We have a very special episode with my buddy, the one and only Shaun T. He’s the creator of Insanity, Cize, and host of My Diet is Better Than Yours.
Shaun has a HUGE heart. I think he’s one of the most inspirational people in fitness. He truly cares about people and can help you achieve more than you ever thought possible. And he also gives epic bro hugs.
You may have seen the viral video where Shaun T called me up after I convinced him to try butter in his coffee? You can ask him yourself, but I’m pretty sure he liked it (even though he stirred instead of frothed).
Butter and bacon are going mainstream, baby.
Onto the show with Shaun T, you’ll learn:
- What Shaun does when he doesn’t feel like exercising
- Why Shaun eats carbs
- How to get fit by dancing
- Why Shaun’s facial expressions stole the show on ABC
- The behind the scenes scoop on My Diet is Better Than Yours
- And much more…
Why Shaun T Gained (& Lost) 50 Pounds
Abel: Shaun T is the creator of some of Beachbody’s best-selling fitness programs, including Insanity, Hip Hop Abs, Focus T25, Insanity MAX 30 and CIZE. He’s shared the stage with Val Kilmer, toured with Mariah Carey, appeared in Pippin, Applause, Six Feet Under, the feature film Beauty Shop, and is the esteemed host of My Diet Is Better Than Yours on ABC.
Plus, here’s a fun fact—Shaun gives some of best bro hugs of all time. Shaun, I’m so happy you’re here, man!
And you give the bro-hug back, Abel. The embrace and touch of someone can tell a lot of things. For so long, growing up, going to college and becoming a man, you have the handshake. How strong, how firm it is can tell you a lot about a person.
I live off of emotion, and that’s the reason I do what I do—it’s the emotional response you’re going to get from achieving something. When I hug someone, it’s synonymous with the handshake. I have to let you know where my energy is. I want to be open to you and what you have to offer me in this life. It doesn’t always work, but you give it back, Abel.
— Shaun T (@shauntfitness) July 3, 2016
Behind The Scenes of My Diet Is Better Than Yours
Abel: It’s the bear hug. That’s what I want people to know about you—and you’ve had such great success because you are open. You’re present, you totally commit and help motivate people. Being on “My Diet is Better Than Yours” has been so much fun, and your ridiculous facial expressions totally stole the show.
Here’s something interesting about the show. Most people who know me know that I’m always motivating you. I am looking at the camera and I’m like, “You can do this!”
In our show, because we have to bring people into the space of real life, I’m trying to get that message across while NOT looking at the camera. That was a challenge for me.
I also have a mic in my ear and there’s a bunch of chatter going on in the back. I’m trying to listen to what you are saying what the contestants are saying—they’re telling me in my ear to not respond to something! So, when I have to filter my mouth, all I have is my face.
When I was in college, I pledged a fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, and that’s a really tough process. There’s a lot of different emotions that come up. You’re given tasks that mess with the brain. One thing they called me was the man of many faces. You have to stand in a line and be stoic. In my head I’m like, “Don’t talk to me like that,” and all I had was my facial expressions.
I learned to control my facial expressions. Sometimes someone says something and you have to mask your expression so they don’t know how you really feel.
However, on the show I was like, “I’m not filtering this, because you just said something crazy.” Since I couldn’t talk, I used my face.
Abel: I was rolling watching you react to the drama of Reality TV.
I knew as a kid that I was a gay man. I knew. It wasn’t about the sexual thing, it was about what I was attracted to—just into the feeling of me. I connected to my feelings and emotions. Tell Alyson don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you how hot you are, just getting to my point.
Do you remember the cartoon The Tick? I had a total crush on the cartoon The Tick. I was really attracted to this thing in the way, and loved watching the show. When I met Scott, he looked just like The Tic. He’s the human version of The Tic and so I married a cartoon!
When I watch My Diet is Better Than Yours, especially when you (Abel) give Kurt a hug or you’re teaching him something and you smile, I turn to Scott and I’m like, “OMG he’s like a cartoon and he’s so happy!” That’s actually a compliment, your energy is just so wonderful and open.
The Key To Success In Fitness & Life
Abel: Some people don’t realize that we have bad days too. But given all that, we still have to show up, and I always want to be seen as positive. You choose to show up the man you want to be no matter what.
One of the things I love about you is that you’re out there making sure that when someone else is struggling, you’re there and helping them… and that helps release your own struggles, too.
My podcast is about change and being naked and comfortable with who you are. Knowing that these small steps, even just thinking you want to change, is successful. Us being in the limelight, it’s like you always have to be in this place of being present. That’s what people want and what a lot of people fear about being in the present moment.
