Still chalking up the losses

September 2010


The Biggest Loser on NBC, Now in its 10th Season is still going strong and Jillian—even stronger.

She has been on the forefront of the fitness/gaming craze with her release of “Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum 2010” for the Nintendo Wii system. In addition, Jillian launched her own TV show in June 2010, Losing It With Jillian, where she moves in with a family and not only motivates them to get in shape, but to make difficult lifestyle changes as well. Jillian influences families on what to buy, what to get rid of and yes, invades their refrigerators too. Not an easy task. Says the world’s toughest trainer, “It’s intense. Seriously intense. Honestly, it’s impossible to describe. You have to see it with your own eyes.” In one episode, Jillian has her adopted family working out on a football field and later clearing out their cluttered home of junk that they seem determined not to part with—but it’s all part of a lifestyle change.

Accepting the Truth and Willing to Change

Jillian has experienced situations time and again where persons have had multiple failed attempts at weight loss. “They lack self-esteem and they are uninformed about the facts [regarding] weight loss,” says Jillian. Changing eating habits for many is a tough pill to swallow and is different in each scenario. There are many factors to consider: Metabolism varies from person to person, as well as blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. Each diet plan has to take these (and other) factors into consideration. Yet some people seem to eat anything they want and not gain an ounce. “[It’s] because of genetics,” Jillian explains. “While some of us are predisposed to gain weight, it doesn’t mean it’s a sentence. Genetics are static, not dynamic, so if we eat right and exercise regularly we can maintain a healthy body weight.”

In Jillian’s experience she has worked with some tough clients including persons with hormonal disorders such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and lipodema, which causes people to be heavier from the waste down to the ankles. When it’s unclear why clients are overweight, or when they are holding back from revealing their true reasons for overeating, Jillian finds a different approach to get them to open up. “I ask a series of questions when they are fatigued from exercise and their defenses are down,” she says. “I help them uncover the roots of their self-destructive behaviors.”

Mind Over Matter

Lack of motivation can be a major issue when it comes to breaking old habits and starting new, healthy ones, but Jillian points out another prime factor—willpower. “Willpower is like a muscle. It can be built and it can also be fatigued,” she says. “You can build willpower by shifting the part of your brain you use to think. You can literally go from impulse to reason, by stopping and asking yourself a series of questions before each choice you make.” Jillian believes this is a good way for clients to rethink their food choices. “So the next time your client wants to reach for the donut, tell them to think the whole choice through. They eat the donut—then how do they feel 10 minutes after? What is it going to do to their body? How is that going to make them feel? And so on.”

Smart Eating

Speaking of food choices, the typical approaches to weight loss include portion control and calorie counting. For many, it just doesn’t work. Jillian believes in calorie counting in conjunction with exercise. “The truth is that weight loss is an energy equation [and] you have to exercise to utilize stored energy—a.k.a. fat,” she says. As for Jillian’s own diet? “Ezekial English muffin with almond butter for breakfast, grilled fish tacos on corn tortillas with black beans, apple with raw nuts…grilled fish and greens for dinner,” she says. But is there room in the toughest trainer’s diet for a snack? “Only between lunch and dinner,” Jillian clarifies. “Snacking throughout the day is terrible for weight loss and weight management. My snack is about 15 percent of my calorie allowance. I will have [a] protein and carb combo like fruit and raw nuts or hummus and veggies. Baked chips and salsa with yogurt instead of sour cream.”

Success Doesn’t Come Easy

Jillian’s own success took a lot of motivation and willpower on her own part. She was overweight as a teen, about 50 pounds, and was motivated by her mother to take up martial arts, then on to working with her own personal trainers. So who trained the trainer? “I fell into fitness training at 17 while training for my black belt. People would see me training in the gym and they approached me to train them. Fate took its course.” And training doesn’t stop now that Jillian has found success. “I have many trainers. I believe a good teacher is a good student,” she says. “I work with an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and kettlebell guy named Steve Lee in L.A., a Capoira guy named Brett Hoebel in N.Y., and a yoga woman named Heidi Rhoades in L.A.”

But being where she is today wasn’t always Jillian’s dream. She says, “I fell into it and loved it. I switched careers at [age] 24 to 27 and went to work as an agent in Hollywood. I hated it. Then I went to work at a sports medicine facility as a PT aid. Fell back in love with this type of work and the rest is history.” So for the trainer who pushes people to be the best they can be and find that inner strength that drives them, what drives her? “I am driven by my own feelings of helplessness. I wrestle with those emotions by trying to help other people. It makes me feel less helpless.” Hard to believe while watching Jillian’s tough as nails exterior on TV, that she is indeed only as human as the rest of us.