Dropping Down + Giving Us 20: Jillian Michaels on the Fine Art of Fitness | OZY

Dropping Down + Giving Us 20: Jillian Michaels on the Fine Art of Fitness | OZY

You might be familiar with the personal trainer, businesswoman, author and television personality Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser, but that’s just scratching the surface. Join us on The Carlos Watson Show this week, where they discuss how she became a fitness expert, her best advice for success and her take on body positivity. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

Where It All Began

Carlos Watson: How did you end up becoming a fitness expert?

Jillian Michaels: I was an overweight kid that utilized food as a coping mechanism in a myriad of ways, whether it was control or comfort, or a way to bond with my father, who also struggled with utilizing food. And my father had an addictive personality — food was just one of those things. But it was a way that I learned to relate to him. So anyway, this was an issue for me at a young age.

And my parents got divorced when I was about 12, and my mom had the foresight to get me into martial arts. She was thinking, “She needs an outlet,” because I was bullied in school and everything at home was just a mess. And she must have known that this would give me some sense of confidence. So she got me into martial arts because she thought this might be good for Jillian.

It took a very long time. But over time, I began to rebuild my confidence, my self-worth, my self-esteem, my self-image. And then when I felt better about who I was and more capable of what I felt I could achieve, or more confident in what I felt I could achieve, I began to learn about nutrition as well. Take more pride in my appearance. By the time I was 17, I was very fit, training for my black belt, and fell into fitness because people at the gym would see me and thought that I was a trainer. I was delivering pizza, I think for like $5 an hour, and I ended up becoming a trainer for $15 an hour. And fortunately, my mom had the foresight, again, to get me my first little training certification, and I fell in love with it.

Recipe for Success?

Watson: What’s the smartest thing if you were going back trying to teach a young Jillian how to make it, what’s the smartest thing you did in that window to make it and break through?

Michaels: To be honest, it’s so basic. I think the basics are overlooked nowadays because everything is hacking, but it’s grit. It’s having a passion for what you do. It’s being authentic with your message, even if people don’t like it and even if they don’t like you. I have so many haters it’s ridiculous. And yet they all work out with me. I swear to God this is what we were talking about. A woman that wrote an eight-page review about my app. And it was like Jillian’s this and Jillian’s that and what a horrible person I am. But yet she wrote an eight-page review and worked out with my program for three months. And I think it’s because you might not like Jillian, but on some level, you have to believe that I must know what I’m doing because you chose to train with me.

It just is grit. There is no hack. You’re the first one in, you’re the last one to go. You do work on the weekends. You don’t ask about vacation days. That is what it takes. It just is. And for a younger generation, these millennials, they’re so intelligent and they’re so innovative. And they really have figured out ways to hack many different things. But at the same time, I think that it’s staying power and that overwhelming next level of success; it is grit, man. It is doing whatever it takes. It’s working your ass off, period.

Watson: What gives you some of the greatest joy, at least today? Which I realize may be different than the things that gave you joy five years ago, 20 years ago, but what gives you joy today? What makes you smile?

Michaels: I mean, there’s the obvious cliché of kids. I mean, I used to hate when people say that because you feel like, “Oh, you have to say that. OK. I know you’re a good mom.” In the beginning, I would have told you, “Oh, my God, this is the hardest job ever. This is so hard.” When they were little babies, toddlers — really, I was like, “Man, I don’t think I can do this job. I’m not good at this. I’m terrible at this job.” But then they get a little older. My daughter just turned 11 and my son is just turning 9 and it gets so much easier. And I think that you stop stressing as much, worrying as much. And they just become … I mean, for me, personally, I like this age. Some people like babies, some people like toddlers, this is a great age for me. I just find them to be hysterical. Everything they say is hysterical to me and they get to just have their own little personalities. So ridiculous and witty and dry and funny and outrageous in the best way. Sometimes they’re obnoxious, they’re human.

But I do love that. I’m like, “Where did that come from? Who are you in?” And it’s never the parts that are like me; it’s the parts that you’re like, “Where did you pick that up?” That it is just kind of like such an exciting surprise. They’re like little homies. Yes, I’m their mom. I’m not their friend, but you could go on adventures with them and it’s great. Beyond that, I think my work gives me joy. I do love my work so much.

Seeing people do amazing things, whether it’s helping refugees or helping animals, that stuff brings me so much joy. If I get to participate a tiny, tiny bit, even better. But those stories and following that and being a small part of that really moves me deeply. And it gives me hope because I think it’s easy to become a bit sort of nihilistic and cynical in the world today. You’ve got to really try to focus your attention on the good. Wasn’t it Mr. Rogers —focus on the helpers? So I try to focus on that as much as possible.

Her Take on the Body Positivity Movement

Watson: Hey, tell me about the controversy with Lizzo and others, the whole discussion around weight. You’ve heard people challenging. Is it fat shaming? First of all, what happened? And then secondly, how do you think about what happened?

Michaels: This poor woman, every single time I do an interview, her name comes up. She must want to die. So I have never once actually brought her up. I would like to make that clear. She has been brought up to me and I would like to separate her from the issue if at all possible. And I should have done that the first time I was asked. I should have said, “Let’s separate an individual from a conversation about health.” And that is where I genuinely went wrong. That is literally the only place I will tell you that I went wrong. If the conversation is about celebrating obesity, I would tell you that we need to celebrate individuals. That’s important. And obesity should have nothing to do with it at all for better or for worse.

We shouldn’t celebrate somebody because they’re big. We shouldn’t celebrate somebody because they’re small. We should celebrate somebody because of the quality of their character. Obesity is just unhealthy. That’s it. And it has no merit on the quality of the human or the validity of their competence, their worth. None of that matters. They’re not connected. They’re two totally separate issues. So the fact that these things have become interwoven in some bizarre, politically correct alternate universe is an absolute shame because we’re not doing anyone any favors.

When you are an expert in a category, you have a responsibility, to tell the truth, whether it makes you popular or not. “Oh, being 3, 400 pounds is not healthy?” No, it’s not. It’s scientifically proven. It’s science, period. That’s all that it is. So in fact, saying, “Hey, look. This is dangerous. Seven out of 10 Americans are on medications for obesity-related diseases.” Obesity is the top contributor to mortality rates over anything else going on in the world. I mean, it’s directly linked to cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes. I mean, we can go on — erectile dysfunction, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s. We could go on and on.

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