Oct. 10, 2022

GEM Academy Is Helping Teen Girls Battle Body Image And Weight Issues With Jim Hershey

GEM Academy Is Helping Teen Girls Battle Body Image And Weight Issues With Jim Hershey

GEM Academy Is Helping Teen Girls Battle Body Image And Weight Issues With Jim Hershey

Jim is the founder and executive director of GEM Academy, a solutions-based treatment program for adolescent girls who struggle with obesity.

The format of GEM Academy is similar to a boarding school with a curriculum inclusive of high school general studies, nutrition and culinary, fitness, therapy, community service, and experiential learning.

For the last 14 years, Jim has specialized exclusively in therapeutic work with overweight teens and young adults, with an emphasis on immersion programs, long-term treatment, and aftercare. Jim worked as a clinician working with college athletes in the field of sport psychology.

He has amassed over 8000 hours of direct client work in this specialty putting Jim in a small, exclusive group of clinicians in the world. As a member of the Obesity Action Coalition Jim is a constant advocate and educator regarding the causes of obesity and effective interventions.

Learn more about GEM Academy here - gemacademyaz.com

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Learn more about John Cordray at www.johncordray.com  


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[00:00:00] John Cordray: If you're a parent of really a teen girl or even a, a teen boy who is struggling with their body image and maybe struggles with weight issues, you're gonna wanna pay, especially attention. To this episode, I'm, I'm really, really excited to, to have this episode. I'm gonna talk specifically about how Jim Academy is helping teen girls battle body image and weight issues with Jim Hershey.

[00:00:30] John Cordray: Coming right up. 

[00:00:31] John Cordray: Welcome back to The Mental Health Today Show. My name is John Cordray and I am a licensed therapist and I am the host of this show, and I am so happy that you are here and joining us today. I have a very special guest and I want to get to his BA right now.

[00:00:48] John Cordray: Jim Hershey is the founder and executive director of Gem Academy, a solutions based treatment program for adolescent girls who struggle with obesity. The [00:01:00] format of Gem Academy is similar to a boarding school with a curriculum inclusive of high school, general studies, nutrition and culinary fitness therapy, community service, and experiential.

[00:01:13] John Cordray: For the last 14 years, Jim has specialized in exclusively in therapeutic work with overweight teens and young adults with the emphasis on immersion programs, long term treatment and aftercare. Jim worked as a clinician working with college athletes in the field of sports psychology. He has amassed over 8,000 hours of direct client work in this specialty, putting Jim in a small, exclusive group of clinicians in the world as a member of the Obesity Action Coalition, Jim is a constant advocate in educator regarding the causes of obesity and effective interventions.

[00:01:54] John Cordray: Jim, welcome 

[00:01:56] Jim Hershey: to the show. Hey John. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate. [00:02:00] Oh, 

[00:02:00] John Cordray: absolutely. I just can't wait to to talk about this because I really, really enjoy working with adolescents and this is gonna be something that is near and dear to my heart. And so I, I would love for you to explain a little bit about what you do.

[00:02:17] Jim Hershey: Little bit of what, what we do here at gem. So GEM is what most people will characterize as a therapeutic boarding program. What makes us different is that we are a dual specialization program. So where obviously we work with adolescent girls high school age that deal with emotional health issues, but we also specialize in working with severe weight issues.

[00:02:39] Jim Hershey: And when we say severe weight, we're. About 70 to a hundred pounds over the top of their healthy weight range. More 35 BMI or higher. Why that specialization at that level of obesity? It's logically different. It responds more poorly to treatment. The comorbidities, as far as health [00:03:00] issues coming up, are more, and again, it's, it's difficult to treat.

[00:03:04] Jim Hershey: There's a severity in these early ages where a girl may be 14, 15 years old, 270, 280 pounds, and it can get significantly worse from this level upwards, so they could maybe double in weight as an adult. So whereas lesser weight or lesser. Overweight conditions, 10, 15, 20 pounds won't get to this level of severity.

