RODALE NEWS, ANAHEIM, CA—We all know Biggest Loser trainer and best-selling author Jillian Michaels is about as fit as they come. But did you know part of her health regimen has nothing to do with crunches, sprints, dumbbells, or push-ups? A big part of what keeps her healthy, she says, is what she eats. (And what she doesn't.) We're not talking about some fat-free diet craze or two-week cleanse. We're talking about eating for life. And Michaels makes it a point to keep genetically engineered ingredients, known as GMOs, and foods laced with toxic pesticides off her plate—and her clients' menus.
How many calories we eat—and burn off—is a huge determinant of what our bodies look like, and ultimately, the state of our health. But more and more, researchers are finding that hormone-upsetting chemicals in food and common household goods act as obesogens that can make being fit and healthy even more difficult. Michaels believes health-conscious people should make both push-ups and organic produce a part of their lives: "Go have yourself an organic carrot, and then drop down and give me 20!"
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Rodale.com caught up with Michaels, author of the best-selling Master Your Metabolism (Crown, 2009), at Natural Products Expo West earlier this year, where she hosted a Q&A with devoted fans and touted So Delicious, a company that makes organic coconut milk and other coconut-based products. (Michaels has been a longtime advocate of the healthy fats found in coconuts.) Later, Michaels, whose upcoming book, Unlimited: How to Build an Exceptional Life (Crown Archetype, April 2011), sat down with us for a one-on-one interview.
Rodale.com: Many people are working out, but eating organic might not be on their radar screens. Why is that?
JM: In my opinion, organic is not as mainstream as it should be; it's gotten a reputation of being elitist or highbrow. The reality is, food should be organic for everyone. Food is life. Everyone deserves a healthy, happy life.
There's been a big spin by the Monsantos and Liberties [chemical pesticide and GMO companies] that's like, "Oh, organic is very highbrow." It's gotten that kind of stigma.
Because of our agribusiness policies in this country, organics have become more expensive. They're not always accessible to the average American family making an income of 30K a year. If you suggest buying organic food, they look at you like you're out of touch. 'You don't know what it's like to be me, you're not one of the people.' But the reality is, I know that if a family gets hit with cancer, it's going to devastate them, they're going to lose their home, it's going to send them into bankruptcy. So education is critical.
We need to be fighting this fight on a myriad of levels, whether it's reversing the Farm Bill and starting to subsidize organic farmers versus GMO crops, or helping to support more community-supported agriculture, or teaching people how to grow their own, even if it's on their own windowsills or on a small balcony. We need to be hitting this from every angle possible to help with accessibility and affordability. When we're able to do that, you're only going to see the movement grow exponentially.
Rodale.com: Natural Products Expo West is sold out this year. What does that say for the state of organics?
JM: The market for it is expanding, despite the fact that our economy is struggling. When you see things growing in a depressed economy, that's a really good indication that it's starting to work. The information is becoming mainstream, with the Maria Rodales, the Michael Pollans, and I want to throw myself in that category, dare I presume to be quite so brilliant and prolific. But with people like that in the world, spreading the message, getting it out to the masses—it's a 'reach one, teach one' situation. It's going to take some time, but we're definitely making a lot of headway.
Rodale.com: What do you tell your clients to get them to buy organic food?
JM: It's interesting, organics is not necessarily a conversation of, "That raspberry has more vitamin C," even though there has been evidence to suggest that organic fruits and vegetables have more phytonutrients. That really isn't even the conversation I want to have.
Whether we're looking at dairy, or meat, or fruits and veggies, I don't want people to eat poison. When food is not organic, the meat has hormones, the meat has antibiotics, the cows are usually consuming genetically modified corn, so they're eating pesticides and eating a crop that they don't normally eat, which forces them to eat antibiotics. The farming practices are damaging the planet in the process, and it's also poisonous for us to consume. You look at the fruits and vegetables, they've got pesticides on them that are collapsing bee colonies all over the world. And we don't think much of it, but the reality is one in three bites of our food is touched by a bee, pollinated by a bee. When we lose all the bees, we'll have three years before we are out of food. These are very serious issues that we need to start taking note of and making efforts to change wherever and whenever we can.
Rodale.com: Why does it pay to spend a bit more on organic food up front?
JM: The organic conversation is about saving the planet because destroying our soil is affecting climate change, and there's so much to say about pollution. But not only is it poisoning the planet, it's also poisoning our bodies. And we're paying for that in our healthcare costs. I read a quote the other day: "In the '60s, 18 percent of our money went to food. Today, it's 9 percent. In the '60s, 5 percent of our money went to health care, now, it's 17 percent." That's our personal annual income. Do you want to pay for it on your groceries, or you want to pay for it on dialysis, or fertility treatment, or chemo? Come people, wake up. It's what you're eating, what you're drinking. Even the crap that we're putting on our bodies. It should all be organic. I would rather put olive oil on my face than the stuff they sell for $100 a vat with propylene glycol—the same ingredient they put in antifreeze—which is linked to liver damage.