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The Actor’s Diet
On her blog, The Actor’s Diet, Lynn shares restaurant views, fashion and beauty tips, recipes and her life in show biz. She credits her blog for helping her come to terms with her eating disorders and it’s now a place for celebrating food.
An actor, body image activist and podcaster, just to name a few things she’s up to, Lynn is a media maven and she looks like she’s having an awesome time with it.
I’m so psyched to have Lynn Chen of The Actor’s Diet here on the show today.
(*All photos below are Lynn’s.)
On Her Blog:
In 2009, I was already reading a lot of food blogs, the food blogs that existed. The scene was different in 2009 than it is today but the blogs I was reading at the time, the format that was very popular was food journaling, just basically showing what people ate on a daily basis. And for me, I had been coming to terms with a very tumultuous relationship with food and eating disorders. I was a binge eater and I was also a little bit anorexic.
So for me, finding out what portion sizes were was really tricky. And so, to read these blogs made me feel like I could have a guide as to how much you were supposed to eat, and to feel full or satiated. So that’s how it started. I was reading these food blogs and then one day I was like, “I wonder if I should start a food blog?”
When I started, not only was the food blog scene different but the acting scene was different, where in my industry, you were just an actor. You weren’t an actor/blogger/anything else, which is acceptable today but back then, it just wasn’t. And it was like, “No, you’re an actor, you have to just act, you should not show your personal side because no one wants to see your business.” And actually what happened was, I was fired by both my agent and my manager and instead of trying to find a new agent and a manager, which I knew I could have done, I was like, “Let me take a year to come to terms with this whole food thing and what do I have to lose?”
If I just stop acting, and stop having a job that requires me to look a certain way, and take that pressure off of me and try to forge this new relationship with food, let’s see what happens. At the time, I was also trying to get pregnant. So, I was like, “Let’s just see what happens.” And the blog started initially as a food journal and it was me and my friend Christy Meyers, a holistic health counselor and we were basically just posting what we ate every day, and it just blew up.
And for Christy, it became very clear after a while, she was like, “I don’t want to do this,” because she was already counseling clients one-on-one. It was, the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is write more about food and also she didn’t want her clients to read it and be like, “Hey, you ate chocolate cake. What’s the deal?” So, she backed away from it and I kept going and over the years, I just have switched the format a little bit, where I’m not posting everything I’m eating on a daily basis, which gets old. It’s been almost seven years now. It’s crazy.
On Coming to Terms with Her Eating Disorder:
I think that when I was in recovery, they were always saying to me, you don’t just give up an addiction. It’s not like you can just be like that’s it, I’m done. You have to replace it with something. And so, for me, instead of focusing on counting calories or figuring out how much fat content was in something, I was figuring out how to make the photograph look beautiful, and I was focused on this new obsession, this new way of writing about food and talking about food, which took my focus off of what I looked like, what I was ingesting, but still fed that part of me that needed to be obsessive about food.
And also, not only was the creative side of me fulfilled, but just getting so much free food as a food blogger, I didn’t feel like anything was off limits because when you have a house that’s full of potato chips, the last thing you feel like doing is binge eating potato chips because there so many. You can only do that for so long. So, it really helped me come to terms with that whole concept of, “Oh, I have to eat this because this may be the last time.” There was no last supper for me anymore.
That was always the problem for me in the past, I was binge eating because, “That’s it, this is the last time and then tomorrow I go on my diet.” There was no diet anymore, there was no last supper, it was just always there and then it lost its appeal, its magic. It just became what it was.
On What She Would Say to Someone Struggling with an Eating Disorder:
I hear you, is what I would say to them because there were so many years, where I was not only struggling but I was also getting help simultaneously and I was like, “What’s going on? How come I’m not getting better? How come I’m doing everything I think I’m supposed to be doing and it’s still not getting any better?” And it was years of that. I really, truly think that it does get better and I can’t give you any magic formula, just like no one else could give me a magic formula to get better. I’m living proof that it happens.
So if I can just be the embodiment and let you know that it happens and you’ll get better. You just will, I know you will but you just have to keep at it. I would say, don’t beat yourself up because, for me, it would always be like, I was “good” for six months and then I fell off the wagon and then I’d have three months of being off the wagon and just be like, “I can never get back.” That’s just the way it was for a long time, and eventually, it stopped being that way.
On Thick Dumpling Skin:
Thick Dumpling Skin came about because, for the first few years of writing The Actor’s Diet, I was writing a lot about my eating disorder, obviously because I was coming to terms with it and I got such a response from so many people, and it was so specifically about culture and our families. It was just something that I could really relate to as an Asian American being in a culture, where we don’t really talk about our feelings.
When we socialize and gather, it’s all about the food, not how are you doing? It’s how much have you eaten and have you eaten? And, oh try this, and you’ve got to get the recipe. I felt like because it was such a serious topic and it was coming up so often, I didn’t want my blog, The Actor’s Diet to become just a site for that, I wanted to give it another place. I was listening to NPR one day and I heard this interview with a woman named Lisa Lee talking about how she went to Taiwan and was forced to go on this diet and that it was just okay.
It was considered totally fine to starve herself, and I was like, “Who is this woman, I need to connect with her.” I went on Facebook, I looked her up, we had 40 friends in common. I went to the person at the top of the list, he introduced us and the next thing you know, I’m connected with Lisa Lee and she’s like, “We have to do something.” We thought about making a book, we thought about making a documentary, then we were like, “Let’s just blog.”
So, we started Thick Dumpling Skin and immediately heard from all these people who wanted to share their story. And all these years later, we’ve been in NPR ourselves, we’ve been in Marie Claire. We’re still the only source that exists on the Internet for Asian-Americans and that just shows me how much more work we have to do. Because people still think of eating disorders as a primarily white, middle-class woman problem, and we see that it’s not. But the problem is, especially in the Asian-American community, therapy is not an option for a lot of people.