[00:03:28] Jim Hershey: So once we've kind of crossed this line, we're looking at some real long term risk factors that that need some level of intervention. And of course, along with that is the lived experience that goes along with our girls that maybe not everybody can appreciate or understand and really look forward to talking about today.

[00:03:47] John Cordray: That is really amazing. How many programs are like this in the country? 

[00:03:53] Jim Hershey: We are the only one . 

[00:03:55] John Cordray: Wow. Wow. What would you say is the need? Is the need? 

[00:03:59] Jim Hershey: [00:04:00] Great. Right now the, the statistics are these, between the ages of 12 and 19, they're approximately 6,700,000 adolescents in the country that struggle with obesity.

[00:04:12] John Cordray: Wow. That is a lot. And the need is great. Yeah. So I wanna back up just a little bit and I would love to know a little bit more about you, your background, and how did you get involved in this specific treatment program? 

[00:04:28] Jim Hershey: Yeah, it's an interesting story and not the one that most would predict. It wasn't something that I struggled with as an adolescent myself.

[00:04:36] Jim Hershey: My background started in, in sport and psychology and doing performance enhancement training with division one athletes. Like most great opportunities that kind of come through your. I had a relationship. One of my best friends from my grad school wound up being a therapist at this very first obesity boarding school program in California, and at the time it was called Academy of the Sierras, [00:05:00] and he was a clinician out there and they were looking for more clinicians.

[00:05:04] Jim Hershey: And I had done the sports psych thing for a while and, and was ready for a change. He contacted me, asked me if I was interested, and, and I took him up on the offer. And about the same amount of, you know, about these kids as I think most would, in kind of making some assumptions that, you know, there was just not enough activity, there was just too much eating and, and that was, you know, pretty much the whole story.

[00:05:27] Jim Hershey: And so I wound up taking this position and starting in March of oh seven, My first caseload was about 12 kids and systematically day after day, they just proved how little I knew and what I actually needed to know about these kids, this condition, and really how misunderstood they are. And how difficult and pervasive this, this condition is to treat and, and what goes along with it from a behavioral health and emotional health standpoint.

[00:05:57] Jim Hershey: And so over the next seven and a half [00:06:00] years, I was involved with that organization and had moved my way into lastly being their clinical director. And so I just fell in love with the work through. These kids showed me just how brave and how strong they are. Any of the people out there listening that have ever worked in residential care where these kids come from all over the country and move away from their homes and their families and everything comfortable to them to try to better themselves?

[00:06:27] Jim Hershey: Just a level of bravery that deserves respect. That they somehow found some utility in me and some trust and allowed me to try to help them. It was such a privilege. That was definitely one of the greatest honors that I've ever had. 

[00:06:44] John Cordray: Hmm. That is amazing. I, I really, really value that. I can sense that you are humbled by these kids that come to see you.

[00:06:52] John Cordray: For 

[00:06:53] Jim Hershey: sure. That's a great word for it. 

[00:06:55] John Cordray: Yeah. I feel the same way with my clients. Mm-hmm. a real honor and [00:07:00] a humbling experience that someone would come to see me at their darkest hour. Right. Yeah. Well, very, very cool. So here's a question that I have. Right now Gem Academy is for teen girls. Yes. What about boys?

[00:07:15] John Cordray: Is that something that's kind of on the 

[00:07:17] Jim Hershey: horizon? Yeah, absolutely. You know, when I started to conceptualize Gem, the prior entity was, was a co-ed program. And, you know, again, you can look really smart when you're allowed, to learn from other people's mistakes. And so in, in that co-ed environment, there were a few things that kind.

[00:07:35] Jim Hershey: Came up that made it very difficult. Obviously, you have adolescents that are radically changing their physical appearance and would want to, you know, react and engage as, as normal teenagers would, which makes it a very restrictive environment, which then, you know, more, more focuses on things like that and on the therapeutic work.

