Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jillian Michaels says I'm not healthy

"Does this dress make my cholesterol look high?"

I wasn't going to write about this, but it has been rattling around in my head for a while and I think it's better to write about it so I can stop thinking about it.

In a recent episode of her podcast called "Fat Shaming," The Jillian spoke about the self-acceptance movement on social media.  She seemed to go back and forth on the idea of whether she supported it or didn't.  On the one hand, she agreed that we all need to be proud of ourselves and love our bodies in order to affect positive changes in our lives, but she seemed to get stuck on numbers.

She talked about Meghan Tonjes's fight with Instagram, supporting Meghan and saying "she has a great butt." She said she thought Meghan was a size 14 -- I would guess from her photos that she might be a bigger size than that, but I think that Jillian was right, she does have a great butt.

At the same time, Jillian said she'd like to post an inspirational story from this movement, but she hasn't found one to post yet that is "healthy."
"I just want to say, the message is, yes, love yourself no matter where you are at. You are a valuable human being. You are a powerful human being. You are a lovable human being. I don't care what size you are, I don't care how old you are. But, what I can't cosign is people saying it's okay to be unhealthy. . . I can never, and I will never put a stamp of approval on people damaging their health. And I've seen many healthy girls in size 8s! Size 10s! I don't generally see it in 12s, 14s, I have yet to see it."
"How's my blood pressure, J?"
What is unhealthy? She at first talked about things you would learn at the doctor's office: Cholesterol, blood pressure, hormones.  But she also talked about clothing sizes, and looking at pictures on the Internet. I'm not sure how you can diagnose hormonal problems, blood pressure, blood sugar, etc., from looking at a photo.  But if that's possible, instead of going to the doctor's office next time, I'll just send a selfie to Jillian.

I'm being a little facetious here. I'm a Jillian Michaels fan and I always will be -- she's real, she tells it like she sees it, and she isn't afraid to admit when she's made a mistake.  I think she has made one here, but I don't know if she will understand that she has.

First of all, I have seen Jillian in person, and she is teeny-tiny. She probably would be very overweight for her frame if she were wearing a size 12 or 14.  If she is thinking about herself and how she would feel if she were that much larger, I can see where she would project bad health. But a typical plus size model is much taller and built on a larger scale than Jillian.  It is possible to carry extra weight and have great blood pressure and blood sugar levels. I should know.

Jillian, presumably, can't diagnose these things from a photograph, so she is talking about looking healthy, not actual physical health. I wish that she would just admit that, but confusing weight and health is so common that it's hard to blame her. I do it too. I remember running into an old college friend and congratulating him on how healthy he looked (because he was visibly at least 50 pounds thinner than he was in college) and he had just gotten over a very serious illness.

Health is not an on/off variable anyway, and it isn't completely under our control. There are so many parts to it. It's not easy to measure.  You can have great numbers and still have a heart attack a few weeks later (I know people this has happened to).  You can be physically fit and still get cancer.

I'm a little sensitive about this because I grew up in an extended family that put a lot of emphasis on looks and weight, and never really talked about health. I had several relatives who were put on "diet drugs" by doctors in the 70s, which turned out to just be amphetamines.  Another relative got a lot of praise for how good she looked while she had an eating disorder.  Putting the emphasis in the wrong place can be very destructive. It can put a lot of pressure on someone who is otherwise healthy and carrying extra weight, and worse, it can give a false sense of security to the thin and unhealthy.

I get what Jillian is saying -- love yourself as you are but continue to work to improve. She has taken this to heart herself with her "Project Awesome," so I think it's fair for her to ask the same of the rest of us.

I would love to be a size 8/10 and qualify for "healthy" status. Until then, I'm doing what I can.  In this "unhealthy" size 12/14 body, I ran and biked yesterday and did yoga. I'm planning to swim around this lake tonight.

I can't instantly make myself thinner, but I can keep taking care of the body I have. I think Jillian would probably approve.


  1. We all have different skeletons, so the idea of size alone indicating anything is crazy. I have a friend who is 5 ft 2 and a neice who is 6 ft even. There is no way that size 12 would be equal on the two of them, for example. It's an extreme example, but makes my point I think. I think I'm leaning toward "love the body you're living in" and simply strive to stay healthy.

  2. This kind of thing frustrates me so much. Here she is, an "expert" with SO MUCH attention paid to her opinion, and she's supporting a scientifically INaccurate system of thought that how you look can tell someone anything at all about how well or poorly your body works. I'm overweight, yes. And all of my numbers are nearly perfect. Meanwhile, an acquaintance is small and thin, and probably wears an 8 on her "fat" days. She looks the part to perfection. She's also a meth addict. So... Jillian would look at our photos and mark ME the more unhealthy of the two of us. It's bull.

    1. It's no surprise that people will do desperately unhealthy things to lose weight, is it?

  3. Well said, Jen... that segment bothered me too. Side note, dang you rock that dress!

    1. Thanks, I wish I had bought that dress!

  4. She might be thinking about stress and strain of extra weight on joints (and not just blood work type health). My knees were so bad with extra weight. It was a vicious cycle that kept me down, eating too much, and not moving enough.

    To be honest it makes me a little crazy to hear people talking about how great their blood work is but then tearing apart their body carrying around 20-50 lbs of fat. Especially if they are doing any impact at all. That is why I am strongly in favor of swimming. . .

