A lot of what you see scrolling through Wellness Instagram is out of touch at best, misleading at worst—informed by diet culture over science; privilege over reality; exclusivity over inclusivity. “They promote this idea of wellness that is unattainable for most people,” Wendy Lopez, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., tells SELF, whether because of your body size, race, cultural background, socioeconomic status, or age.
Food Heaven Made Easy is an antidote to mainstream wellness—an approachable, common-sense voice in a cacophony of strict diets, quick fixes, and inaccessible advice. “We work hard to break that all down and redefine what health looks like for people,” Lopez explains. She and her cofounder, Jessica Jones M.S., R.D., started the site (and their Food Heaven podcast) to expand our culture’s understanding of healthy eating and to widen the path to wellness. (Lopez and Jones are SELF columnists as well.)
“Our main message is that health and health recommendations should be accessible to everyone,” Lopez says. Healthy eating (and health in general) are not about youth, beauty, or thinness, Jones explains: “It’s about what makes you feel good.” That means physically, mentally, and emotionally. Their work is largely informed by two frameworks they have helped popularize over the last couple years: Health at Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive Eating (IE), topics they cover often on their podcast. Both HAES and IE reject the premise of diet culture and the pursuit of weight loss that drive so much of the harmful health and dieting messaging we see today, and instead promote a more caring and individualized relationship to our bodies and food.
The Food Heaven approach is also very practical, grounded in both the science of nutrition and realities of people’s everyday lives—think helpful meal prep tips and veggie-forward recipes rather than recommendations to buy a specific supplement. While a lot of their work is about what you eat, of course, it’s also about everything else that affects what you eat, Jones explains: physical health, sleep, mental health, culture, food access, relationships, socioeconomic status, and social injustices. As Lopez puts it, individual health is “way more complex than, you know, ‘eat more vegetables.’”
SELF: How did you come to do what you do?
Lopez: About 10 years ago, we were working at farmers markets in the Bronx, providing nutrition education to the community. We were really inspired—and also just tired of the narrative that people of color or poor people weren’t interested in eating healthy. Because we saw firsthand that when we provided education and actual access to these foods, people were really excited to cook with them. This includes both foods that were culturally relevant to them and also foods like kale that maybe they weren’t as familiar with.
So we decided to create, initially, videos for the local TV channels so that local residents would be able to get nutrition education and cooking tips. Our friends suggested that we put it online so that we could reach more people. Then we got on YouTube, and it grew from there.
Jones: Then I decided to move back to California, and obviously, we couldn’t do videos anymore because we didn’t live in the same place. We were like, why don’t we just do a podcast?
SELF: What do you think is the most pressing problem related to your area?
Lopez: The big picture problem is that people don’t feel identified in wellness, because most people don’t fit into the skinny white girl image. Larger white people, people of color, and poor people don’t feel identified in that—and I feel like that’s most of the country. That impacts how you see food and health. Because if you don’t see yourself identified in it, it’s like you’re either constantly trying to reach an unattainable goal, or you’re just like, I don’t want anything to do with it.