Jillian Michaels and the
Sages of Weight Loss
Sorting through the scores of philosophies on getting in shape can be daunting.
To help you find the approach that works for you, here’s a close-up look at a few
of the most popular fitness experts on the scene today.
"Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts,” Paul Simon once sang. It wouldn’t be a stretch to observe that the same can be said of fitness gurus. Consider Jack LaLanne and later Jane Fonda in their gut-crunching heydays. Clearly holding a leading spot among today’s sages of weight loss and fitness is Jillian Michaels, a media star whose sculpted body appears on television and scores of magazine covers, popular DVDs and bestselling books.
The onetime strength coach of “The Biggest Loser” wasn’t always so toned. Overweight as a child, Michaels found herself picked on and an outcast in school. That started to change when her mother enrolled her in martial arts classes at age 13. By the time she was ready to take her second-degree blue belt test a year later, she had lost 20 of 50 pounds she needed to lose. Though Michaels was on her way to better health and a slimmer figure, she was still the target of school bullies—until she broke two wooden boards with a martial arts kick.
“I walked into school the next day, and I’ll tell you no one messed with me—ever again,” Michaels said earlier this year at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “And it’s not because they knew, or would have cared” about the martial arts achievement. “It was because of the way I carried myself. It was because of the energy and the aura that I projected. I felt empowered. I had a new respect for myself. I realized at that time in my life that fitness was in fact transcendent.”
Emboldened, Michaels pursued her black belt and became more interested in fitness. An early hero was the tough, no-nonsense and sculpted character played by actress Linda Hamilton in the “Terminator” movies. After graduating at 17 because of where her birth date fell in the school calendar, Michaels was working out in the gym when someone asked her if she was a trainer. “I remember thinking, ‘I wonder how much that job pays.’ ‘Sure. Of course I’m a trainer. Yeah, I’ll train you.’”
Michaels’ mother gave her the $500 she needed to earn her American Council on Exercise fitness certification. After six years as a fitness trainer, she found herself diverted by a talent agency job but realized her heart wasn’t in it. She got a job at a sports medicine practice her friend was managing.
Her “ah-ha” moment came three months into the job when she got a call from a client. “She had a baby the year before, and I get a call from her and she’s in tears,” Michaels recalled. “She says, ‘I felt my hip bone for the first time in eight years.’ She’s crying. I was crying. I realized in that moment it was my calling. I knew it had always been. I loved doing this and knew it was what I was meant to do and where my heart was.”
To subscribe to Michaels’ fitness regimen is to have your psychological outlook as upended as your physique. Her latest book, Unlimited: How to Build an Exceptional Life (Crown Archetype), for example, is a nearly 250-page motivational attitude adjustment with tips on cultivating your passion, turning suffering into peace, wisdom and strength, and working through fear.
If there is a secret to Michaels’ ascent in the fitness world and her broad appeal, it is her energy, enthusiasm and penchant for communicating simply what others have turned into unnecessarily complex weight loss advice. “Think of your body as a car,” she says. “When you’re in drive, you’re actively losing weight. When you’re in neutral, you’re not gaining or losing. And when you’re in reverse, you’re going to be actively gaining weight. If you’re working out but you’re not eating right, or you’re eating right but you’re not working out, you’re probably going to be in neutral.
“A lot of people say, ‘I don’t understand this. I’ve cut my calories way back. I’m not losing any weight. What’s wrong with me?’ Well, because weight loss is an energy equation. It’s calories in versus calories out. And in order to burn more calories, you need to exercise. But a piece of pizza can be 300 to 500 calories. So one piece of pizza is going to equal maybe a half an hour or 40 minutes on the treadmill. Once you understand that math, you’ve got to be doing both. To actively lose weight, you have to be exercising and you have to be eating right and counting calories. Fat is nothing other than stored energy. That’s all it is. A calorie is a unit of energy. So when you consume too much food, even if it is healthy food, you’re still going to gain weight.”
