Dec 13, 2020
There's nothing more infuriating than when people throw shade at the anti-diet perspective without bothering to actually research it. When "The Biggest Loser" trainer/shameless fatphobe Jillian Michaels arrogantly released a Youtube clip trashing the 10 principles of intuitive eating, WITHOUT EVEN READING THE BOOK, she REALLY pi***ed off the community! And none more so than my guests, anti-diet fitness trainers Anna Hearn and Shreen El Masry, who have been dying to come on the podcast and set the record straight! Finally the COVID window opened just a crack so I could record the very first IN PERSON podcast! Join us as we dissect Jillian's often hilarious inability to comprehend a life beyond diet prison. WHAT ON EARTH IS THIS 'PERMISSION TO EAT!!' It seems the lady doth protest too much - could it be that the Queen of Diet Prison is sensing the paradigm-shifting power of the anti-diet revolution? That's right folks, the unrivalled reign of Biggest Loser-esque terror is over!! Vive La Difference! Please note - this episode comes with a hefty side serve of calorie count discussions, so if you're in recovery from an eating disorder please consider your level of spoons to hear the diet talk. But, if you've had a gutful of igno-rants about anti-dieting, it's time to get ALL FIRED UP!
LOUISE: So, here I am with Anna and Shreen. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
ANNA: Thank you for having us.
SHREEN: Yeah, thank you so much.
LOUISE: It’s so exciting to be alive with actual humans in the room, and slightly weird. Why don’t you guys tell me all about what is firing you up?
ANNA: We’re really fired up about Jillian Michaels and her aggressive fatphobic rant on intuitive eating.
LOUISE: (sighs) First of all, I have to say I love how you say ‘rant’, it’s very proper and awesome. But yes, Jillian Michaels – Biggest Loser trainer in the United States. Horrendously fatphobic.
ANNA: Yeah, I mean … she got her living, she makes her living from shaming fat bodies. I think that tells a lot about her character and where she’s going to go with her intuitive eating rant.
LOUISE: So, she was on the Biggest Loser for years and years and years. Her website … well, she’s touting herself as the world’s best trainer. Like, the biggest expert in the world on all things fitness. Which, well … this is just a hunch, but I could find people on the planet who are more qualified.
ANNA: Well, if you want to break down her qualifications, I think it looks like she’s done a couple of personal training qualifications, a couple of fitness qualifications and …
SHREEN: One ‘woo woo’ nutrition qualification.
ANNA: There is a nutrition qualification there too, but it doesn’t look like there’s any degrees or anything. So, when it comes to intuitive eating and looking at all of that, when we go into it you’ll realise, I think, that she hasn’t really done her research. She doesn’t understand it. And I think it’s interesting that somebody without that nutrition background or lived experience with that sort of thing talks about it the way that she does.
SHREEN: I think as well, not only does she come across really aggressive and shaming, also I think her insecurity is really coming out in this video. Intuitive eating is a movement that’s really starting to take off, and she’s clearly threatened by it. You can see her defence mechanism is up, and she’s … you know, really, just … her demeanour is just awful.
LOUISE: It's hard to tell, though, if her demeanour’s just awful because she’s defensive or because her demeanour’s just awful.
SHREEN: Yeah, that’s true.
ANNA: I kind of picked up on that and thought she was sensing a threat because intuitive eating is becoming more mainstream, people are becoming more aware of it. So that could threaten what she does, because she makes a living forcing people to lose weight.
LOUISE: So, during the 90’s and the early 2000’s, like … it was a free-for-all with bullying people with larger bodies, as we saw. World-wide, the Biggest Loser was the number one show, and everyone thought it was okay. So, she’s had this unfettered ability to be horrible about body size and really belittling of people in larger bodies. And now, I think she’s realising it’s not okay to keep on doing that.
ANNA: The backlash about it.
LOUISE: So, just to set the stage. What we’re seeing … because I did see the internet blow up. It was a while ago now, but let’s face it - we’ve all been in iso and unable to talk to each other. So, she has like a YouTube channel and one of her YouTube little presentations - I don’t watch what she does, just for my own mental health - but this one was Jillian Michaels talking about intuitive eating. Which, oh my god … let’s just get Donald Trump talking about sexism.
ANNA: That’s a great analogy.
SHREEN: She’s basically, I think she’s just gone on the website and just pulled up the principles without doing any research into it or even understanding there’s over a hundred studies done on intuitive eating and there’s a whole book as well. She just went on there, read out these principles and gave her, I guess, her opinion.
ANNA: It became really clear that she hasn’t taken the time to understand it. She hasn’t learnt about the authors; you’ll see as she comes to the end of it, she talks about assuming that it was written by somebody who had just had some bad experience with diet culture, maybe had an eating disorder
LOUISE: Oh my god, that’s so disrespectful
SHREEN: So disrespectful.
ANNA: No understanding or bothering to explore that the authors are actually dietitians who had come up with this approach because they had done so much work with clients who had struggled a lot and this is what they’d learnt from working with them over years and years.
LOUISE: These are the gurus. Like, Tribole and Resch, they wrote the initial book Intuitive Eating and it’s just been updated, which is fantastic. But even that, even their book which is written from that perspective of helping people recover from eating disorders, that book is built on another big long history of social justice and fat activism. To not recognise that intuitive eating is part of a social movement and like, the way she presented it is like, she just stumbled across a webpage and … oh my god.
ANNA: Definitely, yeah. And it came across very, very condescending. I felt really bothered …
SHREEN: It’s so harmful, as well. That was the thing that really bothered me the most, was how much … I mean, she causes so much harm anyway, but the message was just next level harm. And if anyone was watching that and had no idea, the things that she was saying … yeah, it’s just not on.