People don’t want you talking to strangers and paying them. That doesn’t make sense to them. So for a lot of, especially younger people who are still under their parents’ rules and insurance, they have no one to talk to, so we are hoping that our site is a place for them.
On the Thick Dumpling Skin Podcast:
What I love about the podcast formula, is that you can just talk off the top of your head and I think that a lot of, when you’re talking about body image and you’re talking about eating issues, when we write it out, you feel this responsibility to be so precious with your words and to edit yourself. And I think that in order to have this dialogue, we need to have it in everyday conversation.
So, what we hope is that, with the podcasts, we want to go to the experts, get them on the phone, have them answer the questions because I’m not comfortable answering questions that are that serious.
On Her Videos:
Well, my husband works at BuzzFeed, so full disclosure on that, and the reason I started YouTubing, was because, it’s funny, so my husband would just be like, “I have to make a video today. You want to eat donuts?” and I’d be like, “Yes, I’m not doing anything, let’s go and eat donuts.” So we just started making these videos when he was free and when I was free for his job and I started to grow a following from it and people started subscribing to my YouTube channel. which before that had only been movies I’d been in and clips from other YouTube interviews that I had done, nothing that I created on my own. And since people were subscribing, I was like, “Oh, I think I should create some content for new subscribers, otherwise, I’m wasting time. So being on BuzzFeed, has been really interesting because it’s opened me up to a completely different audience.
The same exact week I was on Fear The Walking Dead, which was the number one cable premier ever in the history of TV. I was a guest star on that and more people recognized me from BuzzFeed videos than from being on Fear The Walking Dead. But they didn’t know who I was, they were just like, BuzzFeed. They didn’t know my name or anything and in that, I realized, “Oh, I think I should try to do a little shift,” because I’ve been acting since I was five years old, doing this a long time and let’s just see what happens if I shift things around. So, I have new managers, they’re mainly focused on me as a blogger, as a food person, as a food host and we are going for it. We are going for the hosting TV stuff. I want to be the first Asian-American female to host her own show on Food Network.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I watch so many cooking shows. It’s not even funny how many cooking shows I watch. They’re mostly, not competition.
I watch everything from the stuff on The Food Network and Cooking Channel that’s demonstrational, like The Pioneer Woman, The Barefoot Contessa. I even watch Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee, which doesn’t even exist anymore. I watch The Kitchen, I watch America’s Test Kitchen, I watch The Chew. I just watch a lot of food shows.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Well, you’ve actually had a couple of them on your podcast already as guests. Lily from Kale & Caramel. I also read CakeSpy on a regular basis. There are a lot of blogs that I’ve been following since the beginning, like Kath Eats Real Food. She was one of the main reason I became a blogger. She knows I love her and I’ve just been following her and her life forever.
I like Cupcakes & Cashmere, she lives in my neighborhood, so I stalk her online, so embarrassing. She’s great. I love her site and I like seeing parts of my neighborhood pop up on her site, makes me feel like seeing someone I know on TV. And Joy the Baker. She’s somebody I followed for a very long time and I’ve loved every incarnation of everything that she’s done. She has an Instagram feed now called Drake On Cake where she makes cakes and puts Drake lyrics on them and it’s of course, exploded the Internet as is everything she does. So, she’s great.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
My friend, Leslie Durso is a vegan chef and I just love keeping in touch with her on Snapchat. My friend Whitney Adams, she has a great YouTube channel as well, she’s a wine expert. She is hilarious on Snapchat. I’m just starting to get into the Snapchat game, it’s not something for people over 20-something. So it’s a little strange, but I like that world a lot right now because it’s people being honest and real because it disappears.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
I’m not too sentimental about stuff in my kitchen. Things break all the time but I guess, if there was something I was the most sentimental about, it would have to be my mug from college, my Wesleyan mug. It has four chips in it because I’ve dropped it but I can’t bring myself to throw it away because I went to college with it.
I think I ate ramen out of it, I can’t get rid of it. So I use that all the time but looks like crap.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
I like everything, except, you know what I didn’t like growing up was raw tomatoes, on their own, I don’t even think I would go near one. In fact, when I was younger, and I used to drink a lot of orange juice, my mom would pour it for me and I would drink it and be like, “No, that tastes like raw tomatoes.” I think because I thought it would taste like V8.
Sometimes I remember being a jerk and refusing to drink my orange juice, even though I liked orange juice because I’d be like, “It tastes like raw tomatoes.” I like raw tomatoes today, not like eating them like apples or anything.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
I don’t cook from cookbooks that often, but I do use them as inspiration. Actually, a very sentimental item to me, is The Moosewood Cookbook. It’s probably a cookbook that I’ve had since college. It was what I first learned to cook from because I used to be a vegetarian and I still use it as inspiration sometimes. I just love that, it’s all hand drawn and it just reminds me of being young and not knowing what oregano was. How far have we come?
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I don’t listen to music anymore. As I said, I listen to all these podcasts but I guess, you know what puts me in the mood to cook is, it’s a song, The Frim Fram Sauce, do you know that song?
It’s a jazz standard but there’s a great version of it that I think it’s Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald do. It’s a great song, it’s all about food.
On Keeping Posted with Lynn:
I think probably Facebook. I have double Instagrams, double Facebooks, The Actor’s Diet and Lynn Chen because one is for the blog, initially one was for acting but now, those worlds sort of coincided with one another. So, if you want to know what’s going on with me, I think the Lynn Chen Facebook fan page is probably the best one because I put everything that’s the most important to me there.