By Alexa Tucker
If there’s one woman who isn’t afraid to get real about weight loss, it’s Jillian Michaels. She’s known for her badass, no-holds-barred approach to transforming lives on TV shows like The Biggest Loser and Sweat Inc., and she’s made a name for herself as America’s toughest trainer—with good reason. There’s no doubt about it: The woman gets results.
I chatted with Michaels at an event for KRAVE jerkey, and, to be honest, I was a little nervous going in. Was she going to make me do 10 burpees on the spot? Would she grill me about what I ate for lunch? Neither of those things happened, but let’s be clear, there’s no on-screen persona to speak of: She’s just as authentic, unapologetic, and passionate IRL, but in the loveliest way. I couldn’t decide if I wanted her to be my trainer or my best friend.
Either way, though, Michaels has seen it all when it comes to weight loss: What works, what doesn’t, and everything in between. And even if weight loss isn’t your goal, these are the seven rules Michaels swears by:
1. Don’t overeat (that means healthy foods, too).
“Weight maintenance and weight loss are about how much you’re taking in,” says Michaels. “I don’t care how healthy the food is. Don’t overeat!” she stresses. Granted, healthier foods will do a better job of fueling your body, but at the end of the day, a calorie is a calorie. If you are looking to lose weight, here’s how to determine how many calories should you be eating each day.
2. Count your calories—but not forever.
While counting calories has a bad rap in some nutritional circles, Michaels considers it to be absolutely essential if you’re trying to lose weight–and she doesn’t budge on that opinion. “You must know the calories,” says Michaels. “I can’t tell you how many times people come to me and they’re like, ‘I can’t lose weight.’ Or ‘I’ve plateaued.’ And then I look at the simple math and I’m like, dude!” While calorie requirements for weight loss are different for every person, Michaels urges people to get an app to do the work for you—and once you get the hang of it, you can be conscious of the calories in your food without the technology.
“I know it by heart now. For example, I tend to eat the same 20 things, and I’m betting most other people do, too. The same three to five breakfasts, the same three to five lunches, the same three to five snacks…Look them up! You’ll know every meal. For example, if I have two eggs for breakfast, and each egg is 80 calories, plus a piece of whole grain toast, which is about 80 calories, the whole breakfast is 240 calories, and now I know. Eventually, you can eyeball things. Two weeks of work and you’ll know it forever.”
3. Read labels and make eating quality, nutritious food your number one priority.
Even though calories are an important factor in weight loss, it’s about quality, too. “Forget the special diets, like, ‘I’m paleo!’ ‘I’m vegan!’ The bottom line is, it’s about the quality of your food. Get rid of the chemicals,” she says. “Read the label. You have to be proactive about your own health in every possible way. And if you don’t know what the hell it is, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.”
That doesn’t mean all packaged foods are off-limits: For example, Michaels likes to snack on Sunbiotics almonds and KRAVE jerkey (who she’s a spokesperson for). “I found KRAVE—they didn’t come to me. I invested in the company,” she adds. “No corn syrup, no MSG, no nitrates, it tastes great, it’s protein, and it’s low in calories.” (She even read me the ingredients label to me to prove it.)
When it comes to eating for weight loss, she swears it’s more simple than you think: “If you don’t overeat and you’re removing chemicals as often as you possibly can, that’s all you need to worry about when it comes to your food.”
4. Be consistent with exercise.
Eating right is only part of the equation when it comes to losing weight. That’s where fitness comes in. Her number one rule for exercise is to be consistent. “Try to go at least four times a week, and try to get in at least four half-hour routines,” she says. “Consistency is critical.” So, no, you don’t have to bust your butt in the gym five times a week for an hour each session to see results, according to Michaels. Ultimately you want to set up a regular and consistent habit that you can turn into a lifelong routine.
5. Do a variety of workouts you actually like.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what the “best” workout for weight loss is, says Michaels. “I could tell you exactly what to do, but if you don’t like it, you’re not going to do it,” she says. “Find a few things that you enjoy, and then mix it up.” Variety is key, Michaels explains. Keeping your workout routine varied (and constantly progressing), will help prevent injuries, boredom, and plateaus.
6. Up your workout intensity every two weeks.
“Make sure that you’re constantly upping the ante. If it’s a push-up you’ve been doing on your knees, go to your hands and feet. If you’ve been doing 10 reps, do 12. If you’ve been lifting 20 pounds, lift 25. Every two weeks, up the intensity a little bit.” You can do that by picking up the pace, resting less between reps, increasing the weight, or trying more challenging modifications of your go-to exercises, she explains.
7. Most importantly, identify your “why” and write it down.
Your habits in the kitchen and in the gym are important, but your mindset is a major key to losing weight—and keeping it off. “Identify your why, and really go into detail,” says Michaels. “Not like, I want better health. I don’t know what that means. Maybe it’s, I want to keep up with my two toddlers. I want to run the New York City Marathon. Those kinds of things. Post it everywhere, and emotionally connect to it. Because let’s be honest: Pizza is going to taste better than chicken any day of the week. However, whatever it is that matters to you, if you give a shit about it, it’s going to matter more than pizza.”
The bottom line is that you don’t have to follow a super-strict, no-pizza-ever plan. But you do have to make healthy choices on a regular basis. It’s all about finding what works best for you.