As the Season 6 winner of NBC’s hit reality The Biggest Loser, Michelle Aguilar inspires people globally with her powerful story. Her new book, Becoming Fearless, is about having faith in God when you’ve lost faith in yourself. Entertainment editor Evan Derrick caught up with her to discuss the show and her book.
What was your experience like on The Biggest Loser?
It’s hard to explain it briefly but the experience overall I think, not only did it show me that I was capable of more than I believed I was but it also helped me to truly find kind of myself and I learned to change from the inside out. I think most people look at The Biggest Loser – they are thinking weight loss, they are thinking numbers, they are thinking working out and eating right and it’s full of all those things and all that you would expect from it. I think what I gained most is the unexpected and I think just the life change that happened because of it.
Is there a distinct parallel between things like fear, depression, family issues, emotional issues and the problem some people having with losing weight?
Absolutely. I recognized pretty quickly that it wasn’t just about eat less, move more, but that there is a huge emotional connection that happens between people and food. For me, I think my background growing up in a Christian ministry minded home, I didn’t have the urge when things went wrong to go running to drugs and alcohol but I kind of did the safest thing which in my mind was food. I didn’t know that I was doing it but I found myself at a place where I was turning to food for comfort much like I think an alcoholic does with drinks and so it was my way of coping with the pain. So I absolutely would agree that the two go hand in hand.
When did you realize that understanding that connection was going to be a large part of the secret to losing weight?
I definitely learned that lesson at The Biggest Loser. I think some people probably just want to work on the physical and I think there are others who go through The Biggest Loser and recognize pretty quickly that it goes hand in hand and I think having Jillian Michaels for a trainer definitely aids in that. She’s the one who kinds of wants to draw the parallel and see what’s going on in your life. So I think that kind of helped to make it very crystal clear for me.
Was there an “Aha” moment or a breakthrough where you kind of sat up and said “Oh!” or was it more gradual?
For me it was pretty quick. In about week four, I chipped my tooth and my smile had been one of those things that had kind of been a shield of protection and protected from the outside world as far as them knowing how depressed or sad I was. I assumed that as long as I was smiling and told people I was fine it was believable and that they would believe it, but when that smile was damaged by something as simple as my toot getting chipped during a challenge, I broke. I broke on the inside and I broke on the outside and from there I actually tried to quite the show. I tried to leave. I tried to run from all those emotions that were kind of smacking me right in the face and would openly have to have a little bit of a come to Jesus moment or say a little bit. I mean I had my bags packed and the car waiting, it was the midnight hour of “I’m leaving, I’m out of here, I don’t want to deal with this” and I think two nights before I had to make a final decision on camera, I had a breakthrough. I had a breakthrough that said “I need to stop running, I need to face these things, I need to work through these things” and [I realize] that what doesn’t kill you, is going to make you stronger and so I think just recommitting my life and my faith and all those things. …really not caring that there were cameras around and people watching me but just knowing that I needed a life change.
Were there any Bible verses that you used for support while you were on the show?
Yeah, I think the main verse would have to be Proverbs 3, 5 and 6 which is to “lean not on your own understanding and in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.” Before Biggest Loser I was running on my own little path thinking that I could fix and I could cover everything and that it didn’t matter that God was trying to reach out and trying to make a connection with me and wanted to help me. I kept thinking everything is broken, everything is messy and I’ve got to fix it before coming back to God and so with that Scripture, it just kind of resonating with me I’m not supposed to do this on my own. I do need to lean on God and if I just acknowledge Him, He’s going to keep the path in front of me straight and I don’t have to worry like I have been about having the weight of the world on my shoulders and living some perfect life that’s just filled with brokenness. So I think that Scripture more than any really connected with me during that time.
What would you say to someone who is struggling with their weight and so they watch a show like The Biggest Loser, they see what you’ve accomplished and their response is “Oh! Well they got to go on a show and they had personal trainers and they were motivated” and blah, blah, blah and that’s how they were able to lose that. What would you say to someone who might use that as an excuse for why they are not able to kind of have the same breakthrough as you did?
