Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Last week, Racked headed out to Los Angeles to hang out with The Biggest Loser's uber-trainer Jillian Michaels. We talked with her about the clothing line she's launching this spring with K-Swiss on Amazon.com, what she eats in real life, and how she squeezes workouts into her busy schedule.
Did you know that Jillian struggled with her weight when she was a teenager? "There's still a fat girl in me," she told us.
We'll be bringing you better photos of the collection as they're released. In the meantime check our snapshots from the preview and read on for the full interview.
Racked: For women who struggle with their weight and body image, going to the gym is really challenging—but buying workout clothes can be just as frustrating of an experience. What are some things that you've learned from working with contestants on shows such as The Biggest Loser?
Jillian Michaels: They want stuff that's going to hide rolls, hide dimples, suck it all in—something that has flattering lines, that's clean, that's feminine, that isn't frumpy. And they want stuff that's going to perform for them—that's going to hold them down, what have you. But they also want things that are going to make them feel better about their body and make them feel pretty, especially when they're really so vulnerable, going into the gym, being overweight or out of shape. It's a tough first step to make and they want clothes that will make them feel that much more comfortable and protected.
Racked: What are some specific pieces in your upcoming collection that address some of these issues?
Jillian: The sweatpants, the henleys, the hoodies—so that she can feel covered up, but still super-cute. Like, she'll open up a page of a weekly and see one of the kids from The Hills or Gwen Stefani in a pair of vintage sweats and she can feel hip and cool, but still kind of covered if she's feeling self-conscious or uncomfortable.
[When you're overweight] You might feel like, I can't wear cute clothes because I'm not cute. I feel like they think, "Those cute clothes are only for skinny girls," and that's just bullshit. I want to make clothes that are cute and feminine and pretty that will go up to double-XL and follow you to whatever healthy weight you land at.
Racked: How long has this clothing collaboration with K-Swiss been in the works? How long was the research and development process?
Jillian: At least a year. I learned some good lessons in 2010—that it should never be about rushing anthing to market. It's about making sure that whatever you put into the world is perfect—as perfect as you can get it. So you work on things and you sample them, and you change the color and you don't like the fabric, you don't like the fit, you don't like the lines. It's constant. You get it back, there's feedback, you wear it, you have other people wear it, they have thoughts, you know, and it goes back and forth until everybody, collectively, feels good about the product, the project, the graphics, the momentum.
And then here's what happens: Now you feel super about it, right? You're like, "I'm so happy!" And then the retailers are, like, "We don't like this, we don't like that. We don't get this." And you're back to the drawing board again because, ultimately, they're the ones that are carrying the clothes so they have a huge say in what they think their consumer is going to appreciate or like. And it's a huge Herculean endeavor. But, for me, it's creative and it's fun, and I need it. I want it, for me. So, to a certain extent, it's very selfish because I need the clothes, so, I had a great time doing it.
Racked: In some of your seminars and interviews, you've talked about struggling with your weight as a teenager.
Jillian: My dad was always overweight—he's always had struggles with his weight—and we're never genetically obese, but you'll have genetics that can go one way or another, depending on the input that you send to the body—whether you exercise or not, the kind of foods you're eating, the amount of food you're eating. I had the kind of genetics that were prone to obesity. And, of course, I was eating all processed foods and garbage.
It was a big way that my dad and I could bond. It was just such an awkward kind of relationship, and it was, like, we could go to our favorite burrito place, we could make popcorn and watch Buck Rogers—it was how we related to each other. And also, it was a lack of knowledge in the 80s.
My mom would think: "I'm putting in a juice box, not a soda, that's healthy!" Or, "Wheat Thins instead of Cheetos, good choice!" Except it's all the same garbage. It was all garbage calories with a fancy name and it looked better on the box and my mom thought it was healthy when, now, you know a juice box is just as crappy as Coke. Same garbage.
So I think it was a lack of knowledge, a very sort of environmental thing with my family and the dynamic with my father. I learned that food was a reward. My mom would be working and she'd come home and she'd bring me something from the vending machine. She'd bring me my Twix bar because I didn't like when my mother worked late. So I thought food was a reward, food was a comfort—food was love and it was always there for me.