    She also might be thinking of secondary conditions that do not always show in blood work. Many long term maintainers are pleasantly surprised when they get all the weight off and REALLY clean up the quality of their food that things like acne, migraines, inflammation, GI, female issues (what they thought was menopause), etc are G-O-N-E.

    Those who think maintainers are too strict in what they eat and will not eat, have to really think about that. It is very powerful to have lived with chronic pain and then discover it is totally controllable (without meds).

    1. Except that joint strain isn't true for everyone either. I'm overweight. I regularly see my doctor. I've even had x-rays done to determine joint health and potential bone impact and I'm doing just fine. I think it's also important to distinguish that many if not all of the positive effects of weight loss are directly tied to the healthy habits being adopted - in other words, if that same person adopted those same healthy habits but happened to not lose weight, they'd likely still see the same health benefits, as a lot of research shows that your habits have more to do with long term health than does your body weight.

    2. I see a LOT of injuries in weight loss blog land. A lot. I would add these are usually repeat injuries. The person just gets over one thing and it is another.

      My perspective might be different because I am 53. Not talking about injuries to myself, I am super careful. But I am sure my perspective on lives in general is different.

      I am at low weight. I keep at lower end of BMI and I personally avoid impact. Will not run risk of dealing with injuries. So, I think it is understandable that I cringe over what I see people doing to themselves (lower backs, ankles, feet, knees, hips) repeatedly. I live very proactive/preventive in general.

    3. Given some of the workouts I have seen Jillian put 300-pound contestants through, it seems unlikely that she was worried about impact. Listen to the podcast yourself and see what you think, but I think she is mostly equating a particular aesthetic with health. I like and respect her, I just think this is a blind spot for her and wanted to inject a little humor to point that out.

      Your point on joint health is definitely something I think about -- I had already planned a post to talk about my own issues and what I'm doing to work on them. But in principle, I agree that if I had less weight on my joints, that would be a good thing -- working on it is just a slow process for me, and in the meantime, I feel a little resentful that thin people somehow get this "healthy" label no matter what their habits or actual health.

    4. We have been talking a lot about that at our house because middle's boy lived on fish sticks, chicken mcnuggets, fries, minute rice made with massive salt and butter, cheap hamburgers with white bun, peanut butter on white/cheap bread, beer. Has never had blood work done. Thought he was OK because he is not fat. He is not thin, just not fat. He had no concept that he needed to clean up his food act. He is here a lot. Amazing strides. Mostly it is a slow process of maturing up his taste buds, getting them accustomed to veggies, food without salt and butter, baked not fried, home cooked.

    5. I love this bit from Ragen Chastain, who sums up my opinions better than I can: "In general I think that a diagnosis of “fat” is just lazy medicine. Anytime someone tells you that weight loss is the “solution” to your problem, I would suggest that you ask if thin people have the problem that you do. If they do, then ask how they are treated. Every weight loss method ever tested scientifically has a success rate of 5% or less, so prescribing weight loss as if it’s a solution that works isn’t just lazy, it’s also medically unethical without a disclaimer explaining that it’s unsuccessful 95% of the time and also that they have no idea whether or not it will solve the issue, because they have no idea if it caused the issue. So if you are dealing with joint pain, and even if you are choosing to attempt weight loss as a solution, I highly suggest looking into other options that might make you feel better on the way. It may be that you need to strengthen the supporting muscles, or that your movement patterns have lead to imbalance and so you need to stretch the supporting muscles. Maybe a bit of both. Regardless, when joint pain is the problem, weight loss is not the only solution." (from http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/my-joints-my-fat-and-me/)

    6. I appreciate the link! I am actually working a program to deal with the mechanical problems that have been contributing to my hamstring issues -- that is what I will be writing about tomorrow.

  5. Um what?

    I know Jillian is like pixie-sized in terms of height. I, on the other hand AM NOT. I'm 5'10". When my body fits into size 8 clothes, I look emaciated. The last time I was a size 8 I was in stressed-out/grief mode and my friends worried that I had developed an eating disorder. I weighed 150 pounds.

    I look good at 10, I look good at 12. I looked good at 14, but didn't feel my best. At 10, 12, and 14 I AM healthy! I eat well, exercise regularly. All of my medical tests--like cholesterol, etc.--are in the middle of the healthy range. I don't have high blood pressure, diabetes type 2, or any other potentially life-style type diseases.

    No, you can't bounce a quarter off my ass, and yes, I've got a little fluff around the middle. But by any measure you have, I'm healthy!

    By the way, there is no "strain" on my joints for carrying around a relatively insignificant amount of higher-than-Jillian-approved, but within healthy ranges on most weight charts (I'm fluctuating around 176 pounds), and my joints are all healthy, functional, and disease-and-damage-free. I'm a runner, I do HIIT, I do yoga, and have had no problems.

    My body has to weigh more to have muscle on it. My body is going to weigh more because I'm tall and have a very study skeleton (there's no way I'd ever make it as a fashion model just because my shoulders and hips are too broad). I don't meet that aesthetic "look" but I'm healthier than MANY people who do.

    1. Exactly my point. I think Jillian meant well, but she went off the rails when she set an arbitrary number limit on "healthy." We all have our weight/size where we feel our best. That range is different for every person. I'm not saying weight is completely unimportant, I am just saying that there is no one standard that fits everyone. And labeling people as "unhealthy" because of their size and ignoring behavior is not helpful.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07