When I announced on social media that I was about to meet Jessie Pavelka I suddenly found myself inundated with offers from female volunteers only too eager come along! OK, I get it, there’s no denying that Jessie is a very good-looking guy with an army of female admirers. However, there’s much more to this 30 year old Texan born fitness expert than meets the eye.
By Paul Mumford
Jessie is the host of Sky TV’s Fat: The Fight of My Life. He has spent the last 10 years or so working with obese people and has changed many lives in his native USA. Now he’s becoming a big hit in the UK with his successful approach and is helping us with our own growing obesity crisis. I met up with Jessie during one of his regular trips to the UK as he hosted an event for HOOP (Helping Overcome Obesity Problems), the charity that has been set up to help obese people, of which he’s the patron.
PM: Where did it all start for you? Am I right that you used to be into body building?
JP: That’s right. Initially everything was sports driven for me. Firstly my parents divorced, it happens all the time…… kids become angry and I became angry….. so I used the gym as my outlet. In fourth grade I had my own pair of dumbbells and I was doing curls, push-ups and sit-ups. It was the only thing that kept me sane (and still is!). Then I got into American football and played that through college but I broke my scapula and felt it every time I was hitting (tackling) someone. So I moved toward bodybuilding.
PM: Did you compete?
JP: I did….. off and on for around four years I’d say. I did my first body building competition when I was 20. I got third place. Then the owner of Gold’s Gym, Ed Connors called me up and invited me to fly to Vegas as he thought I had a career in bodybuilding. He believed in me. It was pretty amazing. So I continued training, did some magazine work and prepared my physique on the exterior. Gradually though I realised how unhealthy I was becoming on the inside. I was constantly dropping fluids and yo-yoing in weight. Then there was all the nightlife. So I just snapped out of it one day and thought this is not for me. At around the same time as the bodybuilding I started a business working with bariatric (obese) patients in Palm Desert and that’s what got me into training the obese. We would sit in on focus groups and listen to these people talk about their issues with food. Then we would invite them to come and train with us. We were kind of in at the beginning of the obesity boom.
PM: So what made you realise that you needed to focus more on obese people?
JP: I did a little stunt work on a show called Friday Night Lights while I was living in L.A. but when I moved back to Texas I got this call from my agent for a fitness show called Diet Tribe. It was at the end of the day, I was tired but I went along, told them what I could do and I got the job. It was one of those moments when I thought God is on my side right now.
PM: So now that you’re more settled in your role as a trainer, is there an ideal client for you?
JP: I like training people that are really trying to overcome something. I think I can identify with that. It doesn’t have to be a super-morbidly obese person either. It can just as easily be someone that’s dealing with other issues, like losing a job or someone who has really let themselves go in a way. That inspires me. It feels good to help someone overcome these battles.
PM: On your show – Fat: The Fight of My Life, you focus very much on mindset with your clients. How important is that when it comes to extreme weight loss?
JP: You have to remember these guys are constantly beating themselves up, thinking they’re not good enough and don’t deserve this. On the show we have to be that voice that says, ‘You can. You do deserve this’. I think it’s easy when you’re getting the physical changes to say OK, cool, things are happening. The stuff that’s going on in their head is the most challenging thing. The inner work is a whole different type of exercise. Some trainers will think all that stuff is pointless. Just get them out there, getting them moving and getting them eating right. But there’s this whole other side of things. It’s about re-programming the mind, every day if they have to. I get a dry erase marker and I put goals down on my mirror and it programmes the brain. That’s what you have to do.
PM: So how is the show put together? Do you oversee the client’s training from start to finish?
JP: We start by finding the client and then we find a local trainer that’s right for them. Once we’re started I get feedback every week that shows their progress and I communicate with them weekly too. We work with 10 clients at once ……. so to get to know them in the way I get to know one individual client on a day-to-day basis is challenging. It’s a very intimate relationship. But we’ve had some really amazing results.
PM: I’ve noticed there’s a pattern with people on the show. After a few months with things going really well, people seem to hit a wall and put on some weight. How do you overcome that?
JP: Anytime you start something new it’s exciting. You’re stimulated by it and you want to do it. When someone weighs say 25 stones, they will lose tonnes of water weight initially and it’s exciting. Then things start to slow down and it becomes less stimulating. So the best thing I can do is have them fall in love with the feeling of exercise. They have to trust that everything they’re doing is working. It’s a challenge because I’m dealing with people who have never done this before. They have no trust in their bodies. It’s about staying consistent with the messages. Writing things down, looking within yourself. It’s all those little things that add up.
PM: Is there a pattern with the clients you look after? Are they making the same mistakes?
JP: Some people don’t eat enough through the day and then at night they binge which messes their metabolism up completely. Your body is ready to shut down at night. But then there are some clients who just eat a lot throughout the day and not just at night. Stress is such a big factor too but every client is different.
PM: How does the obesity problem here compare to what’s happening in the US?
JP: When you look at Texas for instance, where I come from. My home town, Corpus Christi is the most obese city in the world. You just have to look at some of the underprivileged areas in the UK and they are following the same trends. Corpus Christi has fast food on every corner, right by every school. There’s no other option. You can get a burger for almost the same price as an apple. So yes, I would say Texas in particular and the UK are similar in a lot of ways. But in some other parts of the US, like Los Angeles, things are changing. You can find these small businesses that provide more healthy foods.
PM: So tell us about HOOP, the charity you’re here with today?
JP: HOOP is a charity designed to be a voice for the obese in the UK. There’s a lot of money going into the prevention of obesity but not much on the treatment. These people are suffering because there’s nothing out there for them. Well, there is but it’s not as successful as it should be. So what HOOP is trying to do is give people a place to go for solutions and to talk about their issues. But it’s hard because society looks at an obese person and thinks they’re lazy. We need to eliminate the visual aspect of things and look at the person. That’s where the solutions are.
It was quite clear from meeting Jessie and chatting with him over coffee that he is much more than just a good looking trainer. He is filled with compassion, empathy and truly cares about the obese people he helps to change. Not only does Jessie visit the UK regularly for the Sky TV show and his charity work, but he’s also busy launching the Pavelka Health Revolution and a series of days where people can benefit from Jessie’s experience firsthand. Jessie describes the Pavelka days as, “A sacred time where you can come and be in a safe, comfortable environment, where you can run all the red lights, be vulnerable, get to know yourself better and ignite the fire within.” I’m looking forward to finding out more about his health revolution, as I will be catching up with Jessie again later in the year.
Paul Mumford is an elite trainer, writer and broadcaster. He owns the Mumford Phys Ed Training company in Essex.
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