Biggest Loser’s Jillian Michaels Misses the Mark

Many Paleo Dieters recognize the name, Jillian Michaels, who is best known as a personal athletic trainer on NBC’s reality television show, The Biggest Loser. She recently commented upon The Paleo Diet on a video “Paleo Diet Daily Dose with Jillian Michaels | Everyday Health” trending on YouTube.

Because of Jillian’s national notoriety and widespread recognition as a personal trainer, she certainly can influence the way people think about weight loss, healthy eating and exercise.

Nevertheless, her characterization of The Paleo Diet as a “fad diet” shows her naiveté and nearly complete lack of understanding of this lifelong way of eating to maximize health and wellbeing.

The video begins with a woman asking Jillian what she thinks about The Paleo Diet and Paleo lifestyles. From the get go, it is obvious Jillian has little or no familiarity with Paleo Diets and immediately replies, “OK, can I presume then that you are in CrossFit, if you ask me that question?”

The woman responds that she is indeed interested in CrossFit, however Jillian still fails to answer the question directly or why she needs to know the woman’s background before she can answer the question.

Jillian then goes on to say that, “It’s my understanding of [Paleo] is that they don’t eat grains; they’re (sic) predominantly protein and greens. Does that sound right to you?”

The woman responds by saying, “no grains, no dairy.” Jillian says, “Right, forgot the dairy, forgive me.”

This initial interchange is revealing in that Jillian relies upon the questioner to determine just what exactly comprises a Paleo Diet. As the interview proceeds, it become obvious that Jillian has not done her homework and knows next to nothing about the science or logic underlying this lifelong way of eating and how it can improve health and wellbeing while also being effective in promoting weight loss in the overweight and obese.

What Jillian probably doesn’t realize is that her ideas of proper nutrition are similar to The Paleo Diet recommendations. She makes the statement, “Truth of matter, eat healthy, fresh, clean food. Eat in balanced portions – don’t eat more calories a day than you burn. Avoid chemicals and fake foods. I don’t want to see you eating Twinkies, Ding Dongs and cheese balls. That is not food.”

If she would take the time to read some of the popular Paleo Diet books or more importantly the vast peer review scientific literature underlying the evolutionary logic to this way of eating, she might finally understand why “fake foods” are not good for us and why “healthy, fresh, clean foods” promote wellbeing and optimal body weight.

If The Paleo Diet is a “fad diet” as Jillian states, then it is humanity’s oldest “fad diet” having served humanity for at least 2.5 million years. Staple foods introduced during the Neolithic (5,000 to 10,000 years ago) such as grains, dairy and legumes or processed foods (refined sugars, grains, vegetable oils, salt and feedlot meats) introduced during the Industrial and Technological eras comprise humanity’s real “fad diets.”

Our species has had little or no evolutionary experience with the foods (refined sugars, grains, vegetable oils and dairy) that now comprise 70 % of the calories in the typical western diet. By replacing these foods with fresh fruits, vegetables, grass produced meats (if possible), poultry, fish, seafood and nuts, we restore the food types which conditioned our present day genome through eons of evolutionary experience.

To Jillian, the next time you criticize the Paleo Diet, I would highly recommend that you read the key scientific papers I’ve listed in reference below.

Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Health and Exercise Science
Colorado State University

1. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O’Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. Origins and evolution of the western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:341-54.
2. Cordain L, The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. J Am Neutraceut Assoc 2002; 5:15-24.
3. Cordain L, (1999). Cereal grains: humanity’s double edged sword. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 84: 19-73.
4. Carrera-Bastos P, Fontes Villalba M, O’Keefe JH, Lindeberg S, Cordain L. The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization. Res Rep Clin Cardiol 2011; 2: 215-235.