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As a brutally-tough trainer on NBC's The Biggest Loser, Jillian Michaels screams, bellows and generally terrifies fitness-challenged contestants. Harsh? Maybe. Effective? Definitely. So ParentDish asked the health-and-fitness guru how to shape up our families and overhaul our snack drawers.
It's time for some tough love.
ParentDish: What were you like as a little kid? We read that you were 175 lbs. at 5 feet tall. What were your eating/exercise habits like back then?
Jillian Michaels: I was a very sensitive kid. The class loser all through junior high. The chubby ugly duckling that ate lunch alone every day. I ate all processed crap and used food for comfort. Microwave pancakes and sausage for breakfast. Pizza, Coke, potato boat for my school lunch. Then after school, I would eat an entire bag of Cheetos. For dinner I would eat Taco Bell and lots of it with ice cream for dessert. As for fitness ... I played a bit of soccer when I was very young and I skate boarded but not enough to offset my eating habits.
PD: What gave you the impetus to change?
JM: By the age of 14 I got into martial arts an it turned my life around. The strength I developed physically transcended into every facet of my life.
PD: Should a parent be as tough on their kids as you are with The Biggest Loser contestants?
JM: NO!!! The Biggest Loser is about life-or-death confrontations. Last ditch attempts to get people back on track. Kids need positive reinforcement only.
PD: What were your parents like? Did they teach you healthy lifestyle habits?
JM: My father was heavy and had an addictive personality, especially with food. Food became the way my father and I bonded. As for my mother, she was always thin and didn't know the first thing about nutrition. She thought she was doing the right thing by giving me juice boxes instead of sodas or Wheat Thins instead of potato chips. She has no idea those products were as bad, if not worse. By the time I was 14, she knew she needed to get proactive about my health an that's when she got me into martial arts.
PD: We need your advice to parents. This issue comes up a lot: A mom notices her 10-year-old child gaining weight, becoming overweight. How does the mom help her child without creating an eating disorder? In other words, how do you tell your kid, 'You're fat and you need to do something about it?' How do you start the conversation and keep it going without giving your kid body image issues?
JM: The most important thing a parent can do is to NOT make an issue of their child's weight. Kids interpret this as a form of criticism and often rebel by eating even more. The best thing to do is lead by example by keeping yourself fit and healthy. Make efforts to get the whole family healthy so it's not about singling your chubby little one out. Find fun social activities your child can do that will keep them active like soccer, cheerleading etc. Teach them about healthy goods to help them become a healthy grownup. Don't make it about pounds or calorie counting. Involve them in the food. Let them start a little vegetable garden so they are invested. Challenge them to find fruits and veggies in their favorite colors and so on. This helps to keep health fun and make them feel in control of their choices.
PD: Working parents of young kids are the busiest people on the planet. How can they prioritize fitness?
JM: They have to schedule it in. Arrange a carpool and buy yourself some time. Exercise on your lunch hour. Fit it in with your kids on the weekends by doing fun family activities like hiking, biking, kyaking etc.
PD: Should parents lie to their kids about their own eating habits? For example, yesterday I bought Ring Dings and ate them before I got home so my daughter wouldn't see. Good idea?
JM: It's never a good idea to lie. I wouldn't lie. Explain to your kids that there is room for higher calorie foods in a healthy diet. The key is moderation. I would however urge you to make sure the treat foods they eat are not laden with chemicals and poisons. For example, let your kids have Pop Chips instead of potato chips fried in hydrogenated trans fats. Give them dark chocolate instead of the candy bar crap made with high fructose corn syrup. Get the idea?
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.