Find your fitness fun. If exercise is stupid or boring or not fun, you will not do it. Seriously. Every day the siren call of social media and streaming movies call to us. Exercise will only get its foot in the door if it is super fun. Put your energy into finding fitness that you like. I cannot, repeat, CANNOT exercise on a treadmill. I don’t care how good it is for my health. I’d rather literally freeze my buttocks off walking outside. And I love to dance. I tried and failed at exercise so many times before I found dance. Now I’ve been doing it regularly for 20 years. (Of course, it helps your attendance record when you’re the teacher…)
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanette DePatie.
Jeanette is a Hollywood Writer and Producer as well as a plus-sized, certified fitness instructor and personal trainer who has helped thousands of people of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities learn to love their bodies and love exercise again. Via her internationally best-selling books and DVDs (EveryBODY Can Exercise: Senior Edition, Love It! and The Fat Chick Works Out) as well as live, streamed and downloaded classes Jeanette shares the message that health and wellness begin by loving the skin you’re in. She is highly sought after for her dynamic and fun presentations and has spoken at CES, NAB, SMPTE CEATECH The Lean Startup Conference as well as a variety of Colleges and Universities including Dickenson College, UCLA and USC and has appeared on or in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Readers Digest, Dr. Drew, The Katie Couric Show, ABC News, CBS Interactive, NPR and The Huffington Post.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
Believe it or not, I wasn’t birthed fully formed out of the womb as a fitness guru who calls herself The Fat Chick. Like many of you, I have endured days of sadness and frustration. The journey from sad sack to magnificent fat chick was a long and bumpy, but very exciting road. Let me tell you a little bit about my story.
I remember one day very clearly. I was in the kitchen crying inconsolably. I was crying because I wasn’t skinny and I believed only skinny people could ever be happy. My husband told me that I looked great — that he loved me just the way I was, but I just couldn’t believe him. I tried to diet but found I couldn’t stick with it. I tried to exercise, but I really struggled. I hired a personal trainer but grew tired of the badgering and emotional abuse, and I quit. I tried a step aerobics class but was tired of struggling at the back of the class to lift my aching knees as fast as the other students. I tried to train for a marathon but wound up with a stress fracture in my foot by the third week. I felt like a failure, and I was miserable.
Now, fast forward to another day, much later, in Springfield Missouri, as I’m about to cross the finish line of my first marathon. There was no “finish line” to speak of (they had taken it down hours earlier). But I limped across the sidewalk where the finish line had been, raised my exhausted arms in victory and sobbed like a baby.
Comes another day, later still. It was at least 95 degrees in our makeshift video studio. I had been doing aerobics in that heat for over four hours, shooting footage for my new exercise video, The Fat Chick Works Out! Ultimately, I moved to Los Angeles and started working as a writer and producer of interactive content. I bedecked my curvy body with sequins and rhinestones and walked the red carpet with A-list celebrities and Hollywood Powerhouses. Which led to yet another day in Irwindale, California. I spent the day with about 20 of my absolute favorite seniors dancing and talking and recording for over 8 hours for my newest exercise video, EveryBODY Can Exercise: Senior Edition.
It started with just one little idea that changed everything. I thought, “what if I stopped obsessing about my weight, and started living my life as if I were already at my goal weight?”
It was a revolutionary concept. No more measuring my self-worth based on the numbers on a scale. I began living my life as if I were already thin. There were so many things I wanted to do once I was skinny. I wanted new clothes. I wanted a new hairdo. I wanted to teach aerobics classes. I wanted to be on TV. I wanted to be a Hollywood producer. And one day, I decided to stop wasting my life while minding my waist and to start doing all that stuff, right now.
So I went to the local YWCA and told them that I wanted to become an aerobics instructor so I could help other beginning exercisers. I met Ahmena, a loving, beautiful, joyful woman who taught aerobics at the Y. She taught me the mechanics of teaching a successful aerobics class. What’s more, she never doubted for one second that I could do it. Before long, I was teaching a class of my own.
I learned an awful lot from teaching aerobics. I learned that any type of exercise requires you to start from wherever you are. If you can only do five minutes of the class, then do five minutes. Then the next week, do six minutes. Do only what you can and don’t be embarrassed by it. For the first time in my life, I truly appreciated what exercise could do for me. I slept well. I felt great. Stress just melted away. I also saw what exercise did for my students. Some lost weight. Some didn’t. Some got off diabetes or blood pressure medications. Some found that they could now run up to our second-story dance studio without huffing and puffing. Some found a new, bolder and braver sense of self. Some simply found a way to spend an hour away from family and work obligations to take care of themselves. There was something for everybody. Ultimately, I became a certified aerobics instructor and personal trainer.
