Last week, in her first appearance on ABC’s new reality series My Diet Is Better Than Yours, Jennifer Cassetta, GABELLI ’98, spoke about how she first decided to become a personal trainer and nutritionist. Back in 2001, after witnessing the tragedy of September 11 in New York City firsthand, she decided to “do something with purpose in my life.” She intensified her martial arts training, earned an MA in nutrition, and set about becoming a healthy role model for young women. In 2009, she moved her business to California, where she takes a holistic approach to helping women feel strong, safe, and sexy—inside and out.
What did you enjoy most about being a trainer on My Diet is Better Than Yours?
I think the show has a great premise. This show really is all about bio-individuality, or which diet is right for which person at which time in their life. The funny part is, personally, I felt that we all got along so well that it didn’t necessarily feel like such a competition. Everyone was rooting everyone on, and everyone wanted everyone to win. It’s great to bring out all of these different dietary theories.
How did you develop the Strong, Safe, and Sexy diet you promoted while filming the show?
I think I owe a lot of it to my martial arts training, which focuses on the mind, body, spirit connection. I want all my clients to be strong, mentally and physically. I’m not a therapist, but trainers and nutritionists do work with people on an emotional level a lot, so that comes into play first—their emotional and mental strength. I have to say to people, “Well, first, before we even talk about food, I want to talk about why you think you’re fat. What’s going on there on a deeper level, on an emotional level?”
Then I want them to be safe—safe from disease, more aware of themselves and their surroundings, and better able to defend themselves by learning martial arts. And sexy to me has nothing to do with curves on your body or a six-pack. To me, sexy is all about inner confidence.
What do you see as the biggest misconception about dieting?
I actually try to avoid using the word diet. It’s a meal plan, it’s a nutrition program, it’s a fitness program, it’s a way of life. That’s why crash dieting never works. There’s this whole misconception that you just need to eat less in order to lose weight. It’s not a lasting strategy. You set yourself up like a yo-yo and screw up your metabolism. You don’t have to starve yourself to lose weight or be healthy.
You co-wrote a book for young women, Hear Me Roar: How to Defend Your Mind, Body & Heart Against People Who Suck. What do you like about working with that group?
I can tell them all the things that I wish I’d learned when I was in college. I wish I had more of that inner confidence then. Besides my family, there was no woman telling me that it’s OK to look how I look and to love myself and appreciate my strengths.
I also work at a rehab center for teens going through anxiety, depression, body image issues, self-image disorders, and lacking confidence because they’re constantly comparing themselves to others and to images they see in the media. I want to give them the positive messages I wish I had back then.
Besides following a healthy meal and exercise plan, what can women do to help themselves and each other be strong, safe, and sexy?
I like to tell women, especially when I speak at colleges, about what girl power really means. To me it just means sticking up for each other. You know, maybe when you see a woman being taken advantage of, you step in. Sometimes women, especially younger women, have a tendency to kind of join the crowd and not take a stand for things. Take a stand for what you believe in—what you believe is really right, not just what everyone else is telling you. Be a force for good.
Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Alexandra Loizzo-Desai.