Whether you’re in a broken-record battle with your children about eating broccoli or you’re looking for a long-term fix for losing that extra five pounds, Jillian Michaels, fitness superstar and former personal trainer on The Biggest Loser, has the answers. On a recent episode of Mom Brain, the hit parenting podcast hosted by Daphne Oz and Hilaria Baldwin, Michaels shared her approach to tackling that stubborn lower-belly fat and also talked about how she inspires a healthy relationship with food and wellness (and veggies!) in her own kids’ lives.
1. LEAD BY EXAMPLE, BUT DON’T FORCE YOUR KIDS TO DO ANYTHING
Hilaria Baldwin: I’m trying to navigate the fine line of wanting your kids to be active and move and feel good and be strong, but also not overdoing it or pressuring them into it. What do you suggest?
Jillian Michaels: The reality is that every kid is different and every family is different. For me, I just got them into activities they loved. So, for example, my son loves gymnastics and parkour. My daughter loves dance and karate. They kind of naturally gravitated toward those things and then I just facilitated it for them. So it wasn’t ever me saying, “We’re going to do this and that.” I did my own thing and I led by example. They also would see me doing my videos for social media or whatnot and they’d want to be involved. But I would never tell them to be involved. That’s the secret. It’s almost that reverse psychology. If you lead by example, they see you doing it and secretly they kind of respect it and admire it, and then you just expose them to things that are fun. Whatever they naturally gravitate toward is what you encourage.
Where we’ve struggled the most in my household is with food. My kids are both healthy, but for example, last night, we went for sushi and I turned around and my son, who’s 7, was drinking soy sauce. It was, “Dude, no!” But no matter what you do, the sugar and the salt addiction is there.
I was just talking to my ex, who is a great friend now, and we were like, “Do we send our daughter to sleepaway camp, because there’s soda and all this crap and she goes crazy for it when we’re not there?” The food is a real challenge. It’s a constant education: “Here’s why this is so bad for you. Yes, I know you don’t see it now, but the long-term results are as follows. The people that you look up to and worship, whether it’s Beyoncé or this young 24-year-old quarterback who just crushed the Super Bowl? I can guarantee they’re not drinking soy sauce out of a bottle.”
Baldwin: I’ve actually gotten criticism for feeding my kids in a way that is healthy and people tell me, “All that unhealthy food is going to come into their lives sooner or later.”
Michaels: I think you’re right. I tried hiding the veggies in the brownies. I tried moderation, one treat a day. I tried no treats a day. Kids want sugar. It’s biochemical. It tastes amazing. Sets the brain on fire. Adults want sugar, so do kids. It tastes good. They’re not stupid. So I think you’ve got to set these guidelines and get the healthy stuff into them whenever and however you can. Because they’re still going to end up at sleepaway camp and drink all the soda, no matter what you do. As parents, we’ve got to do what we can to mitigate the damage.
2. It’s Maybe Ok to Reward with Treats
Baldwin: How do you make your kids eat vegetables? I do the whole hiding-vegetables-in-things right now too, because it’s such a struggle!
Michaels: Most people disagree with me on this, but I say, “You don’t get a treat for the day—say, dessert—unless you eat the good stuff.” And everyone’s like, “But you shouldn’t reward them with food.” And I get that. But you know what? It works. It’s not all, it’s not nothing. I don’t care what the healthy stuff is. You like broccoli with cheese? Here’s broccoli with cheese. And my daughter’s like, “I want carrots and cucumbers.” Done, fine, carrots and cucumbers. But they have to do it. You gotta eat the good stuff in order to get the treat. I think of it as a metaphor for life. You gotta put in the work to get the reward.
3. HIGH-INTENSITY WORKOUTS ARE GREAT, BUT IF YOU HAVE A LITTLE BIT OF BELLY FAT, THE WORLD ISN’T GOING TO END
Daphne Oz: Losing “mom weight” is different than losing any other kind of weight, I think. In your experience, have you seen that to be true, and if so, are there any specific workouts we should be doing to move that stubborn lower-belly fat?
Michaels: You cannot spot reduce it. You have to lose overall body fat. Fat cannot be spot reduced. I also kind of think of it as, as a healthy woman, you’re going to have a certain percentage of body fat. I’ve seen very healthy women who have up to 25 percent. Where you store your fat has a lot to do with your body’s biochemistry. I keep my fat in the lower part of my body. I’m more estrogen dominant. Now, I’ve tried for years to get my legs a little bit leaner. My face will get drawn, my boobs will disappear, my ribs will start showing. I still have fat on the top of my quadriceps. They are still not defined. So the point is that maybe you’re healthy and your body is losing weight from everywhere else, but it likes to hold fat in that particular part of your body and that’s OK. I tend to look at health as, what is the doctor telling you? What is your cholesterol? What is your blood sugar? Where is your blood pressure? Where are all your inflammatory markers? If those are good and you have a little bit of belly fat, the world’s not going to end.
Overall body fat reduction is going to come down to intensity. It’s about choosing the techniques that are going to be the most intense so that you’re going to burn the most during and after. That’s going to be HIIT intervals, heavy resistance or metabolic circuits where it’s going to be one move, next move, next move. You don’t rest. You use moves that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Those techniques are going to help you lose more than anything else.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For more from Jillian Michaels, listen to her recent appearance on the Mom Brain podcast with Hilaria Baldwin and Daphne Oz. Subscribe now or follow us on Instagram @mombrain.