LOUISE: Oh god, yikes. So, we thought we would unpick Jillian Michael’s feelpinion to each of the ten principles of intuitive eating. And you guys have written some awesomely detailed notes.
ANNA: We had a really good chat about it.
LOUISE: Fantastic. But I’m so interested, because you guys both work in this industry as HAES® positive, body inclusive, weight neutral trainers hearing from almost like the personification of diet culture woman.
SHREEN: She is the reason why people have so much fitness trauma and so much negative association with fitness. She’s causing that.
ANNA: She is the epitome of diet culture.
SHREEN: Yeah, she is the epitome of diet culture, for sure.
ANNA: And I think we chatted about this as we were hanging out one day, and we just came across this as a topic that fired both of us up. And it’s frustrating when you see … when you’re so heavily involved in this space, and the HAES® space, and the body inclusive space, it can be … and luckily for me working here at Haven, this is the space I come to work every day. So, I’m not exposed to traditional diet culture unless I stumble across it or it’s brought to my attention. So, I couldn’t help but just be really quite wild about this.
LOUISE: I love it. I mean, I don’t love that you’re wild, but I kind of do. But, yeah. It’s nice to know that in this industry there are people who feel really strongly about just putting an end to this. She’s what’s wrong with the fitness industry at the moment, and you guys are the future. And I think she can smell that. So, I think, like I … I managed to watch it and still shaking with rage but thank you for this glass of champagne.
ANNA: I don’t think we could do this without a little bit of champagne.
SHREEN: No, we need some bubbles.
LOUISE: The first thing she starts with, so she’s actually going through all the principles.
LOUISE: Why don’t you give me the lowdown on your reaction.
ANNA: Let’s kick off. So, she does go through the points one by one, and the first principle is ‘reject the diet mentality’. And I just want to point out a few things that came up for me that were just so apparent throughout. Her fatphobia is so clear. She’s driven, everything she says, and her approach is all drive by this. And I think she’s very ignorant, like she doesn’t see that there’s an issue with this. She comes form that space where it’s very normalised to shame fat bodies, it’s not okay to be in a bigger body. And she very clearly associates weight and health, they’re so closely tied, which I think it really problematic, obviously. So, in this ‘reject diet mentality’, what came up for you, Shreen?
SHREEN: Well, the first thing for me was that she couldn’t distinguish a difference between fad diets and what dieting is, and diet culture. She’s like, “oh you know, if it’s fad diets we’re talking about yeah, yeah sure”, but this is a woman who has sold supplements in the past.
LOUISE: She’s sold fad diets.
SHREEN: She’s sold fad diets. And she is diet culture, so I guess she can’t … she doesn’t understand what diet culture actually is and why it’s so important to reject it. I mean, diet culture in the US alone is worth 70 billion dollars.
ANNA: She profits off it.
SHREEN: She profits off everyone’s insecurities. So, she was just like, “reject diet culture? What’s this, what does this mean?”. And I really did sense there that her insecurity is coming out there because that is her, that’s how she makes her money.
ANNA: Well that’s it, she’s really incentivised to support diet culture.
LOUISE: But the distinction that she made between “well, if it’s fad, but if it’s proper” … it just made me laugh, because she’s had no less than four separate lawsuits …
LOUISE: Launched against her by her consumers who bought her caffeine-fuelled diet pills.
ANNA: Which I think she might have … there might have been something on the Biggest Loser where she gave them to contestants unfairly, apparently, as well.
LOUISE: Oh my god, scandal on the Biggest Loser. Like …
ANNA: Well, the other thing that came up for me there was she said, “what is this, healthy at any size?”, and that’s immediately a red flag representing that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She hasn’t researched this because … I can understand it’s very easy to misconstrue Health At Every Size® for healthy at every size, but it’s quite a different meaning and that assumption that, you know, just assuming that we’re saying as a Health at Every Size® professional that all bodies are healthy, that’s not where we’re aiming. We’re talking about people being able to pursue health regardless of shape and size.
LOUISE: Or, also, we’re talking about the choice not to pursue health and to be left the fuck alone.
SHREEN: Yeah, there’s no moral obligation. If people want to do so, then it’s up to them. It shouldn’t be … they shouldn’t have to do it if they don’t want to, but that’s what diet culture is saying.
ANNA: Your body, your rules.
SHREEN: And this part of her rant really, really … we know that she’s incredibly fatphobic and she fat shames, but it just came out so much in that where she was again talking, talking about size 16. And she’s saying “well, you know, if you’re a size 16 of course I love you but you’re not healthy”. Which is just …
LOUISE: Get fucked.
SHREEN: Yeah, absolute garbage.
ANNA: Yeah. And Health at Every Size® also is about respect for all bodies, and I think there is a real lack of respect in just making that assumption. You can’t tell. How does she know what someone’s health is, you know? What their metabolic functions are, their blood work, their social, mental health … you can’t tell that by someone’s size.
SHREEN: Genetics, everything. There’s so much, it’s so multifaceted.
LOUISE: Everything I think is just far too complicated for her. She has to actually, like … I mean, clearly, she hasn’t read anything or thought about anything. “Nope, that’s a number, that’s an assumption, and don’t challenge that”.
SHREEN: Yeah. And if someone’s watching that, I mean, how triggering. How much harm that one comment could cause somebody that could lead them down a path of dieting and to an eating disorder.
ANNA: And especially if they were already vulnerable of somebody who would identify with being in a size 16, or plus. And also, size 16 is quite variable depending on which shop you shop in, you know? Where you get your clothes from. What’s a size anyway? What does it matter?
SHREEN: Yeah, it doesn’t matter.
LOUISE: Size is not the same as health, and she needs to pull her head in. I wonder if her YouTube videos come with a trigger warning. I don’t think they do, but they should. Because good point, you know, that she … everything she says is potentially a trigger.