We are always focused on trying to get to point X. X marks the spot.
As a professional dancer, I learned to live in this moment.
As a dancer, you can’t live 28 counts from now. If you’re living 28 counts from now, you’re going to be doing the wrong steps. I want you to live your life. I want you to live right now.
If the count is 1 and 2, you can’t be on 3 and 4, because you’re going to look crazy. You have to be there now.
When you’re going to work and you prepare a presentation, you can only do the presentation, you can’t prepare for people’s responses.
Abel: How do you get in that mindset? It’s a skill. Some people do meditation, dance, I do music. What are some of the things you do?
I believe life is a relay race, and if you go to the Olympics or watch it on TV, there’s this 4 x 4 hundred meter relay. There are all these people competing against each other but now they have to be on a team. Life is like that.
If you’re on a fitness or weight loss journey—for people who have bought The Wild Diet or have followed you on this podcast—you can not be afraid to look back and take the baton from the “past you.”
I was molested as a kid, I moved out of my house at age 14, and I had to come out of the closet. All these things, most people throw them back and don’t want that anymore. But let me tell you something, when I got into a situation like hosting “My Diet”, where I don’t know anyone, I become that shy kid. I go back to those experiences and I say, “How did you get to this point?”
“I utilize all the strength and struggles and lessons learned, and I take that baton from the person before me—who was me.”
When the person is tired who hands you the baton, you have to go a little faster. But that person who hands you the baton is also reaching forward. Regardless of who inspired you to get to that point, you did it with YOU. When I’m in that moment, I go there by being 100% authentic to who I am.
Abel: You say the work begins when you’re tired.
How do we get better? At the end of the day, when you are exhausted, that’s the moment you get better because you’re reflecting on what you did and take the positives to move forward. In workout form, that’s the minute you start moving your body, your heart starts to race, fatigue begins to set in—even in the beginning. Your body is starting to go uphill.
But if you are in a competition, the minute you show your opponent you’re tired is the moment you lose.
In a workout, the moment you can’t do another pushup or your abs are burning is the moment you need to celebrate. You’re happy about the fact that you brought yourself to the moment of fatigue and failure because so many people don’t even do that. Then you have to remember: There’s always a reserve.
When you finally collapse—people think of that moment as failure, but it’s really a new beginning.
Then when you can’t do another push-up, you take a break, and surprisingly you can do another one. It’s not about the work you’re doing in the moment, it’s about your recovery time.
How To Workout When You Don’t Want To
Abel: It’s not about working out for long periods of time. There are huge benefits when you challenge your fitness level, upgrade your metabolism, and go until you’re gassed. I’ll do 5 minutes tabatas—sprints, or my favorite burpees—20 seconds as hard as I can and ten seconds rest. By the end I just go until I can’t. It’s epic and terrible and then you’re done.
What do you do when Shaun T doesn’t want to work out?
I don’t. That’s because I work out all the time, so if my brain is like, “I don’t wanna work out, I don’t.” But if it’s a motivational thing, you have to push yourself further. So, I pick something I enjoy doing. Most people think they have to kill themselves to get a good workout. I play tennis, dance, go for a run, go for a hike, or go to the gym and lift weights.
Sometimes the motivation isn’t that you don’t want to work out, you just don’t want to do the workout you’re going to do. Even if you’re a crossfit champion, you can go for a walk.
Find something you enjoy doing. If you enjoy throwing up after your workout, do Insanity. If you like to laugh and have a good time, do Hip Hop Abs. I go hard for ten minutes, because especially for people starting on weight loss journey—it’s not about completing a full workout, it’s about starting the workout.
I was waiting for an airplane once and went into a restaurant. I was sitting there eating and there was a big guy near me, bigger than Kurt. Now, I don’t judge—for all I know the guy could have just lost 5 pounds. But I just ordered my salad and my proteins and I was eating well… and the guy just looked at me and he said, “Can you help me?” I didn’t know this guy, he didn’t know I was Shaun T. He didn’t know, he just said can you help me? Even at this moment, I tear up a little bit.
I told him, “Here’s your challenge: Tomorrow, do one minute of marching in place. The next day do one minute of marching and one minute of modified jumping jacks. For three weeks, just add one minute a day of anything you can do.”
That journey, while it’s gonna be great, it’s also like moving through quicksand to go for that X. But if you look at yesterday, then you look at small progressions forward, that’s how to be successful.
