Inspired living

Meet Jessica Ainscough: the wellness warrior

jessica ainscough

You don’t expect to be in awe of a 28-year-old. The twenties are meant to be filled with experimentation and pushing boundaries. It’s a time when you break free from school and parents and set out in the world, usually with a serious sense of your own immortality. You don’t have many insights into life to share just yet — you’re lucky to survive the weekend.

This 28-year-old, however, would be different. I knew that. After all, Jess Ainscough is no stranger to me and thousands of others interested in health and wellness. The Wellness Warrior, her blog (a humble term for a website that now has 1.5 million unique global visitors), has fast become the bible for a generation longing to change their health, their environment and their experience of life. She is the poster girl for organic raw food, daily meditation and coffee enemas.

Let’s face it, this girl has more wisdom and commitment to spreading the health message than someone twice her age. Awe-inspiring indeed.

Lost innocence

For those who don’t know Ainscough’s amazing story, here’s a snapshot. Once a typical, big-city girl working in the cut-throat and party-hard industry of magazines, Ainscough was embracing the usual 20-something lifestyle: long hours and even longer party hours on the weekend. Image, career and squeezing the most fun out of every minute were the main goals in life. Pretty common stuff for her generation.

What was not so common, though, was the tumours that started appearing in her arm. Eventually diagnosed at just 22 years old, the tumours in her left hand and arm were a rare, incurable form of cancer called epithelioid sarcoma. As this cancer doesn’t respond to chemotherapy or radiation, Ainscough was told, “The only chance of prolonging my survival would be to have my arm amputated at the shoulder.” The carefree innocence of youth was gone.

Doctors did try an aggressive form of chemotherapy at first, but less than a year later the tumours were back with a vengeance — as was the talk of amputation to buy her “more time” before the disease would riddle her body. Jess Ainscough, however, was not willing to accept that prognosis.

Showing the spunk and determination that now have brought her into the online wellness spotlight on a global scale, this 20-something teen-magazine online editor and party girl decided to take things into her own hands and in the process found a controversial treatment based in Mexico.

Gerson therapy involves drinking 13 fresh organic vegie juices a day (that’s one an hour, every hour of the waking day), having five coffee enemas a day and following a basic organic, wholefood, plant-based diet with additional supplements. Developed in the 1930s by Dr Max Gerson initially as a treatment for his own debilitating migraines, the therapy is now being used for degenerative diseases such as skin tuberculosis, diabetes and, most famously, cancer.

Ainscough and her mother spent three weeks in Mexico at the start of her treatment, then returned to Australia to continue the strict regime for the following two years. It was during this time that she began her blog. Little did she know what the scale and impact of her journey would be.

“I still have to pinch myself that all this has unfolded in this way, because it really just started off as a personal blog,” says Ainscough. “I didn’t really have a big vision for what it was going to turn into. I was kind of just showing up every day, sharing my story, treating my blog with the respect that it deserved, to grow into something bigger, but at the same time not expecting it to. I treated it like I was talking to a group of my friends and loved ones every day. And that, I guess, has just organically fuelled whatever it was destined to be.”

Perfect timing

It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question: did Ainscough tap into something as it first began to emerge, or did her journey and popularity fuel the growth of online wellness blogs? There are thousands of health coaches, wellness gurus and self-help writers in the online world now, but it was Ainscough’s Wellness Warrior site that really rode that first wave.

“I seem to have just got in right at the beginning of when things were starting to turn and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, so thank you, body! But, seriously, I think the timing of my diagnosis and the timing of my discovery have gone along with that wave.

“There’s definitely more acceptance of alternative ways of living now, that’s for sure. Especially when you look at Hollywood and celebrities. Everybody is drinking green juice! Now it’s trendy. And it’s trendy to eat organic food, it’s trendy to meditate and do yoga and all this stuff that was considered ‘woo-woo’ not that long ago. It’s only been three or four years that all this stuff has just started to become a little bit more mainstream. I mean, even coffee enemas — people aren’t as freaked out by them any more!”

Ainscough is a bit of a coffee enema spokesperson — if there is such a thing. A significant part of her Gerson therapy, coffee enemas are believed to assist the liver in eliminating toxic residues from the body for good and are required five times a day, something that Ainscough was happy to share with the world. She even made a video demonstration for her readers.

It is this honesty, this willingness to show all parts of her journey, that has endeared her to her thousands of followers and catapulted her to the top of a growing and very crowded online health-advice industry.