[00:07:54] Jim Hershey: And unfortunately, there's an exceptionally high trauma rate in our female population. With [00:08:00] kids that struggle with obesity and so wanting to have a safe haven where that trauma work could get done. So just naturally kept pointing to this single gender, you know, treatment model, and was definitely the best decision we could make.

[00:08:14] Jim Hershey: But it did exclude, you know, starting with the girls, obviously, you know, doing one program at a time, it excluded an offering for, for high school age boys, which I think is absolutely necessary. You know, when we have the opportunity and, and the resources to do that, we'll definitely pursue that along with a young adult program as well, because there's nothing like us or either one of those offerings available in the country.

[00:08:40] Jim Hershey: So it's definitely an on the horizon is definitely things that we, that we wanna get to down the road. But to do it justice, it takes a. From the ground up Reconceptualization, because you know, adolescent boys in regards to how they store energy, you know, how obesity affects them, things like that are, [00:09:00] is completely different than girls.

[00:09:01] Jim Hershey: And so to do it justice, it has to be built from the ground up. 

[00:09:06] John Cordray: Makes a lot of sense and I am super happy to hear that Teen Boys is on the horizon. I like that. That's very, very good, Very needed As. So I know I have a lot of parents who listen. I would imagine there, there are quite a few parents that have, may have a, a daughter who's struggling with this.

[00:09:25] John Cordray: If a parent is wondering, What can I do? What can I say? I don't, I don't know what to say or do. What would be something that you would encourage a parent? With someone who's struggling with, a child, a daughter who's struggling with weight issues. 

[00:09:40] Jim Hershey: Yeah, I mean, I think it starts in just trying to, trying to understand what their experience is to some level.

[00:09:48] Jim Hershey: Because what they're going to see is typically some level of coping in, in the emotional health respect, where a lot of our girls have withdrawn. Socially, [00:10:00] emotionally, there may be some school issues coming up, obviously, where, you know, going to school is difficult for them. They may be refusing to do that, or even if they do, it's, it's an emotionally taxing situation.

[00:10:10] Jim Hershey: And the biggest point of empathy for us really starts, you know, not only with our girl, but with our families and, and the experience that they have and in trying to, you know, help their daughter at the same time also. Emotionally support their daughter. And that puts them between a rock and a hard place because if they, if they try to help, you know, on the weighted end or the health end, you know, they can get a lot of backlash for that, you know, in, in not being accepting of, of their daughter in the physical state.

[00:10:42] Jim Hershey: And if they don't, then there's a lot of guilt and shame, you know, from society. They'll go to the doctor, the doctor, , you know, may ask, you know, what are you doing to try to help this at home? You know, what are the behaviors though? A lot of assumptions get made and things like that. So, you know, my advice [00:11:00] obviously first to, to parents and families is it's not your fault.

[00:11:04] Jim Hershey: You know, this is a genetic predisposition and it's not something, you know, the, I always say it's behavior biology and, and biology is the predisposition and behaviors can exacerbate it, but it can't. And a lot of times the behaviors our kids and our girls have aren't that out of line with an average-weighted peer.

[00:11:25] Jim Hershey: In fact, the statistics are the difference between a kid that struggles with obesity and, and doesn't maybe, as you know, as small as five to 700 calories a day. That's not much. How can that add up to, you know, this level of, weight issue, again, our kids are different. They have upwards of three times as many fat cells as an average-weight peer.

[00:11:49] Jim Hershey: And that is determined by the time they hit puberty, By the time we hit puberty, that number is fixed. We do not gain or lose fat cells. Our weight is regulated by the capacity [00:12:00] of that. So what we have is what we have at that point. And again, that is mostly genetically predetermined. And then obviously with that much storage, Our kids also have very efficient systems at storing energy so they can metabolize and store quickly, especially if you know the choices are processed or highly processed.

[00:12:23] Jim Hershey: Again, you know, our kids can absorb that quickly. And then on top of that, you add behaviors, like not eating frequently enough, which is something that we see with nearly every kid that we work with. Most of their eating will get done in the evening. They'll skip breakfast. A lot of times they won't feel comfortable eating at school, so they'll skip lunch as well.

[00:12:45] Jim Hershey: And so by the time they get to the evening, they're pretty hungry and that's when we'll see or, you know, kind of hear reports of excessive eating or, or things like that when you know, the parents maybe don't understand that, that the kid hadn't eaten in 21 hours. And when you [00:13:00] have a system that's really efficient at storing energy and you don't feed it for 21 hours, it will store a lot of.

[00:13:06] Jim Hershey: And so it's really kind of demystifying the things that we think are leading to this based on kind of conjecture and, and hearsay and, and really, you know, trying to get the best science to them so they can really understand what the condition is, how, how it works and, and how best to manage it. Well, I love hearing about 

[00:13:25] John Cordray: the science of that, and I also love hearing stories.

[00:13:30] John Cordray: Of how girls that you have worked with have been transformed by going to Gem Academy. Do you have a story or two that you are willing and able to share with us? 

[00:13:42] Jim Hershey: Yeah. The beautiful thing is, every kid that walks through the door is, is unique and it's really one of the things, that makes the work.

[00:13:50] Jim Hershey: You know, I always say there hasn't been a dull day in the last 15 years, and, and there's never a, a been there, done that moment because every single kid, [00:14:00] you know, Has something to teach us as far as how best to help them. And if we can learn that, then there's another kid that can probably benefit from that as well.

[00:14:10] Jim Hershey: One of the stories that inspired me the most and really again, kind of showed me the error of my ways and my lack of understanding, was one of the first kids I worked with at the prior program, and she was a young lady, will say Janet, and Janet was. To the best of the way I could describe a force of nature.

[00:14:32] Jim Hershey: She was a kid that came in about 150 pounds over the top of her healthy weight range. And, and just, you know, day one looked me in the eye and said, I'm, I'm here for 13 months and I'm gonna change my life. And she was true to her word and she worked so diligently and so, so hard confronting our demons therapeutically and being coachable.

[00:14:56] Jim Hershey: And it was funny. She was such an inspiration. [00:15:00] Not only did the other students, but there were other staff that, I think we're somewhat reverent and kind of wanted to be like her as well, because her level of determination, and again, when you would see her walking down the street, you know, people would make those judgments.

[00:15:17] Jim Hershey: You know that, that stigma that goes with that. And they would definitely be misreading her. And so she really taught. That so many of these kids are just trapped behind a condition that they don't, they don't understand, they can't control yet. And so I started to be able to kind of see this spark in these kids when I just first met 'em.

[00:15:40] Jim Hershey: And so for me that was, that was one of the biggest drivers in just becoming addicted to this work and, and this population is just, you know, being there to see this and. They don't become this person. This is the person that, they've always been and just haven't been able to be. And that's [00:16:00] not just because of the weight, it's, it's because they have this inherent strength and they have these abilities and they have this, this compassion that they acquire through their experience to, to really see and help other people.

[00:16:16] Jim Hershey: Wow. 

[00:16:16] John Cordray: So Gem Academy is actually making a difference in so many people's lives. Listening to, to those stories. And this girl that you were talking about, man, I get just envision she came there determined. Yeah. And she knew what she wanted and obviously she understood the whole goal and mission of of Gem Academy.

[00:16:38] John Cordray: Are there some students and some girls that come to the academy that kind of come because their parents make them and they don't really believe that change can actually 

[00:16:50] Jim Hershey: happen? Yeah, they all come willingly. Now, that may be versus some other choice, you know, there may be multiple options for them and we are the most [00:17:00] appealing, but every girl makes the choice to come to Gem.

[00:17:02] Jim Hershey: But the level of, you know, when I talk about. She already knew. I think on some level what she was capable of. Most, most girls don't. And that for us, because of again, our experience and, and the generosity of these kids over the years sharing their experience, we have now kind of gotten to the point where we see what, we see that before they do, so when a kid first comes here or even visits, we've just gotten to that place where we can.