Michaels was at the consumer electronics industry event extolling the benefits of technology in health and fitness. With the kind of accurate feedback given by electronics, people looking to get fit are equipped with tangible results that motivate and tell them, for example, precisely how many calories they need to burn and what foods to eat. Health-related apps that anyone can download on their smart phones, for instance, are ubiquitous, Michaels told the Las Vegas crowd.
“You can go and sit at lunch and figure out how many calories are in your lunch,” she says. “You can look up anything related to exercise. You can see a video. My app does it. I have an app that will show you 180 different exercises with a video on it. Or give you recipes. ‘Gosh, I really love grilled cheese. I hate giving it up. It sucks to diet.’ Okay, well there’s an app that will show you a recipe for a healthy grilled cheese. This kind of knowledge is going to provide people with the tools to make those changes to be successful. And when you see the results you feel capable and worthy of more, of having your goals come true.”
Michaels encourages people looking to make positive changes to view each failure as a new learning opportunity and to build on small successes. She says people can overcome the fear of the unknown that accompanies change by understanding that change is natural. “The reality is that the human condition is always evolving,” she says. “We’re always growing. That’s kind of the point—to grow and become more knowledgeable, wiser, better, faster, whatever it might be. To do that requires change.
“When you’re strong, you’re empowered and feeling strong and healthy,” she adds. “It transcends into every other facet of your life. You’re going to feel more confident at the office. You’re going to go and ask your boss for that promotion. You’re going to stand a little taller. You’re going to carry yourself differently. You’re going to feel more capable, not only of taking on things that are more physical, but taking on other challenges, because it is exactly that—it’s transcendent.”
John A. McDougall, MD
Loading up on starches to make you slim and trim? It’s not the typical diet protocol, as many people, dieting or not, avoid carbs like the plague. But bestselling author John McDougall, MD, in his newly released book, The Starch Solution, says the more starch the better when it comes to health and weight loss.
Rice, potatoes (both sweet and white), corn, wheat, oats, millet, you name it. According
to McDougall, these starches have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries. Add to that an abundance of fruits and vegetables, eliminating all meats and sweets, and he claims that you’ve got a recipe for success, not only eliminating the pounds, but also illness and disease while boosting energy levels.
“Various populations survived on starches,” McDougal explains, referring to the staple foods consumed by large successful populations, such as rice in Asia, millet in Africa and sweet potatoes in the Caribbean. “Only in last 50 to 100 years, people have switched to oil and animals,” he says. “We’re living off the wrong food.”
McDougall got his first glimpse at the success of a starch-based diet when he was working as a doctor in the 1970s at a sugar cane plantation in Hawaii. “I observed that the first generation lived on rice and vegetables, with a very small amount of meat, and they never had heart disease,” he explains. “The second generation ate more meat and was a little sicker, and the third generation was fat and sick.”
Inspired by the Hawaii findings, he has based much of his health and nutrition coaching on it, honing in on the starches with his latest book. And why no meat at all? It has to do with people’s natural lack of control. Just as an alcoholic needs to completely stop drinking, “people need clear boundaries. They can’t do a little bit, it needs to be black and white.” —Corinne Garcia
Joel Fuhrman, MD
Joel Fuhrman, MD coined the term “nutritarian,” referring to those following his diet plan in his New York Times bestselling book Eat to Live (Little, Brown). A nutritarian eats a diet rich in green and brightly colored vegetables and fruits, filled with essential cancer-fighting antioxidants and micronutrients. They limit what he calls addictive “toxic foods” that have a high-calorie, low-nutrition ratio. These include white flour and sugar, along with other processed foods. In the nutritarian diet, animal products are only 10% of a person’s daily caloric intake (200 calories based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet). When a nutritarian feels hungry, he or she fills up on fruits and veggies instead of chips and pretzels, which are low- nutrient foods that fuel overeating.
Following this formula, and the strict seven-day meal plan that he outlines in his book, Fuhrman guarantees rapid weight loss. And true to the name Eat to Live, this isn’t just a diet plan, but a new way of eating for life, and one he says can also lead to a disease-free, medicine-free lifestyle.
