Chef Jenna Kinard

Her Journey began...

In 2009, then-18-year-old Jenna Kinard from Texas found herself in a hospital after suffering a stroke.

“I was nutritionally deprived,” Kinard tells Yahoo Beauty. “The doctor who was taking care of me said, ‘If you don’t change the way you’re living your life, you have no more than a month to live.’”

The results from a serious of tests showed that the teen beauty pageant winner — who is 5’9” and weighed around 89 pounds — was also developing osteoporosis. “I realized there was no fat and no muscle on me,” states Kinard. “That’s when I got involved in the recovery program called OA [Overeaters Anonymous — a program that offers physical, emotional and spiritual recovery for those suffer from compulsive eating].”

Dealing with the pressures of competing in the pageant world took its toll on Kinard’s health, where she became fixated on the amount of food on her plate, as well as the number on the scale.

Chef Jenna Kinard

“There wasn’t a second where I wasn’t thinking about what I was going to eat,” she admits. “First of all, I was starving and secondly, I only allowed myself to eat certain things.”

On her good list were zero calorie foods — like celery and cabbage — and her bad list was “everything else that had actual calories and any kind of fat.”

During her time in counseling, Kinard had difficulty sleeping, – “because sleeping required burning calories, I had none to burn, so I just stayed up all night long” — and she found herself hooked on a late-night cooking show on the Food Network that was hosted by Paula Deen.

Chef Jenna Kinard

“She was passionate about food, but she was just so comfortable with herself in her love for food,” explains Kinard. “That’s what was so attractive to me. Even though she wasn’t considered to healthy at that time — now she is–but she didn’t care. She was just going to make what she was passionate about at that moment, even if it was a doughnut sandwich. I was so envious. I loved that about her and I wanted to be Paula Deen.”

And since Kinard enjoyed cooking while living at home with her parents, she decided to embark on a career in the food industry. She took a job doing dishes at a “hole in the wall,” and after a few years of on-the-job experience at various places, she is now the executive chef at Max’s Wine Dive in Fort Worth, Texas.

Chef Jenna Kinard

But the aspiring actress also admits that body image issues have caused her to relapse. “It was really hard for me to see those changes [gaining weight] happen to my body and not think that I was huge,” she states. “But through prayer and through my awesome team of encouraging people that I have in my life, and my family, I was able to stick with it.”

Despite her complicated relationship with food, Kinard — who hasn’t known her weight for the last three years since she feels “numbers don’t matter”—credits food as her “passion” and “greatest love language.”

“What became important was serving, sharing, and loving,” she says. “I was no longer being held captive by this disease because I was able to share my love through food….But I have to remind myself I’m not 100 percent recovered from this disease. I am a fighting warrior and will be every single day.”

And yes, she did get the chance to meet the celebrity chef she likes to emulate, “but Paula Deen didn’t save my life — Jesus Christ saved my life. God put Paula Deen in my life as a tool to help me.”