[00:17:34] Jim Hershey: You know, there's something in this kid and, and they kind of think we're, we're crazy. . They're like, Why are you so confident? You seem to know something. And you know, for us it's, it's so hard because it's. It's this great book and the last chapter is amazing and as much as I wanna tell you about it, you'll never believe me.

[00:17:57] Jim Hershey: And so we just have to patiently [00:18:00] walk beside them and sometimes behind them, you know, and let that unfold and let them that magic be theirs. But we can sense very early on what a kid is capable of. And it does, it builds that excitement to, to go, This is gonna be amazing for this. Mm. So 

[00:18:18] John Cordray: Gem Academy, it's spelled g e m.

[00:18:22] John Cordray: Tell us a little bit about how, how did that name come about? What does it mean, and tell me a little bit more about the format of the Academy. 

[00:18:31] Jim Hershey: Sure. So Gem Academy, again, just as something that divine intervention, that wasn't something that we set out to, you know, we went, we wanna call it gem. Lets come up with an acronym.

[00:18:41] Jim Hershey: Really, the, the work invented the acronym one. I, I realized early on from the prior work is when a kid isn't invested, there's very little appreciation for that accomplishment, and we don't really protect the things that we don't appreciate. [00:19:00] And so seeing kids go through and having these transformations, but never really buying in and never wanting to be part of that, you would see it come right back.

[00:19:09] Jim Hershey: And that's, and that's tragic. You never wanna see. You know, for a kid, especially when it comes to things that affect their health in such a dynamic way. And so we knew that in order for our kids to, you know, to protect their, their accomplishment, they needed to value it and to value it. There needed to be some level of gratitude and so, You know, we're like, how do we instill gratitude?

[00:19:34] Jim Hershey: So looking at research and, and finding out that our, this age group is inherently low in gratitude. And then going, Okay, so, and this is, you know, kind of the story of Gem is like, here's a problem. How do we solve this? And so there's a great book out there called Artificial Maturity by Tim Elmore. And Tim talks about fostering gratitude in, in adolescence through emotional.

[00:19:59] Jim Hershey: And so we [00:20:00] took a lot of tenants from some of his work and, and how we structured the program to make sure that we were doing things that would enhance the emotional maturity of our kids and put them in a place to have that kinda authentic gratitude. And so sticking with just that line, our entire program, all the elements this speaks to your second question.

[00:20:23] Jim Hershey: All of our elements in our program, Are very intentional and they support what we call our, you know, our element categories. And that is, you know, diet, movement, emotional health, emotional growth, spirituality, meaningful learning, and self care. And so all these things in balance help help a kid develop this emotional maturity along with, you know, surrounding them with stellar adults of character, introducing them to positive risk taking.

[00:20:55] Jim Hershey: So that can replace the negative risk taking, introducing them to, you [00:21:00] know, experiences that help them build extrinsic value or intrinsic value versus ex extreme value. And so we make sure when, you know, when e, when our entire schedule is put together throughout the week, that it fits into one of your categories and that there's some equal representation.

[00:21:20] Jim Hershey: You know, from from all those categories to give this kid a very, a very balanced, balanced experience. And every part of the acronym comes directly from the work. And, and so that was, you know, directly from working with the kids. Empathy and the acronym really came from seeing how much these kids held against themselves.

[00:21:48] Jim Hershey: As far as blame and shame for their condition. And you know, again, society didn't do them any favors. You know, the misunderstanding of the, of the condition itself lends to [00:22:00] that. You, you created this, this is your fault. And so finding that our kids not only had to have empathy, For some of the people, you know, and understanding the things that weren't about them, so they could unburden themselves with that, but also to build empathy for themselves.

[00:22:19] Jim Hershey: You know, they, they were trying to manage a condition they didn't understand. They, they weren't equipped to a condition they didn't create, and having that forgiveness. Is really just a huge component and, and really one of the biggest therapeutic, I'll say hurdles that we go through. You know, they can forgive a lot of other people in their life, but they have a, they have a hard time forgiving themselves and, and it's absolutely necessary because the, the concept of of harboring resentment for a former, for a former identity is still part of you.

