Q: Did Jillian Michaels go too far by supplying caffeine pills to her "Biggest Loser" team last week? Are such methods dangerous?
A: This isn't the first time that the TV trainer has been put on the defensive; she has been sued multiple times by folks who insisted that her diet pills don't work. In 2009, a former contestant accused her of supplying her "Biggest Loser" hopefuls with performance-enhancing drugs. And the following year, the Los Angeles Times attacked her in an op-ed piece, essentially saying that she was some sort of trainer-Barbie with no real credentials.
None of the controversies went anywhere: All four lawsuits were dismissed; an investigation following the 2009 accusations cleared Michaels of any wrongdoing; and the Times eventually issued a retraction, conceding that Michaels is a qualified trainer with multiple, current certifications (she is accredited by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association).
As for this latest hullaballoo, trainers and nutritionists are joining show producers in insisting that there is pretty much nothing to see here, folks. Yes, Michaels supplied her team with caffeine pills, a violation of show rules. Yes, producers reacted by rendering last week's weigh-in results invalid. But as far as anyone can tell, that's about as far as they’re taking things. (Caffeine is allowed on the show, I'm told, but apparently, caffeine pills require some sort of prior permission. Producers declined to elaborate any further on that point when asked about it today.)
See a clip from the show where host Alison Sweeney announces Jillian's rules violation:
"I stand by my opinion: a caffeine supplement is significantly healthier than unlimited amounts of coffee," Michaels said in a statement today, sidestepping the actual breaking of the rule. "My only regret is that my team … they're the ones suffering the consequences of my professional opinion."
Michaels's spin doctors are also noting that "Jillian gave her contestants an EBoost Energy Supplement that contains less caffeine — 200mg — than a Starbucks tall coffee [which contains] 260mg."
For their part, nutritionists and weight loss experts are having a hard time getting worked up about working out on caffeine. In fact, some say that if you’re gonna Hoover up the stuff, a pill can actually be better for you in some circumstances.
"The biggest difference is you can actually control the amount of caffeine you have [with a pill] and you probably aren't adding sugar and cream and serving it up with a muffin!" nutritionist J.J. Virgin, author of the "The Virgin Diet," tells me.
"When you look at the research, there’s no question that caffeine can enhance certain types of workouts," such as endurance runs, says Sean Foy, exercise physiologist and the president of Personal Wellness Corp.
That said, of course, caffeine shouldn’t be approached as a fitness panacea.
"Some people are affected differently than others when it comes to caffeine," Foy warns. "Some might do really well with it. But what if someone has a heart arrhythmia?
"I respect Jillian. But my concern is the message we may be sending to people: 'Here, take this pill and don’t worry about anything else. There are many people out there who may turn to a caffeine drink or pill, and that's all they're doing to keep their energy level high. And that’s definitely the wrong approach."