Jillian Michaels, the fitness trainer with the drill-sergeant style on NBC's The Biggest Loser, says that if there is one piece of advice she'd offer people who want to lose weight, it's this: Stop following fad diets.
Michaels, 38, shares her best diet and exercise advice in her new book, Slim for Life: My Insider Secrets to Simple, Fast, and Lasting Weight Loss (Harmony Books, $25), out Tuesday. It's her seventh book; she also has done more than 30 exercise DVDs. She and her partner, Heidi Rhoades, have two children, daughter Lukensia, 2, and son Phoenix, 9 months.
Q: What is the one thing you wish everyone knew about weight loss?
A: Stop turning to fad diets and use common sense. This is where so many people go wrong, from cutting out all carbs to eating only fat-free foods to fasting to the Master Cleanse (a plan that involves eating no food but drinking a mixture of fresh lemon juice, organic maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water). It's all bull crap, and not only is it bull crap, but it harms your metabolism in the process. The fad diets are doing way more harm than good. They key is to master a few simple ways to exercise that will burn the most calories in the least time. And you also need to figure out how can you eat more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff without feeling deprived so your diet regimen feels manageable.
Q: What were your past struggles with weight?
A: I was overweight as a kid, and if I looked at why that was, there were a couple reasons. My father was overweight. Food was a way we bonded. As I got a little bit older, I began to see food as something comforting, something I could look forward to, something I could control. I was a child of the '80s, and there was a lot of misinformation. Everybody was drinking pop, and people thought a cheese-and-bologna sandwich was better than a Big Mac. Of course, it's not. I was 175 pounds at 13 years old and 5 feet tall. By comparison, I'm now 115 pounds at 5-foot-3.
Q: How did you lose the weight?
A: My mom got me into martial arts. That's when I began to appreciate fitness. It translated into every other aspect of my life - my confidence, self-worth, self-esteem. Nobody bullied me or picked on me anymore because I respected myself. When I carried myself in a confident way, I commanded respect. When I was 17, I started training for my black belt. I graduated high school early, and people would come and ask me if I was a trainer. Did it pay more than my job at a deli? Yes, it did. So I fell into personal training at 17. Now I have four fitness certifications, and I'm a certified nutritionist.
Q: What advice do you have for parents who are worried about a heavy child?
A: Lead by example. I see that with my toddler every single day. If I am doing a yoga DVD or at a photo shoot and doing exercise poses, she does them with me. If we are at a farmers market, she wants to pick the fruits and vegetables. We grow a garden and let her plant the seeds and pick the fruits and vegetables.
Play with your kids. Limit their TV time. Get outdoors and chase them around. Wrestle with them. Walk the dog. Go bike riding.
The reality is that your kids are not stupid, and they know when they are overweight. It's about the entire family getting healthy. Gradually change the foods in the house; go on active family vacations; start walking the dog after dinner instead of watching TV. You don't want them going on the Web to find ways to lose weight. That's when you'll find them eating tissue paper because they read that a supermodel did it.
Q: What's the biggest mistake exercisers make?
A: People don't maximize their time in the gym. They might be on an elliptical reading a magazine. Or they may be using the machines and resting after every exercise. They should be doing high-intensity circuit training. ... If you work out in the right way, you burn calories while you work out, and you burn more calories after the exercise is over.
Q: What words of inspiration can you offer to the millions of people who have a hard time eating healthfully and exercising regularly?
A: Gain perspective. Think through the choices you are about to make. If you are going to have a doughnut over oatmeal or pizza over a grilled chicken sandwich, ask yourself how you are going to feel 15 minutes after you eat it, the next day when you feel bloated, the next week when you've gained weight and at the end of the year when you've gained even more.
On the flip side, think about how you are going to feel if you eat the healthy food ... how you are going to look in a bikini next summer or in skinny jeans. Think about feeling strong, healthy, confident. You'll be more confident in the bedroom, more confident at the office. These things are going to be far more beneficial than any piece of pizza is going to taste in the moment.
Q: You're known for your drill-sergeant-style personal training. Is that just your TV persona, or is it your typical style?
A: It's the Biggest Loser persona, and there's a good reason for that persona. If you read my books, do my DVDs, listen to my radio show or go to one of my speaking engagements, I'm not screaming at all.
On The Biggest Loser, that is a life-or-death situation. The contestants are suicidal with food. I need them to have a rock-bottom moment. If they don't see how bad things have gotten, the fear and work involved with change is going to be too scary for them. I'm so intense and aggressive because I have limited time with them. I also need them to have an achievement in the gym that shatters any previous belief they've had about their lack of capability.
Every season starts with me being crazy and intense, and as the contestants become healthier and more confident, then I become more of a buddy, a coach and friend.
Q: Why are millions of people in this country overweight and out of shape?
A: A bunch of people are going through their lives living for everyone but themselves. They have a family to support, and they may have a job they hate. ... They turn to food because it's cheap, affordable, and it's something to comfort themselves. I wish people would realize it's OK to put themselves first once in a while to get healthier and happier. You don't have to be rich to be healthy. That's such a misconception.
Q: What are some key take-away messages from your new book?
A: The idea of this book is essentially to address every obstacle there is for taking off weight and keeping weight off. I've used all my experience to construct a simple plan that is going to work with anyone's lifestyle to address any diet dilemma you could come up with from affordability issues to plateaus to hunger and cravings.
Some excerpts from Slim for Life by Jillian Michaels:
• You can't spot reduce fat. Not on your abs, buns, thighs, or any other place on your physique that you seek to transform. To tone up your problem areas, you have to first reduce your overall body fat, which means high-intensity training combined with clean eating and spot-specific exercises to condition the muscle under the fat.
• There's no muscle-fat magic. Just as fat can't transform into muscle, muscle won't transform into fat. Building muscle and losing body fat are two completely different processes. You burn body fat and build muscle, but the idea of converting one to the other is about as possible as turning lead into gold.
• Don't overdo it. While you may have read in some muscle magazine that pushing your body to the max during every single workout is a great idea, it's not. It can lead to overtraining, decreased strength and potential injury. Work to the point of fatigue (the point where you can do one more rep but you'd have to cheat on form to do it) but not failure.
Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY