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Jillian Michaels is the world’s leading fitness expert perhaps best known for her work on the TV show The Biggest Loser. A renowned nutritionist, Jillian has written 8 bestselling books and created successful fitness DVDs and TV shows. She hosts a podcast, founded a streaming workout platform called Fit Fusion, recently launched the Jillian Michaels App and is involved with a number of other business ventures.
In this interview, learn about Jillian’s weight loss journey (What? She was once overweight?), fitness routine and eating habits. Discover what inspires her, tips for shedding pounds and whether Jillian’s no B.S. attitude on TV is her real personality.
I loved speaking with Jillian and hope that you enjoy hearing from her as much as I did.
Photo Credit: Don Flood
(Published August 2017)
Audio Clips (for more, visit the ‘media’ section of the website):
-I was an overweight kid. At age 13, I was my heaviest at 170 pounds at 5 feet tall.
-I had braces and acne and was an awkward and uncomfortable child who was being bullied.
-My parents were getting a divorce. My mom felt like she had to do something and enrolled me in martial arts.
-It took a while but ultimately that’s what turned me around. Not just physically but also emotionally.
-When you’re strong physically, it transcends into every area of your life. Because of martial arts, over time I began to feel more confident, capable, and strong. Subsequently, I was more empowered.
-As I began to be more physical and understand the concept of basic nutrition, I started losing weight.
-By the time, I was 15, I was pretty fit. By 17, I was training for my blackbelt and extremely fit.
-I really came to appreciate that transformation starts inside. As you begin feeling worthy and strong, you begin feeling healthy and feeling and looking beautiful. I don’t mean that you have to have perfect features. Beauty is from the inside out and health is a big component of it.
-You must care for and love yourself before you can feel healthy, strong and beautiful inside and out.
-I was training for my 2nd Degree Blue Belt test in which I had to break two boards with a side kick. I thought: “I’m never going to pass. I won’t be able to do it!” and had so much anxiety about it. To make a long story short, I did the board break.
-At that time, I was being brutalized by the kids in junior high school. I remember walking through the front door the day after the test and thinking: “Where are the bullies? Bring your best!” No one did. Not one person. I was so disappointed.
-I began to realize why that happened: it was how I was carrying myself and the way that I felt about myself that sent a message of: ‘I respect myself. I value myself.’ This sends a message to the world that you command respect from other people.
Jessica Lipps (JL): How can someone feel worthy and love his or her self?
Jillian Michaels (JM): You need a moment of inspiration that catalyzes you to take a step.
-You need information so that the step you take hopefully will yield the best possible results and allow you to make informed choices.
-Then you must take very small actions that yield successes.
-These successes begin to redefine who we are and what we believe that we’re capable of. For me, that was martial arts.
-I’ve come to appreciate that failure is a badge of courage and also an entry point for learning.
-Whereas so many people see failure as a validation of incompetence and get defeated and give up, I’m very lucky to have had the following hammered into my head at a young age:Failure is inevitable. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.
-Here’s how to handle failure: Feel your feelings – get upset and angry. When that settles a bit, look at what you contributed. Clean up your side of the street and re-approach it more intelligently. Ultimately, failure is just learning lessons preparing you for the right person, place or thing that’s waiting right around the bend in life for you to be ready.
JL: How long is a proper workout?
JM: If you’re training the right way (with the proper intensity and techniques), you don’t want to exercise for more than 30 minutes. Anything beyond that is too much stress to the system.
-It’s about how you train. If you are doing lower intensity workouts, then yes, you have to be at the gym longer. But If you’re training with the proper techniques, you can be in and out of a workout within 20 minutes.
JL: What’s your Fitness Routine?
JM: My goal is to work out 4 1/2 hours every week consisting of four workouts a week, with each workout anywhere from 20-45 minutes. The exception is a class.
-Some weeks, I’m lucky and get to take a 45 minute spin class or 75 minute yoga class with my favorite teacher. Other days, I’m in my living room working out for 20 minutes with hit intervals, body weight training and free weights.
JL: Let’s talk about Nutrition:
JM: I look at nutrition in the same way that I look at religion.
-By this, I mean that people are fanatical about the diets that they follow: vegan, gluten free, pescetarian, paleo and so forth.
-I look those diets and say: “If that’s what you subscribe to, go for it!” I think that it’s a lifestyle choice. I don’t believe that these diets are about health or weight loss or maintenance at all, because it’s irrelevant.
-For the foundation of healthy eating, two rules apply to any diet that you may choose:
1) Food quantity. Period. It’s simple math. Food has calories. Calories are units of energy. Units of energy that don’t get burned get stored as fat. Fat is stored energy. No matter how healthy the food may be, if you overeat it, you will store it as fat. It’s evolution. People say: “If the food is clean, you won’t gain weight.” Not true. If you overeat, no matter what it is, you will get fat.