I was an only child and my parents were getting divorced and I would wait to come home—I would look forward to coming home and ordering a Domino's Pizza and sitting on my roof by myself and eating the whole pizza. And that's how I got through the day: Waiting for the Domino's. That was my activity, that's what I was going to do. I didn't have any friends, I didn't have a car, I was a fat kid, I didn't have any siblings, my parents were divorcing, my mom was having to work.
By the time I was about 13 years old, I was maybe five feet tall and I got up to about 175 pounds, which was a lot for five feet. I'm 115 now and so it's more than half my body weight I had on top of where I am at this point.
I was just so troubled and so angry and acting out all over the place. I was in therapy but my mom also got me into martial arts. That was really transcendent for me because I was now around other students—and I had a mentor—who didn't think it was cool to be a burnout or skip school or fail classes or eat like shit or have that screw-it attitude. That was not hot to them. They were ambitious, they were focused, their bodies were their temples, and I wanted to be like them. And to a huge extent, you are the company you keep, and being in that crowd and around those people was very motivating for me and I had a support system and there were a couple sort of Aha-moments throughout the early years of my martial arts experience, but one that was really key was:
I was picked on all the time, I was the loser—you know you have those in school? There were, like, three—and I was one of them.
It was hell. I would eat lunch in my teacher's room every day in eighth grade because it was torture on the schoolyard. So at my blue belt test, I had to break two boards with a side kick. I remember I went to school the next day and no one said a word to me. Just because of the way I was carrying myself. I felt so empowered and so strong, and I was like, 'Say some shit! I will break you like those boards.' I was probably about 14, but it really changed me. And that's when I realized that when you feel strong physically, you're strong in every facet of your life.
This is not about fitness for me. This has nothing to do with fitness for me. This is all about building a life. And fitness is just a tool that I utilize to empower people and show them a different side of their potential and their capabilities because I know that when they redefine themselves physically, it's going to redefine every other aspect of their lives.
Racked: What is a typical day like in your life? What do you eat and how much exercise do you do?
Jillian: I have five breakfasts that I stick to usually and they run the gamut. By the way, I don't have any investment in these brands, so the things I'm going to mention to you right now are purely because I dig them:
I like those Nature's Path waffles. They're 80 calories a piece, they're all-natural, they're organic. Is it a superfood? No, but I get to have waffles in the morning when I want waffles. I put half a banana on it, with a teaspoon of organic syrup, and it makes me happy.
There's still a fat girl in me. I still love food. If I feel deprived, I'm going to have a freak-out.
Then other mornings, I like two eggs over easy with Ezekiel Toast wholegrain toast. Then another morning I'll have—because Loser has so much Cheerios there, I remember reading the label and it's totally benign, there's nothing bad in there, they're kind of simple and remind me of being a kid—so sometimes I'll have Cheerios with berries and coconut milk. And so those are really my three breakfasts, and I kind of cycle them.
And then usually I'll get up and I'll have, like, 50 emails because the East Coast has been up for three hours. So I get up, answer all my emails, and I try to do a little bit on the social networking. I try to put a Facebook post up to set the tone for the day, I'll try to answer a few tweets and get that online stuff out, and then I'll usually have to begin the day, so whether it's doing something with Amazon.com for the clothing line, or shooting something for The Doctors or, right now, I'm completing my last season of Loser. So I start my work for the day—which is usually back-to-back-to-back—and it goes all the way through.
Like, yesterday, it was filming a video with Ashton Kutcher, and then I had to do pick-up for Go Daddy, and then I had to do voiceover, I had to read part of the audiobook for Unlimited, I got 30 minutes on the stairs—I took all the makeup off from the viral, did 30 minutes on the stairmaster—came back to the house, showered, had a phoner with my therapist, got back into hair and makeup for our thing, and then had dinner with Jay McGraw, Phil McGraw's son, because I'm a contributor on The Doctors and I work pretty closely with the family. And that's, like, a day for me.
So I try to squeeze in 30 minutes, I try to find the time. And I had sushi for dinner, nothing fried, no mayo, real clean. I had, for lunch, Whole Foods tuna salad. And, honestly, I think I had Pop Chips for my snack—it was, like, grab and go. And that's kind of my day.