The new year is upon us, and that means it’s time for resolutions! For most people, better health is at the top of that list. And we typically focus only on physical health – things like diet and exercise.
Join us as today’s guest, famed physical trainer Jillian Michaels, explains why mental health is just as important as physical health, and she helps us “find our why.” You may be able to get inspiration from this podcast, but it’s your why that will give you the motivation to keep going.
World renowned personal trainer, businesswoman, author and television personality (Biggest Loser) Jillian Michaels. She’s a health and wellness expert and creator of The Fitness App by Jillian Michaels. Keep up with her at @jillianmichaels.
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 makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome everyone, I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and calling into our show today, we have world-renowned personal trainer, businesswoman, author and television personality, Jillian Michaels. She’s a health and wellness expert and the creator of The Fitness App by Jillian Michaels. Ms. Michaels, welcome to the show!
Jillian Michaels: Well, thank you so much for having me.
Gabe Howard: Now you are one of the most famous personal trainers that I can think of, and now this is a mental health show, so a reasonable listener is going to think, All right, Gabe is just a huge fan, and he wants to interview Jillian Michaels because she is so awesome. But in actuality, this has nothing to do with mental health. Now, I want to assure my listeners that they’re only half right. I am excited to talk to you, but diet and exercise has so much to do with our mental health.
Jillian Michaels: Of course, so many different levels, right? First, you have biochemistry of healthy food and regular physical activity, I mean, that’s not a secret. But I also think that the psychological ramifications are significant because when we feel strong physically, it really transcends into every facet of our lives. We feel more resilient in our relationships, at our job, right? We feel more empowered to deal with failure or to face fears, because maybe you’ve been challenged physically in your workouts or in these physical activities you’ve been engaging in. Maybe you accomplish something in the gym that you didn’t ever think was possible. You know, maybe you did your first pushup on your hands and feet or your first pull up without assistance or you ran your first mile or whatever physical feat you didn’t think possible that you ended up achieving opens up an infinity of possibility in every area of your life because it’s kind of broken that story of who you think you are and what you think you deserve or what you think you’re capable of. And in addition, your health really is your number one wealth. It’s the platform that you build your entire life on top of. And when that’s solid, it gives you a really solid foundation to continue building every other facet of your life.
Gabe Howard: I think about my own personal life, I live with bipolar disorder, I have anxiety, I have, I have, I have mental illness. It’s difficult to manage that mental illness, but now I’m also middle aged. I don’t know how it happened. I’m going to turn 45 soon and now I’m starting to get physical issues. I used to have excellent physical health and poor mental health. We all go through this as we age, and that has to impact our mental health. What is that like as we get older? Because I watched one of your workout videos and I was exhausted, I was absolutely exhausted. I’m like, I can never, ever do that.
Jillian Michaels: Oh, Gabe, now, well, hold on. First of all, it is about meeting people where they’re at, right? So if somebody can just walk, there are just walking programs in the app. If somebody is an advanced athlete, there are head training and plyometrics and strength training, all kinds of crazy stuff and all kinds of beginner stuff. Because like everything in life, there’s a spectrum of where people begin and advance on their journey with anything, fitness in particular, right? So don’t be intimidated if you’re starting out by walking around the block with your dog. And the second piece of this is that a lot of people think that aging is this foregone conclusion, and it’s this slow descent into decrepitude, but that isn’t the case. You know, you talk to people who are like, Oh, you know, my knee, I’m just old now. It’s like, No, you were a college athlete who put tons of wear and tear on your joints and your recovery wasn’t managed, right, your nutrition probably wasn’t managed right. There were a host of things that weren’t managed right, but it’s never too late. You can take control over any aspect of your health at any point. And I think it’s really important that people know that.
Gabe Howard: I really like what you said there about how you can take over any aspect of your health at any point because as a mental health advocate, I’ve been saying that exact same thing literally for years. I was like, Listen, it doesn’t matter how long this has been going on, we’re looking toward the future. We’re not looking to the past. And yet, even though I believe that with every fiber of my being, the minute somebody says it about physical health, I’m like, Well, I’m old. I believe the word you used was decrepitude. How?
Jillian Michaels: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: Because I consider myself a very reasonable person. But yet I’m just like, I don’t know, maybe my time has passed. You know, I wasn’t into exercise when I was young, and now I’m legitimately going to say it, now I’m old. Now I’m old, so I can’t do it.
