After seeing “Shakespeare in Love” I had a dream about Gwyneth Paltrow. In the dream we were … never mind.

Since that time, her shine has worn off.

What can Gwyneth teach you about weight loss, fitness and health? Nothing much that’s good. In reality, this post is more about “fitness” than anything else, but I threw the words “weight loss” into the title because click bait.

I’ve said I’ll never interview Gwyneth, but that’s not true. I’d happily interview her, Jillian Michaels, or Kim Kardashian if I were writing an investigative piece. I’d welcome the opportunity to ask any of them tough questions to expose the bullshit that is the Tracy Anderson Method, The Biggest Loser, or to ask Kim if she sees her reflection when looking in the mirror.

So you don’t think I’m picking on just women, I’d happily nail Dr. Oz to the wall about his promotion of weight loss bullshittery if I were ever granted an interview.

Using celebrities to promote weight loss products is big business, because people are stupid. Recently I received a promotional email from a publicist asking me to write about one of those electro-shock-the-flab-away products called the “Flex Belt,” promoted by Lisa Rinna and Adrianne Curry. Who are they? I have no idea, but the publicist assures me they’re famous.

When a celebrity endorses something, we’re more inclined to believe it is worthwhile because we feel as though we have an emotional connection to the celeb in question. They don’t know/care shit about us, but we still feel like they’re our pal because we like their singing / acting / sex tape / ability to put a ball in a net. And so, when they tell us to buy something, even if it’s crap, we often do.

But, uh, James … don’t you interview celebrities about fitness and weight loss?

Yes, and that’s what this piece is about. It’s kind of a behind-the-scenes look at my thought processes (Warning: it’s dark in here) in regards to how I can use celebrity stories to help you with good information rather than to sell crap. If marketers can use celebrities for evil, then I can use them for good.

First off, it’s important to know that my celebrity interviews are largely fluff pieces. There, I said it. What do I mean by “fluff piece”? I mean I’m not really asking them tough questions. It’s not what I’d call investigative journalism where I’m Barbara Walters saying, “Tell me about that time you were snorting blow off the dash of your Ferrari and plowed through a platoon full of puppies.”

No, I’m trying to make the celebrity look good so I can keep getting interviews, all while sharing information that is useful for you. At the same time, I get to interview someone famous and it raises my profile. Plus: money. Everybody wins.

I mean, we still talk about real issues like drug and alcohol use, motivation, battles with weight etc., but I’m not trying to put anyone on the spot. When I’m talking to people like Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys or Brent Smith of Shinedown or Daniel Baldwin about drug and alcohol addiction, it’s because they’re willing to be open about how exercise helped them get clean.

See, that’s a good story: How exercise can help you break bad habits; it lead to me doing an investigative piece on the subject for my syndicated Chicago Tribune column. If you’re battling addiction, and maybe a big Backstreet Boys fan, perhaps the Nick Carter story inspires you to follow in his footsteps.

Or if you’re suffering from an illness or injury maybe you got inspired by learning how Montel Williams, Dorothy Hamill, Anthony Anderson, Rev Run, Kristin Chenoweth and Jane Seymour have all used exercise and healthy eating as a way to battle a host of conditions.

Or maybe you heard Tracy Anderson talk about how women shouldn’t lift weights heavier than three pounds, but my interview with Cameron Diaz made you realize that it’s good for women to lift heavy.

I’ve interviewed plenty of Olympians for those who want inspiration to go hard, as well as celebrities who were obese and lost a lot of weight. One thing you should know is that I’m careful about who I agree to interview.

I research each celebrity before accepting an interview to make sure they’re not going to spend the entire time spewing pseudo-scientific crap. That’s why I won’t do a traditional celebrity story on Gwyneth or Kim, because I won’t permit my writing to be a vehicle for their bullshit.

What’s more, I’ll even selectively edit answers. I get twice as much information in a typical interview as makes it into print, and I use the stuff that makes the best story. And by “best” I mean the stuff that is in line with what I think is most important for you to know; the stuff that isn’t just the most inspiring, but also won’t spread bad information.

As an example, one celebrity I asked if she had any fitness goals for the future, and she went on about how she was excited to start training with Tracy Anderson. Meanwhile, I was thinking, Yeah, that’s not going in the article.

It doesn’t always work out. On rare occasions I just get a bunch of crappy answers, and I create the best story I can out of it.

I also welcome the opportunity to inject realism into how stars achieve those amazing physiques. Read my interview with Hugh Jackman or with the stars of the “300″ sequel. It’s not about “How to get a body like Hugh.” Instead, the story is: “Hugh had to kill himself to look like this, and it doesn’t last, so stop comparing yourself to him.”

And sometimes I get pleasantly surprised and get to tell the meatheads who dis cardio that the hyper-muscled Terry Crews runs every day. Other times, it’s just a really cool story, such as what it’s like to exercise in space. In some cases, like with the MythBusters, my kids begged me to.

Through a series of events that never cease to amaze me, I have somehow become one the of the most popular celebrity fitness interviewers in the world. I’m not interested in detailed regimens, like how many sets/reps of deadlifts Hugh does, but instead focus on the bigger picture that gives readers a larger understanding about what fitness means to different people.

I want readers to leave a story feeling both inspired and more knowledgeable, and with perhaps a bit of information that they can apply to their own lives to achieve a higher level of health and fitness.

What can a celebrity teach you about weight loss, health and fitness? It depends. If they’re being paid to flog a product, it should automatically tell you that product is probably crap.

But if you’re reading a celebrity story I wrote, know that most of the information is good. Because while it may be entertaining for me to interview celebrities now and then, the person I really care about is you, and I won’t pass along shit advice in the interest of kissing some celebrity’s ass.

This piece was first published on my old site on August 27, 2014.

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James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.

 

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