The Gentle Side of Jenna Dewan-Tatum

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.

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.