Get Inspired: It's Good For You

BlogHer Original Post

Whether you're single, married, or somewhere in-between, there are a lot of women out there who want to take care of their bodies. One woman who has succeeded in doing that is fitness expert Jillian Michaels. She spoke at an AOL Body-sponsored lunch event at last week's BlogHer '07, where she led a diet and fitness Q&A session. I put my name on the list the day before the event because I recognized her name; I thought it might be an interesting lunch diversion in-between the other sessions I would be attending. How was I to know it would end up being one of my favorite things about the conference?

Part of the reason I liked it so much is because I've recently started working out, and Jillian is a great inspiration. She answered questions about fitness, eating, and body image, with a little bit of relationship advice mixed in. Even though the talk wasn't specifically about blogging, many of the ladies in attendance write about health and body issues, or have struggled in some way with their weight and incorporate that into their writing. I was coming from a different point of view -- my struggles have been with having not enough body weight, and I've recently started a strength training and cardio routine to focus on being healthy, not just skinny -- but there were other women in the audience who had been in circumstances similar to mine, so the questions were still relevant.

Jillian has been a trainer for several seasons on NBC's The Biggest Loser. I remember seeing her on the show during the first season, but I haven't watched it since then (not because of the program itself; I'm just not a big TV fan). Due to her husky voice and confident personality (not to mention her boot camp instructor-like yelling) she can come across as larger than life. In person, though -- especially in an off-camera, small group, all-female environment -- she seemed much more down to earth and "normal." And also short. Like 5 ft tall short (I'm 5'9").

But not only was she normal, she was nice. A lunch session that was supposed to end at an hour and fifteen minutes lasted over two hours. She kept on talking and answering questions, and most of the people in our small group stayed right where they were instead of going to the next scheduled conference session. If you're already getting good information, why go somewhere else?

What I liked the most about Jillian was her honesty, which I found very inspiring. She talked openly about her body insecurities, her struggles with self-image, and her issues with food. At one point she mentioned that we often look at other people and think they must really have it going on, but those seemingly "perfect" people have the same insecurities and issues as everyone else. She has to stick to a very restrictive eating plan in order to look the way she does. When she goes to a restaurant, she automatically gets the waiter to box up half of her meal before he puts it on the table. If she has food in the house that she doesn't want to eat, she destroys it in some way (by pouring salt or ketchup all over it) before throwing it in the trash so she won't be tempted to go after it. (Remember that Sex and the City episode where Miranda eats chocolate cake out of the garbage can?). She said she used to have a former boyfriend lock up her stash of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and ration out only one per day, because otherwise she'd go crazy with them (that's actually a good tip: if it's not there, you can't eat it!).

One thing she said that surprised me (because she's a well-known personal trainer with many fitness certifications), was there's never a day when she's working out that she tells herself, "I love this." But she does it because she likes the results, and because she likes working with and inspiring other people, so it's personally fulfilling for her. When people ask her how they can find time to work out when they lead such busy lives, she answers, "You have to decide if you're worth it."

I wasn't the only one who found her talk inspirational. When I started looking for posts, I found other bloggers who had attended the session and have already written about it. Because we were in such a small group, it was interesting to read the posts and actually recognize the women from the pictures on their blogs.

One of the women in attendance was Carmen (the only woman in the group I'd recognized), who I met for the first time at the conference last week. She has six children and lost 75 pounds between BlogHer '06 and BlogHer '07. Now that's inspirational. This is what Carmen had to say:

Meeting with Jillian Michaels was life changing, not just for me but for others. It helped me to crystallize some things I'd been thinking for a while, and set my mind on some others. She really resonated with me in her philosophy that it's not moderation, but balance.

Amen. AMEN, I say to you. Moderation is a good word, but I really want to make this a LIFESTYLE change, and NOT a diet. Diet to me has ugly connotations - it designates a beginning and an end. If you have an END to a diet, what's to stop you from gaining the weight back? This has to be a way that you can see yourself living for the next 50/60/90 years. Can you drink a shake for breakfast and lunch and have a moderate dinner? Sure, for a time, you can. What happens when the shakes run out, or you get sick to death of them, or you go out to eat or to a conference or break your leg? [...]

One other thought that was brought home to me? You can't lose the weight for your kids, your husband, or $500. It has to be FOR YOU. Sure, it's a bonus to be healthier for your family, or to win a bet. You've got to do it because you want to, because it will make you happier and more confident. Then and only then, will it click.

Kelly:

Jillian was very, very great, being candid about the show and fitness and even bringing some people to tears (really) with her straight-up, funny, and badass style. [...]

[Jillian said:] Moderation is crap. Balance is where it’s at. She said it better, but I second that emotion. You gotta have time for everything you love, and even if you go all out in something it’s fine as long as you that overall balance. For an obsessive like me, that was magic. See: cake. [...]

-She also really got to the heart of it with people, asking them why they wanna lose weight, moving past the bogus reasons and into the painful stuff. Even anti-feelings me got behind it. She also made it clear: if your intimates can’t support you even with direct requests and some real truthiness, it might be time to let them go. Sure ’nuff.

