Why I Almost Lost it With Jillian
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
It was no big surprise that last week, more than 6 million viewers, hungry for drama, entertainment, and perhaps a little motivation to forever change their food and fitness behaviors, tuned in to watch Losing It With Jillian. On her new reality show, the famed Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels berates, belittles, breaks down, occasionally consoles, and ultimately builds up overweight and overburdened families.
The hard core, tough as nails Jillian—part trainer, part life coach—acts as a human “wake up call.” She moves in with a family that struggles with and is burdened by their weight and other problems that diminish their health and happiness. During her one-week stay, Jillian’s job is to help the families get to the core of the struggles that prevent them from eating well and maintaining an active lifestyle. Jillian provides them with the skills, tools, and motivation to help them “transform their lives from the inside out” once and for all.
When the families met Jillian for the first time, it seemed as though they were tremendous fans and had hoped and prayed she would descend upon them to help them out. But after only a few minutes, Jillian led the families through a grueling workout (especially grueling since exercise was not something most of the family members did with any regularity). In the first episode, when Agnes Mastropietro, an obese mother of two, pleaded with Jillian and said “I’m trying!” Jillian quickly retorted with “Don’t try…do!”; she also said “Trying means you’re planning to fail,” “I will ride you all week long,” and “I’m going to be your worst nightmare.”
In the second episode, during their very first workout together, Debra Jones, an obese single mother of two who has type 2 diabetes and whose husband tragically died 6 years ago, told Jillian that she couldn’t breathe. Jillian’s response was “You think I care? What I care about is them,” as she pointed to Debra’s two children, ages 12 and 10. She later told her “Get your ass up, you’ve rested enough.”
While most of the time, Jillian yells and screams—let’s face it, that’s what’s expected of “America’s Toughest Trainer,” especially during her rigorous boot camp-style workouts—there are some moments during which she can be somewhat endearing and motivating. She repeatedly told the families that they needed to believe they deserved and were worthy of living a healthful life. She also made it clear that to live a healthful life takes a lot of work, isn’t easy, and takes much longer than one week.
Another highlight for me was when the families were introduced and encouraged to participate in enjoyable family activities that were outside the walls of a gym. I also appreciated the fact that Jillian encouraged the families to fill their grocery carts with more healthful foods, and to learn to cook and prepare the foods they love more healthfully and as a family.
Although both of the first two episodes ended on high notes—the family members all lost weight and were able to accomplish what some would say miraculous feats—for example, Debra Jones ran her first 5 k after only 6 weeks of meeting Jillian—overall I found the show to be predictable and highly scripted. Ratings for the second episode fell by 19 percent—does that mean Americans are tired of being berated into making permanent lifestyle change? Who knows.
But I firmly believe—not only as a registered dietitian but as a mother of two, and a daughter of a once obese mother (who successfully lost and kept off more than 100 pounds), and as someone who was overweight as a teen and young adult who has lost and kept off more than 30 pounds in a slow, steady, healthful way—that change can come to a struggling overweight family with a much more positive approach.
If you or your family struggle with your weight, here are some of my top tips—they may sound like small, insignificant changes compared to those endorsed and promoted by Michaels’ Losing It; but together, they can help you ease into and maintain your new and improved, more healthful life. My tips will minimize your risk for injury and help you stay motivated too:
- Have more frequent family meals.
Even three to four family meals per week are associated with health benefits such as improved overall nutrient intake, lowered risk for disordered eating patterns among teens, and lower risk for substance use (such as alcohol).
- Take more time for active family outings.
Even walking as a family to school, after family meals, or on weekends can burn calories and provide good (and fun) together time.
- Set up your kitchen and eating areas to support healthful habits.
Keep healthful foods you want to consume more of accessible and attractively presented (like a pretty fruit bowl on the counter top or veggie bowl in the fridge). Fill your fridge and pantry with foods from the key food groups you want to consume more of including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein (including lean meats, fish, eggs, and beans, nuts, and seeds), and low fat dairy foods.
- Plan your treats.
Family members should keep only one or two of their favorite treats (that don’t come from the basic healthful food groups) in the house at any given time—or if they are too much of a temptation, they should only purchase single serve portions to have, when they plan them, once in a while. If you can keep your treats on hand (without feeling like you’re going to overeat them), keep them out of sight—for example, on a high shelf behind closed doors, and have a single serving (about 100 to 150 calories)—and enjoy it—but only when you’ve planned for it.
- Set small, realistic, and achievable goals, one at a time.
Having breakfast every day, having a few less bites at each meal, eating one more piece of fruit or cup of veggies each day, running one mile, or walking an extra ten blocks all count.
What would Jillian have to say to your family?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips, Feed Your Family Right!, and So What Can I Eat?!. She is also a past national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com, and www.nutritionatyourfingertips.com. Follow Elisa on Twitter and Elisa on Facebook.