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Credit: Photo: Lissa Gotwals
The Way We Eat

The Way We Eat: Jessamyn Stanley, Yoga Teacher and Activist in Durham, North Carolina

updated Jun 27, 2019
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Name: Jessamyn Stanley
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Who eats together? Usually 2 (me and my partner).
Avoidances? I try not to eat gluten, and not a lot of dairy.

Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga teacher, writer, and body positivity advocate living in North Carolina. She has a wildly popular Instagram account (seriously, go follow her) where she shares her yoga routines and her encouragements to live free from shame: “People need to stop shaming themselves and others. We’re meant to eat well and we’re meant to love well — and those things are meant to go together.” Here, she shares what she eats in her busy life, how she views food as a what she calls a “fat-bodied” fitness professional, and her absolute favorite post-yoga meal.

Credit: Lissa Gotwals

As a yoga teacher, what does a typical day of eating look like for you?
My first alarm goes off around 6 a.m. and I hopefully get up around 7 a.m. After that it’s a mash-up of yoga, meditation, tarot, and cardio. I was just recently able to get a weight set in my house, so maybe lifting too. Writing is also a part of my mornings.

Then I shower, wash my face, get dressed and go on to whatever the thing is, which could be teaching, speaking somewhere, traveling. It depends on the day!

I generally eat dinner somewhere between 7 and 10 p.m. It kind of depends. I come from a restaurant service background. My partner is a sous chef at a restaurant. If they’re off work we will go out to eat somewhere. I go to sleep somewhere between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

  • How many of your meals do you cook at home? 50 to 60 percent.
  • Where do you shop? Whole Foods delivery and the Durham Co-op Market.
  • 5 things on your grocery list every week? 50/50 salad blend, lemons, oat milk, tofu, root vegetables.
  • What’s the last food thing you splurged on? Miyokos vegan mozzarella cheese. (I didn’t really like it.)
  • Best underrated snack? Raisin Bran. I’d been sleeping on Raisin Bran — but not anymore.
  • Best cookie of all time? Trash can cookie. Literally throw everything in it.
  • Best tip anyone ever taught you in cooking? Taste for yourself. Always be tasting. Taste, taste, taste.
  • The 3 meals you could eat every day and not get tired of? A salad with a Beyond Burger on top. Simple pasta tossed with oil or butter or anything really basic. I also Iove to just fry up some tofu, dredge it in breadcrumbs and Old Bay Seasoning, and make tofu nuggets. I put them on a bed of rice, throw a sauce on top, and sprinkle with nutritional yeast.
Credit: Lissa Gotwals

What are your struggles in feeding yourself?
The biggest thing is time.

Ha, like all of us! What are your best ways to eat well on a tight schedule?
What’s been most helpful to me is to cut out as many cooking steps as possible. I like things that take very little work. Nothing that involves cutting heads of romaine; I just buy bags of salad. I eat a lot of eggs. I know every quick tofu method. Bagged rice is a big thing for me. Anything that can shorten the process, I use.

I feel weird getting a bag of salad mix as opposed to a head of lettuce (knowing what food costs), but if a bitch has a head of lettuce in the fridge, it’s not getting cooked! I just depend on frozen rice, bagged — just having things like that ready increases my odds of cooking.

Credit: Lissa Gotwals

What do you eat after yoga?
After all of my morning practices, I like to eat a Beyond Burger. It’s something that’s so easy to fuck up: meatless anything. They can be so terrible. But Beyond Burgers they use some shit, I’m not 100 percent sure what, but they are so dope, I love them.

How did you learn to cook, and how did you figure out what you like to eat?
I think for any fat-bodied person, there’s some kind of journey with food — and mine has been long and complicated. I grew up in a working-class family, so when I was a kid we never had a lot of food; we had the bare minimum that was necessary for us. So for me, there was always this glamour in eating a lot of food. Food was very much associated with wealth for me, and abundance, and having as much as possible. Understanding that dynamic within myself has been an incredible journey that I’m still on.

Credit: Lissa Gotwals

Do you feel that your view of food has changed?
Yeah. It has shifted instead to How does this fuel my life? How does what I put into my body directly impact what comes out of my body?

So how do you figure what foods fuel you?
There’s this really weird kind of space if you’re fat-bodied and also into fitness and wellness of trying to understand the role that food and nutrition plays. To me, it comes down to How do I want to feel? I try to think specifically about the types of food that I consume and the ways that they affect my body.

Credit: Lissa Gotwals

I love the whole framework of eating what makes you feel good. Have you made decisions to avoid foods because of how they make you feel?
I love dairy products — I love every kind of cheese, and yogurt (I could eat it until the end of time) — but it just does not work for my body. And my yoga practice has helped me see that. Like when I want to practice inversions: If I eat a couple of pieces of cheese like an hour before I invert, that’s not going to be a good look. It’s going to be an unpleasant experience — a bad scene.