Jillian Michaels: Oh, god, that’s ridiculous. First of all, you’re not old, and second of all, the proof is in the pudding. It’s like saying that the Earth is flat. It’s not the earth is round. We’ve proved it. It’s been evidenced by myself and the scientists and doctors, far more educated than me, that individuals at any age can reclaim their health. I mean, there are people in their eighties that have climbed Everest and run marathons. You’re like, Well, they’re outliers. It’s like, No, they didn’t start jogging until they were in their 70s. You know, personally, individuals that I worked with on The Biggest Loser, I had 66-year-old winners, 70-year-old winners, women in menopause. And it wasn’t like, Oh, it was just the elimination game. No, the at home winners that got eliminated could be 66, could be 58. And nevertheless, even if they didn’t win the show, you would see people in their 70s that were contestants come back and look great. It’s irrefutable that if you take the right action steps, you can turn nearly anything around as soon as you choose to.
Gabe Howard: So let’s talk about those action steps, and let’s talk about this concept of as soon as you choose to, because choosing to do something is absolutely a mental health concept. What do they say? A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nobody wants to talk about contemplating that step. How do you do that? You know, for everybody listening, it’s like, All right. She’s starting to get me. All right, 70 year olds, 80 years old. Ok, I’m only 40, so I don’t know what I was complaining about, but.
Jillian Michaels: I mean, 40 is nothing, literally nothing, but.
Gabe Howard: I feel so old.
Jillian Michaels: I know it feels old because it’s the accumulation of bad decisions, right? So it’s like, well, you’ve eaten garbage for a really long time and you haven’t exercised for a really long time. So it’s bad choice after bad choice, after bad choice. And again, 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? Literally, a body in motion tends to stay in motion, figuratively and literally. But how do you do? It is a bit of the conundrum, right? The number one question I get is how do I get motivated? You know, motivation is something that has to come from inside of you. Inspiration is something that comes from outside of you. It’s a podcast you heard, it’s a book you read, it’s a show you watched on TV and you identified with the protagonist. Then you went, Oh my God, if they can do it, I can do it, right? But motivation is not the jumpstart to the battery. It’s what keeps the car moving on the road and that has to come from inside of you. So while inspiration can jumpstart the car, we’ve got to have something to keep it going. This really does come down to, as cliché as it’s become to say this, your why.
Jillian Michaels: And when I first started telling people that I was ripping it straight off of Nietzsche and Viktor Frankl, it’s like if you have the why to live for, you can tolerate the how and the how is the work and the sacrifice associated with the goal. So you really need to take time and think about what is my why? And you know, I used to ask contestants on The Biggest Loser as well as clients well before I was on The Biggest Loser. But The Biggest Loser is arguably one of the hardest things that I think I’ve ever put anyone through physically, right? You’re a personal training client, you would come to me once or twice a week for an hour, and it wasn’t that unpleasant. You’re on The Biggest Loser, you’re working out eight hours a day with me away from your family. It’s extremely unpleasant.
Gabe Howard: And all the TV cameras, right, you’re doing it so publicly.
Jillian Michaels: Oh, yeah.
Gabe Howard: Let’s not even forget about the psychological impact of everybody watching you. Any time I’ve done personal training, I’m like, Shut the door. Nobody knows I’m here.
Jillian Michaels: Oh, yeah. So think about, it’s very, very challenging, and I would say to those people like day one, right, why did you come here as they’re kind of like puking and rolling on the floor and crawling towards the door. It’s like, why are you here? What did you think was going to happen? And they kind of perk up for a second and they’re like, Hey, you know, I want to be healthy. And it’s like, What does that even mean? What does that mean to you? And no one had any clue. No one could answer the question on day one.
Gabe Howard: So much of this reminds me of sitting in on like a business class, or I’ll even use like an influencer example. You know, since we ruin everything. When, when, influencer was not a term, when I got started, I just said I wanted to be a speaker and everybody is like, OK, what do you want to do? And I was like, I want to be a speaker. And at first people were like, Oh, we’re so proud of Gabe. He wants to be a speaker. But then I, you know, I got away from my family
Jillian Michaels: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: And friends and they’re like, What does that even mean? I’m like, I want to talk into a microphone, and they’re like, about what? It’s like a psychic reading. . . Well, you know about living with bipolar disorder. And they’re like what? What are the takeaways for the audience? What do they get out of it? Why should they listen? And obviously, what got me to this place right here was being able to answer those questions. And it sounds like with a physical health journey with a, whether it’s a weight loss journey, getting healthier journey, a fighting aging or just moving more or being able to lift up your kids, your grandkids, your whomever or whatever. If you’re just like, Hey, I want to be healthy, look better and lose weight, it’s not going to get you there. But it sounds like that’s what myself. I’m going to use myself as a guinea pig. That’s exactly what I’m doing, Gabe, why do you want to exercise? So I can be healthier. I have no idea what that even means.
