Now that The Biggest Loser season is over, I am going to miss my favorite ass-kicking trainers on TV. Lucky for me (and us!), Jillian Michaels will be back on a new show premiering next week on NBC. “Losing It With Jillian” centers around Jillian spending a week with a family getting their diet and their lives back on track. Game playing and immunity challenges are left for her other show, as she delves deep into what got the families down an unhealthy role to begin with. I am very excited for this show, and I was thrilled to chat with Jillian on a media call. She talks about the biggest surprises filming the show, her most memorable moment, and her methods to help people lose weight. You also might be surprised to see a softer side of Jillian on this show, and I can’t wait!
A lot of this has validity because you went through this yourself and you lost weight and so forth. Could you run us through that just a little bit? How old were you when you started to put on weight and when you took it off again?
Okay. You know, I went sort of up and down from being a toddler to being a pre-teen. I got my heaviest after my parent’s divorce when I was about 12, 13 years old. I was about 175 and 5′ tall, so roughly two to three inches shorter than I am now and about 60 pounds heavier than I am now. You know, this is something that we have a genetic predisposition. Some of us are predisposed to gaining weight when, you know, we don’t eat properly and what have you while others of us can get away with murder, which I’m very bitter about even still to this day. But nevertheless, it was also systemic within my family. You know, my father was overweight and I learned the behaviors of bonding over food and late night eating and being rewarded with food and food is love and all of that stuff, you know, as a product of nurture as well. So it’s – becomes kind of a combination. Then after my parent’s divorce, my mom, not really making this about my weight but more about me being kind of angry and having problems in school and she was looking for an outlet for me because I didn’t have any friends. I was like the loser kid. And she got me into martial arts and that’s really what turned things around for me over time – mind you, did not happen right away. It took at least a year for me to kind of take it seriously and appreciate what it was about and – but that really is where I learned to appreciate fitness as a means to transform your whole life, not just your body.
I understand you did some filming in the Boston area, and I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the families you worked with up here….and maybe some of the challenges you had up here with them.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Okay. The first family we worked with, they’re they Mastropietro family. Jimbo and Agnes Mastropietro and then they have a 20 year old son and I think Michelle their daughter is like 23. And each family has an instigating event that becomes sort of their unwinding. And what I mean is in this show, you will see how physical health and emotional health are really symptoms of deeper problems. You know, we deal with the why, which we do on Biggest Loser as well, but it’s kind of, you know, you don’t see as much of it. And I tend to think of this show as the behind the scenes of Biggest Loser, all the stuff that America isn’t getting to see. You know, why they got unhealthy and all the tools we implement for them to use at home and so forth. So this family lost a child. And granted this was 22 years ago but they lost a child. They were children themselves practically when it happened. They were in their 20s. And it’s become a kind of don’t ask-don’t tell policy in the family of not pushing each other to confront issues, demons. They enable each other with food. Food has become love. Food has become this thing to kind of comfort the pain because no one’s talking. And when we get this family to sort of communicate with one another and we create space for conversation and dialogue and healing, you’ll see that all of the various aspects from health to the interpersonal dynamics of their relationships fall into play. So, that’s our first family. And then the second family is a single mom – well, she’s – I’m sorry. She’s actually a widow named (Deb Jones) and she has a 10 year old and a 12 year old, a boy and a girl. Her husband passed away 5 years prior and they are sort of just coming out of the aftermath of that and getting ready to get back into living. Their whole entire lives sort of went on hold. And now, you know, obviously after going through something that traumatic, there comes a time where you finally start to heal and you’re ready to move forward and that’s kind of what that is oddly both of these families have deaths in them. The other – there’s none of that in the other families but both of these families had those two particular issues. And it becomes about her taking charge of her family and learning to manage time as a now, you know, solo parent and catalyzing her children with positive reinforcement and getting them all on the same page to move forward towards health and her kind of taking control because she didn’t feel like, you know, I think that there was a certain amount of like she kind of gave up. She flat out gave up on life. And you’re going to see her reclaim her life and her health and her kids and her relationships in the process.
I’m sure you had expectations going in this show, but what was the biggest surprise for you that you, you know, didn’t see coming?
