Jessica Marie: Chicagoan of the Week
Jessica Marie El-Assaad’s whole life has led up to what she’s doing now. As the founder of Complete Health Education and Wellness Inc. (cleverly, CHEW), she spends her days not only living a healthy, happy, holistic lifestyle (the three H’s?) but teaching others to do it, too.
But Jessica didn’t always have a healthy relationship with food. She had her first Slim Fast at age nine. By the time she reached her early twenties she had been struggling with various eating disorders — both anorexia and bulimia — for over a decade. She developed digestive disorders, was always ill, and was controlled by food. After years of destructive behavior, unhappiness, and unhealthiness, Jessica Marie decided she had to make a change. She started looking into how she could heal herself — both physically and emotionally — and enjoy food again. Starting on her path to healing, she began eating better, taking vitamins and finding happiness. “When the food changed, everything changed,” she recalls.
It didn’t take long for Jessica Marie to realize that this lifestyle needed to be her career. She ended up at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, where she trained in over 100 different dietary theories and studied under big names in the field, including Deepak Chopra, Dr. Mercola, Dr. Andrew Weil and David Wolfe. After completing the school’s graduate program, the next step was deciding where to work. But Jessica Marie had the same spirit as the UPchicago founders — she didn’t want to work for someone else. In a moment of clarity at 3am (it always happens that way, doesn’t it?) she bolted out of bed, to the surprise of her fiance, with a name and a plan, and with that momentum there was no stopping her. So, with a useful background in creative marketing, she set out on developing what would become CHEW.
“I wanted to get people jazzed about healthy living. So many people have a misconstrued view of holistic lifestyles. I wanted to break down the wall, educate people, and make it fun.” Jessica Marie is all about finding what works for your body, because, as some of us have learned, there’s no cookie cutter diet. She wants to reach the people who have never tapped into the wellness world, and make it easier for them to understand that it doesn’t have to be hard.
CHEW is a multi-faceted approach to healthy living, which for some means weight loss but for everyone means looking and feeling your best. Programs include The CHEW Lifestyle Program (a 3+ month system to get you on a new path toward wellness), 8 Weeks to a Personal Revolution, classes, workshops, and elective crash courses in cooking, grocery shopping and more. Jessica Marie will literally come into your kitchen, pull things out of the pantry and tell you why they aren’t healthy. Now, the Double-Stuff Oreos might be an obvious one, but there’s sure to be some surprises in your cupboard that you didn’t know were hurting your health. It’s a reality TV show for the rest of us… minus the cameras and ostentatious personalities.
Jessica Marie has also created the Chicago Taste of Wellness Tour, which is the perfect introduction for someone looking to dabble in a healthier lifestyle. It not only includes a consultation with her, but also mini yoga and pilates classes and free goodies from several stops on the tour. So, if you have no idea how to take a wheatgrass shot (or why a person would want to do that in the first place), you just might learn a little something on the tour. And maybe you’ll make one small change in your lifestyle… and that’s where it all starts.
One of the cornerstones of CHEW is the word “moderation.” Sure, you’ll hear it a lot from dieters and nutritionists alike, but, as Jessica Marie will tell you, a lot of people don’t understand how to put that word into practice. I know I, for one, find Chicago to be one hell of a tempting town… beer gardens, Italian beef, deep-dish pizza, local breweries, THE TASTE OF CHICAGO! How does a Chicagoan deal with it? Thankfully, Jessica Marie wants you to be able to drink beer and eat cake. Maybe not for breakfast every day, but that’s another issue. “I like to have fun and go out,” she reminds me. “But it’s all about picking your battles.” And then she dropped a line that stuck with me: “Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.”
I like that, so I’m going to repeat it. “Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.” Makes you wanna take a wheatgrass shot right now, doesn’t it? Ok, maybe wheatgrass isn’t your thing, but getting started on the path to wellness isn’t as tough as you might think. Start with Jessica Marie’s #1 suggestion: get closer to your food. Now, she’s not asking you to stick your face in the mashed potatoes… it’s all about reconnecting with what you’re eating. The thing that’s missing most in the American diet is more fruits and vegetables. So get out and go to your local farmer’s market, she suggests. Experiment with new produce. And for god’s sake, eat less processed & packaged food. When you purchase the raw ingredients and watch them go from a market stand to your oven to your plate, you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. And while we’re on the subject, don’t be intimidated by cooking. “Burn your rice,” she says. Seriously. Burn it black. And then try it again. The more you cook, the better you get, and the more it becomes a part of your routine. Just remember change doesn’t happen overnight. Baby steps, people.
But c’mon, everyone likes to dine out once in a while, including Jessica Marie. Some of her favorite spots are also Chicago healthy-eating staples, including the Chicago Diner, Sprout, Karyn’s Cooked and Karyn’s on Green. Uncommon Ground is also a pretty cool place, she tells me. They have a rooftop garden where they grow their own organic food — so what you’re eating has literally come from just above your head.
When it comes to Chicago, Jessica Marie will give it to you straight: “There’s nothing not to love.” It’s a great place to practice what she preaches, especially in the summertime, with all kinds of outdoor fitness classes and wellness groups to check out. (She suggests visiting meetup.com to find out what’s going on!) The Garfield Park Conservatory is also one of her favorite places to go in the city. Just off the Green Line on the L, the Conservatory is a lush, peaceful oasis in the city — there are even exhibits and events there, like “Jazz Under the Stars” in July.
When I asked her if she had any words of wisdom for people new to the city, Jessica Marie was enthusiastic. “People here are always looking to help you. They want you to win.” Moving here alone in her early twenties, she found the city to be welcoming, friendly, and an easy place to adjust to. Jessica Marie left me with a thought that I think applies to her wellness mission, to Chicago and to just about anything in life:
“If you put good out into the world, great things will come back to you.”
To learn more about Jessica Marie and CHEW, visit chewchicago.com.