Skip to Content

5 things Jameela Jamil does to protect her body and mind in an unbalanced world

<i>CNN via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Actor and activist Jameela Jamil joined Dr. Sanjay Gupta on his podcast Chasing Life.
CNN via CNN Newsource
Actor and activist Jameela Jamil joined Dr. Sanjay Gupta on his podcast Chasing Life.

By Andrea Kane, CNN

Season 9 of the podcast Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta explores the intersection between body weight and health. We delve into a wide range of topics including what weight really tells us about our health and the new weight loss medications. You can listen here.

(CNN) — Actor and podcast host Jameela Jamil is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Tahani Al-Jamil, the glamorous name-dropping, self-involved actress in the comedy series “The Good Place.”

Measured by Western beauty standards, Jamil is certainly glamorous. But despite all outward appearances, she has been a vocal social activist who has made it one of her missions to break down stereotypes, including those based on appearance, and call out influencers and others who promote potentially harmful practices around weight and body image.

Jamil, who was born and raised in England, said she comes by her activism honestly: When she was younger, she said she struggled with an eating disorder.

“I had anorexia for about 20 years,” she told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta on his podcast Chasing Life recently. “That was a very sad and very bad journey that was perpetuated largely by our culture with an obsession around female thinness. But also, I think my desire to feel like I could control something in a world that didn’t make me feel like I was … the boss of my own destiny, because I am a woman.”

A lot of Jamil’s activist work is through her i Weigh platform, which grew out of the Instagram account @i_weigh, started in 2018. After a fair share of controversy, it has evolved into a community where diverse voices are given a virtual space to explore social issues and where she and others can learn together.

“I think when I first came out (as an activist) in 2018 — you know, as Tahani, as this glamorous actress — I think people had a lot more doubt back then, and they felt like I was doing this to jump on a quick bandwagon to make a name for myself. And now, six years later, I’m still in it. I’m still doing it. I’m still fighting for people’s rights. I’m still taking huge risks. I’m still sacrificing my own career to have these conversations publicly,” she said.

Jamil said she’s been in recovery from her eating disorder for around nine years, something for which she is very grateful, noting that anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric disorder and few treatment options.

Her two-decade-long struggle with anorexia left her with physical damage and potential future health consequences. “I’m going to get, probably, osteoporosis when I’m older,” she said. “Only one of my kidneys works because of everything I did to it during anorexia. I’ve got a malfunctioning digestive system. My teeth are not in the same condition they were before my eating disorder.”

Jamil said that she doesn’t pass judgement when she sees a body that others might perceive as too large or too thin.

“I think anyone who looks like they’re struggling with their health, whether they are incredibly underweight or they are a higher weight than their body can … cope with, then it’s normally a sign that there is some sort of an imbalance. And I think that that imbalance is down to a multitude of variants,” she said.

But she is troubled that society continues to celebrate extreme thinness and gives little serious thought to people who are underweight, even when weight is discussed in the context of health.

“When we look at a very thin person, we feel no concern — often we feel some form of admiration for that quote unquote, ‘self-control,’” she said. “I’ve hurt myself far more in undereating than overeating, but both come down to our sick society. And so, when I see anyone in any kind of extreme body type … the thought is never to think, ‘They just need to be shamed; I need to go up to them and tell them to do a better job,’” she said.

More than weight or the way we look, Jamil said what motivates her activism is something that can’t be measured by outward appearances.

“I would say that the leading subject that guides my heart is mental health … I think that that is the foundation of every trial and tribulation that humanity experiences,” she said. “I think if people had better mental health … there would be (fewer) wars between the genders. I think there would be less racism, less bigotry … There is a direct correlation between the declining mental health of our society and the increase in violence (and) of violence against the self.”

Jamil blames governments around the world for making it almost impossible for people to have mental stability. “Because we are so stressed and trying so hard to survive, and we exist in such a scarcity mindset that it’s impossible for people to be balanced in a world like this,” she said. “As (the psychotherapist) Esther Perel pointed out … we pathologize everyone — everyone’s behavior is a sickness — but also, they are symptoms of a sick society. It’s the society that’s broken, not the individuals.”

