The Program

21 Days to a Stronger, Slimmer, Sexier You


By Jessie Pavelka

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Simple Changes = Powerful Results in Only 21 Days!

For more than 10 years–most recently as the newest trainer on the hit television show The Biggest Loser and now inspiring its huge online community — fitness expert Jessie Pavelka gets results by keeping it simple. Pavelka knows health is all about living well, so he makes it easy to get with the program!

For the first time, The Program brings together Pavelka’s most effective tips, techniques, and no-fail workouts in book form. “Challenge yourself,” Pavelka says. “Simply commit to making one change every day.” The Program is organized by Pavelka’s four pillars and his belief that making small changes in these areas leads to amazing benefits. These are:

  • EAT: More than 60 simple recipes that have a ratio of lean protein, good carbohydrates, and healthy fat will reshape readers’ relationship with their grocery list.
  • SWEAT: More than 100 workouts are illustrated to inspire novices and experts alike, and the variety Pavelka provides will keep readers engaged.
  • THINK: Wellbeing begins with positive thoughts — Pavelka’s mindful practices are a refreshing blend of affirmation, relaxation, and focus.
  • CONNECT: Pavelka provides tips on how to cultivate a support network that will keep you with The Program.

Based on years of experience and successful coaching of thousands of clients on television and off, Pavelka’s The Program will help you harness your individual power while losing weight, getting healthy, and enjoying life.


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My work as a trainer gives me the privilege of helping people take charge of their bodies and lives. It is powerful to witness overweight and unhappy clients become confident, fit people. I have helped thousands of people reach many different goals and have realized that true fitness is not simply physical and can't be measured only by numbers on a scale. People who commit to improving their health not only get in better physical shape; they often become more optimistic and engaged partners, parents, and friends. They're inspiring. They're game. They're fun. Most of us are just plain happier when we're healthy.

It is a gift to see the impact of fitness not only on the individual, but on the people who love and care about them. I'm moved when I run into formerly sedentary clients with their children in the park, and see them climbing the jungle gym or riding on bicycles together. It's easier to make healthy choices and take care of yourself when you're happier. The amazing part is that people can make profound and dramatic improvements in their lives by taking a few small steps, over and over. Anyone can take them: move more, eat well, be mindful, and connect with others. That's it, that's everything, and this book is going to show you how to do it right.

Sports and exercise have defined and saved my life. I grew up in and around Corpus Christi, Texas, and spent most of my childhood playing outdoors. Farms, fields, the beach, gardens of bluebonnets: if it was outside, I was messing around in it, working up a sweat. As a good Texas boy, I rooted for the Cowboys and played football from the time I was four years old. Football was my favorite, but I enjoyed sports in general and played baseball and basketball and ran track through high school. As I got older and became intentional about shaping my own body for sport-specific performance in different seasons, I started spending more time in gyms and found myself learning a lot about training. I also found that people wanted to talk about this stuff with me and be able to do what I was doing. Eventually I realized that I could make some money this way, and I got professionally certified as a trainer when I was 19. I've worked with a lot of clients since then and figured out a thing or two about what I consider true fitness and how to get it. That's why I've created The Program. The Program will help you lose weight if you need to, but it's not a diet: it's a practical guide to living well that you can follow forever to be the strongest, happiest, best version of yourself.

People start training for many different reasons and need different strategies to reach their goals. Some clients are already pretty fit and want to take things to the next level or train for a specific sport or event. Other clients have been starting from tough places, maybe recovering from injury or illness, or they have a significant amount of weight to lose in order to get healthy. I designed The Program to be flexible so it can be used by anyone, at any fitness level, in an ongoing way.

You'll take action in four main areas on The Program—what you eat, how you move, mindfulness practices, and connecting with others—but you have a lot of freedom and flexibility to determine what makes you successful. You'll find a number of different ways to measure your progress as you move through The Program, and you can choose which ones feel most relevant to your life right now. You can choose different tools for measurement if and when your goals change. I've designed a cycle of workouts for three different levels of fitness that allow you to improve different areas of your performance and get some momentum without getting injured. The Program meal plan gives you the tools to choose foods that complement the kind of workout you're doing on any given day and that work for you and your family. There are multiple mindfulness practices you can try during the first cycle of The Program. You can incorporate the ones that are most motivating for you into your routine over the long haul. Creating relationships that feed your soul is a critical part of living well and directly impacts your physical fitness. I hope that the tools offered in The Program help you to begin, or strengthen, key relationships in your life. So, while The Program is a 21-day cycle, it has been designed for people at all different starting points with an understanding that our journeys to fitness never really end.