“High levels of micronutrients reduce the amount of cellular toxins and free radicals,” Fuhrman explains. “It’s about focusing on quality; you can’t tell people to eat less food, just better- quality food.”
Fuhrman’s approach to eating started off as purely health related. As a physician, he strongly believes that we don’t have to have current levels of heart attacks, cancer, strokes and dementia, along with other widespread diseases that are the result of lousy diets. He found that when his patients followed the Eat to Live diet plan, they were reversing diseases that had been with them for years. A secondary benefit just happened to be weight loss, with an average of 15 pounds in four weeks.
To ensure that people get enough nutrients, Fuhrman recommends vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, and iodine, as well as supplemental omega-3 fatty acids. —C.G.
Marla Heller, MS, RD
The original DASH Diet, first published as a report in 1998, had absolutely nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with lowering blood pressure without medicine. The eating plan, based on “real foods,” is heavy on the fruit and vegetable intake, with the addition of low-fat or non-fat dairy, lean meats and whole grains. Typically this diet lowers blood pressure in 14 days. The other side effect? Weight loss, anywhere from 10 to 35 pounds.
As a student, Marla Heller, MS, RD was introduced to the research-heavy DASH diet in a lab setting. Witnessing the unbelievable results, she decided to translate it into an easy-to-understand book, The DASH Diet Action Plan (Grand Central), which quickly turned into a New York Times bestseller and was ranked the #1 Best Diet Overall by U.S. News and World Report.
“The Dash Diet was developed by a huge group of physicians and dieticians,” Heller says. “I’m the communicator, trying to promote it, because it’s so important. I had to write a book to make it simple to follow.”
Their research showed that vegetarians typically had lower blood pressure, so the DASH group took the benefits of a vegetarian diet but incorporated healthy meats. Other studies looked at how people ate over long periods of time, and they found that those who ate in the DASH Diet fashion were less likely to have strokes, heart attacks, kidney stones, colon cancer and some types of breast cancer, among others.
The book outlines 28 days of meal plans. “A few of the days are bound to be perfect for you, and then you can base an eating plan on that,” Heller says. “It’s all about filling up on foods that are bulky, but not high in calories.”
Heller stresses that it’s not just about weight loss; the DASH is about sustaining a healthier lifestyle. “It’s about having a healthy diet that you can maintain for the long run so you can take advantage of the other health benefits that come along with it,” Heller says. —C.G.
Joy Bauer, MS, RD
Joy Bauer, MS, RD started The Joy Fit Club four years ago as a popular series on the TODAY show. Full of healthy eating tips and tasty, easy-to-make recipes, the “Club” aspect of this diet plan is an essential element. Dieters are encouraged by weight loss success stories, which add charm, motivation and camaraderie to the sometimes-lonely world of dieting.
“Every other week, we induct a new member into the Club,” Bauer explains. “Someone who has lost at least 100 pounds with diet and exercise alone, and The Joy Fit Club (Wiley) expands on their stories so readers can draw inspiration from their strategies.” The show provides a glimpse at how they coped day-to-day, what they ate, where they found support, how they got back on track when they slipped up and how they overcame challenges and plateaus, she says.
The outcome is different for everyone, but many see a dramatic drop on the scale during the first one to three weeks. The total amount of weight loss is based on the amount each person needs to lose, how much you were eating before, how much exercise you’re willing to commit to, your genetics, your height, your gender, and many other factors.
Once your body gets used to the plan, you can expect to lose about 8 to 10 pounds each month until you hit your goal weight.
Bauer is the founder and CEO of Joy Bauer Nutrition, she serves as the nutrition and health expert for the TODAY show as well as the exclusive nutritionist for the New York City Ballet, she’s the author of multiple New York Times bestselling books on diet and nutrition, and recently launched a new YouTube video series called “What The Heck Are You Eating?”
Bauer concentrates on making diet and weight loss programs smart, realistic and effective. Instead of a quick fix, The Joy Fit Club diet is a lifestyle shift. “In order to lose the weight and keep it off, you have to make permanent changes to your lifestyle and eating habits,” Bauer says. —C.G.