SHREEN: Especially the size of her audience as well, I’m worried.
ANNA: She’s got a big reach still. Some of the comments though were interesting, some really great points. People were talking about intuitive eating and picking up on that she doesn’t understand it, she’s missing the point.
LOUISE: That is really reassuring.
ANNA: She stopped the comments, she cut them off.
LOUISE: Oh no, they were too complicated.
ANNA: So, the next principle is ‘honour your hunger’, and she said something pretty radical here. Well, it’s not really radical in the fitness world. These numbers get thrown around a lot. But trigger warning, there are numbers here. She says, “if you’re trying to lose weight, you can keep your body fed on as low as 1200 calories”. And that most women, especially those over, you know, relating to being a certain age, shouldn’t be eating over 1600 calories a day.
SHREEN: Which is just absolutely unbelievable. She’s saying that … I mean, that’s what a toddler needs. A toddler needs 1200-1600 calories a day.
LOUISE: How very dare she tell me how much I can eat, under a principle that says, ‘honour your hunger’.
ANNA: She … on one hand, I’m not surprised she threw those numbers out because those numbers are thrown out all the time in the fitness world. I don’t know where … MyFitnessPal?
LOUISE: Are they really?
SHREEN: We were saying, MyFitnessPal may have started the whole 1200 calories thing …
LOUISE: I think Michelle Bridges is guilty of that too.
ANNA: Oh actually, you’re right, she had a program that was based on that.
LOUISE: It’s just a nice round number, isn’t it? Let’s just pluck this out of our arse and throw that at all women.
ANNA: What I find there though is that like Shreen said, it’s something that a child needs. And I just wanted to double-check that, because I’m not a nutritionist, I’m a yogi and I run a studio, but I wanted to check with somebody who does work with that. I chatted to our non-diet nutritionist Nina and she clarified that yes - this is generalisation - but that kind of number is something that would serve a child. Like, a toddler or a four, five-year-old. And then thinking about the effects of being on a low-calorie diet for a long period, things like loss of menstrual cycle, loss of bone density, fatigue, mood swings, constipation, blood sugar imbalance, stress hormones getting out of whack …
SHREEN: Sex drive …
ANNA: Sex drive … what did you say before?
SHREEN: Dry vagina (laughs).
ANNA: She didn’t mention that, did she?
LOUISE: No, but that might be suffering all of them, you know? And why she’s so grouchy.
ANNA: Memory fog and brain fog … memory loss and brain fog. So, these are all things that can be affected by not being adequately fed. And the better indicator of your needs are your body and your internal hunger signals. And we’re taught to … these external sources of just following this rule plan of 1200 calories a day means that if I need more than that – maybe at the time of my period especially I might need much more - and I’m just denying my natural hunger levels.
LOUISE: The whole ‘per day’ thing really gives me the shits as well.
SHREEN: Yeah, that’s a really good point.
LOUISE: This is just a statistical method to help researchers make assumptions about nutrition. It’s not supposed to be something religiously followed.
SHREEN: No, there’s no …
ANNA: An individual thing, yeah.
LOUISE: It’s bizarre. But, isn’t that interesting that even as she’s like, she’s trying desperately, the poor little thing to understand that this is a principle of intuitive eating but she can’t quite get there because she immediately lurches into “well, if you want to lose weight …”. I just felt like reaching through the screen and saying, “realise that intuitive eating is not a weight loss program”.
ANNA: That’s half the problem, is that she clearly thinks that the only people who explore intuitive eating are going for weight loss. She says that a few times.
LOUISE: Oh, she’s a scrambled egg.
ANNA: Yeah. She doesn’t understand that the whole purpose of intuitive eating is more about finding a peaceful relationship with food and your body, not about trying to pursue making your body be something, a certain size.
SHREEN: It’s about food freedom, it’s about having a healthy relationship with food, stopping the obsession. It’s not … it’s definitely not following these external rules. It’s about being in tune with what your body wants and needs and getting in touch with those signals.
LOUISE: Different planet, I don’t think she’s visited.
SHREEN: I don’t think she understands what the ‘honouring hunger’ … it’s a basic self-care need. If you’re not honouring hunger …
LOUISE: Again, you’re mentioning a foreign concept here. This is someone who will happily live with a dry vagina, it doesn’t matter.
SHREEN: Yep (all laugh).
LOUISE: We all went there.
SHREEN: She just really doesn’t understand and that is the reason why … people don’t give themselves enough food and they’re following diet plans, and they’re going to give themselves cravings leading to overeating and bingeing, and that’s perfectly normal as well. Other than ‘rejecting the diet mentality’ one of the first steps of intuitive eating is to just honour your hunger and it’s so important. It’s self-care.
ANNA: It's so liberating too, if you’re been on the diet bandwagon for many, many years, to recognise that “hey, my body’s got a lot of wisdom, and it’s telling me, it’s giving me messages and I can learn how to reconnect with that”. And I think part of the common thread that comes up with what she says all the time is that … she thinks it’s all about ‘you can’t trust your body’. I think an important thing that I’ve learned is you can really learn how to trust your body. We get into this as we move into the next principle or two. It’s not about endless eating and not being able to, you know, like you’re just not going to go out of control all the time, which is what she sort of thinks.
SHREEN: Point number three is that ‘unconditional permission to eat all foods’.
LOUISE: She really had a problem with principle three. Like, she was visibly …
SHREEN: Yeah, and she started comparing it to smoking, and credit cards, and it’s like …what are you talking about?
ANNA: So yeah, this ‘make peace with food’, you’re right. And she talks about saying, talking about the ‘last supper mentality’, and she says, “I’m not religious, I don’t know what Jesus ate”.
LOUISE: She really needs to read some books.