A lot of what I know about getting healthy is informed and inspired by my work with clients who have been seriously overweight. I've learned so much from their journeys. Sometimes I'm asked about how I found myself working so often with people who want to lose extreme amounts of weight. Here's what happened. I was living in California in my early twenties and developed a business called Fit for You with a friend and trainer named David Ryla. We created Fit for You to specialize in weight loss and work with bariatric patients who were preparing for, or recovering from, weight loss surgery. Now, my first clients as a trainer in Texas were generally people I had met in my own gym, and most of them were not overweight. The majority of them were already pretty fit and just wanting to get in better shape for themselves or their spouses, put on a little bit of muscle, or hit a performance goal for a specific sport. I was instinctively knowledgeable about a lot of that and enjoyed helping people reach those goals. The training experience with the Fit for You clients was very different. They were training because they wanted to live. Literally. Most of them were more than 100 pounds overweight and many had developed medical problems because of it. Someone who is facing bariatric surgery has gotten so out of shape that a doctor has told them they needed to get more fit, one way or another, in order to keep breathing.

When a person comes into the gym knowing it's a do-or-die situation, they usually work out with a special intensity. While they generally have a long road ahead of them, they also tend to see improvements very quickly. It is an amazing feeling to watch that person increase from three reps of an exercise to 12 reps or go from walking for 10 minutes to being able to run a mile without stopping. The confidence someone experiences in that situation is as inspiring to me as the weight they are losing or the strength they are building. Helping people discover, or rediscover, pride in their bodies and hope in their lives made me feel like I was not just doing work I enjoyed, but work that had the potential to be genuinely meaningful.

In addition to getting a great sense of satisfaction from training this new population, I was also getting a practical education about issues specific to clients dealing with extreme weight loss. In some ways, being heavy can strengthen your bones and help you develop certain muscles, but moving extra weight is hard work and tough on the body. My focus with very overweight people is always to protect their knees and feet at first, because that's where they are most vulnerable physically. They'll stop before they've barely started if they get injured in particular ways. I learned to use elliptical machines, the recumbent bike, swimming, and exercises for core balance and stability—less-weight-bearing activities that still got results.

At the same time I got a real education about other aspects of the physical side of this level of transformation, like pain and loose skin, as well as the psychological challenges involved in changing entrenched behavior patterns and family relationships. I had to learn how to keep people motivated when they are stalled and how to support them in developing and maintaining better eating habits. The stakes were high. It was challenging, stimulating, rewarding work. My experience with these clients inspired me to make movement a fundamental aspect of The Program. Being active increases your metabolism, provides a range of critical health benefits immediately even when your weight is not optimal, and keeps you motivated. So I like to get people moving right away. It helps if you can find a type of movement that you actually enjoy, but sometimes you need to reach a certain level of fitness before you can truly determine what movement suits you.

Even though I have not struggled with my own weight, I connected very personally with the Fit for Life clients when they talked about the ways that they had been using food to deal with unhappy feelings. It reminded me of the unhealthy behaviors I have used in my own life, with a similar lack of consciousness, to avoid my feelings. I could understand how hard it is to give up what you've come to rely upon so heavily, and how tough it can be to switch to healthier solutions, even when they make total sense. This empathy has served me well in working with clients, and perhaps especially so in working with those who need to lose an extreme amount of weight.

I became a professional trainer while I was still in college. Those years were a time of transition for me, as they are for so many people. I had been admitted to the University of North Texas as a starting fullback on their football team and began attending workouts with that team just a month or so after graduating high school. But I had broken my scapula a few years earlier and was experiencing some problems from that old injury. Long story short, I had to quit the team. And, believe me, I know it would sound cooler if we were talking about the NFL, but I had no idea what a big impact it would have on me to stop playing.

As a young man without football, I was lost. I didn't understand that I had a lifelong relationship with football, and I had no idea how to deal with the sadness that would follow when I had to give it up. Sports had played a huge role for me, psychologically, as I was growing up. When I struggled with emotional things as a kid, such as my parents' divorce when I was nine, playing sports had allowed me to channel a lot of uncomfortable feelings of loss and powerlessness, even if I wasn't consciously aware of that at the time. All of a sudden, that outlet was gone. Finally, and this is no small thing: the routines and demands of being a four-season student athlete had provided the daily structure for most of my life up to that point. I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands and didn't always make great choices about how to spend it.