[00:22:56] Jim Hershey: and you can't leave it behind [00:23:00] it, it will always be with you. And so you kind of have to make peace with that. And so that's really part of a, a big part of their therapeutic work. And then mission is how does this, how does all this become part of something bigger? We all know that, you know, we wanna have a, a purpose driven life.

[00:23:23] Jim Hershey: And managing a chronic condition long term, be it, you know, type one diabetes or Crohn's or things like that, you know, is a grind. You know, it takes attention to detail. It takes a lot of delayed ratification. It takes, you know, it takes discipline and, and, and if I'm not living I'm not living my best life.

[00:23:40] Jim Hershey: Those, those things can become far harder to do if I'm living a fulfilling life. They're just you. They're acceptable nuisances and, and I and I can do that. And so really helping our girls connect to something bigger than themselves because so many more opportunities are gonna be available [00:24:00] for them. As far as.

[00:24:02] Jim Hershey: Not only because of their phys, you know, the physical change and the physicality and the things that they're able to do if it's engaged in sports or be active or do those types of things, but they're building a skillset that, that just equals achievement on any level. You know, again, we talk about delayed gratification and grit and attention to detail and all those things that make 'em successful in managing their, their physical program and their emotional program will make them successful in any, in any pursuit in.

[00:24:30] Jim Hershey: And so if you're go, you know if that's your skill you're gonna have, you're gonna have some opportunities and, and how best you wanna that hand, that's connect the to next that they're about because they can be now. 

[00:24:50] John Cordray: So GEM stands for gratitude, empathy, and mission. Is that correct? Nice. I love [00:25:00] it. So, okay.

[00:25:02] John Cordray: How long is the program and what can parents do if they're interested in, in at least finding out more information for their 

[00:25:11] Jim Hershey: daughter? So, the pro, so really we go at it one kid at a time. We really do look at them. As, as individuals and what they're gonna need and how, and, and how long is that gonna take?

[00:25:21] Jim Hershey: Really is is kid by kid. From the physical aspect. We know that, you know, the, in managing the condition, what we're really trying to do is teach the kids maintenance. Weight loss is, is where again, really helps reduce their, you know, the, the risk factors going, you know later in life. But they have to be able to maintain that.

[00:25:46] Jim Hershey: And so, you know, a lot, there's a lot of ways to lose weight. There's very few successful ways to maintain loss. And so really we work in training, the training the girls, how to maintain that long term and that, you know, that takes. [00:26:00] We want to try to get them, you know, out of harm's way physically. So they're starting, you know, in the best position that they possibly can to, to manage this outside of gem.

[00:26:11] Jim Hershey: And so typically if we're looking, you know anywhere between, you know, a year to 14 months has been on average because most of our girls have come in anywhere between seventy two, a hundred twenty pounds over the top of their healthy weight range. And so, It, we, like I said, typically it's like 12 to 14 months.

[00:26:33] Jim Hershey: Okay. And 

[00:26:33] John Cordray: then what can a parent do? Like how will they get a hold of you or, or talk to admissions if they have questions? 

[00:26:40] Jim Hershey: Absolutely. We'd encourage them to go to our website and that is Gem Academy A as arizona.com. And we have, you know, the numbers, we have our links to get on there and send us email.

[00:26:53] Jim Hershey: They can call at (602) 402-5739. They'll talk directly to me. I handle [00:27:00] admissions as well, and that's, like I said, we're, we're, we are really excited about what we do. You know, it's terribly effective. You know, we, our, our effectiveness is, is a hundred percent. Yeah. With every, you know, with every kid we work with, it's, it's, it's been effective to, and, you know, again, we know.

