Jennie Garth’s Balancing Act

The 90210 star talks about her healthy lifestyle, volunteering, and parenting a child with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 20, 2008

Jennie Garth, now that you’re returning to 90210, what’s been the biggest challenge for your character and for you personally in playing Kelly Taylor as a mom?

I sometimes have to remind myself right before the director calls action, to remember to be grown up. It's a balance of being energetic and responsible...all in one. She has to have that Kelly Taylor spark in her eye.

What’s it been like to grow up before the camera in Hollywood?

As an actress I get to portray different characters at different stages of their lives. As I mature, my characters mature, and quite honestly they are a lot more fun now -- because they have a lot more depth.

What’s your best advice to women who fear the natural process of time?

Ladies, for real, at 36, I feel more beautiful than ever. Enjoy life, live healthy, and take care of yourself.

Your 90210 character Kelly Taylor notoriously abused diet pills to slim down. How do youpersonally stay in shape over the years?

My weight has gone up and down over the course of my three pregnancies. It's natural. I have several different sizes in my closet, just in case. Just staying active and playing a lot outdoors really helps. I love to ride my horses, do yoga and ride the elliptical trainer here and there to keep up my healthy heart.

How do you to help your three daughters -- Luca, 11, Lola, 5, and Fiona, 2 -- feel good about themselves and their bodies in today’s image-obsessed culture?

It's a challenge. I have one daughter who is really into soccer and sports, she stays lean no matter what she eats, and doesn't really think a thought about her weight. I have another who already says her tummy is fluffy (we don't use the word fat in our house when talking about our bodies, or other peoples bodies). I tell her she is exactly the way she is supposed to be, and that she is beautiful. I make sure that they eat healthy and balanced and get adequate exercise.

Your daughter Lola was recently diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. What were her symptoms and what treatments are you pursuing?

Our 5-year-old was just not herself. At first she would fatigue easily and wanted to be carried everywhere. At times she complained that her knees hurt, or her fingers, or her elbows. My husband and I just chalked it up to growing pains, and her fussiness as a typical, needy 5-year-old. Then she started to get rashes while in the bathtub. But when they went away, again we didn't think much of it.

Shortly after, she started getting high fevers that [kept coming back]. This persisted for nearly five weeks during which her lethargy continued, accompanied by the rash which came back over most of her body.

About two weeks into her fevers our regular pediatrician, who is wonderful, sought the opinions of doctors at a very well known hospital here in LA. Our daughter's blood tests were very abnormal. She was admitted and after nine days of testing and prodding they still were not able to determine what was causing her symptoms.

Since they could not treat her because they were not sure what the illness was, we decided to take her home and monitor her because we felt being in the hospital was actually making her depressed and worsening her condition. The last five days in the hospital she did not get out of bed at all. We went home and researched it on our own, with help from friends and family in the medical profession until we found web sites for JRA, which seemed to match her symptoms.

We brought her to an incredible specialist at UCLA hospital, who then treated her for "still's disease," a rare form of JRA. They put her on [the drug] Naprosyn, which stopped the fevers immediately, and she stayed on that for several months. Her rash remained constant until a short course of steroids. She responded well to the treatment, and is now in remission.

My husband and I have never been more thankful to God, that we were able to get her through this and that she is back to her old self, running and playing.

What’s the best parenting advice you have ever received or given?

Some good advice I've received is to get down on the floor and play with the kids. They love when you let the sink fill up with dishes and don't seem to care. I would say that reading to your kids every night is very important. It really makes a difference in their love for reading later on. So, turn off the TV and grab a book.

What beauty secret do you have for looking so young?

I take really good care of my skin and never go to bed with makeup on. Ever!

How do you avoid the temptation of the craft-service table while shooting long days and nights?

Sometimes you just have to have a Twix or a bag of Fritos to get you through the day/night. But, I bring my own nuts and celery to work to help me stay away from the sugar.

What’s your best health habit?

My best health habit would be to not have habits -- like smoking or drinking! As you hopefully know, those things will kill you, or if not, make you look way older than you are.

What’s your worst?

My worst health habit is sugar, no doubt.

What’s your guilty-pleasure food?

Cupcakes or fried tortillas.

What’s your personal formula for balancing work, family, and personal time?

Balancing everything in a woman's busy life is really hard. You have to make sure you are giving everyone their needed time and attention, and then remember to give yourself some. We have a family calendar on our kitchen computer. It gets a work out! We also are blessed to have a wonderful nanny who has been with us for 16 years. She is the only one we trust with our babies. She helps me so much. And Peter is incredibly helpful and such a wonderful father and husband.

How did you get into fighting shape for dancing round the clock on Dancing with The Stars?

I went into dancing with no cardiovascular strength and 10 extra pounds. Getting in great shape was one of the reasons I wanted to do the show. Soon we started dancing eight hours a day, and I couldn't get enough food. It was awesome.

How do you recharge your batteries?

I like to be outdoors: hear the sounds and smell the smells. I love animals and being around them really recharges me.

If you hadn’t been an actor, what do you think you would have pursued as a career?

I might have been a teacher...of what I'm not too sure.

What’s your personal healthy living philosophy?

No smoking, no drinking, getting enough sleep, laughing a lot, and appreciating the people who love me.

What’s been most challenging about teaching your children to eat healthily?

Getting enough protein in my girls’ diets is tough. We eat chicken and turkey. It's hard to come up with different options for them.

Who makes the doctor’s appointments in your house?

I am blessed with a very "hands on dad." Peter helps me with every aspect of raising and caring for our children. So, we both make doctor appointments, and take the kids to them. Peter's family has several pharmacists in it, so we have learned to research and learn about any and all medications the doctors prescribe, until we are comfortable with them.

There are so many worthy causes to champion, what inspired you to support the American Heart Association? What do you do to help?

My father struggled with heart disease starting in his late 30s. Heart disease is something that my family has lived with as long as I can remember. It affected us all. So, naturally being able to help just feels right. I would do anything to have been able to change things for my father and want to help others who are struggling with this life-altering condition. I am especially interested in helping educate women on the unknown dangers they face regarding heart disease, since it is the #1 killer of American women. A big part of that misconception is the fact that most women don't think they are likely to get heart disease, that it is something that men get. If I can bring awareness and help someone, nothing would make me feel better.

You’re also involved with the Red Cross Association. What inspired you to work for them and what do you do to help?

As a Cabinet member, I lend my name to fundraising endeavors and help bring awareness to their various causes. As long as I can remember, when hard times hit, the Red Cross has always been there to help the people of this country. I wanted to be a part of that, in any way I could.

What health condition or disease would you most like to see eradicated during your lifetime?

Heart disease, cancer, sudden infant death syndrome. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make all diseases disappear.

If you had to lose one of your five senses -- touch, smell, sight, taste, hearing -- which one would you choose?

If I had to lose a sense, I would choose taste. I wouldn't want to live without being able to see, or hear, or touch my babies. That would be so very hard. I could live without tasting that cupcake, if I had to.

Kim Caviness is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and editor.