Jay Cardiello Interview: Change Begins In Your Mind

In Features, Magazine by RI Magazine

To his many A-list clients including 50 Cent and Jennifer Lopez, Jay Cardiello has been a Godsend. His scientifically-grounded behavioral change program hasn’t just transformed the lives of his clients, it is now being implemented by the medical community. Here, he tells RI Magazine how to lay the foundations of real change and make the most out of not just 2017, but the rest of your life.


Jay Cardiello has a problem with the term celebrity trainer. No matter how it’s used, it’s a bit of misnomer. Are you trying to say the trainer himself is a celebrity? (“You won’t find any paparazzi waiting outside my place,” Cardiello laughs.) Or are you trying to use the term as an occupation, as in, he or she trains celebrities?

It’s funny that he loathes the term so much because you can make a strong argument that Cardiello is both.
He may have humility, but at least within the fitness world, Cardiello does have some celebrity. He recently starred on ABC’s “My Diet is Better Than Yours” reality show, is the author of the highly successful Cardio Core 4×4 program, and perhaps most impressively, pioneered a behavioral change program for the obese that is now implemented in Mt. Sinai Hospital systems. If it’s pure star power you’re after, Cardiello’s client roster is littered with A-list actors and athletes from Jennifer Lopez and Sofia Vergara to Ryan Seacrest and 50 Cent.

But in either instance, the term celebrity trainer is one that Cardiello believes the public places far too much faith in.

“What good is my JCORE program going to do for anyone who isn’t ready to change?” Cardiello says.

And so Cardiello’s approach with clients hinges on being able to change what’s between their ears. By dedicating himself to the hard work of behavior change—and not just asking clients to execute a workout template—Cardiello has wound up on the wrong end of a few uncomfortable, and loud, conversations with clients. Nevertheless, he says, “I don’t get frustrated with clients… When they’re telling me, ‘I can’t. You don’t understand. Go f$%k yourself,’ and on and on… What they’re really saying is, ‘I need help. Please don’t quit on me. I need you.’

Read on for our one-on-one with Cardiello to hear him explain in his own words how to plant the seeds for lasting success in your life.

ROBERT IRVINE MAGAZINE: Why do so many New Year’s Resolutions fail?

JAY CARDIELLO: You have to understand this. When we do our New Year’s resolutions, we do them half assed. We’re half drunk. We’re half paying attention. We’re watching the game. We’re half hungover. If you want a resolution, you’ve got to resolve. We don’t do that. You go on a diet and say, “I’ve got to eat this food.” But food is just the effect. It’s not the root cause. Exercise, or lack of it, is an effect. It’s not the root cause. People need to really understand the root cause.

If you’re going to really change, you have to have a purpose. You have to know your why—why you’re doing what you want to do. There has to be something purposeful about it.

Goals don’t make sense to me. Not goals like, “I want to lose 25 pounds.” That’s a statement that pushes you. Purpose pulls you. Saying, “I want to be the first person in my family not to have diabetes,” or “I want to be the first person from my family to graduate college,” those are pulling factors. We have to identify our purpose. What do we want? Why do we want it? Why is it going to be impactful?

After that, it has to be practiced day in and day out. I always say this to people: I’m not a fan of the fitness industry. I’m not a fan of the diet industry. They don’t make resolutions and they don’t make goals stick. When Roger Bannister ran the four-minute mile, what he first did was he changed his mindset and said, “This is what I’m going to do.” He visualized it. He didn’t practice any harder.

The why factor, you have to have that purpose. Each and every day you have to practice and create rituals that serve your purpose. And it has to be specific, not, “I want to lose weight,” or, “I want to be healthier.” You need to identify it a little more. They have to say, “I want to be healthier because it is going to enable me to do X, Y, and Z.”

I say people tell me all the time, “I want to make more money.” “Ok, here’s a dollar. You just made more money.” You met your goal but it wasn’t impactful. You have to have those pulling factors because we all live in this desired state—and we never find the chance or the opportunity to get to that must state, so you have to identify your purpose. It has to have a why factor to it.

RI: You developed a behavioral change program that was implemented at Mt. Sinai Hospital systems. How did that come about and how does it work?

JC: A few years back, I developed a program called Off The Scale. I’m one of the founders of it. I’m no longer with it. No I’m concentrating on a few other things in the behavioral cognitive category. But what I identified is this: that 70% of America is overweight or obese. Chronic conditions are on the rise at an all-time high. People know they need to exercise and eat right, but they are fearful. People are scared. People want to do it, they buy the product, but they don’t use it. They’re in a desired state.

What I figured out is that people need a why factor and they have to have a purpose for coming. You have to identify things that are very simple for people to understand. I talk a bit about colors and chromotherapy and how red and yellow and orange excite your appetite and how blue naturally suppresses your appetite and how green helps you go to sleep. I identified the behavioral change because if you want to change someone, you have to focus on their behavior and their mindset. Everybody has a root cause. People just don’t wake up and start using drugs and alcohol. There was a why factor behind that decision.