ANNA: She needs to read Intuitive Eating if she’s going to talk about it. Because if she read it, she might really understand what that means. I thought it was quite clear just from the ‘last supper mentality’, don’t you think?
SHREEN: You just eat everything in sight.
LOUISE: I don’t even think it has religious connotations, I thought it was like a death row thing.
SHREEN: Oh, that’s true …
LOUISE: Like eating your last meal.
ANNA: That’s right. And it makes sense, I think, if you think about that. You know you’re not going to have something again, so you want to make the most of it in that moment. And ultimately that’s what it’s about. I think that’s kind of clear. But she didn’t understand that, she was sort of like “I don’t like this intense, this hostile approach”. And I’m like, you ARE intense and hostile.
LOUISE: How is that intense and hostile? I’ve not ever read the ten principles of intuitive eating and thought “gosh, that’s angry”. I mean, gosh. Visit the internet, really (all laugh).
ANNA: I think she is the, again, the epitome diet culture, and she is the hostile one. Think about the Biggest Loser, she is very aggressive and in-your-face, pushing her clients. So, here she talks about it all being about self-control and willpower, and I think that’s missing the point of intuitive eating completely as well.
LOUISE: She just can’t …
SHREEN: She doesn’t understand. If she’d read the book, she would understand there’s science behind it as well, if she …
LOUISE: I don’t think if she read the book she would understand.
SHREEN: Yeah (laughs)
ANNA: I picked up on that too, she’s [inaudible].
LOUISE: She almost yelled “You do not permission to eat”. Which was quite scary.
SHREEN: Because I think that reflects her inner narrative. That’s what’s going on in her head.
LOUISE: Yeah. Not … not relaxed, that’s for sure. That response to the third point was quite unhinged.
ANNA: And like you said, relating the food to credit cards or smoking, that’s a completely different thing. I don’t think … you know, food is something that we rely on, like biologically …
SHREEN: We need food to survive, we need food … and intuitive eating is about healing your relationship to food, it’s about having a healthy relationship to food, and you can’t have that if you’re restricting foods. That’s why it’s really important to give yourself unconditional permission to eat. And yeah, it is scary. Of course. It’s scary when you’ve come from that mentality, but it’s the only way for food to lose its power.
ANNA: Yeah. And I think it may be a good point to think about how it’s helpful to be handheld through that process. It can sound really scary to somebody who’s new to it, or who hasn’t delved into intuitive eating too much, or worked with a coach or therapist or something. Maybe working with a. dietitian on this would be really helpful. I understand how it can feel like that lack of control, but I think that’s a period that sometimes is part of that healing process. When you let go of the restriction, and allow yourself full unconditional permission to eat, then you might explore some of those foods that were off-limits for a period. And it might feel like you are diving into them a lot. But …
LOUISE: Which is perfectly normal.
LOUISE: The last supper effect … like, that actually, now I remember. The ‘last supper’ effect, it is the paper by Herman and Polivy, “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we diet”. That’s the ‘last supper’ effect. It’s a perfectly normal psychological response to restriction is to eat more. And the difference between that and going into massive credit card debt is if you keep giving yourself permission to eat, if you keep reminding yourself that the food’s always there, it’s perfectly safe and I’m allowed to eat it, you will naturally settle down when you get food safety. Eating is totally different to compulsive spending on credit cards. I think she’s just … a lot of people freak out when they let go of dieting and get into that all-or-nothing pattern with eating, but there’s like … a real difference between being in an all-or-nothing pattern of eating and adopting intuitive eating and going through that first phase of eating all the food. It’s just different, and its’ not pathological. It’s a normal response to restriction that obviously … she is so restricted and terrified of that.
ANNA: It’s all about control, isn’t it? And I think that, you know, talking about the 1200-1600 calories, and I think she refers to that 1600 calories as something you should never, ever go over. So, as a woman, we’re meant to live our lives constantly not going above that.
SHREEN: And it’s such a dangerous message. It’s just not enough food, at all. And it’s … and that’s what she’s selling to people, as well …
LOUISE: She’s more like ‘honour your restriction’.
ANNA: We could reverse all of this and create a Jillian Michaels plan.
LOUISE: The non-intuitive eating principles. Accept diet culture … what’s the second one?
ANNA: Honour your hunger … don’t honour your hunger.
LOUISE: Ignore your hunger.
SHREEN: Ignore your hunger, yeah.
LOUISE: Number three, you do not have permission to eat (all laugh). Alright, principle four?
ANNA: Principle four is ‘challenge the food police’.
LOUISE: Okay, so hers would be ‘obey the food police’.
SHREEN: I don’t think she really understands that she is the food police. When she’s going through it? Like she is … the food police are all the things she’s already talked about. 1200 calories, 1600 calories, these are things that are the food police.
ANNA: These are the rules.
SHREEN: She doesn’t understand that principle at all.
ANNA: The one thing that she said that I did agree with her on was “don’t beat yourself up”. I think she says it in a different way, she means it in a different way, because she kind of adds on and says, “don’t beat yourself up, but don’t fuck up”. Oh sorry.
LOUISE: Please, swear.
ANNA: She says, not quite like that, but “maintain balance, it’s all about balance”. And don’t …
SHREEN: And self-control.
ANNA: So, “don’t beat yourself up, but just don’t do it”, sort of thing.
SHREEN: Or, “you can do better”. She always says that, “you can do better”.
ANNA: Yeah, so that message is like, it’s still that sort of shaming approach.
LOUISE: It makes no sense whatsoever.
ANNA: But don’t beat yourself up, I mean, that’s important.
LOUISE: You know what, ‘don’t beat yourself up’ means she knows people are not going to be able to do it.
ANNA: That’s a good point, yeah. Yeah, which she talks about the…
LOUISE: … about going straight back to jail.
