The Three Things Jillian Michaels Taught Me That Changed Everything

Five Years Later:

I am fifty-two years old and can easily say until about five years ago fighting my weight was constantly on my mind. What a shame don’t you think? But it is just simply the truth.

From the moment, as a child I began to realize I was bigger than average I have been reminded constantly I was over weight. It was an annoyance as a kid but an obsession by my teen years.

Briefly in High School I obtained true fitness as an athlete but the moment I entered college the Freshman thirty escalated to the Sophomore sixty. I again had a brief moment of apparent control my junior year and was at that moment the thinnest I ever remember. It lasted maybe 6 months.

A few times in my young adult life I felt I looked OK but never did I feel I was the best I could be. I was slim when I met my husband. Even slimmer the day we married but I never felt in control.

As I had our children my weight ballooned to well over three-hundred pounds prior to the birth of our twins and yo-yoed back and forth between two-hundred and thirty pounds and three-hundred pounds several times over my last two pregnancies.

With four beautiful boys and my childbearing years behind me, I determined it was time to conquer the beast, lose weight and keep it off. I always had the goal of just below two-hundred pounds in mind. That was my weight when I married. I really felt beautiful that day so it seemed a good goal. A goal I never achieved on my own and it was not from the lack of trying.

I tried them all, diets that is. The Dolly Parton Soup Diet, The Atkins Diet, The Apple Cider Vinegar Diet, The Moon Pie and Diet Dr. Pepper Diet. That last one was my own creation, ask my chiropractor, Dr. Shawn Eckley. I really did it. He still teases me about that one but you get the picture.

Fast forward five years ago. Actually it started six years ago, winter 2009. My husband Mark had torn his ACL. As they were prepping him for surgery they discovered a heart problem. He has Atrial Fibrillation and Atrial Flutter aka AFib, Aflutter. According to our doctor, Dr. Chris Ellis aka The Electrician at Vanderbilt Hospital, if you have to have a heart problem these are the ones to have. Having both at the same time complicates the issue but you won’t drop dead from it.

Still, with my husband now a heart patient, facing multiple surgeries and procedures. He has had two heart surgeries so far with one more scheduled. More cardioversions than I can count but well over 20, the year 2009 was a bit overwhelming.

That spring, our twins were finishing high school as I completed my college degree. As fall 2009 approached along with my husband’s first surgery, we had closed our business of twenty years. I had started driving the school bus to help offset the tuition for the Christian school our kids had attended since kindergarten. My husband was able to help with those duties when his heart was stable.

I had started teaching High School part time, selling a multi-level marketing health product and was continuing my full time radio job as traffic reporter, U-Turn LaVern in Nashville. In January I also accepted a job as an adjunct, filling in for an injured professor at the University I had just graduated from.

I remember clearly sitting in my office just staring at the computer screen. My husband and my youngest son were in a deep state of depression. My husband for the obvious reasons, my youngest son for the same reasons I had dealt with my entire life.

He is now nineteen years old and 6 10’ so you can imagine his height at the tender age of twelve. Also overweight, he had dealt with a level of bullying that I was familiar with but still had no answer for. Honestly there isn’t one. Bullies have and always will exist but it is how we allow them to affect us that matters.

Despite my constant reassurances that when he got older he would understand. That everything would be OK and bullies need to be pitied not feared. He still pulled deeper and deeper into himself. The conversations we had still break my heart and I honestly don’t think it is my place to say more.

Nevertheless, one night I found myself staring into the computer screen praying and thinking, and brain storming for an idea. Any idea to help my husband and my son find motivation, purpose but mostly joy again.

The Biggest Loser television show was in its heyday but I had never watched more than a moment or two. I honestly had no idea who Jillian Michaels was, except for the fact she and her team were great at marketing. Even if you didn’t follow the show you recognized her picture.

I went to their site hoping for ideas and was immediately reading a notice regarding a summer series with Jillian called ‘Losing it with Jillian Michaels’ and they were coming to Nashville the next week. The premise had Jillian moving in with families for a week over the summer to help them get their lives back on track. At first I didn’t even consider it. There was no way I was going to allow my son to be involved. It didn’t sound like a good idea.

Still I found myself filling out the form thinking maybe I will get some ideas, never expecting to hear from them. I was wrong. Within moments it seemed, their questions to me were flying across the web. Even though I was already involved with the media as a longtime radio personality they still wanted to meet us.

At this point I thought, why not? Nothing will come of it and it will be a nice distraction for all of us.

In an effort to make a long story shorter, they were interested in us.

