The animal-loving actress and new mom opens up to sister magazine Natural Health about motherhood, staying grounded, eating vegan and living out her life's true purpose.
Jenna Dewan-Tatum at Her Natural Health Cover Shoot
Jenna Dewan-Tatum may be married to a guy who's been declared the Sexiest Man Alive—that would be movie star Channing Tatum—but on this particular sundrenched afternoon, she's hanging with another sort of beautiful creature.
Make that creatures. When the now 35-year-old actress arrives at The Gentle Barn, a nonprofit animal sanctuary nestled on 6 idyllic acres north of Los Angeles, she heads straight to the pig-pen to say hello to Zeus, a 750-pound heifer she sponsors. After posing for a few shots with a chicken named Norma Jeane, she gently parades the rescue animal around in her arms, jokingly campaigning to make the bird a star: "Norma Jeane needs her cover!" And when the old country tune "Wagon Wheel" comes on the photographer's playlist, she kicks up her cowboy boots, dancing for the camera. "This is the happiest place on earth," says Dewan-Tatum, who's been involved with The Gentle Barn for two years. "It's really calming and peaceful, and you can feel that it's not only good for the animals but good for you as well."
Dewan-Tatum's passion for animals can be traced back to her childhood, when, as a 10-year-old in Texas, she decided to become a vegetarian. "I remember very clearly the day my mom made chicken fingers," she says. "I was like, 'Wait, this was alive? This had parents? I'm not eating it anymore.'" The actress—a former backup dancer for Janet Jackson who scored her first hit film with 2006's Step Up, co-starring her husband—has only become more committed to animal rights and following a healthy lifestyle since becoming a parent herself. (Daughter Everly turns 3 in May.) "My number-one priority became this baby and because of that, everything else fell into place in a really natural way," she says the week after the shoot over lunch at a vegan Mexican restaurant near her L.A. home. While heartily munching on shared plates of sweet potato flautas and butternut squash quesadillas, the warm and open star spoke honestly about how she maintains her enviable physique, the sweet way Channing helps her decompress and why her role as free-spirited Freya on Lifetime's Witches of East End is such a perfect fit.
Natural Health: You're vegan now. When did you switch from vegetarianism?
Jenna Dewan-Tatum: About two or three years ago. My nutritionist did an allergy test and found I was lactose-intolerant. Then I saw a video of horrible abuse that was happening to dairy cows, and it was like, "OK, the universe is trying to tell me something." After going vegan, I felt so much better. My skin cleared up, I had a ton more energy and I just felt clearer in the head.
NH: Channing isn't vegan, is he?
JDT: Not at all. He's a meat-eating Southern boy from Alabama! We're very opposites-attract in that way. But he respects that I am. He comes with me to vegan restaurants, politely eats and goes, "That's kind of good." [laughs]
NH: How will you feel if Everly's diet takes after her dad's, not yours?
JDT: I don't believe in forcing anyone into anything, but I'll do my best to introduce her to healthy eating habits. We have a little garden so I'll say, "Let's go pick the vegetables we're going to eat tonight." My pediatrician believes it's completely healthy and possible to have a vegan child, and I think that's amazing. But when Everly gets older, I think we should allow her to be her own person.
NH: What's your daily diet like?
JDT: I swear by a green smoothie every morning with spinach, romaine, kale, apples and banana. I've gotten Chan into those, too. For lunch, I'll make a salad with chickpeas, tomatoes, black beans, corn, cucumbers, edamame and a veggie burger, dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. And for dinner, I love a Mexican bowl with black beans, rice, tomatoes, tempeh, avocado, grilled veggies, lettuce and pico de gallo. I try to be good, but I'm not a robot. I indulge here and there.
NH: Any favorite indulgences?
JDT: Vegan pizza. And I can't turn down a French fry! When I was pregnant, that was my Kryptonite.
NH: Your body bounced back superquickly after giving birth. Was it as easy as you made it look?