ANNA: She talks about the stats, which is interesting. She brings up the stats.
LOUISE: Oh, the stats. Yeah, that bit made me itchy.
ANNA: That’s coming. It’s coming. The next one is ‘discover the satisfaction factor’, which I think she was actually in agreement with.
SHREEN: Yeah, that one … she was saying, food for pleasure … I think that one was almost okay.
ANNA: Like wow, okay, we agree. And then six was ‘feel your fullness’. And what came up here was again, it was just clear she hasn’t read the book because she didn’t understand that concept at all.
LOUISE: She probably doesn’t know what fulness feels like.
SHREEN: And then she started talking about how it’s in your head, and kind of went off … even I got a little bit lost with what she was saying. Like, “oh, we’re on fullness principle? I thought we were …”
ANNA: She was kind of saying, yeah, she was kind of saying that if you’re not listening to your body, you’re not picking up your fullness levels, there’s something messed up in your head. And I was thinking, you know what? Sometimes I eat food and I’m quite satisfied physically but I’m still eating because the food’s really good, or I don’t want to … I’m eating in company and I don’t want to finish the meal and want to show that I’ve appreciated it …
SHREEN: That’s the thing with intuitive eating, that it’s not the ‘hunger/fullness’ diet. And eating past fullness is normal. It’s totally okay. And it’s not just about eating, you know, getting in touch with your fullness signals. It’s about eating foods that give you pleasure and satisfaction.
ANNA: Which is the ‘discover the satisfaction factor’.
SHREEN: Which is the next one, but yeah. (sighs).
LOUISE: God. So, if you can’t feel fullness, there’s something psychologically wrong with you.
ANNA: That’s the message that she’s giving, yeah.
SHREEN: But not understanding that if you’re dieting or especially if you’re only eating those dangerous amount of calories a day, you’re going to be absolutely …
LOUISE: You mean, like an adult [inaudible]
SHREEN: (laughs). Absolutely starving and of course you’re not going to feel your fullness. But there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just your body. Your body is doing exactly what it is meant to do. It needs food.
ANNA: She doesn’t see that 1200-1600 calories as a restriction. She sees it as like …
SHREEN: That’s her normal.
ANNA: That’s food, that’s what you’re allowed during the day.
LOUISE: So depressing.
ANNA: Pretty sure I eat double or triple that.
LOUISE: Oh, my goodness.
ANNA: So, we’re at number seven. We’re still only … oh, over halfway. ‘Cope with your emotions with kindness’.
SHREEN: I think the thing is …
LOUISE: That doesn’t really bring her to my mind.
SHREEN: Yeah. She kind of goes “oh, yeah, I agree with this, but it shouldn’t just be one paragraph …”. And I’m like YES, there’s a BOOK. A book! There’s a whole book to go with this.
ANNA: She clearly seems to think it’s just this very basic, you know, overview …
ANNA: Yeah, just these ten principles. She hasn’t read the book; she doesn’t know who wrote it.
LOUISE: No, but this one really shat me to tears. Because this is where she’s saying that she’s had some childhood history with being maybe fractionally larger than someone else and has had to do, like … basically what she’s saying is that if you cannot lose weight and keep it off forever, that is your psychological fault.
LOUISE: You haven’t done the work in therapy to fix your seemingly not thin body. Which is like, such a load of bullshit. And just unscientific and not sound whatsoever. And like you were saying before, people … she doesn’t understand that food is a relationship, and it’s a complex relationship. And the refusal to see anything other than like … she doesn’t even mention hunger as a reason to eat. Anything other than eating to a calorie control, anything else is incorrect. And we eat for an infinite amount of reasons and all of them make sense. And that’s what I love about intuitive eating, it doesn’t pathologise eating. It doesn’t pathologise hunger, it doesn’t pathologise fullness, and it doesn’t pathologise emotions as a reason to eat. And she clearly is. Seeing the function of how wonderful sometimes binge eating is as a way of protecting yourself from [inaudible] stuff. There’s no pathologizing in intuitive eating, but she’s full of pathologizing thinking that even to read statements like this, it doesn’t sink in.
ANNA: She’s oversimplifying the whole thing; she doesn’t understand it at all. And this is where she moves into talking about the percentage of people that are successful versus not successful at diets.
SHREEN: So, she acknowledges that 95-98% of diets fail. Is this where she starts talking about the Biggest Loser?
SHREEN: She then starts talking about how the Biggest Loser, there’s a 30% extra success rate if you follow the Biggest Loser method.
ANNA: So, she basically says, she acknowledges that the studies are very clear that 95% of people are unable to sustain a diet or sustain that weight loss, not a diet. But she says that actually on the Biggest Loser it’s only 65% of people that fail. So actually …
SHREEN: So, she’s basically saying “we’ve got this success rate, if you do this …”
LOUISE: Which study is this published in? Because the only study I’ve read from season 1 which is the …
ANNA: The six-year study?
SHREEN: The six year, yeah, really interesting.
LOUISE: There were 16 people, and 14 of them regained. I don’t think that equates to 65%. Am I …?
ANNA: I don’t know but even so … no, she says 35. So, 30% more than … she says 30%, 35% are successful.
SHREEN: But even the fact that she’s now saying that 95-98% of diets fail, and she acknowledges that, but all that she’s been talking about is dieting. Diet the whole way through. She’s just completely contradicting herself.
ANNA: Not only is it that they don’t work, but she continues to spruik it, continues to say that it’s possible, and if you do it her way, the Biggest Loser way … they did 7 hours of exercise a day, with gruelling regimes and being pushed and yelled at …
LOUISE: And they all put the weight back on.
ANNA: They put the weight back on.
LOUISE: And their resting metabolic rate was screwed, six years later.