Jillian Michaels: Yeah. 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.
Gabe Howard: So now it’s all of my listeners are like, All right, all right, she’s starting to make sense. Ok? How do you help people find their why? People who are listening, what would you say to them when they say to you, Well, you know, Ms. Michaels, I just want to be healthier. I want to look better. I want to give a shit. How do you help them dial it in?
Jillian Michaels: You’re going to ask a bunch of questions. I mean, that’s what I would do to anybody I work with. Well, what do you see happening if you put in the work? What are you actually showing up here for? What is healthier look like and you’ve got to start them with like, well, uh. And it’s like, OK, did they come to you because they just had a heart attack? Like a lot of times, people come to you for a reason, and I’m not saying a heart attack, but some sort of rock bottom moment, some sort of like scared straight moment usually will bring people to the table and it’s like, OK, how did that feel? Terrifying, bad, scary. My children were cry. Who knows? All right. We never want that to happen again. Perfect. What’s the alternative look like? Ok, I have a sense of self control. I feel empowered. I’m sleeping at night because I’m not worried I’m going to orphan my kids. Like it could be that. It could be I’m uncomfortable having sex with my boyfriend. I’m insecure about my body. Ok, what does it feel like to feel good about it? Can you see that? What is your fantasy of feeling more comfortable? What does that look like for you? So it could be vanity. It could be health reasons. You’ve got to really do some soul searching, you know, did something scare you straight? How did that make you feel? Do you want to vow never to feel that way again? All right. Is it a sense of control? Ok? Is it feeling more confident at work, professionally, in your romantic relationships? Like, what is it that you want to do this for? How is your life going to improve? How are you going to feel if it’s 20 pounds lighter and you’ve gone from an eight to a four? How does that feel? Or 10 to a six? What does life look like? Are you more comfortable going out dancing with your friends or are you excited to meet your great grandchildren? I think you really have to start thinking about what it looks like in detail, how your life is going to improve and how it’s going to feel. But it requires asking yourself those questions and taking the time to do some soul searching.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with television personality and health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels. When you were talking, I thought, Oh my God, the cliche. Most people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. This applies so much because as you were talking, like, all of this makes perfect sense. You’re right, I never do this. Here is how Gabe Howard approaches his physical health. I don’t feel well. I’m going to run a marathon. Three days later, I’m eating a pizza. That’s it. I’ve just taken you through the entire process. And you’re right. I’ve never done any of those things. I’ve never considered a goal anything. I have considered my why before, and I’m proud of myself for doing that. And that did lead to my weight loss. So I want to let everybody know that I did lose a significant amount of weight. I was very proud and my why was to fit in a booth at a restaurant. That’s what it really came down to.
Jillian Michaels: Amazing. Perfect.
Gabe Howard: That was my why.
Jillian Michaels: I’ll take it.
Gabe Howard: Ms. Michaels, along all of those same lines, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about depression because depression makes it difficult to do anything. You can slot anything in here. It’s harder to do
Jillian Michaels: I know.
Gabe Howard: When you have depression. And we also know because of everything that you have just told us that physical activity helps alleviate depression. And that’s when we get stuck in this cycle. It’s harder to get started because of depression, but there is some symptom alleviation if we can get moving. Do you have any thoughts on
Jillian Michaels: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: On how to help people experiencing depression take those first steps? Or break it down in a way that they can get to that goal, get to that symptom relief and get to that success?
Jillian Michaels: Well, OK, first, let me say, obviously, I am not an expert in this, so whatever I say, I am saying purely from personal experience and opinion, right? So I just, you know, when I give parenting advice, I’m like, I am not a parenting expert. This is what I’m going through with my kids or what I’ve been through or what I’ve found works. So the first thing is, I know a tiny bit, just enough to be dangerous, right? Like, I know there’s situational depression, and then there’s chronic depression that becomes systemic, right? Biochemical. I know that situational depression can turn into chronic depression, in which case I think that there are many different solutions out there and there are different solutions for different people. I would encourage each and every person to look for the solution that works for them. If it is going to a psychiatrist, because I remember during my divorce, there was a lot going on for me. I mean, dude, I was having, I was really going through some dark shit and I just, I was, or before my divorce, I was just so unhappy and I couldn’t figure out like, how do I get out of this? I have two kids, you know, our whole lives, like I could not see my way out of it, but I was so, so unhappy. I told my shrink, I was like, Dude, I’m not. I’m not good. I’m not. I’m not mentally good. And he got me in to see a psychiatrist who referred me to a psychiatrist and the guy, you know, tried to hit me with the kitchen sink.