Now, I could not have explained any of this to you—or to myself—as a college freshman. And I didn't really try to talk about my feelings with anyone at the time, as so many of us don't. But I was struggling. I coped, in part, by doing what I knew best: working out. I was already a regular user of weights and I continued to go to the gym every day, which kept me somewhat sane and safe. Exercise kept me grounded, and I started to focus more on bodybuilding. I got into power moves: dead lifts, bench press, power clean. These were all things I had done before, with particular goals for getting bigger, stronger, and faster in particular ways for specific sports or games. But without a sport to train for, my goal in the gym just became to get bigger and stronger, period. There was no end in sight, no sense of "Here is where I'm happy, here is where I stop."

When I look back on that time, I know that even though I was fit and strong, I was working out in a way that became unhealthy. And I can see that I was also kind of grieving, although I didn't regret the decision to stop playing football. It was just that I had to deal with my life for the first time without letting a sport distract me, and I didn't know how to do that. I guess my response was just to focus on the outside part of me. In addition to connecting with a lot of people at the gym who shared my enthusiasm for exercise, I also joined a fraternity. I made good friends there, and it replaced some of that team-like camaraderie I was used to, but without the stabilizing factor of sport. I was working out hard, socializing intensely, and was often exhausted.

I was getting a lot of good feedback about how strong I was becoming. The owner of the gym I worked out in encouraged me to try a bodybuilding competition. My girlfriend at the time had already done one, so she offered to help me train for it. Always up for a challenge, I enjoyed the process of training for a competition and learning how people can use weights and exercise to precisely manipulate their muscles and body composition to control how they look. It was different from the way I had worked out before, and it felt good to have a purpose driving my gym time again. But the competition itself, with the music and the posing trunks and choreography parts of it—that just felt uncomfortable to me! Maybe it's being a guy from Texas, I don't know, but I didn't like it, and I knew that even though I'd placed second, I'd never do another one. I guess everything happens for a reason, though, because that one competition got me noticed by Ed Connors, who was based in California and owned Gold's Gym. Ed called me up one day after seeing that competition and said something like, "You have a future in fitness or bodybuilding," and offered me a job.

It did not take a lot of convincing to get me to move from Denton, Texas, to Palm Desert, California. I knew that I needed a change. I was partying about as hard as I was training, which I sensed was not sustainable. And I was ready for new challenges. Over the next few years, I experimented with different types of training techniques and fitness activities with a variety of clients; connected with other professionals who shared my interests; started Fit for You and learned about running a small business; began exploring other aspects of health, including nutrition and mindfulness practices; and helped build a gym. I was also still working out hard on my own and starting to do magazine features and covers in fitness industry magazines, like Muscle & Fitness and Maximum Fitness. Most trainers who do this are naturally pursuing it in order to promote a brand or a product, but I was still pretty young and treating it almost as a little hobby or side sport. It took me a while, but I learned a lot about creating successful strategies for training different types of clients, developed an understanding of the fitness industry as a whole, and figured out the kinds of things that help me maintain some balance in my own life and create a vision for my future.

As you might guess, gyms are meaningful places to me. Exercise has been my anchor. When I go to the gym, life is just not that bad. Using my body helps to remind me that I'm alive and sometimes it allows emotion to move around a bit and come to the front of my brain and release itself in unexpected ways. One of the things I've learned from my clients is how we wear emotions in different parts of our bodies and that exercise can allow us to release it. If you want to help someone find a way to get to the core of a problem, get them moving: when someone is exhausted, all those filters we put in place to protect ourselves drop away and the truth emerges. Gaining weight, for many of the people I work with, was a slow process of avoiding dealing with uncomfortable feelings. Once you acknowledge what you have been trying to bury you can start to deal with it directly.

Listening to my clients changed my training methods. I began paying more attention to the mind-body connection, started understanding the difference between changing the body for health versus appearance, and developed a deeper appreciation for the spiritual side of exercise.