SHREEN: Yeah, 700 calories it decreased by. They lost lean body mass, their fasting glucose increased, their blood sugar levels, yeah. They were the main things. But the fact that their metabolic rate decreased by such a large amount … especially where we were saying, she’s telling people to only eat 1200 calories but then you’re going to follow the Biggest Loser method, your metabolic rate’s going to drop by 700 calories, then what are you going to do?
LOUISE: So, she lied about the stats on the Biggest Loser, and she’s not even talking to people about the metabolic impact. Because that study was fascinating, and I talk to clients about it. Because they predicted, the researchers predicted how much their resting metabolic rate would be dropped by …
ANNA: And what did they …
LOUISE: And they found out it was even lower. So, they were worse off metabolically than they had predicted six years later. No one expected it to last that long, to have such a devastating impact.
ANNA: Yeah, so it’s like a continued effect. It hasn’t regained back to before, pre …
LOUISE: Exactly. And when stuff like that is suppressed, we know people are going to experience intense hunger, which of course you can’t honour.
SHREEN: And the thing is, again, she’s completely misquoted this study herself but if she’d done her research she would know that there’s been over a hundred studies on intuitive eating that have been done that show you have better body image, higher esteem, improved metabolism, decreased rates of disordered and emotional eating, diminished stress levels and increased satisfaction with life. That’s over a hundred studies on intuitive eating that have been done.
ANNA: And I’m pretty sure that you couldn’t say the same, with all of those positive effects, with dieting.
LOUISE: No, especially the ones that use her supplements, which show that everyone puts the weight back on. And the Biggest Loser study, everyone puts the weight back on … but let’s not focus on whether or not the weight comes back on. It’s actually the damage to the body and the metabolic systems that’s just absent from her rant.
SHREEN: And not even the psychological damage, that’s not even mentioned.
LOUISE: She’s evidence of the psychological damage.
SHREEN: Yeah. That is true, yeah.
ANNA: So, the next one is … principle eight, respect your body.
LOUISE: Oh, fuck.
ANNA: So, I think going back to when she spoke about size 16 always equalling healthiness, I think that shows that she doesn’t have respect for all bodies. And that kind of bothers me a bit.
SHREEN. A bit. A lot.
ANNA: It’s a big part of like, you know, our approach here and being a Health at Every Size® professional, you know? It’s about honouring and understanding and respecting that all bodies are different and need something different.
SHREEN: And that you can’t tell somebody’s health by their body size, and that’s such … it’s a huge misconception as it is, let alone, I mean, Jillian Michaels saying this and it’s just …
ANNA: Yeah, and just recognising that bodies are diverse, and they will do different things. Your health looks different at different points in your life. What you need changes day to day, and only your body really knows. You know? No external source, no trainer, no Jillian Michaels, no Dr Oz, nobody knows your body.
SHREEN: And the whole principle of respecting your body is about being kind to yourself and compassionate and self-care, which is the complete opposite of Jillian Michaels. Like, she is just not kind. She’s not compassionate. She’s just shaming, judgemental, mean. Like … yeah. She’s … I just don’t think she even understands the word ‘respect’, quite frankly.
LOUISE: Unless it’s like ‘respect my authority”.
ANNA: Something I noticed too, that came up before, was that because she’s so invested in it … have you heard of the concept of religion, like dieting? The religion of dieting? She’s so completely invested in it, she’s almost not willing to look the other way, or explore that there might be some truth in this, because she’s so invested, like financially and that’s her way of living …
LOUISE: It’s her identity.
LOUISE: It’s interesting, isn’t it? I think Alan Levinovitz, ‘The Gluten Lie’ …
ANNA: That’s the guy.
LOUISE: He talks about this, the religion of diet mentality. She is definitely the Pope.
SHREEN: Quote of the day (all laugh).
ANNA: So, then we come into ‘movement, feel the difference’. Which is principle nine.
SHREEN: I think this one really got us fired up, didn’t it?
ANNA: Well, the first thing that she said was like, “what is this? I don’t know what this ‘militant exercise’ even means”.
LOUISE: That’s so funny (all laugh).
ANNA: Like, really? Are you sure?
LOUISE: She’s like, world-famous on memes for [inaudible]. I think I even did a presentation once where I used her with her finger in her face at someone as a demonstration of militant exercise.
ANNA: Yeah, the kind of exercise that you don’t want to do if you want to have a sustainable relationship with movement.
LOUISE: Yeah, your name’s on the t-shirt, love.
SHREEN: Just telling people in this thing that, you know, this myth that’s just not true – ‘no pain, no gain’, that only hard exercise counts, it’s just utter rubbish. All movement counts, it doesn’t matter what it is. From playing with your kids, to hoovering, to dancing around your living room.
LOUISE: Hoovering doesn’t count, I don’t even know what hoovering is …
ANNA: She’s talking about hoovering, the hoover …
SHREEN: Vacuuming, is that more Aussie?
LOUISE: No, I don’t understand. (all laugh).
SHREEN: But like, movement can be anything and you get the exact same health benefits from any type of regular movement, doesn’t matter what it is. But what she’s just trying to … she’s just bringing movement and aesthetics, that’s what she’s talking about. She’s talking about …
ANNA: That’s a really good point, because if she was really interested in somebody’s health, then any kind of movement would be accessible, you know, like …
ANNA: Helpful, yeah.
SHREEN: Your blood markers, and stress levels, and sleep, it doesn’t matter what it is, it has the same health benefits. But she’s not talking about health. She’s talking about the way you look.
ANNA: Yeah. She’s talking about ‘results’ a lot, and “if you want to get results fast” … because you know, let’s face it, she says “if you’re coming to look at intuitive eating, you’re trying to lose weight, you’re trying to get results fast.”
