Winning by Losing

Drop the Weight, Change Your Life by Jillian Michaels

by Nikki Tranter

27 April 2006


Totally Worth It

“At the end of the day, these tips are nothing more than common-sense wisdom that I’ve gathered over the years as I’ve strived to maintain the best health and well-being possible. I know that some of the suggestions may sound thought- or time-consuming and generally inconvenient. But aren’t we here together in the first place because you want to look and feel great about yourself? Be conscientious and keep your eye on the prize. Remember that you’re totally worth it.”

How’s that for a South Beach antidote? No fads, no surefire guarantees, just sense, soul-searching, a whole lot of patience, and a gut load of sweat. It’s the Jillian Michaels way. If you’ve seen her as co-trainer (with Bob Harper) on the internationally successful, The Biggest Loser, you know well Michaels’ no-bullshit attitude to heath maintenance and weight loss: It’s hard, it sucks, but it’s necessary, and so are you. Michaels’ book, Winning By Losing: Drop the Weight, Change Your Life is an extension of her as-seen-on-TV approach and her general “eat less, move more” methodology. It’s a three-part educational manual about why we put on weight, how we can lose it, and the radical emotional changes successful health maintenance demands.

cover art

Winning By Losing

Jillian Michaels

Drop the Weight, Change Your Life


It’s direct, but it’s anything but simple. To best control our ever-changing bodies, Michaels believes we should know exactly how they work. The book is broken down into three section: Self, Science, and Sweat. “Self” informs the reader about goal-setting, personal rewards, recognizing emotional triggers that cause overeating, and generally, how to form healthier eating habits. “Science” and “Sweat” break down the mathematics behind weight gain, and the types and amounts of exercise required for tipping the scales in the weight loser’s favor. Simply, Michaels notes: the more calories that go in, the more burning required to take them off. Hardly brain surgery.

But Michaels takes this notion a step further by listing pages of low calorie recipes that substitute killer calorie items (marinades, flour, beef stock) with low-cal alternatives (lemon and spices, vanilla whey powder, bullion cubes). She explains why certain foods are better for weight loss than others, she preaches moderation, and reminds that not all fats are bad fats. She explodes weight-loss myths (gastric bypass surgery fails as often as it succeeds), and shines light on some simple exercise routines (jumping jacks are as effective at maintaining high heart rates as most expensive training equipment). Perhaps most helpfully, she explains just how to continue succeeding in weight loss and body strengthening as weight is dropped. In other words, the system continues into weight and health maintenance, which is revealed as (almost frighteningly) more effort than the initial loss. “Sweat”, further, contains 80 pages of exercises, each with photographic illustrations, and informative, comprehensive accompanying paragraphs outlining their individual purposes and target zones.

Each section is more than just explanatory. Michaels confronts and challenges her potential clients. Directly and immediately, she addresses the hardest part of shaping up: Who are you? What do you want? Why do you want it? She smashes impossible desires that target the physical—“You know those articles about how to get J.Lo’s toosh, Gwyneth’s arms, Brad Pitt’s rock-hard abs? Forget them! Even Cameron Diaz doesn’t look like Cameron Diaz.”—and digs into the heart of overeating. She wants you to admit your depressions, your anxieties, your fears, to find out exactly what it is that causes individual overeating. She’s not about looking hot (though, she does note, that’s a bonus); she’s about extending life.

Michaels wins her readers’ trust with clear, focused guidance in every paragraph, line, and thought. If you’re not ready, she says, go back and start over. If certain sections are proving difficult, revise those before it. Michaels recognizes weight loss can be a lonely, heartbreaking road. Her method is refreshing because it deliberately and aggressively counters late-night TV revolutions and the South Beach-Atkins-Scarsdale-No-Carbs-High-Carbs-Carmen Electra-Strip-Yourself-Thin health product glut. Michaels’ system rejects the now, now, now 5-Day Miracle Diet, Two-Week Jumpstart to Better You, Tae Bo Perfect Abs in Eight Minutes a Day deceit. Even her recipes take time to prepare. (She even heads a small section in “Self”: “Learning to Slow Down”.) Crazy, isn’t it, how easily fooled we are as perfection-seekers to be suckered into buying weight-loss products that play on the very reasons we overeat in the first place? We’re lazy, we’re depressed, we don’t want to work hard. And it continues: Teresa Tapp’s Fit and Fabulous in Fifteen Minutes is out this month; the brand-new Ultrametabolism promises “automatic weight loss”.

So tempting, right? Michaels won’t have a bar of it. Recently, on the Australian version of The Biggest Loser, the trainer supported a contestant’s two-year plan to get healthy. Imagine that diet book—“Lose Weight and Get Fit In Just 24 Months!” It’s gonna take that long? It might not have to, but if that’s your vision, so be it, and get the hell going.

Michaels probably isn’t the first diet author to tell these truths about weight loss, and her book probably isn’t the first to break down calorie control mathematically. But she’s certainly one of the few TV fitness gurus to treat her clients and her readers like real people with real lives requiring upfront counseling over shrewd, un-keep-able promises. Too, she’s the most in our faces, the most famous, and the most so-totally-now. She talks like your best pal (totally, man), and you just know she rocks out, what with her collection of Iron Maiden and Rolling Stones tees paraded nightly on her show. Michaels is the health guru for the MTV generation, with her healthy lifestyle as her own personal evidence that what she preaches, she practices. Her credentials are carved from life experience over academic research (Michaels studied martial arts for 17 years, and is certified by the National Endurance and Strength Training Association and the American Fitness Association of America). She looks healthy, she’s anything but super-slim, and her ferocity, her honesty, and her clear ability to discern and break down her clients’ varied anxieties is dead-on. Why else do the Loser contestants leave the show’s compound singing her praises? Not that she’s a cool chick with a cool program, but that she’s a life-changer. Again, with reference to Australia’s Biggest Loser—Michaels’ emotional steering of contestant Shane on the program was compelling, from leaping into his arms when he survived an elimination to stone-faced silence when he finally did succumb to the rules of the game (which Michaels has admitted to “hating”).

This compassion is just what makes her so desirable an authority. She connects. She does so on her show and she does so here. There’s very little instruction in Michaels’ book. Instead, she concentrates on making the reader aware that she knows the struggle prioritizing health in our lives, and provides guidance over lectures and lies. Her program works because it resists hyperbole. Perhaps it’s time for the truth, for the acknowledgement that two years is not an unlikely period of time for some to shed mad pounds. The truth as a selling tool—who would have thought?

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