Wow. Truthfully we, you know, we had thought that it would be like okay I move in with families across the country and we teach them how to eat and we teach them how to work out and yay everybody’s happier and healthier. But I found that moving in with these families, they already knew the information. And we underestimate how intelligent we are as a society. And all these families, they were like ashamed to show me what was in the fridge, ashamed to make the foods they normally eat. And that’s when we realized that the show wasn’t about calories and crunches, that it was more about what the breakdown is and how come people aren’t living their dreams and pursuing their destinies and living their best lives. And, you know, after doing the pilot, the show changed and it became kind of a life makeover. And that was what was so surprising to me is, you know, going in thinking okay we’re going to clean out the cabinets and then we’re going to go to the office and clean out the work kitchen and it’s not about that at all – not at all. I mean it’s in there and you see all of it because that is an integral part of the show so of course there’s the workouts and there’s the healthy cooking and all that stuff but it’s – becomes much more about the why, not the what of health and wellness. Does that make any sense? And you know, since you’re living with the family, is it – do your emotions get wrapped up in it more because you’re actually getting to know them really well on a very intimate level. Oh my God. I don’t think that I have cried so much in my entire life. I mean every week I am hysterical crying. It is just – it’s horrible. And it definitely – it’s very strange. Like my show runner who travels with me, her name’s Stef Wagstaff, and she’s like Jill, you’re becoming – I become sort of like the families when I move in. I take on their accents, their – the way that they walk, kind of the things that they say. And she’s like you are so strange the way you kind of meld into the family and like a sponge. You sort of take on their dynamic and their personalities and I become very empathic with the families. And I think it’s – I had to really process that. I think part of it’s so that I can understand them and kind of get in their heads and try to help them implement solutions that will work for them as, you know, a unique family entity and unique – uniquely as individuals. But it’s definitely a roller coaster ride and it brings up so many different things for me of being a latch key kid, going through the divorce, losing loved ones, and it’s just – it just – it wrecks you. It just wrecks you but in the most beautiful way because you’re also a huge part of their healing process. And of that aha moment and those transformations, and I wouldn’t have it any other way but honestly I think I’ve gone through more Kleenex, a whole forest worth. So it’s pretty intense.
Could you at least share one or two of the best ways that parents can get their children interested in fitness and restructuring how they eat …because as we all know, kids are so consumed with fast food like most of us are.
Of course. Of course. Okay. I have a great episode that I just did with a 7 and a 9 year old in Detroit. And one of the things we did is first thing is we made the cooking fun. So for example, we played little games of okay, pick colors and then go and buy two fruits and two vegetables in your favorite color. So if it was purple or if it was orange, they had to find two orange fruits and two orange vegetables. And it kind of makes it fun for them. It makes it a game. And then with the kids I also incorporated cooking with them so that they felt involved and invested in the foods. Like they would pick a recipe and we would make it together and I would explain to them the healthy ingredients and the differences what they do in their bodies. And honestly, tell kids the truth. So – they can handle it. Tell them the truth. I took – with the 7 year old, she was really upset because I was throwing away all these white bleached processed breads that they had in the house. And I sat her down and I took out a piece of my bread and a piece of her bread. And I said, “You know, what do you see in my bread?” And she was like, “I see all kinds of stuff in there, and nuts and seeds.” And I explained to her what those things do for her body and how they’re going to help her grow strong and healthy and live a really long time. And then I asked her what she saw in her bread and she said, “Nothing.” And I said, “Exactly. There’s nothing in here that’s good for you or that’s going to make you strong or healthy.” And then I said, “What color is your bread.” And she said, “White.” And I just leveled with her. I was like, “How do you think it gets that color?” And she said, “I don’t know.” And I said, “Have you ever watched mommy do the laundry?” And she said, “Yes.” And I said, “Have you seen her put bleach in the laundry?” And she said, “Yes.” And I said, “That’s what’s making your bread white.” And she was horrified and I was like, “So what do you think? You want to eat it?” And she was like, “No I never want to eat it again,” and we threw it away. Level with them. Tell them the truth. And, you know, don’t scare them like oh bleach is going to cause cancer and kill you, but tell them what’s in there. They’re super smart. They can wrap their heads around that. And then again, get them invested. Start a garden with them. Make it fun. Cut things into fun shapes and sizes and you can sneak it into – like I made brownies with these kids and my brownies had, you know, applesauce, yogurt and olive oil and like unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder instead of, you know, white sugar, white flour, tons and tons of butter. So you can also sneak healthy stuff into their favorite foods and you don’t even need to let them know. But make it fun for them, invest them, incorporate them, educate them in the process. And then when it comes to fitness stuff, you have to lead by example. It can’t be about – you can’t be a do what I say not what I do because that will just never happen. You your child’s primary role model. And when they see you putting your health first, they’re going to follow suit. Make it something you can do as a family, you know, with my Boston family we went – the mom and the daughter took dance classes together. We all went canoeing on the Charles River together. Make it something that you guys can do as a family where you’re healthy and active and find a sport that the kids love. You know, we’ve been basically utilizing resources in these communities. So one of our kids loved swimming and we got him on a swim team at the Y. Another one of our girls wanted to be a majorette. You know, she was 14. Another one of our boys wanted to be – wanted to try out for basketball. So find an activity that your kids can love that’s fun and social that they can enjoy, and then set the example yourself because you are their primary role model.