ANNA: “You’ve got to do a certain type of exercise, and my programs do that”. So, a little bit of spruiking her own programs too.
SHREEN: What she doesn’t realise that she’s doing is having that negative relationship with exercise is not going to make people want to do it.
LOUISE: She doesn’t care about that.
SHREEN: She’s the reason why people don’t want to go to the gym, or they hate exercise, because of people like Jillian Michaels.
ANNA: Yeah, it’s that fitness trauma that you were talking about before. And what I recognise here, at the studio at Haven, community … in my experience, community has always been really powerful in building that sustainable and healthful relationship with movement. Joy and …
SHREEN: And it’s that you enjoy, you [inaudible].
ANNA: And to want to come back, too. And that militant approach might work well for someone who responds to that but maybe for a short time. And then that motivation kind of wanes. And then it’s always trying to get back the motivation, you hear that a lot in fitness culture. But if you’re not coming at it from external, an external place, for external purposes, and it’s more about the …
SHREEN: The way it makes you feel, using it as a tool for self-care rather than punishment …
ANNA: Your mental health, having fun with your friends, it’s a completely different experience to being yelled at by Jillian Michaels.
SHREEN: Her whole thing is yelling at people, making them feel guilty, punishing them. Like, and that’s just not what people need in a fitness professional. They need someone who is kind and compassionate and she’s just … that’s just not her, unfortunately. She’s just giving …
ANNA: What is she? She’s the Pope of … the religion of dieting. She’s also the epitome of diet culture. She’s all of those things. And then the last principle is gentle nutrition, principle ten.
LOUISE: I think this actually blew up her brain.
SHREEN: Yeah, because she couldn’t understand the whole diet … principle one, principle ten …
LOUISE: She couldn’t figure out how that fits with unconditional permission to eat. Because of course, if you have unconditional permission to eat, you’re going to stick your face into a burger for the rest of your life.
ANNA: Yeah, so again she thinks it’s all just endless eating.
LOUISE: She’s stuck in that ‘all or nothing’ mentality.
ANNA: Exactly, yeah.
SHREEN: It’s funny, because she talks about that ‘black and white, all or nothing’ mentality and not understanding that’s exactly what she’s saying. Yeah.
ANNA: Yeah, and again it came up just very, very clear that she hasn’t read the book, she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.
SHREEN: Yeah, I think that’s the main …
ANNA: This is when she said, you know, “it’s probably written by someone who has just really been hurt by diet culture and probably had an eating disorder, and, you know, probably just some random” and actually …
LOUISE: Such a shame that she didn’t actually look at the author.
SHREEN: Yeah, just even look up to who they were. Yeah.
ANNA: It’s a little bit disappointing because you’d think somebody who has such a following, I think, has such a … I think there’s a moral obligation in a way to represent something that … when you have such a big following and you’re sharing something that can affect people deeply …
SHREEN: It’s what we say, that she’s really coming from that dieting mentality and all that sort of shaming that she doesn’t understand that intuitive eating at its core is a self-care model. It’s very compassionate and she doesn’t understand that. Also. with intuitive eating, we’re not saying that it’s a solution for everybody. Everyone has the right to do what they want with their body. She just doesn’t understand the concept at all, what it stands for.
ANNA: It’s like she’s on such a different planet, and it’s not … doesn’t come across as open to exploring that this might be something that really serves people.
SHREEN: Yeah, and that it’s having such a positive impact. We talked about earlier with the …
ANNA: Feeling a bit threatened by the impact on her, you know, her …
LOUISE: To her bottom line. I also think that, I mean, if she really is undernourished to that point that she has restricted her entire life, one of the things that happens when you’re weight supressed is cognitive rigidity.
ANNA: That’s a really good point.
LOUISE: So, it’s quite hard to be flexible. We see that a lot with people who are suffering in the depths of Anorexia, that you simply cannot think. And perhaps there’s an element of that that’s happening here.
ANNA: That’s really interesting.
SHREEN: That’s a really good point. Because what dieting, that kind of restriction is doing to you …
LOUISE: Well, it gives her massive benefits. Huge amounts of recognition, it gives her income. She can’t think out of it. So, there’s not a lot of reason for her, like … I think the reason for putting up that video wasn’t a genuine exploration of “what’s this thing called ‘intuitive eating’?”.
SHREEN: It was just to …
LOUISE: It was just to kind of …
ANNA: Debunk it.
LOUISE: To debunk it and keep hold of her customer base. Look, let’s assume that she is interested in the book. Jillian Michael’s house is in Malibu, California. I reckon we just whack a copy in an envelope, address it to her, maybe she’ll read it.
ANNA: Do you think?
LOUISE: Yeah? I don’t know. Maybe if all of our listeners whack a copy into an envelope …
LOUISE: 20 copies, please read. Maybe.
SHREEN: Maybe, yeah.
LOUISE: But I don’t think that was anything other than a … it’s quite interesting, I’m seeing this more and more. The famous people, the people who have really invested in diet culture, even the obesity researchers and all of that. They’re all kind of getting a little bit nervous about this pushback.
SHREEN: They should be.
LOUISE: It makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
SHREEN: It’s time.
LOUISE: It’s got nothing to do with the champagne. I think the celebs are getting nervous, like “what do you mean, people in larger bodies are okay with themselves just the way they are?”. And finding non weight-loss things to look after themselves, oh my gosh. What a huge, horrible threat. So, we’re not sorry, Jillian, that we made you nervous.
ANNA: Agreed. I hope it gives her a little bit of food for thought (all laugh).
LOUISE: I don’t know how many calories would be attached to that thought (all laugh).
ANNA: I have to say, like, the thing that I think fires me up the most is how fatphobic she is.
