Is Jillian Michaels a Trainer or a Psychologist?

On her new show 'Losing It With Jillian', she's both. But should she be?

On her new NBC series Losing It With Jillian, the ferocious gymbot Jillian Michaels is crisscrossing the country, moving in with overweight families in an attempt to renovate their eating and exercise habits. She only has a week to do so, however, and the task seemed Herculean in last night’s premier episode, in which Jillian met larger-than-life Italian family, The Mastropietros of Wilmington, Mass. This is a family where both parents’ body fat percentage hover around 50 percent (Dad Jimbo is obese despite gastric bypass; Mom Agnes has gained and lost 100 pounds seven times in her life). A family where daughter Michelle (who underwent successful gastric bypass) fries breaded chicken cutlets in a bottle of oil for dinner and prepares mashed potatoes with a stick of butter. A family where green foods are not allowed: "We don't eat green," Jimbo explains. "If there’s anything green in there, it’s mold."

Jillian is Wilmington at the family’s request; they all want to get in shape before Michelle’s impending nuptials. Immediately, Jillian opens a massive can of whoop-ass on them (including son Michael), throwing them into a gym after decades of inactivity and screaming at them to perform jumping jacks, squats, and other moves that, it appears, may very well kill them. Among the heated exchanges which take place:

Agnes: "I'm trying!"
Jillian: "Trying is planning to fail."
Agnes: "Jillian, you're killing me!"
Jillian: "No, Agnes, YOU'RE killing you."

But soon, critical information emerges that suggest the Mastropietro’s collective weight problem is related to a horrific family tragedy suffered years ago: Agnes and Jim had a son who passed away just after his one-month birthday. Agnes explained that her husband has refused to speak of the incident in the decades since their son’s passing and as a result, she’s turned to food for solace.

Here’s where the show starts veering away from the typical massive weight loss reality show and into uncharted psychological territories. In an effort to empower Agnes, Jillian has her lead her husband through a grueling workout, urging her to scream and shout (not in a mean way -– she counts down his push-ups, hollers at his to keep going and applauds his successes) -- in effect, giving her the voice she hasn't had.

At one point in the hour-long episode (probably around Day 5 of Jillian’s week in Massachusetts), Agnes calls a family meeting, in which she confronts Jimbo about their deceased son. The ensuing conversation was gut-wrenching to watch: Everyone was crying heaping sobs as they revealed extremely private feelings -- all on camera. As a viewer, I felt like an intruder, like this was something far too intimate for me to be watching.

Jillian also worked with Michelle on her wrecked body image, which is trapped in her formerly heavy body, even though she is no longer overweight.

Here’s the thing, though: Jillian is not a trained therapist. I’m not saying she isn't good at her job because clearly, she knows how to crack through an exterior of pain and fat to reveal the real person inside. But does that mean she SHOULD? Being present as a husband and wife discuss their dead son’s headstone-less grave for the first and only time in 20 years is a big deal, and the person guiding the conversation had better have a form grip on the psychological implications of everything taking place. Jillian seems empathetic and even able to provide comfort (when she’s not strapping herself to someone’s back and forcing them to carry her for a mile, that is.) But when it comes to such hardcore conversations, it seems like a trained psychologist should be present, no? True, hairstylists and trainers often wind up a de facto therapists, but for these types of life-and-death issues, more structured and informed guidance may be needed.

That said, I appreciate the show’s focus on the crossroads where emotional and physical health intersect. Much like anorexia and bulimia, obesity is never just about food. And the final "reveal" was awe-inspiring – shot at Michelle’s wedding, each family member emerged markedly slimmer and the parents were able to reign in their blood pressure and cholesterol along with their waistlines. As a wedding present, Losing It picked up the wedding tab and provided a Caribbean honeymoon free of charge…though I wish they’d offer free personal training and therapy for a year instead.

Did you watch "Losing It With Jillian"? What do you think of the show? Chime in below.


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