I think what I hope people take away from my experience on The Biggest Loser is not so much the practical day to day of it. I think working out eight hours a day is not practical for most people and I always get discouraged when I hear them say “I couldn’t do that” because ultimately at the end of the day, Biggest Loser is there to show you that you are capable of more, that no matter what your ailment is, no matter how old you are and no matter if you are male or female, you can decide today to make a change in your life and I think people need to stop looking at just these huge life transformations and just really celebrate the small breakthroughs that they make each and everyday and I think sometimes people can absolutely get caught up in seeing those big numbers week to week on the scale. I’ve always encouraged people to look at their own lives and see what can you do today to make better choices and what can you do tomorrow that was better than today. And so I would encourage people to take it one day at a time, one moment at a time and keep moving forward and as long as you can keep moving forward, then you are making progress and like I said, be inspired by the Biggest Loser but it’s not necessarily a “how to” in an everyday practical sense.
What do you mean when you say in your book to “feel the fear”?
I got the quote from Jillian Michaels and she screams it a lot of the time. She didn’t really say it in a polite way and when she’s screaming at you to “feel the fear and do it anyway” and usually it’s in a moment of breakdown. For me it was probably a moment of crying on a treadmill. There are so many things in life that we are afraid of that will cause us to stand in one spot and not move and I think it goes along with taking little steps everyday and moving forward. In her saying that, she wanted me to recognize that I was in a place of fear but that even though I was in a place of fear I could still keep moving through it and forward. I think for me fear has been an immobilizer. I would create a roadblock and just would not go any further because I was afraid of what was on the other side and I think Jillian - she’s not saying “Don’t be afraid” she is saying “You might be afraid” and it could be kind of painful, that could be fearful but keep moving. So that was definitely a lesson that just really connected with me. There are going to be tough and difficult times and things that will really mess with your head but to keep moving forward.
Can you describe a time from your past or before you went on the Biggest Loser where you were paralyzed by fear and you missed an opportunity because you let the fear get a hold of you?
I think the biggest part of my being kind of stuck in fear would definitely be the relationship with my mom. I was afraid being vulnerable. I was afraid of getting hurt. I was too afraid to trust that God has a bigger plan in mind and so when I cut off communication with my mom, it was absolutely a place of fear and hurt and sadness but I think it was more of the fear of what was on the other side of the relationship that I think stopped me from moving forward for six years and it took six years for me to step into a place of saying “God I trust you, I trust that even if I get hurt or ever if I do get disappointed that You ultimately have a bigger plan and that I can keep moving forward.” And to know that I was capable for six years to not speak to my mother, I think speak volumes about what fear can do to hold us back in life.
What prompted you to cut off contact with your mother and how did you come to making that decision?
Well I was young, I was 18 and then 20 when my mom left my dad and she had taken my sisters with her and I think there was that initial hurt from her but then in my mind, I’m just not understanding my parents relationship and not knowing how to move forward in the Biblical sense of honoring my mother but being so angry with her and so hurt by her. And in my mind, it was the only thing I could do to protect myself from the pain because the pain was at a level that I couldn’t process and so I thought at the time and I know even now when I look back, I realize that I thought I was making the only decision that was still honoring her because if I had to talk to her everyday, I was going to yell at her, I was going to scream at her, I was going to say mean things to her and so a way to kind of protect me from being hurt and protect me from dishonoring her to her face basically because I still was hurt by her and had those opinions but it was I think in the forgiving of her that I learned more about God. I think I could say that I forgave her for the hurt that she had caused but it was in the act of doing that where God looked at me and said “Michelle, I have forgiven you and if you trust that your mom has come to me for forgiveness who are you to withhold love and forgiveness from her when I’ve forgiven her and I’ve forgiven you of so much?”