As it became obvious they were serious and our participation might actually happen I consulted my ministers. I was ready to stop everything. The thought of allowing my child to participate in this for this reason mortified me. It was my ministers that convince me otherwise. Again this part of the story involves my son more than myself so I will leave it there. Please do not judge us. Unless you know every detail of what was happening in my family’s lives at that time you have no idea if you would or would not have made the decision as we did to appear in the series.

Fast forward to Jillian’s entrance. From the moment she entered our lives she was more than kind to us. The comment I get mostly from those who have watched our show and have watched her in the past is “why didn’t she yell and scream at you guys?” The reason is simple. We did what she asked us to do. We never complained. We didn’t whine. We didn’t stop, no matter what.

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Jillian is that many who watch her think she is brutal, mean and maybe even cruel. She is brutal. After all she is America’s toughest trainer but cruel, mean? She is anything but. The difference she made in my son, in my husband and in me was because she didn’t come in and just get what she needed for the show then leave. She genuinely cared.

There are so many instances I could share to explain what I mean but I decided to share just one, one that no one saw. She and I were sitting on the curb in the parking lot at the YMCA. The cameras were rolling of course. Actually I was stunned when what I am about to share with you didn’t show up on national TV but as far as I know the only ones aware of what transpired are those who I have shared the story with.

We had walked out of the Y after an emotional moment. As Jillian and I talked about what had happened, what was next and just everything in general she began to peel back my layers. At that time I was absolutely near breaking down. I don’t know whether to call it a nervous breakdown, an emotional breakdown or just me curling into the fetal position and crying ‘uncle!’

As we talked I told her of my concerns for the days ahead. My husband’s continued health issues, job concerns, the five jobs I had held that year and the reality of having to pull my two youngest sons out of the only school they had ever attended, especially as they were just entering high school. Without a thought she asked how much it cost and when I told her she said without hesitation, “I’ll pay it.”

I looked at her in disbelief and she assured me, “Really, no big deal. I will pay it for three years.” She clarified. And then I believe her exact words were something to the effect of “I would just piss it away anyway.” and she did, pay it I mean, every year for three years. No media coverage, no strings attached. She just did it because she said she would.

At the end of our time with Jillian we had all lost a substantial amount of weight, won some much needed cash and she left me with three key guidelines that has helped me maintain my weight loss for the last five years.

You’re dying to know aren’t you?

OK here is goes. The three things Jillian Michaels taught me that changed everything. No tricks, there really are three keys things she taught me that have helped me keep my weight off and feel in control for the first time in my life.

Number One: Calories = energy:

Stunning news I know. I had the same reaction but hear me out. The day she dropped into our lives she began to go through my cupboards, refrigerator and pantry. Over and over she came across, fat free, low carb and sugar free products. At one point she rolled her eyes and in a voice tinged with classic Jillian Michaels sarcasm said, “Well how’s that working out for ya mom?”

I really didn’t know what to say as she grabbed garbage bags and began to throw everything away. Even the frozen foods weren’t safe. As she tossed items into the bags she explained, “Weight loss is just math. Calories are energy and if you consume more energy than you burn you store it. The base rule to follow is 1500 calories = 1 pound.” She continued. “If you eat 3000 calories and only burn 1500 then you gain a pound, reverse that and you lose, simple as that. It’s math!”

I said, “Wow, counting calories? That is just how we dieted in the 70’s.” To which Jillian threw up her hands and said, “Well big surprise it still works!”

She did go on to add that the processed foods we eat and our terrible lifestyles in general can muddy our metabolisms and prevent us from burning calories efficiently. That is why she pushes clean calories, whole foods and healthy snacks but bottom line? She said if you are eating good food stop looking at anything but the calories. That is the key.

She does promote supplements to help rev the metabolism and cleansing products to boost weight loss but always goes back to calories; calories in – calories out. Otherwise you are fooling yourself she told us.

She also had a lot to say about how upside down we have become as a society to allow food to control us. She said we have convinced ourselves that we need a set number of calories, a set number of meals and we have allowed the obsession to dominate and sometimes destroy our lives.

She talked about the importance of making sure your body has fuel to work but most importantly to understand we could actually do just fine on lower calorie numbers than we realize. Of course she always insisted we work with a doctor but to closely and honestly re-examine the reality of how many calories the human body needs to stay healthy.

Number Two: Think of your perfect weight as a wall:

When we started working with Jillian my idea of a perfect weight was anything below two-hundred pounds. Once I got to that number two-hundred became my wall. As long as I stayed two-hundred or just to the left of that number I was in maintenance mode. If I ever moved to the right again I would drop my calories and step up my work out. After losing my weight I think I only crossed back over the two-hundred wall once or twice.

