Disney Star Jessica Marie Garcia Beats Prediabetes
See how she lost weight to be healthy in Hollywood
Liv and Maddie star Jessica Marie Garcia doesn’t buy in to Hollywood’s version of beauty. Even before she shed weight to improve her prediabetes, she knew her size didn’t dictate her worth. It’s part of the reason she was so drawn to her first role, playing an overweight teen at a weight-loss camp on the TV show Huge.
It was a special project for Garcia because there was no “token fat kid” on the show. Instead, she was part of a cast of actors struggling with their weight. Rather than feeling self-conscious about her body, Garcia, who played Sierra, saw it as an opportunity to show that overweight teens struggle with the same issues as teens who are not dealing with weight issues. “I think the purpose of Huge was to finally show that these are real people and teens with real problems, such as relationships and family … not just focusing on poor diet,” she says. “I was very proud to tell Sierra’s story.”
In her own life, Garcia was always aware that she wasn’t Hollywood thin—a product of the “food is love” concept she experienced growing up. As a first-generation Cuban American, she received everything her mom didn’t have as a kid, especially food. “They were so restricted in what they had to eat that when she came here and had a family, she wanted to give me the world,” Garcia says. “And that turned into me gaining weight.”
Garcia was clueless about nutrition and healthy eating because her mom was able to eat comfort food without developing a weight problem. “I was always just an overweight kid,” she says. She ate lots of red meat, potatoes, fried foods, and diet soda. “I don’t think I drank water for 10 years,” she jokes.
Jessica Marie Garcia
Current Role: Willow on Liv and Maddie
Past roles: Becky on The Middle, Sierra on Huge
Weight lost: 70 pounds
Go-to breakfast on set: Oatmeal with berries
Favorite Healthy Meal: Mexican-style turkey-stuffed peppers—lean turkey with her favorite veggies and spices, baked in a bell pepper
Favorite workout: Instagram exercise videos
Three years ago, Garcia was blissfully living her acting dream, at the time playing Becky on the show The Middle. But during a checkup, she received some unexpected news: She had prediabetes.
“It was the shock of a lifetime,” she says. Her doctor was very to the point about the diagnosis, and she knew she had two choices: “Either do something about it or [develop] full-blown diabetes.”
Waiting around to develop diabetes wasn’t an option, not when her career was really starting to take off. Besides, she knew her family history—her father has type 2—put her at an even higher risk for the disease. So she made a decision to get healthy. “I remember that car ride home. [I] just realized that everything I’ve dreamed of is happening right now, and I have so much to live for,” she says. “And that just gave me that push to change everything around.”
Garcia started with small changes: drinking water instead of soda; substituting turkey, chicken, and fish for red meat; and developing an appreciation for food and cooking. She’s also encouraged her mom to ditch the vegetable shortening in her meals, making a case for healthy oils. These days, Garcia reaches for the vegetarian and lower-carb meals served on set. “I started really teaching myself about nutrition,” she says. “I’m learning a lot about myself and what I’m capable of in this journey.”
Exercising was the second part of the puzzle. Rather than go to the gym, Garcia opted for home workout videos she found on Instagram. They encompassed a wide variety of workouts, including Pilates, yoga, and weight training. “I just saw the weight falling off,” she says.
The same motivation that propelled Garcia to alter her lifestyle has fueled her motivation to be a successful actress. As a kid, Garcia would write parts for herself in shows and movies—she didn’t grow up seeing anyone of her size and ethnicity on TV. “The idea of beauty should be changed, and it would help if people saw more types of people on television and in films,” she says. Now, playing funny girl Willow on Disney’s Liv and Maddie, Garcia is filling the roles she used to write, which drives her ambition. “I think about where I want to go, and that motivates me so much.”
Another motivation? Support from producers and cast mates, who encourage her to make healthy changes. The structure of mealtimes during production has helped her stay on track, too. She used to skip breakfast and lunch, eat a big dinner, and go right to bed. “Being on set is helpful, because it puts me on a much better regimen,” she says. “And there are always so many healthy options.”
Despite her weight-loss success, Garcia says she has faced some setbacks. “Nobody warned me that you’re going to hit these walls where you lose 10 or 15 pounds—and you know how hard that was to do—and [you think], ‘I have so much farther to go,’ ” she says.
Working in an industry that prizes teensy waistlines poses its own set of challenges. Garcia, who has lost 70 pounds and wears a size six, still gets audition e-mails for “overweight,” “chubby,” and “fat friend” roles. “I’m working so hard, but those words will kind of set you back,” she says.
Fortunately, Garcia has learned not to take weight-related comments personally. She knows this mindset is part of the industry and has learned to brush it off—something her mother taught her. “She’s instilled in me this unbreakable confidence in myself,” she says. “So when I hear negative things like that or I’m feeling down on myself, I still have that voice inside that’s like, ‘No, you’re pretty awesome!’ ”
It’s a sentiment that Garcia hopes her fans will take with them. First, she’s very clear that her transformation is all about her health. “I lost weight to be healthy, not to fit an image,” says Garcia. Second, she says, if you’re struggling with your weight and self-confidence, remember that being overweight is not an identity. “I want them to be encouraged that they are beautiful in what they have to give and what they have to share with everyone.”
When you’re ready to take the first steps to losing weight and living a healthy life, Garcia says, see what resources are at your disposal—whether by using the Internet, checking a book out at the library, or joining a gym. “The only person who can [take] these steps is you, and you have to find the worth in yourself to really do anything.”
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