24Life: Your book starts off with an apology to your readers—why is that?
CJ: Everything I’ve developed regarding exercise or productivity or mindset has always been based around research and not fad. But to be completely transparent, that approach was not something I ever applied when it came to nutrition. I, too, was caught up in the idea that if an expert or someone who is more credible says it is so, I didn’t question it, and that’s what I would repeat. That’s why I start my book off with an apology because I have this incredible platform, and when it came to nutrition—when it came to health from the inside out—I didn’t take my responsibility as seriously as I should have. I didn’t look at research, and I didn’t question things that were being taught. I just repeated them and assumed the credibility or validity of any “expert advice” or nutrition advice.
24Life: You had a significant health scare that inspired you to think differently about dieting. What led you to this particular method?
CJ: When I was really at the peak of my fitness career, I had done a podcast interview with a neuroscientist, Dr. Daniel Amen. After the interview, we were talking about brain health. He was going through a series of questions, and he said to me privately, “I really need you to come in and have your brain scanned.” I went and had my brain scanned, and I also did nutrition and hormone panels. I was thinking, They’re going to be so impressed with my results and how healthy I am. But it was a rude awakening and the most embarrassing, shameful but also eye-opening appointment of my life. I sat across the table from Dr. Amen and he said, “Chalene, I know that you are a health and fitness expert, but your health is failing. You have to make immediate changes.” My first thought was, These aren’t my results. Something’s off. But my denial quickly turned into shame. I didn’t want anyone to find out that I looked healthy but I wasn’t healthy.
24Life: Many leaders and enthusiasts in the industry can relate. We are pillars of health for others but suffering in silence. Why did you decide to speak up and share this publically?
CJ: I see people who are getting caught up in believing something is healthy because it looks healthy. I could have posted a photo on that same day when I got a failing health score, and I would have got a million likes saying, “Wow. #Goals. I want your abs,” because it looks like what people want to believe is healthy. Social media has made this much harder to combat, which is why I had to take a really bold stance at the risk of alienating people in my industry, alienating my own opportunities in the industry. But if I were to remain silent, then I believe that I was contributing to the problem.
24Life: Where did you start, and what role did food play in creating this method?
CJ: First, I looked at my life—what have I been doing wrong? I was eating all these “healthy foods,” or so I thought. I was eating “clean.” But I had to really understand, What is health? What is healthy for me? What is my goal? I had to first start by redefining health, in terms of how I felt, how long I was going to live and the quality of my life. Based on the things that I was doing, I was going to die faster. We’re all dying, but I was going to die a lot faster, with less body fat, but what’s the point if you have total cognitive decline and you die 15 years earlier than you should have?
One of the first things I had to do was change the way I was sleeping. I had to change my fitness routine. I had to exercise less. I had to think more about rest. And I had to, for the first time, really understand what leaky gut was and how I could heal mine. So that meant looking at nutrition first and how all these pieces needed to come together and—this is the part that’s really important for people to understand: There is no one right way to do anything. There’s the way you need to do it.