SHREEN: And how much harm … that’s the thing that fired me up the most, how much harm she’s causing people out there. And having had an eating disorder myself, it’s just …
LOUISE: Horrible. You can see how triggering it is.
SHREEN: I can see what it can do, yeah. That’s what fires me up.
LOUISE: and let’s not forget when we say fatphobic, we mean people who hate fat people. And that is really reflective … even though she is professing “oh, I’m going to love you … but you’re unhealthy so change”. That’s troubling. Using health as a halo, an excuse or a reason for my core treatment of you just based on your appearance. And that’s just … those days are done. You can’t do that anymore. It’s just not cool. And I do wonder if there is like a Biggest Loser university somewhere?
ANNA: Michelle Bridges went to it as well.
LOUISE: Because the same kind of hatred of fat people, you know … again, like masked with a thin layer of concern trolling for your health was Michelle Bridges’ thing. Four years ago, when she was on Australian Story and she was saying “I’m yet to meet someone who is morbidly obese and happy”. So, for people who are listening from overseas, Michelle Bridges is the Australian version of Jillian Michaels. And what an awful comment. So, Jillian has been pushed back against from this video, right? Michelle was pushed back against from this video too, with really clear … I know we all live in a bubble, but with quite a lot of push back.
ANNA: That’s good. Was she on … was that on like Australian primetime TV?
SHREEN: She was on Australian Story.
LOUISE: Yeah [inaudible] … it shows how deeply she feels [inaudible] about people she’s profiting from. Putting them through three cycles a year of 1200 calorie program and she knows it doesn’t work. But the thing is, what they do is they double down. People like this double down, when they’re called out, when there’s a pushback. Instead of kind of opening up and say, “okay, I should probably issue an apology, maybe take the video down, maybe do some work”. They’re not doing that. Jillian’s not doing that.
ANNA: I think she just keeps responding. And she’s just responding with the same rhetoric, so she’s not …
SHREEN: I think she kind of comments that [inaudible], to learn about it more, which is a shame.
ANNA: And how did Michele Bridges respond?
LOUISE: Doubled down on it. About health, “I care deeply about health”.
ANNA: The whole thing with health and weight, this is what really frustrates me about it too. If she’s really interested in health, she could support all the behaviours that support someone’s health.
LOUISE: Too complicated. Remember? Too complicated. Anything that actually involves having to think about something other than my own diet plan …
ANNA: It makes me realise how happy I’ve become in moving away from all this, that’s why I got away from it. Because I learned about how there’s another way. Intuitive eating, Health at Every Size®, the body positivity movement … I started delving into it and it just felt so triggering being around other fitness professionals from the traditional approach. And this here, I’ve got to say, got me so fired up. I’m going to be fired up for a while from this.
SHREEN: We talk about fitness trauma, and Jillian Michaels is causing that.
LOUISE: May she go the way of the dinosaurs and … (all laugh).
ANNA: Well, hopefully there will be less and less of her to be seen in the future and more and more of kind of this messaging coming up, challenging …
LOUISE: Absolutely, I absolutely think that’s going to happen. You’ve just reminded me actually, she … because Jillian, earlier in the year before she posted the nasty intuitive eating thing, she said something nasty about Lizzo.
SHREEN: Yeah, of course.
ANNA: That sounds familiar …
SHREEN: Yeah. That was before …
LOUISE: A little while before, I don’t know. It’s Covid, none of us have a timeline.
ANNA: She’s said some pretty horrendous things.
SHREEN: Really horrendous things yeah.
LOUISE: Again, like … “she’s clearly going to get diabetes” or something?
ANNA: I think she said something along the lines of “there’s nothing sexy about diabetes”, or clogged arteries or something.
SHREEN: Something like that, yeah.
ANNA: How can she … that’s so inappropriate. Lizzo’s bouncing away on stage. She’s got stamina, she’s got energy.
SHREEN: We don’t know anything about her or her health.
ANNA: And why do we have to talk about that anyway? She’s this amazing performer and doing this really cool stuff. It’s wonderful to see some diverse bodies out there that are getting out there as much as the other, the thin ideal that you see everywhere.
LOUISE: Yeah, the comments that she made were like “why are we talking about Lizzo’s body, we should be talking about her music”.
ANNA: So, she said that?
ANNA: But then …
LOUISE: And it’s really funny, because she’s saying that we shouldn’t be talking about Lizzo’s body, but her entire website is full of shots of her body.
ANNA: Yeah, and that’s her thing.
SHREEN: That’s her thing, yeah.
ANNA: She’s always talking about people’s bodies. Size 16, yeah.
SHREEN: Yeah, non-stop.
LOUISE: The point I’m making is that you don’t say that about Lizzo. And the pushback she got after she made that comment? This is the future Jillian. Lizzo is setting the world on fire.
ANNA: We need more Lizzo.
SHREEN: We need more Lizzo.
LOUISE: and you are the biggest loser.
ANNA: Well put.
LOUISE: Oh my god, let’s finish on a high note. Thank you, guys, that was an elegant unpacking of Jillian Michael’s ten principles of not understanding intuitive eating (all laugh). And how firmly we can steer the ship to this new awesome way of looking after our body.
ANNA: Thank you.
SHREEN: Thank you.
(Watch if you can stomach) Jillian Michaels' Igno-rant on Youtube
Urbszat, Dax, C. Peter Herman, and Janet Polivy. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we diet: Effects of anticipated deprivation on food intake in restrained and unrestrained eaters." Journal of abnormal psychology 111.2 (2002): 396.
News article about 4 lawsuits against Jillian Michaels for her weight loss pills
Fothergill, Erin, et al. "Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition." Obesity 24.8 (2016): 1612-1619.
Alan Levinovitz's The Gluten Lie
Find out more about Anna Hearn & Haven
Find out more about Shreen El Masry and Be You Be Free