Claim of Jillian Michaels’ ‘heroic’ flat abs over 40 is problematic – here’s why

Behind every toxic diet and exercise culture, there are equally problematic people who perpetuate it for personal gain. Fitness star and television personality of the early 2000s Jillian Michaels is certainly no exception.

From verbal assaults to hurtful training methods, Michaels has a long history of fitness-related transgressions. Although she’s been out of the television spotlight for a while, Michaels still uses every platform she can to spout shameful nonsense.

Most recently, it was a short Instagram video in which she managed to promote unhealthy body standards in just seconds.

‘Am AI Hero?’ (She’s not)

In his video, a voiceover asks, “Am I a hero?

A caption on the video reads, “Showing women everywhere…” as Michaels lifts his shirt to reveal his signature flat chest, “that abs are possible in your 40s.”

“I really can’t say,” the voiceover continues, “but yes.”

“…And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” the message caption reads. This, of course, begs a bigger question: who are we supposed to ignore? Biology? Medicine? Reality?

The 48-year-old’s assertion that all women over 40 can (read: should) have flat abs is problematic for various the reasons. So, let’s break down all the reasons why this notion is not only unrealistic, but also quite absurd.

‘Cause it’s in your genes

Visceral fat is the fat around the abdomen and intestines that makes the stomach soft and not flat. Michaels’ claim completely ignores the reality that this type of fat distribution is largely based on genetics.

Also, a wider midsection is sometimes due to hypothyroidism. This condition makes it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. Oh, and it also runs in the family.

Because your gut health is out of whack

Michaels likes to brag about healthy eating practices, even if they’re not always good. In fact, she is even told his young daughter that her favorite pop star “loves kale and hates pizza” to encourage healthy eating. (Because, you know, it’s healthy.)

What she doesn’t seem to mention is the effect our diet has on our digestive tract. Food sensitivities and an imbalanced gut microbiota can cause chronic bloating and fat retention. Not surprisingly, both of these things affect our ability to flatten our stomachs.

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Because you are taking medication

Several medications often cause weight gain. Medications that directly affect insulin levels — injectable insulin for diabetics, for example — can cause cells in the body to take up too much glucose. The body then turns this glucose into fat.

Antidepressants and antipsychotics also affect the body’s insulin levels. Common SSRIs like Zoloft and Celexa increase levels of serotonin in the brain, which is involved in weight regulation and appetite.

Oral corticosteroids can also cause weight gain. These drugs stimulate appetite, promote fluid retention and can even cause insulin resistance. Other drugs affecting weight include antihistamines, beta-blockers, and drugs for epilepsy.

Because it’s related to hormones

Hormones significantly affect how our body retains and loses weight. Let’s start with the most obvious first: pregnancy. The muscles in the abdomen are directly affected as the body expands and moves to accommodate a baby.

It can be difficult for women who have given birth to get their torso back to pre-pregnancy specifications. (Of course, Michaels never had to deal with this issue. She adopted her first child and her partner carried their second child.)

But even after the childbearing age, hormones still affect our weight. When women stop ovulating, their body stops producing progesterone, which helps burn fat for energy. This is one of the reasons many postmenopausal women gain weight, especially around the abdomen.

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because you are human

Finally, the most important reason behind Michaels’ “I’m a hero for having abs” claim is that it just isn’t true. There is nothing wrong with having abs. But there’s a lot of harm in telling others that there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have them too.

We are humans – lumpy, soft, slimy humans. Michaels is not made of steel. When the cameras go away and she stops flexing, she too has lumpy, soft, squishy lumps. Trying to achieve anything else is unrealistic and, frankly, biologically impossible.

Yet there’s a reason the toxic fitness culture has been around for decades. It’s persuasive, manipulative, and plays on our deepest, darkest fears. Society then throws those fears back in our faces via Hollywood body standards, social media, and by giving toxic women like Michaels an international platform.

There are many reasons to consider yourself a hero. And aside from her toxic fitness empire, I’d give Michaels the benefit of the doubt and say she’s got her fair share. But one thing is certain: the shape of her belly is not one of them.

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