— Shaun T (@shauntfitness) April 21, 2016
Why Shaun Eats (Good) Carbs
Abel: I have the punishing workouts and the ones that are much more relaxed, basically to keep the habit there when I’m not feeling like a hard workout. I’ll do yoga holds and a 2 minute plank or things like that.
I read on your blog where you said, “Pet peeve alert: When someone comes up to me at a party and says, ‘I can’t believe you eat carbs!’”
When people see Shaun T come around, most of the time they’re hawking at what I eat. I become completely abnormal and alien. So I’m at a party and some guy walked up and was like, “Oh my god, you actually have carbs on your plate?”
It happens all the time. People have this idea that carbs are bad for you… on my plate I had vegetables, sweet potato fries, I think I might have also had some rice. You kind of just have to find the next best thing when you’re at a party. My portion sizes were good—but even if it’s not the best food, I need to eat. So I’m gonna find the right portion sizes for what’s there.
The number one problem with people on their weight gain journey is that they try to eliminate all these things. They’ll be like, I’m not gonna eat carbs so I get up and have egg whites for breakfast. Then lunch comes around and I have a cobb salad. Then midday snack comes, I’m going to be good because I’m in front of the coworkers, then by the end of the day they’ve deprived themselves of anything that would give them a little bit of energy. Then night comes around and pizza sounds amazing or mashed potatoes and gravy sound incredible.
We’ve deprived ourselves of the community. People, don’t starve yourself. You have to give your body some energy!
Abel: In The Wild Diet, I promote reducing carbs and for the average American that means getting rid of processed carbs. But it gets people into trouble when they eliminate vegetables and tomatoes and they spend the day avoiding foods rather than focusing on eating the right foods. Sweet potatoes and rice are great carbs in meaningful quantities.
When Alyson and I traveled around the world, we got to see how many different people eat. It’s drastically different than us. They’re not ordering a bucket of fried chicken, they’re not having pizza at the end of the day, and it’s not fast food in the car. Their portions are small or reasonable and they’re eating fresh veggies. There are some health standards you have to understand to take your health into your hands. What are some things that you’ve found surprising?
One of the biggest food lessons I had was when I lived in Istanbul, Turkey. I lived in Istanbul to train an entire gym staff on how to become better group exercise instructors and better trainers. Every night we’d go out to eat, and this was in my 20s. Fitness was really big, but I could still eat whatever I wanted and look great.
I’d train these people then we’d go to dinner. It was a mindblowing culture shock experience for me! They did have a lot of bread and a lot of things but the portion control they had, and the speed at which they ate, was unbelievable. Food and eating was an event you took your time doing. You took your time ordering the food and everyone could enjoy different parts of the food and they didn’t overeat.
I was from a family where, if you put it on your plate, you had to eat it all. This was my first big “aha” moment.
The food was really good, but even when they brought the bread to the table people weren’t being scavengers. They also had hummus and tons of vegetables, and that experience with food played a really big factor moving forward when it comes to nutrition.
You have to celebrate food.
That’s one reason I liked doing My Diet Is Better Than Yours, and that’s why I loved you and Dawn’s Superfood Swap. Because you guys really celebrate food.
When you slow down and enjoy it, your body won’t get full as fast, you won’t just be putting things into your body so your brain doesn’t have time to process.
Another fun fact about Istanbul: When I turned 17 I got these crazy allergies from plums, pears, apples, kiwi… I went to Istanbul and I wondered if it had anything to do with the way fruits are grown in the U.S. I decided to drink this cup of fresh apple juice. I drank it, and it was so good and I didn’t have an allergy. From then, I really focused on eating right and celebrating food, and not being afraid to eat things I probably shouldn’t.
Abel: I don’t typically eat bread in the U.S., but in other parts of the world, what bread does to me here it doesn’t do there. They’re using different grains, they’re soaking, they’re sprouting, and they’re doing the traditional things you should do with food that America skips over these days. It’s a shame, but it’s also starting to get better.
Let me ask you this: People see you on the cover of health and fitness magazines and you have one of the best physiques out there. But it wasn’t always the case, right?
At one point I was 50 pounds overweight. I was an athlete. I ran track and got scholarship and won medals, but in college I got focused on academics and not sports. I grew up in a family that wasn’t necessarily wealthy, so we’d eat bad food but we didn’t have a lot of it and I was active. Then I went to college and we got these food cards you could swipe in the cafeteria. Your boy Shaun T went ham on these. They had baked ziti, pizza, ice cream and every kind of thing you wanted. Instead of gaining the freshman 15, I gained the freshman 50.
That first semester of my sophomore year, I looked in the mirror and I was unhappy with what I saw… and even more with what I felt. I just went to the gym. I ran. Then when I got confident, I went to the weight room.
