Jillian Michaels of Biggest Loser fame admits that she’s been called “TV’s toughest trainer.” Some say she’s just a bully with a penchant for the click-click-flash of fame.

TV's toughest trainer or a Tinseltown bully? (Photo via Esquire)

I personally think she’s a wise and bad ass wellness guru. But I admit that the woman does have many faces.

To explain how I came to this conclusion will require that we rewind to about a year ago. I had just finished a trial membership to a gym that was neither convenient nor welcoming in that it was filled with The Situation wannabes. I decided to try to get results in my small-ish apartment. Someone suggested I try Jillian Michaels’s 30 Day Shred , which consists of three different 30-minute interval training workouts. Being that I’m always short on time and patience, I want the most bang for my calories-burned-per-minute buck! So, I tried it, and I was hooked. I had very limited prior knowledge of Jillian until then (never watched The Biggest Loser), so to me, the First Face of Jillian came off as tough, but likable. She laughs and calls herself crazy to incorporate a difficult move that requires simultaneous squatting and a V-fly with hand weights. She sympathizes (“I know that this isn’t easy…”) , but she also implores you to make every minute count and push yourself. I don’t want my trainer to pussyfoot around the facts: Working out is hard. But, of course, I never want to have a flashback to jr. high P.E. class, hearing Coach Boehm bark, “Brown!” when I sat out a round of squat thrusts. I thought Jillian struck that balance in Shred, and I found her demeanor encouraging.

A couple weeks into my love affair with Shred, I mentioned that I was doing it in my Weight Watchers meeting. Members and the leader looked at me aghast. “But she’s so mean!” they exclaimed. Err, really? Maybe Second Face of Jillian/Reality TV Jillian was a meanie, but not my Jillian. I dismissed this assault of character pretty quickly.

My Jillian had a Third Face on the horizon…as an author. I was eager to read her new book, Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body!, mostly because of that key phrase, “Balancing Your Hormones.” I’ve always intuited that my wonky hormones may have been exacerbating my weight struggles. For years, my mom had pleaded with me to cut back on “all that chicken!” because she asserted that because the birds were plied with hormones, my grilled chicken salad addiction was probably throwing my delicate levels into a tizzy. Master Your Metabolism simply confirmed my mom’s suspicions…and then some. Here’s the jist: Processed foods, preservatives and environmental toxins are screwing with our endocrine systems, causing us to be sick and preventing us from being 100% healthy and of course, losing weight. Some of the key offenders include high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, etc. Before reading MYM, I worshipped in the Temple of Splenda on a daily basis, I ate snack bars filled with ingredients like fructooligosaccharides, and I thought nothing of scarfing pesticide-laden tomatoes, Romaine lettuce and berries. In MYM, Jillian puts your overall health habits in perspective, and asserts that weight loss comes with eating whole foods (whole grains, lean proteins, mostly organic veggies) that your body actually recognizes and knows how to digest. And yes, hard workouts. It’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t require that you spend an arm and a leg (in which case, you’d lose at least a couple pounds anyway, ha).

But, then here comes Marc Ambinder hating on Jillian in his piece in The Atlantic. He appears to have a Fourth Face in mind, as he writes: “I flipped through Michaels’s book, and discovered that the real secret is…exercise and painstaking dieting. Michaels’s book argues that our physical environment messes up our hormones, which in turn affect our appetite and energy level. Eat a little of this and some of that, she tells us, but never this and only a smidgen of that. Don’t let stress rule your life. “GO ORGANIC.” “Prepare food to minimize toxins.” You want to know her secrets, but you quickly realize that her day job is her secret; her celebrity status, which lets her see top-flight endocrinologists, is her secret; the freedom her status and position in life give her to follow a diet, that’s her secret.”

I don’t agree. I’m not a celebrity, and I can follow a diet made up of foods that nature intended us to eat. I’m not on the cover of Self this month, but I can make a point to reduce stress. I don’t star on primetime reality TV, but YES, I CAN and I WILL “go organic” when it comes to certain fruits and veggies, because their conventional counterparts are drowned in manmade chemicals proven to be carcinogenic or endocrine disruptors. The sad part is, the lifestyle changes that Jillian advocates in her book, should not be “secrets” to anyone who cares about their well-being. But plenty of people (hey, even the FDA) are still unaware or unconvinced that microwaving veggies in a plastic bag could decrease fertility. Or that Splenda may actually encourage weight gain. So, MYM turns out to be a valuable resource, and not nearly the preachy, rigid diet that some bloggers have made it out to be. Of course, I’m not one to follow any diet book or menu plan from a diet book to a tee. I’m more about the big-picture concept. And the overarching message of MYM (eat real food, move your body) is a valid and life-changing one…at least for me.

And yet…I was betrayed. A Fifth (yes, fifth!) Face of Jillian emerged:

Take me to burn lots of fat! (Photo via New York Daily News)

Spokesperson of a weight loss…supplement??? Noooooo!!! It can’t be. My wellness guru, who sung the praises of organic, from-the-ground foods was now pointing at me from inside my TV and Web browser, shilling for pills meant to burn maximum amounts of fat! Make it stop! I trusted her so much after reading MYM that I thought, “Well, maybe these supplements are actually full of natural plant-derived ingredients that actually support healthy weight loss?” No such luck. Ingredients like Chinese rhubarb, buckthorn, dandelion and uva ursi may be derived from nature, but turns out they’re just glorified diuretics and laxatives. Sad face.

I lamented to friends who had bonded with me over their shared love of Shred. How could she? Was she a total sell-out? Was she just in the fitness/wellness/Biggest Loser game to make a quick buck?

I don’t think so. She’s just a celebrity trainer who has been given—and rightfully taken advantage of—the opportunity to market herself on various platforms. In workout DVDs, she’s more encouraging than on reality TV where she gets up in competitors faces for dramatic effect… In her book, she exposes the harmful nature of manmade ingredients and chemicals that could ultimately be leading us down the path of obesity or disease. And well, as for the supplements… I don’t know. Maybe she wanted to offer a quality product to certain people in search of a “supportive supplement” to complement their already healthy regimen. Maybe she believes that’s exactly what these $40 pills do. I’m not making excuses for her, cuz I’m really opposed to those more than anything else she does. But there is a market for it, and the marketing people sell it any way they can. At the heart of all of this, I really truly believe that Jillian Michaels is a wise fitness expert with a genuine interest in helping Americans take control of their health—not just a fame whore in Spandex. But hey, you know what? If you don’t like her schtick, there’s always this guy.
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