Meet JJ Virgin – Celebrity Nutrition Expert: How to Stay Strong and Positive in the Face of a Crisis
Written by: Snježana Ana Billian, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Triple-board certified nutrition expert and Fitness Hall of Famer JJ Virgin is a passionate advocate of eating and exercising smarter. JJ helps people stay fired up and healthy as they age, so they feel the best they ever have at age 40+.
JJ is a prominent TV and media personality, whose previous features include co-host of TLC’s Freaky Eaters, 2 years as the on-camera nutritionist for Weight Loss Challenges on Dr. Phil, and numerous appearances on PBS, Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray, Access Hollywood, and the TODAY Show. She also speaks regularly and has shared the stage with notables, including Seth Godin, Lisa Nichols, Gary Vaynerchuk, Mark Hyman, Dan Buettner, and Mary Morrissey.
JJ is the author of four NY Times bestsellers: The Virgin Diet, The Virgin Diet Cookbook, JJ Virgin’s Sugar Impact Diet, and JJ Virgin’s Sugar Impact Diet Cookbook. Her latest book, Warrior Mom: 7 Secrets to Bold, Brave Resilience, shows caregivers everywhere how to be strong, positive leaders for their families while exploring the inspirational lessons JJ learned as she fought for her own son’s life.
JJ hosts the popular Ask the Health Expert podcast, with over 8 million downloads and growing. She also regularly writes for Rodale Wellness, Mind Body Green, and other major blogs and magazines. JJ is also a business coach and founded the premier health entrepreneur event and community, The Mindshare Summit.
Visit www.jjvirgin.com for hundreds of free recipes and resources, plus state-of-the-art programs, products, and plenty of support to help you build your dream life.
People call you a superwoman because of your personal story narrated in Warrior Mom. In a nutshell, what is your story about, and what inspired you to write a book about it?
Eight years ago, I was launching my book The Virgin Diet. I took the full advance from my publisher and invested it into a public television show as part of the book launch. I decided to take such a risk because I felt it would mean a significant shift in my career and impact other people’s lives.
One month before The Virgin Diet came out—and that is the busiest time you have as an author—my sixteen-year-old son, Grant, was struck by a hit-and-run driver. When we arrived at the hospital, the doctors literally told us that he wouldn’t last through the night.
The only way we could save his life was to move him to the next hospital, but we were told he wouldn’t survive the airlift. And even if he were to survive it, he wouldn’t survive the surgery. And even if he were to survive the surgery, his brain would be so damaged that it wouldn’t be worth it.
We decided to take the tiny chance that he might survive and moved him to that hospital. Fortunately, Grant survived both the airlift and the surgery.
Not only that, you helped your son get stronger than he was before the accident. What kind of mindset did you adopt to achieve such a miraculous result, despite the doctors’ pessimistic predictions?
While my son lay there in a deep coma, I stood by his side, holding his two fingers. He had got casts on both legs, thirteen fractures, and a tube coming out of his brain. Everything was either bandaged, cast, or raw, and the only thing I had left to hold on to were those two fingers.
The nurses said he couldn’t hear me, but at times I felt a little squeeze of his fingers while I was talking to him. At one point, I looked at him, and I said: “Grant, your name means warrior, and you are going to be 110 percent. You are going to be better than before the accident, but I need you to fight. I will bring in all the resources that I can to get you there. You just have to fight.”
This mantra became my guiding principle—to get my son to be 110 percent. I remember standing there and wondering how the heck to make it happen. Being the primary financial support for my teenage kids, I knew I had to make my book a success, otherwise, I would go bankrupt. That’s when I decided to be there for my son and make The Virgin Diet go more prominent than ever.
It takes a lot of courage to think this way in a situation where everything is on the line—from your financial security to even your son’s life. How did you find the strength to confront this traumatic experience?
I realized that the only way I would be able to pull this whole thing off was to put myself first, which is absolutely the opposite of what you would typically think in such a situation. But I knew that I couldn’t make life or death decisions if I were tired or if I got sick. At that very moment, I had to make sure my health was top of my game.
On top of that, I was going to focus on only two things: Being there for my son and making sure my book went. That meant automating, delegating, and getting off my plate anything else.
This is not the approach most people take when they face challenging times. For example, a global study showed that many of us ate more junk food during the pandemic, exercised less, and got less sleep. What’s your view on that?
This is not the time for neglecting your body. Instead, you need to up your game and put your self-care above everything else. The best vaccine against the virus is to take excellent care of your health.
Back then, when my son was in the hospital, I never fed him any hospital food. I brought in a blender and fresh food for both of us every day. On top of that, I was running up and down the hospital stairs, and I made sure I was getting enough sleep. To be at the top of my game, I couldn’t afford to get sick.
To make a difference in your life, it is not how you show up when things are easy; it’s how you think about the challenges happening right now that will change the trajectory of your life and career. This could be the biggest opportunity for you to shift, show up, and do what you need to do in life, or it could be the biggest letdown, where you become a victim.
How can we get past the victim mindset?
I had a great mentor early on who always said there are no victims, only volunteers. My son was nearly killed by a hit-and-run driver, and not once has he called himself a victim. Today, eight years later, he is 110 percent, and it took us seven and a half years to get him there.
All along the way, Grant kept looking at how fortunate he was. He never was angry at the woman that hit him and then drove off, leaving him almost dead in the street. Instead, he forgave her and looked at how lucky he was to know that his family would do whatever it took for him.
You mentioned that the key to overcoming your catastrophic situation was to take care of your health. How does health tie into the success mindset?