And my desire [was] to forgive her on a daily basis because the hurt doesn’t go away instantly, I would like to say that it does but it doesn’t and it was about learning to trust God and to start to love her as God loves her and not as my fleshly self wants to because there are still days where I struggle with it. I struggle with the pain or something will happen or I’ll see something on TV and I’ll remember the pain and saying “How could my mom do that to me?” but them I’m reminded that – Michelle, you are committed to love her right where she’s at knowing that God will pickup the slack for you and your heart is not out there all by itself but that God is the one ultimately saying that “I love you and you can trust me, don’t put your trust in your mom because she’s going to let you down but put your trust to me and we’ll work through it.” It’s easier said I’m sure than done and it’s taken a lot of time. Ultimately, to kind of recognize it in myself that I was capable of walking away from her but also recognizing that with God I am capable of walking back in and loving her for the person that she is today and the person that she is limited in some areas and is great in other areas, the mom that I needed at 12 is different than the mom I need now at 30 years old and so our relationship is different and what I need from her is different.
I think like my mom on some levels. We’re truly optimistic and we want to love everybody and just kind of kill them with kindness but every situation is different and people need to set boundaries and ultimately I learned to set boundaries on the ranch with Jillian Michaels because I started to develop other relationships that kind of became toxic and I didn’t know how to set a boundary and say “Okay, you’ve gone too far. I need you to respect this boundary or we can’t be friends or we can’t talk about this topic if you can’t respect my boundaries.” So I think setting boundaries is step one and it was something I wasn’t capable of doing before stopping the talk with my mom.
How do you forgive someone when they refuse to admit or/are incapable admitting they were wrong or they hurt you?
I think that part is where it becomes not about the person but about wanting to keep the right relationship with God. My forgiving my mom has very little to do with her and who she is but it has everything to do with me putting my faith and my hope and my trust in God and saying “God, I choose to do this in obedience to you and it’s about righteousness and about holiness and it’s not about keeping score with the other person.” That’s the only way I know how to do it is to say “God I do this unto you and not unto this person because I don’t believe that this person is right but God through you I will extend grace and extend mercy to them because you’ve extended it to me.” That’s the only way I know to do it, is to shift the focus off this person and what they’ve done and what they don’t see that they’ve wrong and shift it back to God. God is the one who can change the heart of a king. He can absolutely change the heart of a parent or a loved one and I think as we start to pray positive things instead of God change them and make them better, God blesses them and give them a joy that they’ve never had and I think as you start to pray those things and you shift the focus off of the pain and you kind of shift it back onto God and what God can do for you and through you and in the life of that person.
That’s great. So what do you want people to really take away from you book? What do you hope that your book accomplishes in other people’s lives?
[I hope] they just walk away with a sense of – I’m not the only one who’s ever gone through this. I’m not the only one who’s ever felt this way or thought these things. I think more than not, I’m more normal or more like somebody than they realize. I’m nothing special in the day to day sense. I mean I had an opportunity that was amazing but who I am as a person is probably more similar to their lives than they realize and I think if I can do it, they can do it and whatever it is that they feel is holding them back. It may not be weight, it may not be that type of a struggle, but you can be the Biggest Loser of whatever is holding you back. You can become fearless and you can work on that because it will be a lifelong journey. So it’s kind of more just to inspire them to just move forward in their journey and really just keep focused. What question, when you are doing press for this kind of thing, what question are you never been asked that you always wish you would be asked?
Well almost everybody will ask me “Is it as hard as it looks?”, and “is Jillian as mean as she seems?” I would love it if one day people asked me if Jillian is really nice at the end of the day. They always ask if she’s really as mean and I’m like “She’s really nicer than you could imagine.” I don’t know. people ask a lot of questions.I think people kind of really made a strong connection to the show and so I don’t know what there could be that they haven’t asked as of yet. They always surprise me with something like “You want to know that really? Okay.” The biggest revelation is that when you are weighing in on the scale, it’s not like actually weighing you in that moment but we weighed earlier in the morning. So when people see it, they see that you lost a 10th of a pound and they are like “Well take off your watch. You will weigh less if you take off your watch” and I’m like “No, that wouldn’t have mattered, you already weighed.”
So they weigh you in the morning – I guess they don’t tell you what your weight is though right?
No you have no idea and that’s why they are able I think to weigh you in a very dramatic fashion because they already know the numbers.
I love how the numbers go jump up and down by like 30 or 40 pounds like they have the world’s worst scale.
Yes, they need to calibrate it because it’s kind of all over the place. It’s so funny. So I don’t know – the fact that you asked that question might be the one, one that I’ve never heard before.