Sometimes I think we start the day off strong, at full power, and as we move through it, we have interactions that drain us of our power and commitment: we run late, our kids give us a hard time, our boss is in a bad mood, we get bad news in the mail, something in the house breaks. It doesn't matter what it is, but stuff happens that distracts and depletes us and all of a sudden, many of us make unhealthy choices without even thinking about it. The Program incorporates strategies to help you harness your mind power throughout each day. You can use specific techniques at any moment to stay calm and centered, and remind yourself about what is really important and how you want to live. These techniques include journaling, meditation, and breathing exercises that are simple but truly effective for staying disciplined. They will also help you stay committed to your fitness path.

The Program is going to teach you how to eat more mindfully, with an awareness of when and how to fuel your body for maximum performance and health. The mindfulness techniques I'll be asking you to try can benefit anyone in a variety of ways, but they have been especially useful for my clients who have a history of eating or drinking in order to avoid feeling bad or bored or frustrated. It's not a magic bullet, of course, but being intentionally conscious about what you feel, and when and why you want to eat, usually helps people make better choices about food. The mindfulness practices also help many of my clients realize how much better they feel when they move more.

While I love the gym, there is also something special to me about exercising outdoors and I'll be encouraging you to get outside during The Program. Hiking is one of my favorite activities. It's great because you're moving, but there is also the possibility of a sense of connection to something greater than yourself. If you are moved by watching an amazing sunset, it might just be because it's beautiful, I don't know, but I'd like to think there's something else going on there. It's a moment when you can say, "Are my issues really that significant when you look at this sky?" Nature is an expression of God for me; it is both grounding and inspirational. I spent a lot of time at the beach with my family when I was growing up, because we were near the Gulf of Mexico, and getting out near the Pacific Ocean is one of my favorite parts of living in California. There is probably a landscape that you find especially meaningful or inspirational, and if there isn't, maybe you'll discover one as you begin moving and exploring more outside.

Wherever you wind up liking to exercise, you may find that in addition to making you physically stronger, working out can be a time when you get very creative. I find that I can get a flow going on a hike or at the gym that is almost meditative. It's a head space where I can really sort things out. Working out reminds me that some things might be wrong but I have this capable body. Appreciating something so basic can buoy your spirits right there. It also feels great: when I leave the gym after a hard workout, I am buzzing from the serotonin and dopamine my body releases. You don't have to be interested in understanding the chemical process to know when you just feel good, and I promise that you can't help but feel good when you give yourself the gift of movement and exercise. You'll also find that feeling good helps you make positive choices around the food you cook and eat.

Feeling good about yourself also makes it easier to have relationships with other people who can support you on your journey and remind you of your purpose. Many people I work with who are trying to lose a lot of weight have really isolated themselves. It's hard to stay connected to others when you're feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with yourself. I know that I make stronger, healthier decisions when I'm actively checking in with my family, especially my parents and my sisters. That's one of the reasons that being connected to people who care about you—whether they are actual blood relatives or not—is a key part of The Program. Don't be tempted to skip over that section of The Program if you're excited to get started and it doesn't seem like your relationships are directly related to fitness or weight loss. I have learned from my clients and in my own life that true fitness emanates from both inside and outside the body. Connecting with others helps you get and stay there.

Don't be alarmed if that piece of The Program is a new one for you. It's important to try stepping out of your comfort zone. Working on this book has been rewarding but also challenging for me: writing is a real change of lens in my world, where physical exercise has always been easy. It's okay—even good!—if some aspects of The Program are more challenging for you than others. We don't change without being challenged. And it's okay to be flat-out scared. One of my favorite things to do on some of the television shows I've worked on is to have people try a fitness activity that forces them to face some sort of personal anxiety. Sometimes it's water, sometimes it's heights—it doesn't matter: the exhilaration someone experiences after conquering their fear is contagious and inspiring. Many times, a person's fear is not so specific, but more a general kind of distrust about whether or not they can really get healthy and fit. I don't have to know anything about you to know that it's possible to improve your fitness, that how far you can go requires challenging yourself, and that your effort will be worth it. Once you decide you're going to do something, and you've done your homework so you know it's safe, try to get out of your own way and just dive in and try it. I've done a lot of the homework for you. Sometimes I tell people I work with "Don't think too much, just jump off the cliff." It's not the most gentle approach, and I guess it's my own version of feel the fear and do it anyway. But, really, once you make a decision, acknowledge the doubt and jump. Give yourself a chance to be surprised.

