The Biggest Loser's Jen Widerstrom talks about health, fitness, her book, and how cosmetic dentistry gave her a winning smile
Soon after Jen Widerstrom joined the cast of The Biggest Loser in 2014, her supportive style as a coach made her a fan favorite. In her first season on the NBC hit reality TV series, which challenges contestants to lose weight, Team Jen produced both the winner and the runner up out of 20 competitors. Half cheerleader, half drill sergeant, Jen brings her unique brand of caring and tough love to the task of inspiring contestants to embrace total wellness and healthy change. According to Jen, it's a struggle to which viewers at home can also relate.
"It really is honest about what we go through as people," she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. "Millions of people watch the show, not just because it's a weight loss show but because it's about the human condition — whether you're 100 pounds overweight or you manifest your stress in other ways…These qualities come up on the show, and that's why everybody connects to it."
|Photo by The Riker Brothers|
Jen's love of health and fitness began in her childhood, with parents who encouraged her to participate in all kinds of sports. Instead of papering her bedroom walls with posters of popular boy bands, she put up a movie poster of Conan the Barbarian, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"He had a really long last name and so did I, and that made me feel special and kind of cool. He had really big muscles and so did I, and most people didn't look like me. He gave me the opportunity to have some self-acceptance when I was younger, and it's a really hard time to do that as a kid — and so that's where it kind of began for me."
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in sports administration, Jen began using her interest in athletics to help others. She saw the effects of wellness and fitness in her own life: "the way it changed the quality of life, my feelings about myself, my own confidence." She became a trainer and fitness model before garnering national attention in 2008 as the pink-haired "Phoenix" on the NBC show American Gladiators.
But years before she was on TV battling opponents or coaching contestants through personal transformations, Jen underwent a transformation of her own. There came a point when she realized that she never smiled with her teeth, but always with a closed mouth. This led her to make the life-changing decision to upgrade her smile.
Jen had several dental issues, some of which resulted from poor dental work as a child. Shortly after college she talked with her dentist, who recommended a combination of veneers and crowns. One of the most popular and dramatic ways to transform a smile, a dental veneer is a wafer-thin porcelain shell that is bonded to the front surface of the tooth. Veneers can improve the color, shape or size of teeth, and even correct minor spacing irregularities. Crowns (or caps), on the other hand, are restorations that cover the entire visible part of the tooth, providing both structural and cosmetic improvement.
When Jen first saw her new smile, she was overcome.
"My new smile was transformational for me — of course physically but also from the inside out. It really made a difference and it continues to. You know, a smile is everything, and I'm glad I love mine."
"I started just bawling because I didn't realize how much of an insecurity my teeth had been for me until I finally started to admit it to myself. My teeth hadn't been terrible, but they were a little bit crooked — just not the greatest teeth."
Jen said she didn't realize the impact her smile makeover would have on her self-esteem.
"Because I felt so good about myself, it reflects in the way you talk, in the way you present yourself, in the way you feel sure about yourself," she said. "My new smile was transformational for me — of course physically but also from the inside out. It really made a difference and it continues to. You know, a smile is everything, and I'm glad I love mine."
Jen also knows how important it is to protect her new smile. That's why she always wore a custom-made mouthguard on the set of American Gladiators.
|Jen appeared as the pink-haired "Phoenix" on NBC's American Gladiators in 2008.|
|Photo by Peter 'Hopper' Stone/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images|
"I like playing games as well as the next person, and Gladiators was fun," she says, "but I like my face the way it looks. I need my teeth!"
Given all the tumbling, rolling around and throwing punches on American Gladiators, Jen made the right choice: The Academy of Sports Dentistry recommends custom-made mouthguards for the best protection. Although more costly than the "boil and bite" type found in big-box stores, research has shown that mouthguards made by dental professionals from a mold of the athlete's own teeth offer unparalleled comfort, protection and durability.
Jen stresses the importance of taking care of dental restorations since they are susceptible to bacteria growth, especially at the gum line. Without good oral hygiene, harmful bacteria can work their way under the veneer or crown, and start causing problems. The connection between proper oral hygiene and good oral health became crystal clear to Jen at a routine dental appointment. At that visit, her dentist noticed that Jen's gums were a little inflamed — a possible sign of gingivitis, or early-stage gum disease. Measurements with a dental probe revealed she had spaces of 4 - 5 millimeters between the teeth and gums. (A measurement of over 3 millimeters may indicate a periodontal pocket, meaning that the gap between the tooth and gum has become inflamed and infected.)
Jen confessed she had been a little lazy with flossing. Then, she said, the dental staff "scared the life out of me," explaining how her gums could start bleeding and receding, putting the veneers at risk. Jen recalls that her grandmother, who was born in 1906, had dentures before age 30.
"That was not going to be me, guys. No way!" She adds, "Listen, Bradley Cooper's never gonna make out with me if my gums are bleeding, so I need to make sure I'm flossing. That turned it right around for me!"
So now, Jen told us, she's vigilant about taking care of her teeth — and she pays particular attention to her dental restorations. She believes that one secret to her healthy smile is that she gets dental cleanings at least twice a year and flosses daily. Otherwise, she noted, "It's like getting a nice car and then not putting oil in it. You've really got to make sure you take care of the investment!"
|Jen says of The Biggest Loser, "It really is honest about what we go through as people. Millions of people watch the show, not just because it's a weight loss show but because it's about the human condition."|
|Photo by Tyler Golden/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images|
Fans of The Biggest Loser will remember Jen's oft-repeated motto, "Choose love, not fear." In her own life, Jen embodies that goal by volunteering at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, working with children at schools and orphanages in Africa, and visiting U.S. troops in the Middle East and Asia with Goodwill Military Tours.
The 34-year-old fitness guru's latest project encourages people to accept themselves for who they are and take their own behavior traits and personal qualities into consideration when changing their lives for optimal wellness.
Jen realized early on that people set themselves up to fail in diet or fitness plans when they believe there is only one way to succeed. Her book, Diet Right for Your Personality Type: The Revolutionary 4-Week Weight-Loss Plan That Works for You, starts with the premise that people are individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. A self-assessment helps readers determine which of five core personality types they fall into; then, each personality type is offered a customized nutrition plan for the best chance of achieving a healthy lifestyle — and one that can be maintained for life.
|Jen's book, Diet Right for Your Personality Type, offers customized weight-loss plans based on five core personality types.|
|Harmony Books, 2017|
Whether a person experiences a body makeover or a smile makeover, Jen says, "It completely changes you and also the way people respond to you. It's so far reaching. It's not just about the outside. The inside changes. It goes hand in hand. That's why I use health and fitness, and that's why cosmetic dentistry has a place — because we're in the business of caring for people, and we care about the way they feel."
Jen is a big believer that helping people feel better about themselves can help them gain the confidence they need to take on the world. On screen and off, she is 100 percent committed to her message of self-acceptance and positivity. So what makes Jen smile these days?
"I love, love, love getting to witness people coming through what most people would stop at when up against adversity, and going for it. That's what makes me smile the most. That and my dog Hank."