A couple of years ago, my team and I sent out a survey to my health community. One of the questions we asked was: If you are not where you want to be with your health and weight, why not? It was an open question, and the respondents could write in whatever they thought. I expected people to say the main reason they faced health and weight challenges was that they couldn’t quit their sugar or gluten, but that’s not what most of them responded. What came out was that most people were struggling because they thought they were not good enough.
I do health coaching and business coaching, and they’re similar because, at some point, someone’s going to get stopped. And it’s not because they don’t know the latest right diet to use or lack business strategy. It’s because of what’s going on in their head—something that says they’re not worth it.
Whether you’re building a business or your health, what generally stops you is not the lack of strategy. What stops you is your self-talk all along the way.
You launched The Virgin Diet—a book that not only became a New York Times bestseller but spent twenty-six weeks on that list—while you were in the hospital fighting for your son’s life. How did the crisis in your personal life help you move your business forward and achieve such extraordinary success?
Some people in my Facebook community were writing to me to just be with my son and that my job was going to wait for me. I knew they were trying to be helpful, but the truth was, I didn’t have a job waiting for me.
The reality was that by investing everything in my book, I had burned the boats before taking the island. I think that The Virgin Diet achieved such a level of success because, to me, success was not optional. I had no backup plan, and being the primary financial support for my children, my son’s life depended on it. And that’s why I was going to do whatever it took to make it happen.
Before this experience, I lived my life always having a little backup plan on whatever I was doing. And when you do that, you don’t fully commit. In this case, I was fully committed, and my son was completely involved with my book launch. I’d sit by his bed, work away, and tell him what was going on. Sure enough, he could hear me. He later said to me that he wasn’t ready to die because he kept hearing my voice.
Many people admire you for your strength and courage, and they think they could never do what you did in life. What is your advice to those people?
If you had said to me earlier that my son would be in a near-fatal accident and I would launch a New York Times bestseller making a couple of million dollars in sales by his bedside, I would have never thought it possible. We are much stronger than we think, and we are never better than when we’re challenged.
When my son came out of the hospital, I was overprotective, and I would grab him each time he was going to cross the street. My protection was so depressing for him, and I realized it would not make him better. The way he was going to get better was for me to start rechallenging him.
It’s been eight years to get my son to 110 percent. There were so many challenges along the way where we could have given up. In life, you need to keep showing up. Success favors the people who are tenacious and who will not quit.
Grab those challenges because every time you go through a situation that seems hard, you grow. There is no growth in your comfort zone. Think about a day in your life when everything went perfectly for you. Chances are you didn’t think you became a better person that day. You feel you’re expanding when you’re challenged.
Every time you challenge yourself to overcome a problematic event, all of a sudden, that situation becomes your new normal. In my case, I have a new normal. To me, a challenge is if someone who I love is dying. But money issues and many other things that used to rattle me don’t intimidate me any longer.
How did this mindset help you thrive through the COVID-19 pandemic?
When the pandemic started to hit, I looked for new opportunities to serve and do better in my work. As a health expert, I noticed this was the first time ever people were concerned about prevention, and I wondered how I could support that trend. I also looked for ways to help people who had lost their jobs get back on their feet.
There are so many opportunities out there right now for us to be able to serve other people. Look for that, and you’ll get out of the victim mindset. One of the easiest ways to get yourself out of fear and anxiety is to help somebody else.
Lastly, where do people start in taking on a major challenge?
When I was thirty years old, I hired a mentor who I thought would teach me how to be successful in business. But for the first six months, she didn’t teach me anything about business. She focused only on my mindset, and the first thing that she had me do was put two rubber bands on my wrist.
Whenever I had a negative thought or a limiting belief, I was supposed to snap those rubber bands and say cancel, cancel. I don’t like the cancel, cancel nowadays because we’ve had a terrible cancel culture in the US, but I think it still applies.
I challenge anyone to do this for a week because, within that time, you will become aware of your negative thoughts, and you will stop thinking them. Thoughts are powerful. They can create. That’s why the first thing you can do is to be aware of your thoughts.
When I was at the hospital taking care of my son, I knew I had to adopt and maintain a positive mindset. Every morning I wrote down at least three things I was grateful for in my journal. At night, I always looked for three wins or three little miracles that happened that day.
For example, when my son made it through the day, that was always a miracle. Sometimes it was him squeezing my finger or making eye contact. And if I needed to change my state of mind throughout the day, I would shoot a little text of appreciation to someone.
That simple act of gratitude in the morning, a bit of appreciation during the day, and then thinking of little miracles at night can help you dramatically shift your life. You shape your environment, and you need to tightly control it so that you can shift yourself into a more positive place.
To learn more about JJ Virgin, her work, and her mission, visit: www.jjvirgin.com. Make sure to check out JJ’s Ask the Health Expert podcast, in which JJ and her guests share health tips, up-to-the-moment science news, and answers to the toughest health questions.
Snježana Ana Billian, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Snježana Ana Billian is the founder of Workmazing, the go-to career platform for people looking to leave a mark and do amazing work in the world. Workmazing's online summits are devoted to sharing thought-provoking feature interviews of people who are authorities in the field of leadership, happiness, money management, and relationships at work.
Ana is the co-author of the bestseller Inspired By The Passion Test – The #1 Tool For Discovering Your Passion And Purpose. She was featured in Business Insider, Thrive Global, Brainz Magazine, and other media outlets.
In the past decade, Ana has been leading numerous human resources programs for large-sized multinational corporations, helping executives and high-potential professionals step into more prominent roles. She graduated with a degree in Economics and holds multiple certifications in the field of personal and leadership development.
Ana is, at heart, a citizen of the world. Born in Bosnia Herzegovina and having lived in Italy and the United States, she now spends her days in Germany, with her husband Thomas and their son Tim.