[00:27:24] Jim Hershey: The, the emotional health leads to physical health. There's, you know, our, our kids aren't able to do, you know, do the work and the things that they need to do without, you know, being in a great place emotionally. But when they are, you know, our kids have been able to achieve 86 of their excess weight in reduction, which is better than, than bariatric surgery.

[00:27:50] Jim Hershey: So, giving families a, a. That, that is very effective and comes with long term support. You [00:28:00] know, our alumni are family. You know, there's never a point, you know, there, the, you know, when I tell you about Janet, who is one of the first kids I worked with, is still very much in contact and you know, it's, you know, 10 plus years later.

[00:28:14] Jim Hershey: So there's never a point where, where our kids aren't. You know, aren't involved or we're not available for support because unlike a lot of, a lot of therapeutic treatment, you know, we're hoping that that's a phase. You know, they get through it, they go on to lead, you know, healthy, productive lives. What our girls work with from a physical aspect is a chronic condition, and it will, you know, it's there permanently.

[00:28:37] Jim Hershey: They will always have to manage it and that will, you know, they will have to manage. You know, through college, you know if they decide to, you know, start a family, have kids, things like that. So there's always gonna be times where they may need a little bit more support and, and we definitely wanna be there for that.

[00:28:53] John Cordray: That's great. And, and I wanted mention too that we'll put all of the, the contact information from Gem Academy and our [00:29:00] show notes as well. Well, Jim, I have one last question for you. It, it's a question that I asked all of my guests that come on my show and I talk a lot about self-care and so I want to direct the question to you about what do you do cuz you do a lot at, at Gem Academy , what, what do you do for self?

[00:29:20] Jim Hershey: That's funny. , get that. I guess I get the, get that question a lot. And honestly, and then, and I don't mean it to sound trite, this is part of my selfcare to be able to be around such inspiring, not only, not only girls, but the staff here and, and. The, the passion that they bring to this and just being around people of, of purpose, doing what brings them joy and being around kids, you know, finding this level of, of hope really enriches, and I miss it in times when I'm not around it.

[00:29:59] Jim Hershey: [00:30:00] If I have to travel for conferences or, or other things, I really do miss it. And so I'm one of the I guess one of the fortunate ones where what I do actually is part of my self care. And it's not that we're not challenged and we don't have hardships and we, you know, and anybody who does this kind of work understands that when they hurt, you hurt.

[00:30:22] Jim Hershey: We don't get that. We always talk with our clients about, you know, that emotional balance. You know, if I'm, if I wanna feel less pain, I'm gonna feel less joy. You know, we have to have, you know, it's that yin and that yang. And so we understand that that's part of it. It's just, it just works on that really, really beautiful fuel ratio, which is you can take a, a dump truck full of poop.

[00:30:46] Jim Hershey: And a and, and a and a teaspoon full of, of hope. And somehow it's one ways more than the other, you know? And you know, you can't explain it to people who haven't done it, but yeah, you, you see that [00:31:00] one kid, you walk out of her room that, that one day, and you can tell that she feels differently about herself and everything else.

[00:31:11] Jim Hershey: Everything else pale. Wow. 

[00:31:14] John Cordray: I love it. Imagine working somewhere where you don't have to escape for self-care. Work itself is self-care, right? 

[00:31:21] Jim Hershey: Yeah. Again, I'm, I'm very fortunate. I did want, I did want to briefly mention though, I know anytime we start talking about, you know, weight and, and adolescence or, or weight in people in general and there always is kind, you know, the level of, is there some level of shaming Oh, lack of acceptance that goes into that.

[00:31:45] Jim Hershey: And, and so, you know, obviously that's something we. We're really cognizant of, you know, one of our favorite hashtags is dignity at any size. Cause we truly believe that there's, there's no physicality that, that [00:32:00] should have people treated as less than regardless. But we also understand that past a certain point, the, the, the health risks do you know, are.

[00:32:12] Jim Hershey: Unfortunately, you know, in kids like we work with, you know, past that 35 bmi the rates of cervical cancer double the, the, the rates of infertility triple, there's an 80% higher likelihood for dementia, 85%. Increased likelihood of diabetes. And so we know these are their, you know, these are our realities.