If you look at drug and alcohol rehab, they don’t focus on drugs or alcohol. I think that’s the big picture in fitness that we totally miss out on. How could we focus on the specifics of a training program or a diet when the person is overweight or obese? I’m not talking about someone getting in shape for a bodybuilding competition. I’m talking about a person who is 30 pounds overweight—a high BMI with chronic conditions and they’ve been in this state for a while. When you have someone like that, focusing on food and fitness is beyond me. You don’t do that in drug rehab. They go after the root of the problem and they get sustainable outcomes.

That’s what I identified when I implemented the program Off The Scale and developed it is that I want to identify why you do what you do. Then I’m going to give you strategies that you can practice. It’s a 12-week program and each week, we’re going to have a different topic. We meet every week and we discuss this topic to make a small behavioral change and each day, you’re going to have a daily task to perform a small ritual. Even the way you talk to yourself, we have ways that teach people how to talk to themselves better. Most of us talk poorly to ourselves. We would never hang out with a person who talked to us like we talk to ourselves.

RI: As you met with people, what are some common reasons why people can’t find their why? Because eventually people stop caring. They say, “Oh well, this is how I am, I should just accept it.”

JC: A lot of it goes back to negative self-talk. What you say is what you become. It’s also who you attract. You hear people all the time, “I can never find a boyfriend.” “I can never find a girlfriend.” You’re not finding them because you’re telling yourself that. After that, your support system is critical. You are the average of the five people you hang with the most, so we talk about, so I focus on what are you saying, who you hanging out with.

Looking big picture, you have to address the idea of time because people think they have no time. You don’t have the time to be healthy, but you have the time to be sick? Makes no sense. People think there’s so much time that needs to be implemented into a healthy lifestyle.

What I do with people is show them that you do have the time. It can be so simple. Complexity is the enemy of execution. You start with little things. You put your fork in the other hand. You slow down the process so you’re not wolfing down your food and looking for more before your brain even knows you’re full.

One of the biggest barriers is, “I don’t have the money.” But it costs more to be sick than it does to be healthy. People just don’t know, so I educate people.

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Did you know that eye level is called the bullseye zone if you go shopping? Generally speaking, those products are more expensive. Brands and marketers pay to be in that eye level, so look up and look down. You’ll save money. Buy your fruits and vegetables frozen. You know you purchase the fruit. You put it on the table. Five days later, you’re pissed off because you didn’t eat it.

A big thing, too, is guilt. People feel guilty about taking care of themselves.

RI: You see that a lot with parents. They feel like they should be dedicating all that time to their family, that it’s selfish to take the time to go to the gym.

JC: Right. But what’s the first thing they show you on an airplane? They show you how to put that air mask on in the event of an emergency. And you HAVE to put it on yourself first and then take care of your kid. Because if you don’t have oxygen, you can’t help anyone.

We need to take care of ourselves more. Go to any old age home, walk down the hall and talk to them a little bit. Almost all of them will say, “I wish I would’ve done this. I wish I would’ve done that.” I always tell people never give yourself the opportunity to ask what if. We need to start living. We need to start living if death was at the end of the day and we don’t. We just don’t.

RI: That’s a great metaphor about the plane. I just saw one of your videos on Instagram where you were as fired up as you sound right now. Where does your passion for this come from? It seemed like when you made that video like you had just seen someone let the opportunity slip through their fingers, like you had just watched somebody ruin their whole life.

JC: It’s not like that. It’s like this: I’ve been through so much shit in my life. I’ve been through every sort of emotion from having nothing to breaking my spine. I’ve been through everything you can envision. I learned that I have to be my greatest fan and generally, when I am talking like that, like what you saw on Instagram, I’m talking to myself. I try to give. You want to be successful? You’ve got to give more than you’re getting.

I have more fear than anybody I know. I am not going back to that point where I was. It’s a must for me that I have to succeed. There are days that I hate getting out of bed. There’s days that I don’t want to train somebody. There’s days that I don’t want to go up to the hospital. There’s days that I don’t want to develop a program. There’s days that I don’t want to listen to people talk or get on stage, but the fact of the matter is that if I don’t, there’s an opportunity for me to go back to where I was.

My dad told me this one day and it stuck with me. We were watching a football game and he asked, “Who’s the greatest player out there?” I started with the quarterback and I named them all, and he nixed every one of them. He said, “No, no, no. It’s somebody in the stands who never gave themselves the opportunity to be the best they can be and they’re going to live the rest of their life questioning what they could have been. Then they’ll convince themselves that they couldn’t have been that and they’ll say they were never good enough. They label themselves. They become depressed. They become an alcoholic. They wear somebody else’s jersey, praise that person. Right before they die, they say, ‘What if?’”

