner up to Miss Universe 1989
- ESPN Color Analyst
- Correspondent for ABC4 in Salt Lake City
- Currently Host of Utah Works.
- Former Co-Host for ABC4’s Good Things Utah, aka The View.
- Spokesperson for Website Talking Heads.
- National Spokesperson for Vincent Surgical Arts, with a National Infomercial currently running, and a local commercial currently running. National Ad Campaign for Wrangler Jeans.
- Spokesperson for Vein Institute of Utah, with a local commercial currently running.
- Professional Model for the last 34 years.
- More Magazine voted Gretchen as one of the top 10 models over 35 in the USA.
- Featured in the November issue of Shape Magazine.
- Cover Story – Healthy Magazine – December 2015.
- Appeared on the David Letterman Show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, 20/20, The People’s Choice Awards Television Show, Semi Finalist for Star Search, Inside Edition.
Role in the remake movie, Bonanza.
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