I eventually decided to move the wall first to one-hundred ninety and now my weight wall is one-hundred eighty.

This has been the best trick I have ever found for maintaining my weight. As long as I stick to my wall number or move a little to the left of the wall, for example one-hundred seventy-five, then I relax and treat myself to extra calories every now and then.

But I never ignore my wall. I know if I do I will regret it and so will you.

I hear a lot of people say, “I never get on the scales. If my clothes don’t feel right then I pay attention.”

If you are tall by the time your clothes are starting to feel tight you could be twenty-pounds to the right side of your wall. If you don’t think that is a lot, pick up a twenty-pound bag of dog food the next time you go shopping. Then carry it the entire time.

I have found the five-pound range the key to never being overweight again.

175 (extra calories!)  – 180 (The wall)  – 185 (Drop calorie intake!)

Commit to checking on your wall every few days or at least every week. If ever you move to the right of your wall, even one pound, get to the gym or drop your calorie intake into the range you now know you need to drop weight. Get back on or below your wall as quickly as you can, with a doctor’s supervision of course.

It may sound too simple, too obvious but it is a visual that will make the difference. The weight wall is an illustration Jillian shared with me very randomly. I have never heard her repeat it so it may not be an example she commonly uses but for me it has made all the difference.

Number Three: If you get a flat tire don’t get out and slit the other three tires, air up the flat and get back on the road.

This is one I have heard her repeat and I use all the time on our Live Hosted Commercials at The Blaze TV.

She shared this with me right after I had lost my weight. I had a speaking engagement she knew I was nervous about. That night, after I had given the speech and been less than thrilled with my presentation, I pigged out on chocolate. It had been included in a gift bag they gave me at the presentation. At first I had taken the chocolate out to leave behind and then at the last minute I put it back in the bag. On the car ride home I ate one after the other.

When I emailed her that I was disgusted with myself she answered, “Well why don’t you just slit the other three tires and forget it then.” She then explained what she meant and I got the message loud and clear as my son went through the bag and threw out the rest of the chocolate.

Bottom line? If you are struggling with your weight decide now that the struggle is over. Just start. No matter what program or system you use, remember the message Jillian Michaels shared with our family. Life is too precious to waste it over the blessing of having too much food.

I saw a movie recently about orphan children from the Sudan that came to America, it’s called ‘The Good Lie.” in the movie one of the characters marvels to someone back in the Sudan, “Here in America people die from too much food.”

Jillian Michaels may appear to be the toughest trainer in America but from my experience she is less tough and more heart broken that so many people are not getting this message. Does it make her yell and scream? Yes, because it makes her angry when people give up.

Not because she is cruel or insensitive but because she’s been there and she knows that being overweight is like being in a self imposed prison. She is just screaming for everyone to break free and see what they are truly capable of.

Thank you Jillian.

God Bless!

LaVern Vivio

February 16, 2015

Published in: Uncategorized on February 16, 2015 at 11:29 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this information. It’s amazing what a few simple tricks can do for your mindset.


  2. This has truly inspired me to get back at it again. After having my twins my diet and weight have been one yo-yo after another. I know I have it in me to do the right things because I ve done it before. 2 years ago I hit my wall at 135 and then I got pregnant again and it all came back. You caught me right in the middle of “should I sign up for weight watchers or just count calories.” Thank you for your insight!


  3. Thank you so much for this information! I think I need to get serious about this area of my life!!


  4. Loved reading this! Thanks for sharing.


  5. Can’t wait to get back to my diet! Thanks for the tips!


  6. LaVern,
    I miss you, girl! I’m so glad I saw your post about your friend, Kenneth Pease because it let me to read your blog. This post about Jillian is great also. I’m miserable and disgusted when I look in a mirror and I so desperately needed this. I know very well that counting calories has worked for me in the past, and why I’ve stopped for so many years is beyond me! It’s the only method that has ever worked for me. I have gained over the past several years listening to personal trainers say to never count calories. Today is a new day! We have a trip to England coming up this summer and I would desperately love to be considerably thinner by then. For now I’m going to let you go and start my list. I love you and hope to see you soon!
    (BTW, I am no longer an Air Force mom. Michael was affected by government cutbacks and he was out as if the end of January. He’s lost since the has served for 12 years and that’s basically all he knows. He and his wife, Courtney, moved to Houston to start over. They both are job hunting, but nothing yet. Please help me pray they find jobs and housing soon. Matthew has been out since last July and is a firefighter near Charleston, SC. I’m so very proud of Jedediah. I know how proud you are of him too, and all your boys!)


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