Jenna Dewan-Tatum may be married to a guy who’s been declared the Sexiest Man Alive—that would be movie star Channing—but on this particular sundrenched afternoon, she’s hanging with another sort of beautiful creature.
Make that creatures. When the 33- year-old actress arrives at The Gentle Barn, a nonprofit animal sanctuary nestled on 6 idyllic acres north of Los Angeles, she heads straight to the pig–pen to say hello to Zeus, a 750-pound heifer she sponsors. After posing for a few shots with a chicken named Norma Jeane, she gently parades the rescue animal around in her arms, jokingly campaigning to make the bird a star: “Norma Jeane needs her cover!” And when the old country tune “Wagon Wheel” comes on the photographer’s playlist, she kicks up her cowboy boots, dancing for the camera. “This is the happiest place on earth,” says Dewan-Tatum, who’s been involved with The Gentle Barn for two years. “It’s really calming and peaceful, and you can feel that it’s not only good for the animals but good for you as well.”
Dewan-Tatum’s passion for animals can be traced back to her childhood, when, as a 10-year-old in Texas, she decided to become a vegetarian. “I remember very clearly the day my mom made chicken fingers,” she says. “I was like, ‘Wait, this was alive? This had parents? I’m not eating it anymore.’” The actress—a former backup dancer for Janet Jackson who scored her first hit film with 2006’s Step Up, co-starring her husband—has only become more committed to animal rights and following a healthy lifestyle since becoming a parent herself. (Daughter Everly turned 1 in May.) “My number-one priority became this baby and because of that, everything else fell into place in a really natural way,” she says the week after the shoot over lunch at a vegan Mexican restaurant near her L.A. home. While heartily munching on shared plates of sweet potato flautas and butternut squash quesadillas, the warm and open star spoke honestly about how she maintains her enviable physique, the sweet way Channing helps her decompress and why her role as free-spirited Freya on Lifetime’s Witches of East End is such a perfect fit.
Watch the behind-the-scenes video of Jenna at the Natural Health cover shoot!
Natural Health: You’re vegan now. When did you switch from vegetarianism?
Jenna Dewan-Tatum: About two or three years ago. My nutritionist did an allergy test and found I was lactose-intolerant. Then I saw a video of horrible abuse that was happening to dairy cows, and it was like, “OK, the universe is trying to tell me something.” After going vegan, I felt so much better. My skin cleared up, I had a ton more energy and I just felt clearer in the head.
NH: Channing isn’t vegan, is he?
JDT: Not at all. He’s a meat-eating Southern boy from Alabama! We’re very opposites-attract in that way. But he respects that I am. He comes with me to vegan restaurants, politely eats and goes, “That’s kind of good.” [laughs]
NH: How will you feel if Everly’s diet takes after her dad’s, not yours?
JDT: I don’t believe in forcing anyone into anything, but I’ll do my best to introduce her to healthy eating habits. We have a little garden so I’ll say, “Let’s go pick the vegetables we’re going to eat tonight.” My pediatrician believes it’s completely healthy and possible to have a vegan child, and I think that’s amazing. But when Everly gets older, I think we should allow her to be her own person.
NH: What’s your daily diet like?
JDT: I swear by a green smoothie every morning with spinach, romaine, kale, apples and banana. I’ve gotten Chan into those, too. For lunch, I’ll make a salad with chickpeas, tomatoes, black beans, corn, cucumbers, edamame and a veggie burger, dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. And for dinner, I love a Mexican bowl with black beans, rice, tomatoes, tempeh, avocado, grilled veggies, lettuce and pico de gallo. I try to be good, but I’m not a robot. I indulge here and there.
NH: Any favorite indulgences?
JDT: Vegan pizza. And I can’t turn down a French fry! When I was pregnant, that was my Kryptonite.
NH: Your body bounced back superquickly after giving birth. Was it as easy as you made it look?
JDT: I did snap back quickly, but I was really healthy during my pregnancy. A lot of pregnant women are like, “Whoo, bring on the bad food!” I felt like, I’m creating a human being, so if there’s ever a moment to be serious about what I put into my body, it’s now. Afterward, I breastfed, which is great for burning calories, and while I was rocking Everly to sleep, I’d do squats and lunges. Then I’d lie down again. I went back to work when she was about 7 weeks old and I don’t know how I ever remembered a line. I was exhausted.
NH: That’s commitment! How do you stay fit now as a busy mom?
JDT: I work out with a trainer three times a week. We start off with dance-routine cardio, then do strength training with free weights and a resistance band. It kicks your ass! But I love it because it’s dance based, and it reminds my body of the work I used to do.
NH: Do you ever miss being a professional dancer?
JDT: So much! Nothing will ever be my first love like dance was. Performing onstage, I felt invincible. But I still get my fix in little ways. Chan and I go out dancing every now and then, and this summer I’m guest judging on So You Think You Can Dance. I love that show.
NH: How early are you planning to enroll Everly in a dance class?
JDT: As soon as I possibly can! But it’ll be just my luck, she’ll tell me, “I don’t really wanna take a class.” And I’ll be like, “Can you just do one? Can I just take a picture of you in a tutu?”
NH: What has surprised you most about being a mother?
JDT: I expected the emotional bond, but there’s a physical connection, too— if I’m away from her for too long, my body literally feels it. Or if she’s not well, I take it on. The fact that I can channel all my energy into caring for someone 24/7 and still have time to do other things shocks me!