Sassafrass:

Jillian calls herself a "begrudging fitness guru" because she grew up a chubbers kid and hated working out. She found a physical and emotional outlet in martial arts and credits that with keeping her away from smoking and other teenage evils/delights that (ahem) I absolutely no nothing about.

She confided that she abhors running and that "there's nothing more boring than training celebrities." She also told me that she abhors running (holla!) and that she's not giddy with exercise love each time she steps in the gym. Instead, she does it for the way she feels when she's done (I totally agree that is the sweet spot).

In some strange way, doesn't it feel good to know that a fitness guru is hating her way through arms day or spin class? It helps me.

She also was pretty straightforward about the process being ongoing. Friends, that means that this road to wellness never ends.And if we'd all put down the cabbage diet pamphlet for a second, I think we'd all have to agree. [...]

Her investment was obvious when women talked, spilled their challenges and heartaches in losing and gaining weight, in getting their husbands on board, in losing friends along the way, in struggling to say that they are worth it. She leaned in, fixed her eyes on the person talking, nodded her head, gave hugs, handed out her email, took care and took time with each woman. It was so connecting, it was almost startling.

JessiferSeabs:

Next up -- lunch... with Jillian Michaels. This is the part where I start to get overwhelmed, because I don't really know how to convey how meaningful this experience was to me. [...] On The Biggest Loser, they kinda cast her as the mean trainer and Bob as the nice one -- but in real life, she's not like that AT ALL. She is warm and funny and generous and humble, and having an opportunity to listen to her talk about fitness and weight loss was a treat.

Jen:

In the real world, [Jillian] said, people need to find a support system first, and tell their cheering section exactly what kind of support they want. After educating themselves a little on exercise and nutrition, wanna-be losers should make sure to start slowly with activity, but they should start right away. "Just go for a walk, get outside, find things you like." If they don't love exercise, they shouldn't be surprised, Jillian said, because "there's never a moment when I'm lifting a weight or doing a push-up where I think I love this! But I love the results." The first step for many people, she said, is "just not moving backwards" -- once they stop gaining, they can start the weight-loss process and get more fit.

One woman asked about her husband, who is reluctant to try to lose weight and says, "maybe I'm just meant to be heavy." Jillian said, "A lot of times, people hide behind the weight because it allows them to hide from life." They're afraid of failing, or that they won't be able to live up to the new expectations that people might have for them once they lose the weight. "Successful people fail all the time," she said. "If you're not failing, you're not really living. Being successful is a matter of attrition," succeeding just a little more often than you fail.

Jillian knows that many people, especially moms, think it's selfish to devote so much time to meal preparation and planning and exercise. "Your health is the platform on which you build your life," she said. For some of the people she helps, it may be a question of spending a couple of hours a day on fitness versus having their time with their children cut short by early death or chronic diseases. "What is it you want for yourself?" she asks. She suggests that people write out what they hope to accomplish from weight loss, whether it's having more energy to play with their kids or looking better in a bathing suit. During the tough times, they can refer back to those goals to remind themselves that the effort is worth it. [...]

Jillian's final weight loss advice? "Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bullshit."

Delphine:

She didn't tell us anything I didn't already know, move more, incorporate calories and do extra work outs when you want to splurge. Count calories, stay away from fad diets and get started - today! I put my fork down with some salad still on my plate! I felt like running a few laps and would have loved her to lead us in group exercise - hey there's and idea for the next conference! The Grand Ballroom was big enough to run laps in. [...]

Jillian was totally different from what I was expecting from her on camera persona. Jillian convinced me that she has the same struggles with weight, is not always so sure of herself and that she struggles to exercise. She even worried about us seeing her non-existent "muffin top" and readjusted herself - HA!

Shauna:

She also talked a lot about the word balance. This was the big key to her approach. You have to find a way to juggle all the variables in your life so that being healthy is both sustainable and enjoyable. I remember a time when it seemed bloody impossible to me that it really could be that simple. But if you're willing to take the time to figure out what works for you, and do what you can feasibly stick to instead of driving yourself mad with unrealistic expectations or someone's elses notions that you must do X exercise Y times a week and eat Z... then suddenly everything really does slot into place. And you just end up healthier, on your own terms and your own pace, without so much angst and stress.

She also talked about how many people have an "all or nothing" approach to fitness and weight loss - if you're a perfectionist it can really paralyse your efforts. She said something like, "Just say your car has one flat tyre, would you go crazy and slash the other three?" No, you would just fix the one tyre then move on and start a new day...

One thing she said resonated with me like a brick to the noggin - "Successful people fail all the time". Nobody gets anywhere interesting without screwing up royally along the way. That sang to me in so many arenas, not just the fitness stuff. "Success is about attrition," Ms Jillian concluded, and I wholeheartedly agree. Just dig in, get your claws dirty and hang in there for the long haul, baby! Even when everything goes stinky. Especially when everything goes stinky.

I happen to think this is a lot of inspiration coming from meeting one tiny little powerhouse of a woman. How great must it be to have such a positive influence on people?

Contributing editor Zandria also blogs at Keep Up With Me.

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