Over the years, I have had a lot of time to reflect about what it took to get me across that finish line. I learned to have confidence and I learned to have faith. I learned to find help and accept help. I learned that by making one small step and then another, I could conquer marathons and climb mountains. And I most of all, I learned not to waste any more of my life worrying about my waist. When I think back of all the lost years–the years I could have been happy and the years I could have been moving forward, it makes me sad and angry. But mostly it makes me determined. Not just to live every day of my life as fully and deeply as I can, but also to help others learn what I have learned. It’s a tough life sometimes, being The Fat Chick. I’ve been yelled at and bullied on television and national radio shows. I’ve been spat at by complete strangers in the course of sharing my story. But you know what? If I can help people reclaim one year, one week or even one day of your life, it will be worth it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One really awesome story involves the Hot Flash Mob Movement I created with my colleague and woman’s health expert Dr. Eve Agee. We decided we wanted to do something for Menopause Awareness Month to help women think differently about this important time in their lives. I created and choreographed a dance we dubbed the Menopause Mambo. We posted the choreography online and set up a bi-coastal flash mob in Manhattan and San Francisco for the same day. I remember being super nervous about doing the flash mob in a crowded intersection in Manhattan. We had been eyeing a nearby policeman hoping we wouldn’t get shut down or arrested. Suddenly all 20 of us sweaty menopausal and perimenopausal gals ran out into the park and did our two-minute and thirty-second dance. It was all captured on film and thankfully nobody got arrested. After the dance I thanked the policeman for not arresting us or shutting us down. “Well you guys didn’t impede traffic and you got the whole thing done in less than three minutes which is good. Besides, my wife is going through the change, and there’s like what 20 of you? I know better than to mess with all that!” It was funny, but also instructive. It’s amazing what can happen when people come together in love and joy and boogie down together.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I don’t know how humorous it was, but I think the biggest mistake I made when I was first starting was thinking that I needed to be some sort of perfect poster child for non-traditional (non-skinny) exercisers. I believed I had to conquer every race and never get sick and always be perfectly happy and healthy. Of course this was ridiculous and impossible. I think I had to learn to discard the notion of being a “persona” and show up in the world as a fully-fleshed (pun intended) person. As a person, I had good days and bad days. As a person sometimes I got hurt and sometimes I got sick. As part of this process, I learned to appreciate my spot in the back of the pack.
I remember when I completed my first triathlon. As I was coming to the end of the run, a woman came out of nowhere and started running with me. “Where did you come from?” I asked. She told me that it was her job to run in behind the last person so that athlete didn’t have to feel bad about being last? “Feel bad?! I don’t feel bad about last. I OWN last. That’s my JAM!” I told her. As I reached the track, I trotted around for my last place “victory lap” arms held high. The crowd cheered for me, not only because I finished last, but also because I seemed so ridiculously pleased about it. I remember the announcer coming to the center field of the track with a microphone and interviewing me so everybody could hear. It was so much fun!
My friend Mary Ann has helped me refine my back of the pack status. I remember when I did my first marathon, the SAG wagon (that picks up the straggling runners who couldn’t finish the race) came up behind me. They asked me if I was okay. I nodded and just kept right on running. “Are you sure?” one woman asked. Mary Ann replied, “Look, I’m an anesthesiologist and Barnes Hospital and I can tell you she’s doing fine. I run with her every week.” The lady looked at me doubtfully. “But she doesn’t look so good.” I almost replied with an impolite “adult” gesture, but decided to just cool it. Mary Ann said, “I know, but she always looks that way when she runs.” I started laughing hysterically, but kept right on running until the end of the race.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
There’s so much exercise stuff out there for people who are already fit. But what about the 60+ percent of us in the United States who aren’t fit and have no idea how to get there? What about people who are coming back from illness or injuries? What about people who were told they would never be able to exercise again? What about those of us who had bad experiences and learned to hate exercise? What about those of us who have NEVER exercised? I found that the vast majority of exercise programs out there are designed for people who are already exercisers. But if you’re coming back from chemo or recovering from heart surgery or you struggle to walk two-blocks or one flight of stairs, you just might not be ready for a 60 minute aerobics DVD even if it’s labeled “low impact.” That’s my calling. Offering safe and shame-free options for people who don’t feel ready for a traditional exercise program.
For more than 20 years, I have helped thousands of people of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities learn to love their bodies and love exercise again. I am not the strongest athlete or the fastest athlete. Nevertheless, I am an athlete. For 20 years, I have watched my students walk in that door, week after week for decades. I have some students that have danced with me nearly every week for 12–15 years. To me, that is my metric for success. I want my students to feel successful each and every time they come to class. I want them to have a great time every single time they come to class. Then they come back again and again. Because the way I make successful exercisers is give them the tools and the desire to KEEP ON exercising.
