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[ Jill de Jong on Finding Adventure and Healthy Eating ]

by Jaden Morretti 
This article is based on an interview with Jill de Jong, whom many readers will recognize and remember as the incredible Official Lara Croft model and spokesperson for Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness back in 2003. I had the enormous privilege to talk to Jill earlier this year about a new venture that she has undertaken called Models Do Eat, and one that may resonate with anyone wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle. As I wanted to have a bit more of healthier lifestyle myself, this was a piece I was really looking forward to writing.

The interview and article was originally intended as the first post in a new feature on my old Tomb Raider site, Guns and Grapple. The feature would be a travel blog of sorts, which would follow in the footsteps of Lara Croft and hopefully inspire people to get out there and do their own adventures. And nothing provides more motivation to do that than feeling as though you're ready for the next big thing, which is why I immediately though of health and of Jill's campaign.

Jill as Lara, promo pic for Angel of Darkness - Circa 2003
When Guns and Grapple closed down back in April 2016, I immediately began to search for a new home for the interview and my first thought was of Tomb Raider Cosplay. I always loved the welcoming atmosphere this site had and the supportiveness of its members. Scrolling through the galleries, it's also wonderful to see so many cosplayers take inspiration from Jill and her adventures as Lara, making this site the perfect home for the interview.

Lets get to it!

Despite only portraying Lara Croft for the launch of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Jill de Jong continues to lead the adventurous lifestyle. "I currently live in Los Angeles, on top of a hill looking out over a beautiful canyon." Jill describes in our interview, "waking up so close to nature has been great for my soul. I’m all about a healthy, active and adventurous lifestyle." Her days are packed with a mix of healthy living and acting, "even though I don't have much routine a day in my LA life is a mix between health coaching calls, personal training, HIIT [High-Intensity Interval Training] and castings. Never a dull moment."

Jill with her adorable fur baby
Our email interview was done during a return flight from Hawaii, which Jill describes as an extraordinary vacation. "I did two challenging, three hour road bike rides, surf, kayak, paddle boarding, yoga, running, beach workouts, jet ski, helicopter. A crazy fun week!"

While it may sound luxurious, Jill's adventurous lifestyle was built on determination. As a young teenager, she doubted herself and faced heavy criticism as she entered the modeling industry. She states on her website, "I was a skinny sixteen-year-old when my Italian agent told me to lose three inches from my waist before I could go see clients or work for the agency full-time." Her relationship with food changed after being accepted by a modeling agency. Even though she felt that she could relax, she was soon introduced to calorie counting which prompted her to skip meals in favor of snacks, leaving her hungry most of the day.

Her relationship with food changed after meeting her husband, Alain, and in 2014, Jill created the online campaign, Models Do Eat, inspired by her career and challenges she faced as a model. Through her campaign she hopes to inspire people to embrace a healthy diet and lifestyle. “Models didn’t have the best reputation when it came to food, the media often wrote about girls starving themselves to meet the demands of the business. I once too struggled with food, I didn't starve myself but did get caught up in calorie counting and even feared food a bit. It lead me to find a fun and sustainable way to stay in shape and through the blog I wanted to share my journey and inspire other women to eat nutritious and delicious food." She added, "no more calorie counting for me :)"

Jill as Lara, promo pic for Angel of Darkness – Circa 2003
Writing on her website, she expands on the steps she followed as she looked for a healthier lifestyle. "I started educating myself more about food and nutrition and started listening to my body again, asking what it needed instead of basing every choice on calorie counts. Slowly, I reconnected with food once again and relearned to love to eat, to savor every bite. I noted with satisfaction that I could eat normal food, normal portions, without getting fat and my fears gradually melted away."

While healthy living can bring an element of self-restraint, Jill argues that eating well doesn't necessarily mean eating small portions or boring, bland foods. "When I learned what food does to our body and mind I wanted to make better choices. I started by cutting out all (nutrient stripped) white flour products and introducing the nutrient dense versions; whole grain pasta, bread, brown rice etc. I experimented with herbs, spices and introduced power foods and was surprised to learn that this actually tasted much better than what I ate before. Much more flavorful and interesting, my taste buds were dancing on my tongue"

Jill one with nature on one of her adventures
While not all cosplayers may pursue modeling as a hobby or career, there are occasional links between the two. With any creative endeavor, you’re putting so much of yourself out there, and starring in photoshoots can be either empowering or make you feel vulnerable, depending on your experience or concerns. Especially as Lara's outfit collection can often be quite revealing, for some people there's an inner expectation of looking like Lara to portray her. Those concerns might not strictly be about clothing size, but bust size or muscle definition. I've also seen a few concerned posts from male cosplayers wanting to portray their favourite tomb raider but feeling uneasy about doing so.

Cosplay is just so much more than looking the part. I'd argue that the best Lara Croft cosplayers are the fans who embrace adventure and the character’s determination. That can be about things like hiking, creating your own bow, visiting a museum or embracing a more active lifestyle. And to become more engaged with the world around you, the first step is to feel motivated to take on those challenges.

Beginning that process starts with simple goals, such as eating well and getting into that mindset. Jill's advice for getting started: "Eating less processed food is the best start. Your body is forever grateful when you consume [less] chemical and sugar-laden food and beverages. Instead eat fresh, whole foods."

Jill as Lara, Another promo pic for Angel of Darkness - Circa 2003
As well as finding the right things to eat, it can also be challenging to know how much you should put on your plate. “It depends on how active you are. But generally speaking veggies should take up the majority of your plate, you want to eat a good amount of protein (plant and /or animal) + some complex carbs." Getting used to the new routine may sound tricky but holds potential benefits. “I can think more clearly, I have tons of energy, I'm more patient, more loving, & happy."

One thing, which can feel daunting at the start, is the question of maintaining motivation. It depends heavily on establishing a comfortable routine, allowing you to continue that momentum. Food-wise, it’s important to search and experiment with a variety of different flavors so there’s an element of joy which comes with preparing and eating the food. “It’s easy to stick with healthy habits when it feels good. I feel my best when I exercise frequently and eat well. If I eat crappy I feel crappy, if I don't exercise frequently I don't feel inspired and happy"

A comfortable change of diet can alter your perception of the world around you. You can feel more alive, and by extension, more energetic. Exercise has always been something people feel passionate about, whether they are very interested and driven by adrenaline activities, or consider it the work of the devil.

When asked about the Tomb Raider Cosplay Community:

As someone who portrayed Lara Croft at conventions and photo-shoots. What do you think about the huge cosplay community for Tomb Raider?
"It's wonderful to see people connect from all over the world and share their passion for Tomb Raider!"

I never got the opportunity to get the feature started on Guns and Grapple, but I’m grateful to Jill de Jong for talking to me for the first post, and I’m happy to see her advice and this article go live on Tomb Raider Cosplay. In my original plans for this feature, each article would have been a larger part of a whole. The next one would’ve focused on exercise and getting out there. So, in that spirit, Jill did have some words of advice for those looking to get more involved with exercise with a series of suggested stages,
1) Take a group class,
2) go hiking, biking, running with a friend,
3) try something you've always been interested in learning; surf, volleyball, yoga."

A huge thank you to Jill de Jong for the interview! You can read more about her Models Do Eat Project on her website: www.jilldejong.com .