JDT: I did snap back quickly, but I was really healthy during my pregnancy. A lot of pregnant women are like, "Whoo, bring on the bad food!" I felt like, I'm creating a human being, so if there's ever a moment to be serious about what I put into my body, it's now. Afterward, I breastfed, which is great for burning calories, and while I was rocking Everly to sleep, I'd do squats and lunges. Then I'd lie down again. I went back to work when she was about 7 weeks old and I don't know how I ever remembered a line. I was exhausted.
NH: That's commitment! How do you stay fit now as a busy mom?
JDT: I work out with a trainer three times a week. We start off with dance-routine cardio, then do strength training with free weights and a resistance band. It kicks your ass! But I love it because it's dance based, and it reminds my body of the work I used to do.
NH: Do you ever miss being a professional dancer?
JDT: So much! Nothing will ever be my first love like dance was. Performing onstage, I felt invincible. But I still get my fix in little ways. Chan and I go out dancing every now and then, and this summer I'm guest judging on So You Think You Can Dance. I love that show.
NH: How early are you planning to enroll Everly in a dance class?
JDT: As soon as I possibly can! But it'll be just my luck, she'll tell me, "I don't really wanna take a class." And I'll be like, "Can you just do one? Can I just take a picture of you in a tutu?"
NH: What has surprised you most about being a mother?
JDT: I expected the emotional bond, but there's a physical connection, too—if I'm away from her for too long, my body literally feels it. Or if she's not well, I take it on. The fact that I can channel all my energy into caring for someone 24/7 and still have time to do other things shocks me!
NH: Is it hard to find that balance?
JDT: You know, my mother worked and I was so grateful to see an independent woman going after her dreams. I think kids learn way more from your actions than from your words. So if you're looking at work like, "Ugh, I don't want to be here, this is so boring," that's so much less inspiring than, "I can't wait to do this thing that I love!" I hope Everly sees that Chan and I are going after what we want and enjoying what we do.
NH: Motherhood sounds like it's been the most beautiful thing for you.
JDT: I really believe it's what we're here for! We're here to live out our own unique purpose in life, but we're also here to create and share life. There are days I feel overwhelmed, but I just trust that I was literally made to do this.
NH: Have you gone greener since becoming a mom?
JDT: I buy all Seventh Generation products, and I clean the house with a mixture of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and water. It disinfects and it smells good.
NH: Is your beauty routine natural, too?
JDT: I keep it simple because I have sensitive skin, and when I do a lot, it makes things worse. I get a facial once a month, and I only use products that aren't tested on animals. I use a face wash from my dermatologist, Dr. Harold Lancer, and I love Josie Maran argan oil—I slather it on my face, in my hair, on my body. If I'm in the sun for five minutes, my melasma comes back, so I'm really good about sunscreen. Sonia Dakar's SPF 30 is made of organic ingredients—it's the best.
NH: Are you into DIY health remedies?
JDT: I make a concoction when I don't want to get sick: vitamin C, echinacea, grapefruit seed extract and some trace minerals mixed with water. I swear I was the town healer in another life. I use sage smudge sticks in the house and I put crystals in certain corners. It's no wonder I play a witch on TV!
NH: When you're not working on the show, how do you decompress?
JDT: Chan and I will have a masseuse come to our house after the baby falls asleep. It's awesome, and totally relaxing because Chan usually arranges it.
NH: So sweet! Do you ever meditate?
JDT: I do transcendental meditation 20 minutes twice a day, and I've found that it helps anxiety and stress feel further away. Everybody goes through rough times, and in my family, relatives have struggled with mental illness and depression. It's hard to tell somebody who's struggling, "Just think positive." It's more complicated than that. But I think if you actively do something every day that cultivates a feeling of inner peace, it can form a spiritual buffer against the negativity in life.
NH: You have a beautiful family, a great career—what else is on your wish list?
JDT: More kids! But I need us to start getting more sleep first. I was an only child until I was 19 and always thought it would be nice to have a sibling closer in age, so I don't want to wait too long. But I give it up to the universe! Whatever is meant to be will be.