While the weight loss craze has been a part of our culture for decades, reality television has been responding to the popularity in recent years with series like NBC's "The Biggest Loser," VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club" and Oxygen's "Dance Your Ass Off." The latest entry is Bravo's weight-loss series "Thintervention." Health and fitness expert Jackie Warner first burst onto the television scene in 2006 with her soapy Bravo reality series "Work Out" but with her new series, where she serves not only as the on-air host/trainer but also as an executive producer, Warner is pointedly shifting gears. Instead of focusing on her dramatic dating life and the often-tumultuous encounters with the trainers she employed at her gym, the new show focuses solely on eight clients who are going to be put on not only a fitness regimen but also delve into the psychological issues that are contributing to their food issues. Our Jim Halterman spent some time with Warner last week to talk about the change in focus on the show, the client that gave her the biggest challenge of her long career and, in her opinion, why the Food and Drug Administration is to blame for the obesity in our country.
Jim Halterman: Backing up, when did physical fitness become such a passion for you?
Jackie Warner: I've always been athletic but I think the bodybuilding and working out was instilled in me when I was 27 or 28. In my 30s I got into it quite a bit but I didn't get certified until I was 30 so I started kind of late in the game. What happened was I was training friends and I happened to be training my first client who was a high-powered agent and her life was a disaster area. She was an alcoholic and she was in an abusive relationship. Through our work together in about 4-6 months she made a complete life change. She quit her job, which she wasn't happy in, she started going to therapy, she quit drinking and started going to AA and I was hooked. If I can actually change someone's life by working with them then this is what I want to do forever and it went from there. Within a year from getting certified I owned my gym. I've always been a business owner, though. I can't work for others.
JH: Since 'Work Out' was about your personal life and those of your trainers, was it a relief to not have to worry about the cameras being in your home and just focus on these people instead?
JW: It's different and it's a different kind of stress. 'Work Out' was stressful and trying because I could never get away from the cameras. This one is more stressful because there's such an obligation and a responsibility on my shoulders to have them succeed and have them go through this process and reap the rewards. I worked so very hard. My heart and soul is in this where it wasn't in 'Work Out.' This was much more a passion project.
JH: What was the criteria for the participants to be a part of 'Thintervention?'
JW: First they had to have personality. They also had to have hit rock bottom and really be motivated to change. What we were asking of them with production schedules and shooting schedules was very intense and they had to do this for the two months of shooting. I wanted people with personalities and a lot of passion.
JH: One of the things I got from your show is the connection between the physical and emotional fitness.
JW: Thintervention is just an extension of what I've been doing for years. I teach a life-change camp called SkyLab in Northern California and all I did was take from that. Emotional group therapy has been a part of that camp for years now and it's something that has to occur because when you watch the show, each and every person has a story to tell in group therapy where they all have a traumatic event that occurred in childhood that gave them an unnatural relationship with food.
JH: When you go into this, do you approach men and women differently or is it more about personality and back story?
JW: It's true that in general men work harder at the gym and they're used to working with their bodies a bit more in terms of not being afraid when they feel pain; it's more of a comfort. That's the only difference with men and women. I have to be a lot more patient with women because they are not as goal oriented as men are in terms of weight loss.
JH: You do a lot of group work on the show. Is it important for the client to work together with others going through the same program as opposed to just one-on-one training?
JW: Yes, you'll see that when you tune in, especially in episode two where I talk about how they really have to rely on each other and not just on their families and friends or me but on each other as a support system and help each other through the difficult times. They really did it, too. They were very close off camera and they really, really did rely on one another to get through this process, which was difficult for them.
JH: I have to say I love the ambush moments when you just show up at their homes or in public places where the clients aren't expecting you.
JW: I loved the ambushes more than anything! Whenever I found out I was ambushing them I thought 'Oh, this is going to be great!' It was always a shock! Nobody ever knew I was going to appear and it was a running joke where they said I was the grim reaper. They would have a party on a yacht or having fun somewhere and then here comes Jackie creeping in. It was just funny. My favorite ambushes were Nikki because every time I would ambush her she would have a cocktail in her hand and I would make her do something horrific like go on a hike with me.
JH: From what is seen in the first episode, Nikki likes the drink!
JW: She sure does!
JH: I was more concerned about her excessive drinking than her weight. What's Nikki's journey on the show?
JW: You're going to have to watch to see it. I think that her journey is one of the more interesting journeys. I've said that she was one of the hardest cases in my life. I've never had someone come up against me and be so difficult in my entire career of training. She really had demons that were much deeper than the rest of them and you'll see how that works out.
JH: Why do you think that people are still out of shape and still need help when we have all these TV shows, books, DVDs telling us over and over how to lose weight?
JW: I blame the food industry largely which I write about in my book ['This Is Why You're Fat (And How To Get Thin Forever']. The food industry conspires to keep us fat in this country. Our very corrupt FDA allows additives and chemicals that just make the body just hormonally dysfunctional and that makes us something called estrogen dominant. It's an uphill battle for us to lose weight or to have a normal weight range when we have disgusting, disgusting junk in our food that is allowed. Do you ever wonder when you go to Brazil and France and they smoke everyday, they drink everyday, they eat bread, pastas and cheese and they don't have a weight problem?
The reason is because they do not allow these chemicals in their food. They think that we are insane. We support a very corrupt industry here and it's a big problem and it really does conspire to make us fat. These chemicals added to the food and to junk food and fast food also trigger us and release a brain chemistry that makes us addicted to those foods. That's what I learned and that's why I say in the book that it's not your fault that you're overweight. After reading the book you should not stay fat. It's the simplest, easiest, and well-thought out program. By the way, that's what 'Thintervention' is. I gave them all the book and we followed it.
"Thintervention" premieres tonight at 10:15/9:15c on Bravo before moving into it's regular Monday, 10:00/9:00c time period next week.