There was a point that I lost 7 pounds, and I thought, “I feel good. I’m nowhere near my 180 I wanna be, but I feel really really good.” It snapped and I said, if I can make everybody feel like this I will do this for the rest of my life. That’s how I got on my fitness journey, and I connected with every pound.
We all know it’s not about the scale. But when you do step on the scale, it’s attached to how you feel, and connects to the positive things that got you there.
Kurt would come to the scale and say, I ate bacon cheeseburgers and chased bacon around a field. My cartoon Abel dresses up as bacon.
That was a positive thing for Kurt that’s helping him lose weight. The feeling that you get as you go along the way… remember those feelings and carry that on to the next phase.
The first dance class I ever took, I taught. I just engulfed myself in this world and it progressed from there. That’s how I got to where I am today, and it’s all because of a feeling. I’m a very emotional guy.
Abel: You bring the artist mentality to movement. You see it as a way to practice joy with other people and you share that. It’s so cool seeing people get results that way. If you can hook them in with being happy to move, then you can get them to look at breakfast differently. To start eating healthy. What are some things you’ve seen from people who started at X and ended somewhere amazing?
If I have someone over 300 pounds, I don’t immediately take everything out of your diet. I say, let’s understand what you’re eating. Trade me—you give away one meal for one meal I can give you that’s healthy. When people would eat pizza and french fries and hoagies for every meal, just change breakfast from leftover pizza to something like eggs.
Just from that one meal and a little workout they see results. Then I say, trade me your Coke or Diet Coke for some water or some green tea. Then they take that out. This is the best thing for me to see someone not be super deprived out of the gate. To me, that’s the best thing—it happens with food and it happens with the body.
They can’t do a pushup, hold a plank, or jump because they say their knees hurt. To see them fight through something that’s only there because of the weight, that’s awesome. They lose 30 pounds and their knees don’t hurt.
I feel good about a client when I see their face brightening up every day from realizing they’re making successful steps, and they’ve attached to their mind, “I can do this.”
If you can do it, if you believe that you can do it, I’m not saying the struggles won’t still be there, but the belief system is the most powerful thing you have. Your partner can tell you that you’re sexy or look amazing, but if you don’t believe it, it means nothing.
As authors and trainers and motivators, we can give you the information and we can put you through the process, but the only way it’s sustainable is if you believe that you can do it and that you are powerful.
My podcast is “Trust and Believe” because I just believe in humans. I believe that there’s a thin line between feeling bad and feeling good and that thin line is just the belief in yourself.
Abel: A lot of people say Shaun T is in great shape and it’s easy for him to exercise. But you get hurt and sick. How do you ensure that you stay in Shaun T shape even when something bad happens?
When I shot the “Men’s Health” cover, I was trying to lean down to get magazine ready. Magazine cover ready is a whole different thing than losing weight. I was playing tennis one day and I pulled my calf—3 ½ weeks before the shoot. I love to jump up and down and kill myself, but this was a big barrier and hurdle. I love to dance and cardio is my everything. How am I going to do this? I just had to improvise.
So, everything happened on one leg: Tabata on one leg. I did dips, chair dips, pushups, pullups, I did everything, I just had to become creative in my space. With a pulled calf muscle, there seems like not much you can do, but there is a lot you can do.
If you get sick or get a cold, you have to assess your body—you might have to rest. But if you have a knee issue, there’s always a way.
When I came out with Hip Hop Abs and it got successful in the states, I had to go to Canada to do their home shopping network. One woman caller was like, “OMG, I’m so excited! I lost 35 pounds with your program.” So I asked her what’s her favorite thing? “Well, I’m in a wheelchair, so when you pump to the right I just rolled to the left and kept my arms moving.”
And I’m like, oh my goodness, I didn’t expect that. Then I got another email that said, “Shaun T, I love teaching CIZE and I’m the only instructor around that teaches in a wheelchair.”
I talk to these people who have these stories, and they really empower and inspire me to keep going to let people know—you think a broken finger or arm, these minute things, should stop you? Then people teach class and lose weight in a wheelchair. It’s possible. You can make it happen.
Where To Find Shaun T
You can find all of Shaun T’s fitness programs including Hip Hop Abs, Insanity, and Cize, his podcast “Trust and Believe,” and his newly released book T is for Transformation at www.shauntfitness.com.
Check out My Diet is Better Than Yours hosted by Shaun T on Hulu or ABCGo!
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
Before You Go…
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What did you think about Shaun T’s truth bombs? Leave a comment below and let us know!