I have written an award-winning book, “The Fat Chick Works Out!” and contributed to several others. I also have two best-selling exercise DVDs “The Fat Chick Works Out!” and “EveryBODY Can Exercise: Senior Edition.” I have been on national and international television shows and have spoken about exercise for EveryBODY all over the world. But it is the simple fact that I’m helping people in my live and online classes as well as with my DVD to keep exercising that I find most rewarding.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
So many people have helped me. I’ve already talked about my husband, Brian, aerobics trainer Ahmena and running buddy Mary Ann. But there’s also my Mom and Dad, my amazing producer and director friends Donna Donahue, Allyson Manno, Barbara Multer-Wellin and Gina Cavalier. My dear friend and co-creator of the Fit Fatties Forum, Ragen Chastain. And there’s always my amazing students who teach me more than I have ever taught them.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
- We try to do everything at once. This is not reasonable or sustainable. It’s so much better to pick one small thing and do that successfully. Once that change is integrated into your life in a way that is easy and doesn’t require a lot of thought, then do another thing. Build from success to success.
- We think of healthy practices as a punishment. Remember in gym class, if you showed up late or did something wrong you were punished with laps around the track. And how many times have you heard somebody say, “I’m going to need to do another hour on the treadmill after eating this”? This sets us up to think of wellness as something to do because we are bad. And let’s face it, we’re like big kids. We’ll do anything to get out of punishment.
- We have misaligned expectations. We’re taught (via media and advertising) that moderate exercise will make us look like supermodels. In all my years I’ve had two students that ended up looking like supermodels after working with me. Incidentally, they looked like supermodels BEFORE starting to work with me. If you think this is the goal, and six weeks into your program you don’t look much different, you tend to feel like a failure. And when you feel like a failure, you quit. Exercise is phenomenally wonderful and fun and helpful. But the chances of a supermodel or movie star result are, um, slim.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
- Love your body. Period. Full stop. Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to convince us that we are broken and not enough. Baloney. My dad always taught me to keep my car washed and shiny. You know why? Because we take care of the things we love, that’s why. He taught me that if I loved my car, I would take it for oil changes on time. And when it started making a funny noise, instead of turning up the radio, I would take my car to the mechanic. Same thing with our bodies. It’s a whole lot easier to take care of our bodies if we love them.
- Find your fitness fun. If exercise is stupid or boring or not fun, you will not do it. Seriously. Every day the siren call of social media and streaming movies call to us. Exercise will only get its foot in the door if it is super fun. Put your energy into finding fitness that you like. I cannot, repeat, CANNOT exercise on a treadmill. I don’t care how good it is for my health. I’d rather literally freeze my buttocks off walking outside. And I love to dance. I tried and failed at exercise so many times before I found dance. Now I’ve been doing it regularly for 20 years. (Of course, it helps your attendance record when you’re the teacher…)
- Try new stuff. You may have to kiss some fitness frogs before you find your exercise prince charming. But you’re not going to know unless you go out on some fitness dates. There’s a lot more under the exercise sun than walking, biking or swimming. Try stuff! Maybe it’s standup paddle boarding. Maybe it’s tango classes. You won’t know until you try.
- Laugh. My students laugh and make me laugh at every single class. This is such a win-win-win situation. If I’m laughing, I’m not taking myself too seriously. If I’m laughing with good friends, then I am achieving strong social connections which improves my health every bit as much as exercise does. And if I’m laughing, I’m having fun which makes me want to come back for more and more and more.
- Listen to your body. Our bodies carry deep and sacred wisdom in them. If you listen carefully, your body will tell you when you are on the right track. If you need rest, then rest. If you need to play, play. If you want to eat, then eat something that makes you feel nourished and cherished. Sometimes it’s cooked carrots. Sometimes it’s a chocolate chip cookie. Your body will tell you quietly and politely exactly what you need. If you don’t listen, your body will start screaming. Best to listen while your body is engaging in civil conversation.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
First off, I think it’s important to state that not everybody who engages in daily exercise will lose weight. That’s why this is such a problematic metric for exercise success. And I also need to state that daily exercise is not necessarily required. Those exercisers doing intense weight-bearing or resistance training will probably benefit from rest days here and there for recovery. That said, there are many benefits most regular exercisers should expect.
Regular exercise improves self-esteem and mood. Most regular exercisers will find it easier to cope with daily stress — even after their very first exercise session. This is especially true if your exercise experience is positive, social and fun. Many of my students report that even if they don’t feel like exercising at first, by the end of class they always feel better.
Regular exercise helps regulate blood sugar. For people with diabetes this is one of the single most important lifestyle changes they can make. I have had quite a number of students come back to me and tell me their doctors are thrilled with their numbers. Some exercisers can reduce the amount of medicine required to manage their condition.
Regular weight-bearing exercise helps improve bone density and decrease likelihood and/or severity of osteoporosis.