Jillian Michaels: I admit it. He tried to get me, hold on. There was, it was three things for I can’t even remember. There were three pills and I remember being like, Jesus, that’s a lot of pills. So he was like, Look, we’re just going to put a floor under you. I just want to put a floor under you right now, and then we can start to kind of taper this off and, and to make a very long story short for like, I guess, let’s say, six months, he had me on [deleted]. And I was only on a pediatric dose because it worked really well for me, but if I needed more, I would have taken it, zero judgment. As I started to feel better, I was able to find my way out of the relationship because I could function and I could think and I wasn’t so scared and I wasn’t so sad that it paralyzed me. And as I began to take the steps, things began to feel better. I needed the medication less and I was tapered off of it.
Jillian Michaels: So, while I would love it, if of course, you never needed those things. And yes, I know they have side effects, but I think you’ve got to try everything. If you are fundamentally, because depression becomes chemical, it’s like a spider web that you get stuck in and you can’t get out of. So it’s possible you might need something to break that chemical cycle so you can take the first step. And then that first step sort of begets itself and your brain chemistry stabilizes again. I am not a psychiatrist. I’m speaking just from personal experience. I would also say that your mindset, it has to become more painful living the way you’re living, than the work and the fear and the sacrifice associated with where you want to go. So if there is a rock bottom moment, you seize it, whether it’s the booth at the restaurant or the heart attack, or I don’t know what, you seize it and you take advantage of it and you give these horrible things a meaning, right? And it is that meaning that allows you to transmute your loss, suffering, pain and all the bad shit in the world into empathy, depth, wisdom, love, compassion.
Jillian Michaels: So you turn that thing around and you find, you create the silver lining. And another thing that I strongly recommend is you look at what you can manage and what you can control. People need a sense of control.
Gabe Howard: It really sounds like you understand that physical health and mental health are really all combined. They drive each other and that health is super important. I hate to ask this of you. Actually, I don’t. I love to ask this of you. Can you talk about that for a moment? Because so many people in your position never, ever want to say any of the stuff that you just said. They only want to talk about how jogging and yoga will fix everything.
Jillian Michaels: Uhm, it’s obviously not the case. I think jogging and yoga can help things, but the reality is that it was also, you know, in one of my like harder times. For some reason, I always have resonated. Eckhart Tolle has always resonated with me, another I hate to say, like pop culture icon now. But you know, years ago, when I read his book, “A New Earth,” it really spoke to me, and sometimes I watch his lectures on YouTube. And 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. He goes, 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. Like, it’s actually just OK, he goes, but that will be fleeting. Maybe you’ve noticed? And I cracked up laughing because 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, you know, I’m 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 like it. And that’s life. Like, I don’t actually think life is meant to be just do yoga and jogging and you’re going to be happy. Like, 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, not necessarily being happy because without these challenges, if you will, honestly, how would you evolve? How would you grow if you didn’t have these very, very difficult things in life that you were forced to overcome? And then being forced to overcome them, you know, you do grow stronger. You grow smarter. You do grow more resilient.
Gabe Howard: You are absolutely wonderful. Ms. Michaels, thank you so much for being here. I want to talk about your app before we end the podcast. Is it called The Fitness App by Jillian Michaels?
Gabe Howard: Tell us about it and where to find us. Give us. Give us the elevator pitch.
Jillian Michaels: Um, the elevator pitch is that it is a one stop shop, it’s one seamless platform for all your fitness. I want to wellness needs because there’s, uh, there’s also sleep, meditations and overall guided meditations. We’re going to be adding some breathwork stuff to the app. It’s a personalized platform. So whether it’s meal plans or meditations or fitness, no matter what you like, no matter what your fitness level, the app customizes your program based on all of the aforementioned. Given our talk today, I would say this, there’s free daily seven minute workouts. Download it and do those. Literally, you get a free daily seven minute workout every day. You can do it at home. You don’t need any equipment. If you want to try it, do a free trial and see all the stuff inside of it. If you don’t like it, cancel it. But right now, since we’re talking about like just getting started, I’d say there’s no barrier to entry. Download it for free and do the free daily workouts. If you like it, do the trial. If you really like it, sign up. Awesome. If you don’t, cancel it. You lose nothing.
Gabe Howard: Well, I think that’s awesome, and I’m assuming it’s available on both Android and Apple platforms.
Jillian Michaels: Absolutely.
Gabe Howard: Of course, it’s everywhere. Thank you so much for being here. I had a great time and I want to thank all of our listeners as well. My name is Gabe Howard, and of course, I’m the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award-winning public speaker who’s probably available for your next event. The book is on Amazon, because everything is on Amazon, or you can get a signed copy with free show swag and learn more about me over at gabehoward.com. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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