Does Jillian Michaels Know What Fat is all About?

Physical trainer Jillian Michaels became a household name when the reality weight-loss show The Biggest Loser hit the airwaves, and now she’s adding to her resume with the new NBC show Losing It With Jillian, which debuts tonite.

Each week on Loser, viewers tune in to watch Michaels whip “fatties” into shape; in her new show she’ll help families “transform their lives inside and out.” She recently did an interview with Time magazine in which she was asked, “Is obesity about emotional trauma, bad genes or poor habits? Michaels responded:

You can be predisposed genetically, but it’s not a sentence. I’m genetically predisposed, but I manage my weight. The root of obesity, though, is usually emotional. The poor habits are a symptom of a deeper emotional issue.

Right, and of course she is all about helping the poor “fatties” by participating in a show that has proven to be unhealthy and dangerous.

“Whether it’s gallbladder disease, hair falling out, skin getting dry,” said Karen Kovach, the chief scientific officer at Weight Watchers, “the more rapid the weight loss, the greater the risk.” She added: “You get above a kilogram a week, the risk really shoots up.” The Biggest Loser promotes weight loss at any cost, thus leaving its contestants emotionally vulnerable. The problem is not the weight, but people like Michaels who, under the guise of helping, support the idea that fat people are less than.

Season 1 winner Ryan Benson discussed the drastic measures he took on this MySpace blog:

I wanted to win so bad that the last ten days before the final weigh-in I didn’t eat one piece of solid food! If you’ve heard of “The Master Cleanse” that’s what I did. Its basically drinking lemonade made with water, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, pure maple syrup and cayenne pepper. The rules of the show said we couldn’t use any weight-loss drugs; well I didn’t take any drugs, I just starved myself! Twenty-four hours before the final weigh-in I stopped putting ANYTHING in my body, liquid or solid, then I started using some old high school wrestling tricks. I wore a rubber suit while jogging on the treadmill, and then spent a lot of time in the steam room. In the final 24 hours I probably dropped 10-13 lbs in just pure water weight. By the time of the final weigh-in I was peeing blood.”

Season 3 contestant Kai Hibbard also blogged about the risky measures she took for the finale. TheNew York Times reports:

She recently wrote on a blog that in the two weeks before the finale she severely dehydrated herself using asparagus (a diuretic), colonics and six-hour stretches of hopping in and out of a sauna. She lost 19 pounds, which as she joked, rebounded to her rear end almost immediately.

Considering that participation in The Biggest Loser is extremely risky, I fail to see how anything Jillian Michaels has to say about fat or weight loss is the least bit relevant. This woman is not really concerned, despite the fact that her inner-fat-child may be copiously weeping. She makes her living exploiting the self-loathing that many fat people negotiate the world with due to constant shaming.

Not every fat person is walking around with an eating disorder. The two biggest factors in weight are DNA and illness/disability. The latter is often ignored because it props up the myth that if one just does the right thing, health is a lifelong guarantee. People that are fat because of medications they take, lack of mobility or illness/disability are not emotionally sad and eating themselves into oblivion. I know this firsthand because I am fat and disabled. Despite the occasional craving for chocolate, my diet is healthy and balanced.

Jillian Michaels cannot afford to be honest about fat. She cannot afford to acknowledge connections like disability and fat, because to do so would conflict with the hateful message she promotes on the show. She is no different than a snake oil salesperson, selling people cures for illnesses they don’t even have. It is much healthier for people to maintain their weight and exercise moderately than to participate in the crash diet/exercise program she facilitates on The Biggest Loser.

It saddens me to know millions of people are tuning in every week, buying into the ridiculous notion that if they were only strong enough to exercise until they threw up, while tolerating international humiliation for being fat, they too could achieve an unrealistic body weight that is unsustainable. The only problem with fat people is that we live in a world that stigmatizes fat. The biggest losers are not the contestants but the staff that supports a dangerous diet for a quick buck.

Cross-posted from Womanist Musings

Above: Cover- Jillian on Health Magazine. Photo Courtesy of Rockymountainhigh.


