By Jennifer LeClaire Source: Better Nutrition, March 2004
Jennifer Beals has enjoyed a healthy career in show biz for the past two decades. The diverse performer has worked alongside stars such as Denzel Washington, Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway–but the accomplished actress didn't always enjoy perfect health along the way. While Beals was physically fit, she was also physically ill during the late 1990s. That's when the thespian endured a non-publicized health challenge that would forever change the way she viewed nutrition.
Daunting Diagnosis Beals was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus and chronic fatigue syndrome, which drained the "Flashdance" star's energy levels for months. Beals also suffered from thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid gland that contributes to fatigue. She even tested positive for lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body and typically causes achy joints, arthritis and fatigue. "I went to one of the top endocrinologists in New York, and he couldn't figure out how to help me," says Beals, who has since fully recovered her stamina. "The doctor told me I was fluctuating so rapidly between two poles that he didn't know what to give me and suggested that I see an alternative doctor." A weary Beals took the doctor's advice and sought out alternative approaches to fix her fatigue. The first step was shunning sugar and weaning herself from wheat, an experience Beals reckons is similar to the experience of withdrawing from drugs. She admits that she was "unpleasant to be around" during that time, but the bigger disappointment was her lack of recovery. "I went to Vancouver to do a film, and I was still really tired all the lime," says Beals, who was starting in a Paramount TV film series called Amanda America at the time. "I thought to myself, 'How am I going to get through this?'"
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Life-Changing Results She was pondering this question in a hotel lobby in Canada when sire saw a book on a coffee table that offered her some hope. That book was Eating Alive by Dr. John Matsen. Matsen proclaimed the body's natural ability to heal itself by attaining homeostasis, or balance. His theory' is that our bodies are wise, self-adjusting organisms capable of monitoring and correcting imbalances, fighting invaders and repairing damage. So when homeostasis reigns, the body is healthy, but when there is imbalance, the body is prone to sickness and disease. According to Matsen, it boils down to digestion. "I started reading Dr. Matsen's book in the hotel lounge, and I thought, 'Wherever this doctor is in the world, after this movie, I'm going to see him'" explains Beals. As fate would have it, Dr. Matsen was in Vancouver, and she booked his next appointment. Three weeks later, she was feeling like herself again. "I completely changed the way I ate, and I also took supplements," she says. "It was amazing. That experience made it so clear to see how the digestive system is such a huge key in wellness and health."
Healthful Lifestyle The health challenge was a turning point in Beals' attitude toward nutrition. She still avoids sugar, wheat and caffeine, three of the culprits responsible for her ailments. She has substituted these things with healthier options such as oats, fruits and green teas. Beals no longer eats as stringently as Dr. Matsen recommended because her digestive system began working so well that her metabolism skyrocketed, and she was losing weight too quickly. But her nutrition habits aren't the only filing that Beals has changed over the years. Her fitness philosophies have also evolved since her Flashdance days when she was 19 years old and dancing in torn sweatshirts and legwarmers. Beals' maturity is displayed in both her acting roles and her exercise routines. "When I was younger, I enjoyed being strong, and I loved it when my heart was very strong, but I think it was also about submitting to the cultural idea that if you're a 22-year-old woman, you have to look a certain way. I'm not into that anymore. But I do appreciate it when my clothes fit." When it comes to exercise, Beals likes variety. One staple of her fitness program, however, is yoga, because she believes stretching helps muscles work more efficiently. She's also a big believer in cross-training. Hiking with her dogs, running on the beach, doing Pilates and skating also bold periodic places in her activities, but swimming is her current aerobic activity of choice because it's fun, quiet and stimulates right-left brain integration.
Better Nutrition Of course, the actress, who now stars in the Showtime Original Series, "The L Word", has had to make her share of fitness and nutrition sacrifices during her career. The slender Beals gained 20 pounds for her leading roles in both Devil in a Blue Dress and A House Divided. While she says losing the weight "wasn't a problem" after Devil in a Blue Dress, shedding the pounds after A House Divided proved more difficult. "It was hard. It was really, really hard," she admits, noting that she tried several different diet regimens at the time. Eventually, she returned to the diet prescribed by Dr. Matsen, which relies heavily on food-combining theories. She also started running 3-4 miles along the Malibu beach near her Los Angeles home almost every' day with her dog. The diet and exercise helped her lose the first 10 pounds in 6 weeks. The next 5 pounds, however, were a little bit more stubborn. Beals eventually conquered the extra weight by running 2 hours a day for several weeks, and says she kept the last 5 pounds on because she felt more comfortable at that weight. "For me, staying in shape means having some kind of cardiovascular ability and flexibility," says Beals. "But being in shape doesn't mean that I have to be a size 4 or a size 6 anymore. For me, it's more about being healthy."
Looking Forward Beals has always been about being healthy and fit. Growing lip with two brothers, she says being adept at sports was a "matter of survival." But Beals isn't hung up on age any more than she is on weight. As she enters her 40s with a new husband and two stepchildren, she isn't longing for the days of her youth and hopes other women aren't either. "There's no point in wishing for something that you can't have," she says matter-of-factly. "I would recommend meditating. I think that's the single most important thing that I do. More than stretching, more than the way I eat, there's something about understanding who you truly are. The essence of everyone is so beautiful that it's startling." (distributed via Co-Cure)