So I can tell you that if God came down in her infinite wisdom and said, “Today is your day and Jay, you’re going to leave,” I would say, “Okay. I’m good,” because I don’t go to bed tired. I go to bed completely exhausted. I’m doing everything that I can.

RI: How did you break your spine?

JC: I was a long jumper in track and field. I was at a 19 In 1996. I was on the national championship team at the University of Arkansas. I was at practice and I reached out too far in a jump. It shocked my spine, fractured my coccyx. They fused the lower lumbar and then through the years, I got 11 more surgeries, everything from 6 knees, to hip surgery, to shoulder surgeries, to all that because once your body becomes asymmetrical, things start to go, so I had to stop.

I had to learn to listen to my body and figure out what’s what’s wrong with my body. That’s how I got into the training. I transferred to William and Mary and began coaching there and then went to the NFL and started coaching and then all these things… 21 years later, I’m here. Before that, I was headed to law school.

RI: What were some of the most valuable things you learned during recovery?

JC: I had to learn that more is less, less is more. A few years ago I wrote a book called Cardio 4×4 which showed all you need is 20 minutes. Back in ‘99, when I was with the Buccaneers, I introduced them to prehab” They’re like, “What’s that?” I was like, “Listen, you prehab your body to avoid injury so you don’t have to rehab it.” It’s all about sustainability. That’s why one of the biggest things that I focus on with anybody I train, from Kevin Love to 50 Cent, is sleep.

Sleep is not sexy and it doesn’t make trainers money and it doesn’t get you on Instagram posts, and that pisses me off because it’s one of the greatest ways to strengthen your immune system and to provide proper growth to your muscles. I don’t know why we don’t focus on it more.

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RI: Yeah. It’s one of those things that people would prefer to just totally dispense with. In business and school and other places, people take a lot of pride in working—or playing—so hard that they don’t sleep. When they’re young, it works, and then they hit 30, they feel like an old cripple and they can’t figure out why.

JC: Sleep deprivation is a huge problem. I’ve worked with NFL teams and NBA teams. This is not been proven by a study, but I believe it’s one of the biggest things that actually shortens a career.

RI: You work with so many top folks who are very highly motivated, but have you had clients who frustrated you when you realized that they didn’t really want it and no matter what you were going to do, you weren’t going to be able to help them?

JC: I don’t get frustrated with clients. I’ve never gotten frustrated with a client. The clients get frustrated enough with themselves. When they’re telling me, “I can’t. You don’t understand. Go f$%k yourself,” and on and on… What they’re really saying is, “I need help. Please don’t quit on me. I need you.”

If you want a good tree to grow, a good plant, you got to give it good soil. So yeah, I have clients that screamed at me, yelled at me, and cursed me out. You just sit there. If you ever saw Good Will Hunting, you just do that. You stand there, take it, and say “It’s going to be okay. It’s not your fault. It’s okay. It’s not your fault.”

RI: People associate you with your top clients, what is one factor that they all have that helps make them successful?

JC: First I would say success should not be quantified by money or fame. You have a lot of janitors who are more successful than I’ll ever be because what they’re enjoying life and living it with death around the corner as opposed to someone going to Goldman Sachs and crushing out a billion dollars and having a big bonus and then at the end of the day, Johnny Walker and Ben & Jerry show up to hang out with you. Success isn’t based upon upon money. It’s based upon being fulfilled with the life that you have. This an opportunity and a gift.

What I will say is that my clients do have one thing in common: the willingness, the guts, to say to themselves, “I can be better.” That’s it. They take the fear and they go out there and they play. They’re willing to go out there and let the critics criticize, let the haters hate. More so, they’re willing to say at the end of the day, “I gave it my all.” More than anything, they understand that if they keep giving, they can’t help but succeed.

If you give to the world and give to yourself, you will succeed. Give yourself better education. What I mean by education is reading every f$%king day. Education without action is not powerful. Education with action is powerful. People need to work on themselves more, not on their craft. I’ve never read a fitness book, even though I’ve written one. I read books about psychology, philosophy. I read about different religions. You read about how to have a rapport with people.

The six inches between the ears is what separates the healthy from the unhealthy and there’s more unhealthy right now. We have the best foods. We have the best gyms. We have the best trainers. It’s all there, but we need to change our minds.

You can’t change anybody. Nobody else can make you happy. Nobody else can make you sad. No Jay Core program is going to change that. No P90X program is going to change that. No organic ingredients is going to change that.

There’s a huge disconnect between root cause and surface solutions, but we don’t want to deal with root causes. Because if we actually dealt with that, it wouldn’t be sexy. It wouldn’t make you a billion dollars. So we hawk our programs and post on Instagram. We look good. We wear a bikini. We say, “Look at this butt.” We do some sit ups and pushups and we’re cool. Doesn’t make sense to me. It really doesn’t, but it does make sense right before a person dies.

Originally published in Robert Irvine Magazine.