Fans of NBC's reality weight-loss competition series "The Biggest Loser" know that trainer Jillian Michaels demands commitment to her fitness regimen and if someone isn't pulling her weight, she will push, push again and then push some more. Imagine having Michaels move into your home to really dissect not only what you are eating but also why you're diet and lifestyle is the way that it is. That's exactly what happens on the new series "Losing It With Jillian," which premiered last week on NBC. Whereas "The Biggest Loser" focuses more on what happens in the gym and in the training and competition exercises, "Losing It With Jillian" brings the action inside the home. While Michaels thought she knew what to expect in this solo endeavor, she recently told our Jim Halterman that even she encountered surprises not only in what she found in the homes but in her often intense emotional reaction to living with families in need of help on the path of healthy eating and living.
Jim Halterman: Any nerves for you in carrying this show by yourself?
Jillian Michaels: Yes! So many people put so much on the line for this show. The families were so brave in their courageous efforts to change and open up in front of an entire nation. The network trusted me and gave me this opportunity to branch out and expand. My crew, who left their families for 3 months to go out on the road with me. A lot of people deserve for this show to be a success and it all rides on my shoulders. Does that make me nervous? Yes!
JH: What was the biggest surprise for you in filming this show?
JM: I originally went into this show thinking it would be a weight loss show that takes place in peoples homes and I quickly learned that the families were well aware of standard weight loss facts. Calories in versus calories out. So if I wasn't there to teach them calorie counting and crunches what was I there to do? That's when I realized the show was about rebuilding your life, not just your body. Getting to the root of the problem and teaching families how to turn tragedy into triumph.
JH: In the premiere episode, several members of the Mastopietro family have had gastric bypass procedures but are still overweight and unhealthy. In general, is that controversial procedure predominantly an unhealthy shortcut for people to lose weight?
JM: It's controversial for many reasons. First, it doesn't remedy the problem it only addresses the symptoms. That's why you will see that some people still keep weight on even after the surgery and even those who lose it still struggle with the body image issues and self esteem issues that plagued them before going under the knife. In addition, the surgery is a dangerous one with many side effects. I urge people to explore and exhaust all other options before pursuing that one.
JH: It was heartfelt to see Jim and Agnes Mastopietro get pushed by their kids and push each other. How important is it get the whole family on board?
JM: It's crucial to get the whole family on the same page or the chances of success are slim. One of the reasons that so many people fall off the bandwagon is because the spouse or significant other was not on board. And when it comes to children, the only way to help them turn things around is to lead by example. That's why the way parents live has such a dramatic impact on their children.
JH: One of your tactics with Agnes was to give her a voice and give her a big boost of confidence. Is self esteem the rooted key to what holds a lot of people back in being fit and healthy?
JM: Without a doubt. It's the one through-line with anyone and everyone I have ever worked with. They lack the self esteem to feel worthy of happiness or capable of achieving it. That's what is so great about fitness - it allows me to rebuild someone's confidence and redefine their self-image in a very short period of time. They go from thinking they are lazy to realizing that they can workout for two hours at a time. When you change someone's story like that you change their identity and they start realizing that anything is possible.
JH: It seems so easy to just think someone overweight is just lazy but how much of unhealthy diet and obesity involves a person's psychology?
JM: There is no such thing as lazy. Lazy is a symptom of a bigger problem. The key is to uncover why these individuals have given up and then rebuild their self esteem and give them the tools to get their lives back on track.
JH: Do you have consultants who work with you on dealing with the psychology of your subjects?
JM: Definitely. In fact the show has an entire support staff behind the scenes to make sure the families are looked after properly and supported to the fullest extent. We have an MD, an RD, and licensed therapist all there to help, advise, and facilitate.
JH: What do you say to those critics that say you're too tough on the people you're trying to help?
JM: I would say that is between me and the people I am helping. The proof is in the pudding (sorry for the cheesy cliche), but I'm not out to win popularity contests. I'm out to help save lives and if what I am doing is working then so be it.
JH: Obviously these families have seen you (and how you work with your people) on 'The Biggest Loser' yet they still often seem surprised. Does THAT surprise you?
JM: Yes! I came up against so much resistance while shooting 'Losing It' and I just kept thinking, 'these guys signed up for this! Surely they knew what they were getting into?'
JH: You've been all around the country - is the problem with unhealthy eating and diet worse in some parts of the country than the other?
JM: I think things are slowly getting better. This is a grass roots movement and it starts with awareness and education. The key is paying it forward. Reach one, teach one.
JH: Every person is unique in some way - do you tailor your fitness techniques for each individual or are there are general tactics that you employ for everyone?
JM: Without a doubt I tailor my approach with each family and member in the family based on their wellness goals and their personality.
JH: Can viewers look forward to updates on the families down the line?
JM: Each episode ends with a follow up on the family. We come back 6 weeks later and see how they have implemented the tools they learned. Have they lost weight? Did the dad find a job? Are the kids doing better in school? Are the parents off their blood pressure meds, etc. I would love to do an overall check in a year or so down the road, but ultimately that decision lies with NBC.
JH: You obviously are in great shape but what is your guilty pleasure in terms of food?
JM: The occasional 'adult beverage.' I very rarely drink so when I do I consider it an indulgence. I also have about 250 calories a day of some type of dessert. Whether it's dark chocolate or Ben and Jerry's low fat frozen yogurt. Balance is key.
"Losing It With Jillian" airs every Tuesday at 10:00/9:00c on NBC.