Here are five things Jamil does to protect her own mental health in a world that often feels unbalanced.

Adopt an attitude of body neutrality

Jamil views her body as a vessel, transporting her brain and spirit through life; it is not who she is.

“I practice body neutrality, which has been a complete, almost divorce from my body,” she said. “I don’t look at it any longer as a reflection of me. It is not an advertising billboard for other people. It is not there for them to judge. It’s not there for me to judge. It’s a vessel that carries around my brain — and now all I care about, genuinely, is my brain (and) my spirit.”

While she has a job that often focuses on the way that she looks, she said that inwardly she maintains that separation. “I have to show up and present a certain way sometimes but … I feel very disassociated from my body when I’m doing that. It’s like I’m dressing up a doll rather than me, myself. I’ve separated my identity from my aesthetic. And that took a long time, but has completely saved my life because now, whether I get bigger or smaller, I just don’t judge myself.”

Jamil said she has better things to do than think about her body. “I would rather be thinking about all the fun that I can have before I die. I would rather be thinking about my friends. I would rather be thinking about the world and how I could be helpful,” she said.

Don’t manipulate images

Jamil said that to protect her mental health, she stipulates in her contracts (when she can) that her photos not be airbrushed.

“I don’t like when people airbrush out my stretchmarks; it’s like, I have to live with those stretch marks,” she said. “I have to live with that flabby upper arm. I have to live with that nose or those wrinkles. (So) don’t advertise a version of me that doesn’t exist… because then, what you’re saying … is that the way that I show up in life is not good enough.”

Not only that, but airbrushing — or the non-celebrity equivalent: using a filter on a social media app — also creates an unwanted comparison.

“I’m naturally going to compare myself to that image,” she said. “I don’t want to see images of what I could look like if I were more attractive and perfect. That’s not good for anyone. Look at the rise in the mental health statistics. Look at the rise in eating disorders. Look at the rise in teenagers wanting plastic surgery.”

Eat and drink intentionally

Choosing what to eat shouldn’t be about attaining the right weight or the perfect body.

“For me, I think my end goal for people is for them to eat from a place of nourishing and looking after their bodies,” Jamil said. “I want us to look at our bodies as they are, which is our ride-or-die that is going to take us to all of our dreams and keep us alive … until the day that we die. And so, I want us to fuel our engines and not make extreme decisions based on psychological manipulation (from) our society as to what we’re supposed to look like.”

Jamil said she is meticulous about what she puts into her body.

“I only now eat for pleasure and longevity,” she said. “I don’t deny myself anything, but I eat foods that are whole foods, and I source them very carefully. And I take it very seriously the kind of chemicals that are going into my body.”

“Please look at your food sources!” she said.

Make time to exercise

For peak performance and longevity, the vessel that carries our mind and spirit needs daily movement.

“I want us to really take care of ourselves,” she said. “I want us to exercise from a place of wanting to have those happy chemicals in our brains, and for wanting to increase our bone density and our heart health.”

But there is room for improvement in her own exercise regimen, Jamil admitted.

“I walk an hour a day with my dogs, religiously, pretty much,” she said. “That’s the only exercise I do because I don’t really enjoy a lot of exercise. But I’m working on finding more enjoyable ways to move my body because I need to start strength training so that I can build up my bone density again. But currently, I just religiously walk, listening to music.”

United we stand

Jamil said we have more in common than we have differences, and whether the problem is lack of access to healthy food, out-of-control health care costs or climate change, people in society can move the needle “to make this a better and safer place” —  if we join forces.

“Part of what I care about is making sure that people don’t feel, you know, as though this is just something we can’t do something about,” she said. “We just can’t do it while we’re nitpicking ourselves and nitpicking each other. We have to organize and come together.”

“It’s just important that we don’t feel helpless, I think,” she said. “I don’t want to look back on a hundred years and be, like, ‘What a shame.’ I want to fight it now.”

We hope these 5 tips help you stay sane and grounded in your body and appearance. Listen to the full episode here. And join us next week on the Chasing Life podcast when we dive into the joy of food.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN Audio’s Eryn Mathewson contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Health

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KION 46 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content