[00:32:34] Jim Hershey: And so that's why we specifically work with the, the kids that we do, because we know these things are real. And it doesn't, it doesn't affect how they should be accepted or seen. We just understand that those things could be part of their future and their reality. And, and if there isn't some level of intervention, so, You know, it isn't about whether their, you know, their [00:33:00] aesthetic is acceptable or what society says it's, it's simply coming at it from a disease intervention stand.

[00:33:06] John Cordray: I really appreciate you mentioning that cuz that is so important to understand. Well, Jim, I appreciate that. Yeah. And, and our time is coming to a close here. We can talk forever, I feel like, and I really value the, the mission of Jim Academy and it's so important and so I wanna thank you for coming on the.

[00:33:27] Jim Hershey: No, thank you so much, John. I, I, I appreciate the platform. I appreciate the work that you're doing and, and, and not only with us, but you know, people in our field and just making people more aware of, of, of great people. You know, great work being done by really good people. Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:33:43] John Cordray: My pleasure and my honor.

[00:33:45] John Cordray: So this, we're gonna wrap up this episode of The Mental Health Today Show, and I just want to thank all my listeners out there. And I just I, I'm envisioning that there are parents that might have teen girls that really struggle with this, or maybe, maybe you're a friend of [00:34:00] others parents that have girls that may struggle with this.

[00:34:04] John Cordray: Share this episode with them and let them know. I want them to hear this. And this is a, a great opportunity to look into a possible solution for your daughter. And this is an amazing program that I really wanna encourage you to look into. And all, everything is gonna be on our show notes. You can find that at mental health today show.com.

[00:34:28] John Cordray: Again, that's Mental health today show.com. Thank you so much, friends, and remember, the Mental Health Today Show has been championing your mental health since 2015. Take care. 

[00:34:41] Jim Hershey: Bye bye.

Jim HersheyProfile Photo

Jim Hershey


For the last 14 years, Jim has specialized exclusively in therapeutic work with overweight teens and young adults, with an emphasis on immersion programs, long-term treatment, and aftercare. He has amassed over 8000 hours of direct client work in this specialty putting Jim in a small, exclusive group of clinicians in the world. As a member of the Obesity Action Coalition Jim is a constant advocate and educator regarding the causes of obesity and effective interventions.

His work in this field began in 2007. This was after 4 years as a clinician working with college athletes in the field of sport psychology. Jim moved from Phoenix Arizona to Fresno California to take a position at the world’s first boarding school for overweight teens. During his tenure he held the roles of therapist, clinical consultant, and program director and clinical director.

Among his peers he was known for his tireless determination and commitment to the kids and their families. Mark Twain once said, “the two most important days in a person’s life are the day they were born, and the day they find out why.”

Shorty after Jim began his career at the boarding school his “why” was realized. “There was a level of bravery, sacrifice and hope that I would see every day in the kids. It made you want to be the absolute best you could be for them. With everything they were bringing to the fight, they deserved every bit of that”

Jim’s dedication to the students and their families allowed him to build long standing relationships. Through Jim’s investment and continued involvement with his students and families, Jim recognized the need for a far more comprehensive support structure for recently transitioned students. This became the catalyst for Gem Academy as a long-term solution for adolescent obesity.

Gem was born over a decade+ long process of evaluation of prior experience, refined practice, the latest health research and new research into areas of achievement, performance, habit formation and character. But the most critical influence into building Gem has been the shared personal experiences of hundreds of students over the last 14 years. Sharing their successes and challenges has created a better understanding of what is critically needed to support these students for the long run.

Through his professional and educational pursuits Jim has had diverse and eclectic experiences as a tradesman, working musician, on-air radio personality, and collegiate athlete and captain.

Jim is a Wisconsin native but has been a resident of the Phoenix area for 16 of the last 20 years. He and his wife have a seven-year-old little boy and a four-year-old little girl.