“I’m not an expert. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist,” she says. “I’m a health coach. But the thing that I do is I lead by example. I put my lifestyle out there. I show people what I have done to transform my life and kind of invite them to come along with the journey and take on parts that resonate with them. So it’s not about telling people what to do; it’s just about leading by example and showing people that there are other ways of doing things — and, hopefully, providing them with a little bit of hope.”

Ainscough is a very dedicated and determined young woman. Cutting out all the “vices” that go with modern life and removing herself from the high-pressure world of Sydney magazines took commitment. Perhaps it was the shattering of the illusion of immortality that most of her friends could still rely on; perhaps it was always destined to be; but the guts and determination this young woman has shown in both her treatment and her website (other than a brief holiday overseas, Ainscough has posted to her blog every single weekday since its beginning) have caught the attention of the world’s health and wellness field, including international publisher Hay House.

Ainscough’s first full-length book, Make Peace with Your Plate, is due out in October 2013. Turning a blog into an international book deal is the dream of millions of bloggers the world over. Ainscough has not only landed a deal but she’s on track to be one of Hay House’s big attractions in the coming years, sharing the stage at the recent Hay House “I Can Do It” workshop in Melbourne with none other than Deepak Chopra. Not bad for a blogger.

Bright future

Now tumour-free and liberated from her strict two-year Gerson therapy regime, and with a book deal under her belt plus a following unrivalled by her peers, what’s next for Jessica Ainscough?

“I’m really craving one-on-one personal interaction with my readers because they’ve been such an important part of my life and my healing process. I guess I feel such a strong connection to most of them. I was so isolated for a while there. I mean, it was just me creating this blog from my bedroom every single day, drinking my juice, doing my coffee enemas and then coming back to the computer. But now that I am allowed to get out and about and meet these people, I’ve got a craving to build upon those relationships and hang out with them in person.”

Ainscough is starting to run wellness retreats. Three days and two nights for a select few, these gatherings are “an intimate immersion into life as a wellness warrior”. There are also plans for a live tour at the end of the year, as well as the full publicity circuit that goes with a book launch. It seems the completion of the Gerson therapy means more than just freedom in what she can eat — it’s also freedom to come out from behind her computer. How does that liberation feel?

“It is equal parts liberating and scary because you’ve gone through something like Gerson therapy, which is so strict and intense, and then — suddenly — it’s your life again. You’re programmed to eat the same thing every day at the same time every day. It dominates your whole life. And so my body was just programmed to eat that. But now, I am free to follow my own instincts and listen to my body again.

“For years, I just basically trained myself to like the Gerson food so that I could stick with it for as long as I needed to, and now that I’m allowed a bit more freedom, I’m relearning how to listen to my body. If I wake up and I go to make myself breakfast, usually I make rolled oats every day as that’s what I had to eat on Gerson every single day. But now I’m kind of pausing for a little bit and checking in with my body and seeing what it actually feels like eating, and then allowing myself to mix it up a little bit.

“Since I’ve been able to experiment a bit, my body has felt great. It has been my mind that would kick in and say, ‘You’re not allowed that.’ That’s been the challenge: dealing with the mind and trying to convince it that it’s OK to loosen up a little bit.”

Loosening up seems to be a theme in Ainscough’s life. Here is a woman on the brink of her 30s, finally free from years of fighting cancer and ready to really embrace the world. And when you speak with her, you know there’s no doubt this girl is going to be big.

“For me, it’s about getting this message out there in the widest possible way I can, so more speaking, more books, more live events, more retreats. Whatever I’m kind of drawn to do, I’m willing to do. I don’t have a vision for it all and that’s how it’s been the whole way. It’s just about taking the next step and doing whatever is in front of me next and what I am guided to do next.

“I think all this was predestined right back when I was diagnosed. Having that kind of instinct has taken away the fear from a lot of my journey, because I always knew that all of this was happening for a reason far greater than me, and all I had to do was follow the steps and everything would be OK. And I still believe that.

“It’s about being of service in the best way that I can and allowing the message to get out there the way it is supposed to because I am just a vehicle for this message. It is not about me at all. It is about getting the stuff out there to the people who need it.

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is author of e-book 21 Days to Master Reconnection with Yourself (While Still Being a Great Mum!). You can find her book and other writing at amytaylorkabbaz.com and follow her on twitter @amytaylorkabbaz.


Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a journalist with more than 15 years' experience, specialising in health, mindfulness and motherhood. She is also the best-selling author of Happy Mama: The Guide to Finding Yourself Again, and is the creator of the website Happy Mama.