Fad diets are with us now, and will always be with us, says health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels. This despite the fact that weight loss is a simple science: eat less, exercise more. The complicating factor when it comes to health and weight loss, says Michaels, is our emotions.
We tend to eat for emotional reasons — either as a coping mechanism, or to maintain relationships with certain people. For this reasons, individuals who are overweight may have valid reasons for being overweight — reasons that are more important to them, at least temporarily, than being physically healthy.
What Michaels experienced on the set of “The Biggest Loser,” as the show’s trainer to its contestants, is that people often poorly understood why they wanted to be healthy in the first place. You can only know why you want to be healthy when you confront the pain and difficulty of routine exercise. Michaels calls this “finding your ‘why’.”
To find your “why,” she recommends setting an alarm every hour on the hour (during waking hours), and notice what you’re doing in that moment and how it makes you feel. The goal is to identify which activities are rewarding, and which are taking life, energy, and enjoyment from you.
Jillian Michaels: People always want to sell something when it comes to weight loss and health, right. So they reinvent the wheel for that reason. And I’m sure you’ve seen a variety of fad diets whether it’s oh, you know, right now we’re going vegan. Wait, no, we’re going paleo. Wait, no, it’s 30-30-40 equal portions of everything. Wait a second, we can do everything but eat beans. It just, it always goes on and on and on. And the reality is that weight loss, weight maintenance is simple science. It’s eat less, move more. Food that you consume has calories in it. Calories are units of energy. Energy that does not get burned, gets stored as fat. Fat is stored energy. And then obviously use common sense with your food choices. We all know not to eat things in our food that is not food. Fake fat, fake flavor, fake sugar and so on. So in reality if it is this simple being healthy why do so many struggle with it? And that’s because people utilize food for a variety of emotional reasons. Whether it’s a coping mechanism or whether it’s affording them a deeper connection with another individual in their lives. And that’s what we have to get to the bottom of. And I remember somebody once said to me people are fat because they want to be fat. And I remember going what an a-hole you are. And the more I thought about it the more I realized it was true. The more I began to work with people who were overweight the more I began to see what it meant to them.
And it could have been a connection with a parent. It could have been a connection to grieving the loss of somebody and feeling like if you stop eating like this you’ve moved on with your life and you’re no longer connected to them. It could be a sense of control. It could be a defense mechanism against being vulnerable and getting hurt in relationships. But that is one of the reasons that losing weight or getting healthy is so difficult because it requires us to give up something that has been providing comfort and a defense against hurt for a very long time. It’s not because people are weak or stupid or lazy or genetically fat.
It’s funny I ask people a lot of times, right and if I was to ask you right now why is it that you want to be healthy. And I would always ask contestants on The Biggest Loser, first day right. And they would show up and they would get on the scale – because they would get on the scale before they ever had their first workout and they would be like I’m changing my life. I’m never going to see this number again. I’m changing the world. I’m changing my neighborhood, my school, my family, my partner, my so on and so forth, right. Five minutes into the first workout they’re rolling on the floor, they’re crawling for the door, they’re crying. They’re throwing up. And in that moment I was like okay, so now why did you come here? Why did you want to come to this place? This place is not easy. Being healthy is hard work. What is it? And they would say well I just want to be healthy. And I would go great, what does that mean to you? And then I would get like the Scooby Doo. It was ruff. And people don’t think about it. They really don’t know. If I was to ask you right now what does health look like in your life? What’s your answer? Is it I want to wear a two piece instead of a one piece at spring break because I’m 22. Or is it I want to see my grandchildren graduate from college because I’m 62. Or is it you know what? I want to have sex with the lights on. Which by the way I think is tremendously overrated but nevertheless it’s not dark all the time.
Whatever your motivation is that’s what’s critical. And it could be that you’re a new mom. It could be that you want to wear skinny jeans. It could be that you want to run a marathon. You need to think about what ways health will improve the quality of your life because I’m going to tell you right now that getting healthy usually is displeasurable. Most of us would rather be watching our favorite TV show than sweating it out at the gym. Most of us. Not all but most. Most of us would prefer pizza to grilled salmon. And so in order for these behaviors in the moment that are less than pleasurable to become manageable you’ve got to have perspective and a long-term goal that’s worth it. And we call that finding your why. There’s a great quote. If you have a why to live for you can tolerate the how. And the how is the work and the sacrifice associated with the goal. And so this is where you need to ask yourself some really powerful questions of what is it that I want for myself – in detail. What do I want for my future? How do I see this improving the quality of my life? And you might find in the beginning you draw a complete blank. And the reason for this is because so many of us live in the way that we think we should that we’ve forgotten what it is we really want.
So I have an exercise for you. I want you for the next two weeks to set your alarm on the hour every hour, waking hours only. I’m not a complete monster. And when it goes off I want you to ask yourself what you’re doing right now in the moment. And then subsequently how does it make you feel? And by teaching yourself to become present you’re better able to start identifying the things that you do want, that you are passionate about, and that will help you start to cultivate your why.