Within the yoga world, veganism is trendy. It’s a thing that people like to be able to say, like “I’m vegan!” They don’t [necessarily] care about the environment or the impact of factory farming on the world. They just want to be able to say that they’re vegan. That’s not my instinct; I don’t want to be in it for the trend. It’s about having a really intimate relationship with this physical machine that we have. It just doesn’t make me feel good and I want to feel good.

In our house, we have three cast iron pans that are pretty much used for everything that’s not a soup.

That’s so simple and freeing — especially if you have a complicated relationship with food like so many of us do.
Food is meant to be loved. it is not a space of hatred. I spent years feeling guilty about eating and feeling that there was something wrong with me because I was hungry. I had to understand that food was not the problem — it was my mental space that was the problem. That’s something I wish that I had known.

You are very vocal and generous on Instagram, showing your yoga routines and thought process around food and eating in sometimes raw and messy forms. What do you hope people follow you for?
When I look at my social media, I’m just looking at a journal documenting my yoga practice that I’ve successfully kept for the past few years. But when other people look at it, they see that “anything is possible.” It’s not just about being fat and black and queer and being comfortable with myself. It’s about being anything different than what the media says you’re supposed to be and being cool with that.

As time has gone on, me living my life has turned into a way to inspire the masses. I didn’t wake up one day and say, OhI wanna inspire someone! I don’t really know how to do that other than just inspiring myself. 

Credit: Lissa Gotwals

I read that you have an alternative use for The Joy of Cooking. Tell us about it?
I used to use the 75th anniversary edition of The Joy of Cooking as a yoga block — I still use it as a makeshift tripod at times. I also use Eric Ripert’s On the Line and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Those three books together make excellent yoga props.

Yoga is so deeply embedded in consumerism. We forget that actually, all of this could exist without the extra. I think I’m being generous to say that yoga mats have only existed for like 60 years. The same goes for the kitchen. You don’t really need all of this extra. In our house, we have three cast iron pans that are pretty much used for everything that’s not a soup. That and if you have a good blender, you’re chilling.

So you’re a blender girl?
A friend of mine just put me on to blender matcha. You know how it can get kind of grainy? The blender saves everything.

Credit: Lissa Gotwals

What do you love most about your kitchen?
A huge part of why I live in North Carolina is not just because my community and family is here — the amount of space that you can have for your money is not the way that it is in New York or Los Angeles. Our house (we rent) is over 100 years old, and the way that it was renovated was for a family that cooks. The kitchen is connected to the living room and there’s a back deck with space for outdoor seating. It’s very much meant for the communal experience of eating. My parents’ kitchen where I grew up is really small but really full of love, so being able to have an expansive space meant for parties and friends is everything.

Are there any cookbooks you do cook out of?
A friend of mine, Maggie Battista, just put out a cookbook called A New Way to Food. It’s all about intuitive eating, especially about eating in a fat body, and feeling comfortable trying out different things. I also love Chloe Coscarelli’s book, Chloe Flavor. I could keep going but I’m going to pick one more: Issa Chandra Moskowitz’s Issa Does It. In it, she makes nut-based cooking, which can seem really out of reach for a lot of people, feel really accessible.

Credit: Lissa Gotwals

Okay, real talk: What is the last recipe you made that totally delighted you?
This isn’t really a recipe, but I had this Bay’s English muffin toasted with unsalted butter and just a touch of Maldon sea salt. They’re chewy and crunchy and the nooks and crannies get me. I’m cheating on my other favorite English muffin, Glutinos.

Any snacks you always turn to?
I also can’t do corn anymore. It’s another one of those things where my body is just like Why are you doing this? But Siete Foods makes grain-free tortilla chips that are LIT. I have tried every grain-free tortilla chip there is, and I live for Siete — specifically with hummus. I eat a lot of hummus. My favorite brand is local to North Carolina, called Roots.

Best late-night food?
My favorite has always been cheese fries. I love them so much. I live for them.

Credit: Lissa Gotwals

Any other food you’re currently obsessed with?
Last year, my mom got my dad really into YouTube and one of the first things that he learned was how to peel a pomegranate. He got like a crate of them at Aldi, pounded them with a mallet or something, and then started giving me quart after quart. He was like “Jessamyn, do you know about this?” That’s when I had my spiritual awakening with pomegranate seeds. They are like little bursts of energy that I think are otherworldly — but of this world.

Thank you, Jessamyn! Everyone, seriously, go follow Jessamyn on Instagram.

Editor: Ariel Knutson
Editorial Advisor: Leela Cyd

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.

We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.