2) Food quality. I’m not talking about macronutrients. This has nothing to do with carbs, protein and fats. Science (any biochemist or registered dietician) will tell you that the human body has a need for every macronutrient: we need carbs, protein and healthy fats. With food quality, I’m talking about making common sense food choices: no fake fat, fake sugar or fake color. No hormones, antibiotics or pesticides. If you’re vegan and cannot afford organic, eat from the clean 15 when it comes to produce (example: watermelons instead of thin skinned berries that are soaked in pesticides).
That’s what I care about: how much you’re eating and the quality of what you’re eating. Then, if you’re vegan or paleo, that’s great!
JL: What do you eat?
JM: I’m an omnivore, I eat high quality carbs, proteins and fats. I don’t overeat them.
-I don’t believe in binge days or splurge days.
-I don’t eat too much. Every single day I follow the 80/20 rule. If I have 1,800 calories per day, I allow 20% of those calories to eat foods that aren’t necessarily the healthiest.
-So every day I have treat foods but they aren’t fake foods. I’ll subscribe to junk food that has no chemicals in it and eat it within my calorie allowance. I find that it’s very common sense, simple to follow, and it works very well.
JL: What motivates you to stay fit?
JM: A host of things. At this point in my life, I have young kids and that’s important to me. Ego: I still want to look and feel good. Also, it is my job. I think that there’s an obvious outside pressure, which is a great thing, to not just talk the talk but walk the walk.
JL: When you’ve had your hardest workout, how do you keep pushing yourself?
JM: I always play this game: if someone told you that you were going to win the lottery if you could finish this set or interval, could you do it? If it was: ‘hey, get through this and you’ll win 100 million dollars.’ You could do it, right? Or whatever goal it might be: you’d instantly be at your fitness goal. You’d instantly have lost the 20 pounds. If you could do it, then you could do it now.
-The reality is that whatever health goal you’ve set for yourself, it really is at the other side of that achievement, whether it’s a minute, week, month or year from now. That’s how you push yourself to the next level and the attainment of whatever goal you’ve set and I remind myself of that.
JL: In doing research to prepare for this interview, I was drawn in by your new App because it almost felt like you could be my personal trainer. Can you tell us about it?
JM: What I love about the App is that it’s a living breathing thing and is in fact like I can be your personal trainer.
-There are over 550 exercises and more than 14 pre-set programs. You can say: ‘I just had a baby, I’m getting ready for my wedding, I want to work on my ‘dad bod,’ I want a 30-day program to get beach ready, I want a 60-day program to lose 15 pounds.’ I’ve already created all of that and more. ‘I’m pescetarian, omnivore, vegan, paleo, gluten free.’ I have all those meal plans with hundreds of recipes.
-What’s really cool is that i’s interactive. The App works with ‘My Fitness Pal’ through Apple’s health app. We track calories in and out and track your weight. You can listen to your own music. You can tell me that the workout is too easy and I can progress it. You can say: ‘I have 10, 20, 30 or 45 minutes. I want to do abs, legs, total body or a cardio workout.’
-You input your level of athleticism, the time you have, what you want to work on, the equipment you have, and then the workout generator creates one-off workouts.
-I talk you through the entire workout. You can see the workout ahead of time and swap out moves or modify them if you don’t like them.
-We are building in a community feature so that you can find people and train with them and have a buddy system.
-It’s kind of the coolest thing in the world to use technology this way.
JL: For someone looking to shed the pounds, what’s your advice to help them get started?
-You have to have a moment of inspiration to catalyze you to decide to take action.
-That’s the hope of the transformation photos on my website. You see the photo and say: “OK, This is a regular person. She looks like me before. If she can do it, I can do it.”
-Then you have to get information. Because if you take action that’s misinformed, it will be destructive.
-Not to toot my own horn but, sign up for the App. This is what I do. For example: There’s a ‘Fitness For Beginners’ program. You take that program and the omnivore meal plan. If you follow it, you will get results.
-If you’re stress eating, emotional eating or something else, I have other avenues to help you deal with that, whether it’s my free podcast or one of my books that you can check out for free at the library (“Unlimited” is a great book to help you deal with emotional eating). Also, I suggest getting into counseling, therapy or a support group.
-You must get support and information. I would say try the app. You can try it a week for free. If you don’t like it, cancel and you pay nothing. Let an expert do the work for you.
-It’s manageable and palatable. You’ll start seeing changes and results and I think that that helps to keep people motivated.
-A body in motion tends to stay in motion, literally and figuratively.
JL: What inspires you?
-Regular people who are dealing with every day life. I equate that to being in a boxing match with no bell. Life does not stop. It’s not designed to stop. It’s designed to keep throwing punches.
-Every day people who, without money or resource, continue to face down adversity and show the courage, determination and fortitude to deal with whatever life throws at them.
-I always think, “Wow! If these people can do this, I can, because I’ve been very lucky and blessed in life.”
-The world is unfair and when life gives you a lot, it’s your job to make the world more fair and give some of what you have. So when I see people with less that do more, that’s an inspiration for me to do more and do better.