I always keep in mind reality TV isn’t really reality, so when I interviewed TV fitness trainer Jillian Michaels, I was pleasantly surprised at her passion for mental health.
We strive to share insights based on diverse experiences without stigma or shame. This is a powerful voice.
Before interviewing Jillian Michaels, I knew her as the forceful, larger-than-life personal trainer from the reality TV show “The Biggest Loser.” I had burned into my brain this tiny woman bounding around a gym and yelling at people to keep going when they clearly wanted to stop.
In reality (see what I did there?), I didn’t like her style very much on that show. As someone who once weighed 550 pounds, I related much more to the people she was training. I thought her technique seemed more harsh than helpful, and it made me uncomfortable. However, I work very hard not to judge a person based on their TV persona.
When she was pitched to the “Inside Mental Health” podcast, I was a little confused. We’re a mental health podcast, and she’s a physical trainer. As much I respected Michaels’ accomplishments and celebrity, I couldn’t have someone on the show just because of name recognition.
I was curious what mental health takeaways could be gained for our audience. After the meeting, I assumed that was the last I’d hear about it.
Spoiler alert: Michaels made it onto the podcast. So, what changed?
Michaels shared that she lives with depression, has taken medication for mental health issues, and has seen a psychiatrist.
She disclosed, without shame, that there were times in her life that were very difficult, her divorce being one example, and that she needed mental health care.
I pointed out that many people in her position would never admit that yoga and jogging won’t solve all mental health issues.
“Um, it’s obviously not the case. I think jogging and yoga can help things…,” Michaels says before reflecting on her harder personal moments. Then, she finished with an anecdote from Eckhart Tolle’s book “A New Earth,” sharing how that touched her.
“You know, there are times, I think, where we can feel ‘victims of the world,’ right? Like, it’s just us. And he was like, ‘It is not.’ [Tolle writes], ‘There might be a time in your life where your job is good, and your relationship is good, and your kids are good, and everything is just OK.’
” … But there are times where I’m like, my God, if it’s not this, it’s that; if it’s not that, it’s this. If it’s not my work, it’s my relationship falling apart. If it’s not that my kids are having a hard time, if it’s not that somebody in my family is sick… And that’s life.
“I don’t actually think life is meant to be just ‘do yoga and jogging and you’re going to be happy.’ I don’t think life is about being happy. I think happiness are fleeting moments, and that’s wonderful. But I think life is about having meaning …,” she emphasizes.
“I would encourage each and every person to look for the solution that works for them,” Michaels says.
She makes it clear that a healthy lifestyle includes more than just diet and exercise, and that’s an important message for people to hear — especially those who think that “trying harder” will solve all mental health issues.
We discussed the benefits of healthy living on our mental health, but Michaels’ message was that we set ourselves up to fail by not understanding why we are doing something.
I mentioned that people say they want to be healthy and lose weight, but that most of us don’t even understand what that means.
“Yeah, nobody does because it’s this sweeping generalization. You have to figure out how your life is going to improve in the ways that you really care about that motivate you to do the work and make the sacrifice.”
Michaels: Health starts by repeatedly asking ‘But why?’
She explained that people make the goal be the result, rather than asking themselves why they set the goal in the first place. She spoke about “finding the why” and gave examples, such as feeling more confident at work or having better romantic relationships.
Then she explains that we have to make a plan that takes into account where we are. She specifically used the very mental health-friendly phrase “meeting people where they’re at” when making a plan to accomplish lofty goals.
Half-jokingly, I mentioned that none of this would work for me because I’m “so old,” and she laughed. “Forty is nothing, literally nothing,” she said.
I replied, “But I feel so old.”
“You’ve eaten garbage for a really long time, and you haven’t exercised for a really long time,” Michaels reproved, “so it’s bad choice after bad choice after bad choice.”
Ouch. It made sense. She’s describing how everyone feels when they are stuck in a routine or trying to break a bad habit.
She continued, “it’s just about slowly making good choice after good choice or better choice after better choice. And then that trend reverses and over time gains forward momentum, right?”
But she did create a mobile app to help cultivate nutrition and fitness wellness.
I wish I had the space to tell you all about Michaels’ extensive knowledge of Nietzsche and Viktor Frankl and how their philosophical principles factor into her training methods and both motivate and inspire her personally.
I wish I had time in the final cut of the episode to include the 5 minutes where Michaels and I discussed Rick and Morty and joked that we’re going to start a podcast called “Inside Philosophy.”
Many funny and endearing moments had to be edited out because what remained was really to the point. As I said in the beginning, we’re a mental health podcast that’s privileged to crack open your favorite celebrities and top clinical experts to get to the meat of mental health.
Michaels is enthusiastic and confident, and her self-disclosure of her lived experience is a powerful testimony. As the interview wrapped up, I started to think to myself, maybe I could exercise a little more and make some healthier lifestyle choices.
And I’m a very tough sell.
Want to learn more from Jillian Michaels? Click the player below or visit the official episode page for “Jillian Michaels Talks the Intersection of Mental and Physical Health” Inside Mental Health Podcast episode.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe is the host of Healthline Media’s weekly podcast, “Inside Mental Health.” You can listen and learn more here.
Gabe can be found online at gabehoward.com.