Maybe you have tried to lose weight before and it didn't go so well. Or maybe it went really well but you gained it all back. That's common. Almost any reasonable diet will work when you're following it, but most of them aren't realistic or flexible enough to stay on for the long term. Fundamentally, your weight is only one component of your fitness. If you can make a commitment to eat, sweat, think, and connect every day with hope and intention, you're going to become more fit in every way that matters, and you'll feel better. You might even think about your weight loss as a kind of happy side effect of treating yourself well.

It takes conscious effort to make permanent changes to live well, and The Program will show you how to do it. If you've picked up this book, you probably aren't exactly where you want to be right now. You might be scared to start or fail. It's okay. If this is you, I don't care how out of shape or unhappy you are: I promise that things are not as bad as they seem. You can make changes, and it doesn't have to be a big thing. It can happen right now. This may feel like jumping off a cliff, but it's only some simple things we're talking about: Get up and get moving. Believe in yourself and be hopeful. Do the work. Focus on taking action that will make you feel good in your own skin today. You're not just going to chase a distant goal, although it's fine to set one. But if you take the actions I lay out in The Program, you are going to feel better right now. And this all gets easier as time passes. The longer you stick with The Program, the stronger you'll be.

Making healthy choices over the long haul gets easier because you develop good habits and self-discipline, but it also requires constantly renewing your motivation. I'm a father now, and it has changed my life in every imaginable way. My son, Rowan, causes me to look at so many aspects of life differently, from being more concerned about the quality of the food we eat and the environment we live in to a renewed consciousness about the larger impact of my own actions and decisions. Rowan is only six, and already I can see how fast our time together is moving. He makes me want to really be present and appreciate every moment we have together. Just hanging out with him, whether we're playing outside, building with Legos, or drawing together, is an inspirational reminder of why I want to be the healthiest, strongest, best version of myself for as long as I possibly can.

Enough about me already! It's time to think about your Why. This book has your How covered and it's going to be easier than you think. As you follow The Program, you'll be focusing on:

Eating nutritious, delicious food. You are going to eat whole foods that fuel your workouts, promote your health, and make you feel good.

Moving more. You're going to build your strength and endurance, improve your agility and flexibility, boost your metabolism, and feel more comfortable in your body.

Living mindfully. You are going to take a few minutes each day to breathe, relax, reflect, and remind yourself of what you want and how much you already have.

Connecting with people who care about you. You are going to cultivate some key relationships—including the one you have with yourself—that will help sustain and inspire you to be your best self.

When you do these things, your body will get faster and stronger than it is right now. You will sleep better at night and be energized and empowered as you move through your day. You are going to have more patience and compassion for the people around you. Yes, if you follow The Program you are going to look better. But, more important, you are probably going to be happier. You are just plain going to feel good. The best part is there is no end in sight because you can use The Program for the rest of your life. Let's get started.



One of the best parts of my job is being able to see people reach their goals. The goals of the people I've worked with have varied tremendously. Some of my clients, at all different kinds of weights and fitness levels, have been miserable and depressed, and felt that being healthier would help them feel happier, find love, find more fulfilling work, or be better parents to their children. Other very overweight clients had been quite satisfied and happy with their lives, but came to me when they were faced with a health crisis and they needed to get healthier in order to avoid a massive sacrifice in the quality of their lives.

There are times when people's goals are very personal. I worked with a sweet woman who had always loved horses and lived on a farm but had gotten to 420 pounds and could no longer do much of anything. She had limited mobility and was deeply depressed. Feeding and caring for her horses was just about the only form of physical activity she engaged in: the rest of the day was spent sitting on her couch. Her goal was to be able to ride a horse again. So we burned that couch—literally!—and set our goal to get her to a weight at which she could safely ride a horse and start engaging in life again, then take it from there. She reached that milestone at 290 pounds. I don't know what your Why is, but one thing I've learned is that figuring out what it is and keeping that Why in the forefront of your mind is the key to living a healthy, well-balanced life. In the same way that our Whys can vary, so can the ways we measure progress as we move toward our goals.


On Sale
May 10, 2016
Page Count
240 pages
Hachette Books

Jessie Pavelka

About the Author

Jessie Pavelka is a fitness expert and TV Host. In the UK he has hosted two inspirational weight loss shows Obese: A Year to Save My Life and Fat: The Fight of My Life, both for Sky TV. He is the digital trainer for NBC’s The Biggest Loser.

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Jessie divides his time between Los Angeles and London.

Learn more about this author