  1. I agree completely with this article. “The Biggest Loser” simply puts the contestants up for shame and humiliation, allowing the rest of us to feel better: “at least I’m not as _______ as these poor people!” This show is the modern equivalent of the stockade, with the assumption that by being obese these people have done something wrong which deserves punishment.

    Keep it up, Ms! Your blog is the best thing about your magazine!

  2. I disagree with the message in this article. The Biggest Loser is supposed to be about the changes that people can make in their everyday lifestyle choices. Obviously, diseases that cause obesity are not the chief aim of the show. Rather, it is the people who consume in excess of 4,000 calories/day and lead a very sedentary lifestyle that are the contestants on the show.

    I do agree that it is awful that being overweight is stigmatized by our society. However, being obese is in fact unhealthy. I’m pretty sure that the “chief scientific officer” at Weight Watchers would have said as much during the supposed interview. Being obese increases the chances of heart disease and decreases average life span due to a number of other diseases prompted by being extremely overweight and inactive.

    The point of the Biggest Loser is to show that there are healthy alternatives to eating away your pain or emotional stress. If you listen to any of the contestants’ testimonials, they show how people are reacting to being overweight by turning to “comfort food” as the solution. It’s an endless cycle that Jillian and Bob hope to change. People outside of the show have been inspired; even still, these people do not have the unrealistic goals attained by the contestants (that put their lives on hold for nearly 5 months). I think that the point of the show is to inspire people, not to lull them into complacency as Bill Localio suggested in his response.

  3. @Ronald
    The point is that they are shaming fatness. Look. a skinny person could drop dead of a heart attack at any moment, and yet you don’t see shows dedicated to telling people with high metabolisms to deal with their bad eating habits. That is because we have privileged certain bodies types without acknowledging that metabolism, DNA, and poverty are the biggest predictors of weight. The diet and exercise industry makes millions of dollars each year, and they certainly are not interested in the truth. The Biggest Loser pushes the idea that fat people just sit around all day and eat, and this is an untruth. Also, while you may not find it relevant, a failure to discuss the various reasons why people are fat only serves the purpose of stigmatizing fat bodies. Fatness is not always about emotional eating and that needs to be clearly understood because that is the only way to reduce the fat hatred that society seems to determined to revel in.

  4. I’m addicted to the Biggest Loser. I think it’s an amazing show. And I think we should shame fatness… or at least the bad habits that get most of us to obesity levels. The show is not targeted to the people who can’t help their weight. It’s for those people who have become lazy and have formed dangerous, unhealthy habits, for whatever reason. This show demonstrates to people that the cycle can be broken. You know what I think when I watch that show? If these people can do it, than so can I, because they’re regular people like me. The show gets these formerly sedentary people, who never thought they could even run a mile, to run a MARATHON. That’s amazing and it’s inspirational. The show does everything they can to promote healthy eating and exercise. They teach us that food is fuel, not solely for pleasure or comfort or a cure for boredom. Yes, for the show’s format, they do it very, very fast. But it’s great for the people who are participating because when they see results right away, they’re motivated to continue. As one who has spent time in a gym, seeing and feeling the effects of exercising is exactly the motivation I need to keep going. Exercise and eating healthy are important to everyone’s health, whether you’re disabled or not. For some, it’s easy and that’s great for them. But saying that the Biggest Loser is shaming people and humiliating them is just another thing to hide yourself behind. And from what the contestants say when they’re talking to the camera, it seems as if they’ve lived with humiliation every day of their lives. The Biggest Loser isn’t humiliating them any more than they’ve made themselves feel. If you actually watched the show on a regular basis, you’d see how much Gillian and Bob really, really care about the contestants.

  5. As someone in the health and fitness profession, I have to completely disagree with the fact that DNA and medication are major contributing factors in weight control–health, sure, but not weight. That argument is just another way that people deflect accountability from themselves.

    That said, I am also well aware of the fact that the health and fitness profession is very limited in scope and supports the antithesis of feminism and progressive thought. This is due to the fact that majority of emphasis is on weight control instead of actual fitness. BMI is considered a greater indicator of fitness than VO2max; body weight over capability.