Regular exercise helps you keep up and do fun things with your kids and/or grandkids.
Regular exercise strengthens your immune system so you get sick less often and helps you heal more quickly.
Regular exercise helps you live longer. But even more important, exercise helps improve the quality of your life. It makes it a lot easier and more fun to do the things you love most. From dancing to shopping to cooking to sex, exercise gives you more capacity to enjoy the awesomest things in life.
Look if exercise were available in pill form, virtually every human being would have a prescription. It improves nearly every arena in physical, emotional and mental health.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
I guess I have an unusual take on this question.
I always tell my students the only mandatory exercise is the get your butt out of bed, get your butt out the door and get your butt in here exercise. The main exercise is to show up for your workout. It doesn’t matter if the workout isn’t your personal best. It doesn’t matter if your makeup is perfect or your sweats match. It matters that you show up every time.
Another critical exercise for the core muscles as well as the psyche is laughter. If you’re laughing, and having a super fun time, you’re going to keep showing up for exercise. And we already talked about how important THAT is.
Finally, I recommend that students first take off their boxing gloves. Successful exercisers are ones who have chosen not to beat themselves up all the time. Next, I recommend that exercisers extend their dominant hand over their shoulder and pat themselves on the back. Exercise programs are so much more successful when built on joy and love and self-care.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
The biggest reason that people end up getting so sore is that they try to do too much too fast. It doesn’t matter what you were capable of last year at this time or 20 years ago when you were a junior in high school. You need to start your exercise routine where you are TODAY. I talk about finding your starting point extensively in my book “The Fat Chick Works Out!” (In particular, I share my Rock the Block technique.)
Once you find your starting place, you should strive to exercise regularly. Weekend warriors are particularly vulnerable to exercise pain and injuries.
And you need to ramp responsibly. For most people that means only increasing one exercise parameter at a time (duration, frequency, intensity) and by only 10% per week. So if you’re doing 1 mile per workout this week, next week you could do 1.1 miles per workout (NOT TWO OR THREE).
The other stuff is pretty well known. Start with a low intensity cardiovascular warmup. Stretch gently at the end.
Finally, I would suggest taking a lot of care throughout the kinetic chain. That means start with the feet. Make sure you’re wearing good shoes appropriate for your foot type and exercise type. Learn good technique for protecting ankles, knees, hips and back.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
I do not diet. I focus on intuitive eating. I believe the research indicates that diets make you heavier and less healthy in the long run. I pay close attention to how various foods feel in my body and focus on eating 5 or more servings of fruits/vegetables per day, drinking at least a quart of water per day and eating only until I’m comfortably full. I really don’t put much energy into restrictions of any kind as I think that tends to backfire. I recommend that my students consult a body-positive, non shaming nutritionist and work with them to devise a non-restrictive eating system that works for them. I am not a nutritionist so I feel giving detailed diet advice is somewhat outside my scope of practice. Besides, EveryBODY is different.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
There are so many. My first sojurn into body love happened completely by accident. I had gone to the library to look for another magic diet book and took home Losing It by Laura Fraser. It was an expose on the diet and fitness industries in America. This book taught me to look critically at a lot of what I had been taught about weight and health and having a “perfect body” and introduced me to the body positive movement. Other books that were instrumental in my journey were Fat?So! by Marilyn Wann and Ragen Chastain’s Blog.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to create a movement where people commit to loving themselves and experience maximum joy through dancing together. With my latest DVD EveryBODY Can Exercise: Senior Edition I’ve seen how much fun grandparents and grandkids have exercising together. So I want to continue to build a platform where people of ALL ages, shapes, sizes and abilities, people with all different levels of health and experience can dance together and have so much fun! In this platform I see the capability for people to heal one another and the world through shame-free, judgement-free boogie.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I think mine is “I imagine people think I’m fabulous”. This is a quote I made for myself. And I admit this isn’t always easy to do. I get a lot of hate online. And I experience a surprising amount of it in person. A while back, I remember my author friend Barbara Bruno saying “What you think of me is none of my business.” That helped me realize we really don’t know what people are thinking about us. Often we imagine that others are thinking poorly of us, but that thought isn’t real — it’s just our imagination. But I always wondered if we couldn’t take this a step further. If the idea of other people’s thoughts about us is in our heads anyways, why not imagine they think we are awesome. Since I have the power to create the picture, why not create a good one?
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
People I’d love to meet:
Richard Simmons (My hero)!
Sarah Hannah, Nike’s general manager and vice president for women in Europe, the Middle East and Africa who helped launch the campaign of plus-sized mannequins in Nike’s London Store
Liz Muñoz, CEO of Torrid
AARP CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins
Charity Dye, Senior Buyer of Fitness and Activity Walmart
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!