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Interview with Jillian Michaels: How to Set Realistic Fitness Goals and Develop Healthy Habits To Improve Your Well-Being

In an exclusive interview with Thrive Global, this fitness expert offers practical tips to get (and stay) in shape.

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As we head into the spring and summer season, many of us are focused on getting fit. However, the problem for many people is goal setting. And when we don’t set the right goals, we are basically setting ourselves up to fail.

Creating lasting, positive change requires developing healthy habits and sticking to them. To learn more, I spoke with Jillian Michaels, leading health and wellness expert and creator of The Fitness App.

What advice would you give to help people set realistic fitness goals? What questions should they ask themselves/steps should they take?

The first question is WHAT is your fitness goal?  Is it endurance improvements – like running a 5k? Or is it a weight loss goal – like losing 20 lbs?  Could it be a strength and mobility goal – adding some muscle mass and improving your overall fitness?

Once you know the goal you can do a bit of homework about what that goal entails and from there you need to assess the following:

How much time do you have to dedicate to the goal?  This dramatically impacts your goal achievement time frame. 

What is your tolerance for the work involved?  For example, if you decide you want to lose 10lbs in a month are you capable of reducing your calorie intake to roughly 1400 calories a day or does that feel way too strict to you and unsustainable? If it feels too hard you will need to push out your time frame.  

After asking these questions you will want to build out what I call a goal pyramid.  At the top you will have your ultimate goal.  Another example: I want to lose 20lbs in 3 months.  This would be top of the pyramid.  Then you break it down further, what are your monthly goals that should be targeted in order to achieve the “ultimate goal”?  In this example case it would be to lose roughly 6.5 pounds a month.  Then you break it into weekly goals.  So what do you need to do weekly do in order to hit the 6.5lb loss monthly.  You would need to lose roughly 1.7lbs a week, which means you need to burn roughly 6000 calories a week.  

Then you look at daily goals to hit that 6000 calorie weekly burn.  You now need to burn around 850 calories a day more than you are eat.  So, from here you can determine how much exercise you want to put in to boost your daily burn and how many calories you want to eat so that you have that 850 number.  So, maybe you say I will train 4 times a week for 30 minutes and aim to workout with higher intensity techniques that burn more calories in less time. And then I will aim to consume 1500 calories a day. From there, if there is still confusion your immediate goals should be to figure out how many calories are in the foods you typically eat.  Or to look up which types of exercise burn the most calories per minute.  Or google how to calculate your active metabolic rate so you can figure out how many calories you are burning in a day before you exercise. Etc.

So, the long and the short of goal setting is all about an informed individualized approach.  The goal is individualized. The time frame is set based on what you personally can tolerate work and sacrifice wise.  The actions you take should skew more towards things you like to do verses things you don’t in order to help you sustain the necessary steps the goal requires.  And you must educate and inform yourself on what it takes to achieve this things so you can put a thoughtful action plan together that yields powerful results.

Exercise is just as much about mindset as it is about taking action. How do you help people get (and stay) motivated?

This one is far less technical. It’s about finding your why.  I’ve said this for years now.  Anything worth having in life requires work and sacrifice, BUT if you have the why to live for you can tolerate the how – which is the work associated with achieving the goal.  So, take some time to really sit down and think about what it is you want.  In detail.  Don’t say things like “I want love, money, and health.”  Meditate on what these things actually look like in your life. Does health mean beating cancer? Does it mean running a marathon? Does it mean losing 20lbs and being more active with your kids?  It doesn’t matter what your answers are as long as they matter to you. Then, write these things down.  Visualize them. Imagine yourself achieving them.  Feel what it would be like to live in this healthier way.  And let that passion carry you through.  Work with purpose is passion.  Work without purpose is just punishing. 

Following a healthy, balanced diet is an important piece of the puzzle. But many people have a love/hate relationship with food. As a trainer, how often do you see emotions being the root of the problem? To help people with their food issues, do you have to act as both a therapist and a trainer?

The science behind weight loss is actually so simple.  People love to over complicate it to either make money or play politically correct and virtue signal (ultimately to make money as well).  But the key to avoid over eating (eating more than you burn in a day).  And use common sense with your food choices. Eat foods in their most whole form. Avoid chemicals in your food, overall processed foods, and fake foods as often as possible. Period. End of story. 

Now, this is a very simple formula, but for many it isn’t at all EASY to follow.  This is because of various ways we utilize food as an emotional / psychological crutch.  Food can give a sense of comfort, control, power, protection and the list goes on and on. Some of this can be managed with behavior changes, but if these issues are deep (and they usually are) I strongly recommend seeing a therapist to help you work through it. There is no shame in it whatsoever.  Therapy is simply a journey of self exploration that helps us become conscious of the ways in which we sabotage various aspects of our lives, why we do so, and how to stop. 

Besides diet and exercise, developing healthy habits and living a healthy lifestyle are the keys to success. What are some of your daily habits that you attribute to your overall well being? Do you have a routine you’d recommend to set readers up for success? Any takeaway tips for readers would be helpful.

It’s all the obvious stuff… sleep (7-8 hours a night).  Spend time with loved ones who lift you up and make you laugh. Practice good hygiene (this doesn’t just boost our self esteem, it’s important for our health). Meditate – even if it’s just for 5 minute intervals a few times a week. Take your vacations.  Engage in your favorite hobbies or activities at for at least 2 hours a week.  CONSIDER yourself and be kind to yourself – and the best way to figure out how to do this is treat yourself like you would treat your kids. 

Many people are holding off on joining a gym due to COVID restrictions. What are a few beginner full body home workouts that you recommend?

Of course, I’m going to recommend The Fitness App because I am one of the founders and I believe we have created one seamless platform with the most comprehensive customizable fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness features on the market. It’s one awards from both Apple and Google for best of and editors choice.  With personalized workout programs to help you meet any goal, satisfy any exercise preference, and suit any fitness level you can train at home, in the gym, or outside no equipment needed! From yoga to kickboxing, HIIT circuits to 5k training, pre and postnatal programs, bridal bootcamps and so much more…The Fitness App has you covered!

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