    The intent of The Biggest Loser is to promote healthy lifestyles–this is an INTERVENTION, not a maintenance program. The problem is that the emphasis isn’t on health–it’s on weight loss. “Let’s all conform to a societal norm!” instead of “If you want to see forty, you need to make some changes starting with…” (They do this on the show, however, the point is weight loss.) This creates the illusion that the show is primarily about looking good (and the contestants will support that goal) instead of being healthy.

    It is completely possible to be obese and be healthy (given the fact that the primary indicator of obesity used is BMI–which says absolutely nothing about body composition). It’s also very easy to eat healthy and either be unhealthy or gain weight. Most people have no idea just how small portions really are. Furthermore, people aren’t nearly interested enough in what is actually in their food.

    Maintenance: Calories in = calories expended
    Weight loss: Calories in < calories expended

    It isn't rocket science. Additionally, the Surgeon General recommends a minimum of 120 minutes of moderate intensity cardio a week (this recommendation is widely regarded as watered down for the sedentary American by fitness professionals). Exercise isn't about weight loss–it's about health.

    It's a scientific fact that people that are obese have a higher incidence of disease–most of which are preventable with a lower body weight/fat percentage. This is because obesity brings all of its friends to the pity party–coronary artery disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and, at least with sedentary obesity, low HDL cholesterol.

    This is why obesity is a bad thing; generally, you aren't just obese, you're obese and _____________.

    The Biggest Loser is one of the shows that I watch on a regular basis, and they do have fun at the expense of the contestants, especially during aspects of game play. Temptations that involve food are completely counterproductive to the goals that contestants are trying to meet. This past season, both trainers got in the red for their behaviors. There is no value (other than entertainment) to Bob putting on all of Mike's weight or Jillian making the contestants roll each other in wheel barrels. Yes, it is a show. Yes, these scenes generate revenue. And, yes, the contestants signed up for this.

    As for Jillian, she is a very opportunistic hypocrite–she peddles products that are not only unnecessary, but also unsafe. Cleanses? Really?

    • I completely agree with you, Jaclyn. Being from a family with weight problems on both sides, I know how easy it is to blame genetics for obesity. But having fat relatives isn't an excuse to be unhealthy. Besides, it isn't just genetics that did it in for my family: it might have been my family's bad habits:

      – butter on anything
      – cakes and pastries more often than anyone should have one
      – a love of salt
      – a love of sitting on your rear
      – starches of all kinds with every meal
      – convenient ready-to-eat meals, instead of homemade food.

      The trick to being healthy is to eat healthy and exercise. It's not that hard.

  6. Additionally, on the topic of DNA as a determining factor:

    Why allow yourself to get caught up in biological determinism? Furthermore, would genes allow you to not be judged by your appearance?

    On the topic of eating healthy and still being over weight: Be careful… one must not assume that they are the rule when they are the exception.

  7. I believe the point that is being missed in the comments are that the Biggest Loser representations are LIES. There is no film footage of contestants running around in rubber suits, starving themselves with complete food deprivation, and utilizing diuretics that can harm the kidneys, or any of the other health damaging practices that must be undertaken in order to achieve the drastic weight loss that is portrayed. While I would like to believe that “most” people can critically think, and realize that a healthy weight loss practice cannot possibly achieve the results that the show portray, the truth is that many people don’t realize it. This show creates a fantasy scenario that if people at home attempt to recreate, is as “healthy” as taking up chain smoking. Of course, losing 1-2 pounds a week, dealing with emotional issues or health problems would NOT make for tantalizing television, or so the networks believe. Jillian and the show put fat people in situations that are not only humiliating (which, of course they deserve for being fatties in the first place), but also push their physical limits to a place that has hospitalized more than one contestant. Again, if re-created at home without proper supervision, the result would not be health improvement, but health detriment. The “thin at all cost” mentality that the show promotes simply inflames fat-hatred and stereotypes, without properly showing viewers the lengths at which contestants go – including damaging their overall health – just to make the scale numbers go down. That is NOT health, nor is it helpful.

  8. Belle of Acadie says:

    Look at all the fat shaming comments. Seriously they should be deleted. You hateful, small minded people.


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