The wait is over. Mary J. Blige's hotly anticipated new album, Growing Pains, has hit the stores and the airways. Aptly titled, the R&B queen and hip-hop soul's eighth release is forthright about Blige's fight with her demons -- including depression, cocaine, excess alcohol, and out-of-control anger -- and her strategies for conquering them.
(Hear Mary J. get real about these challenges and more on her new album.)
Weeks before the album dropped, the six-time Grammy Award-winning artist sat down with WebMD, after a rigorous workout designed to whip her body into concert-tour shape (she kicked off an eight-concert tour in South Africa and Japan in mid-October), and let us in on the back story, the secrets behind the lyrics. Endearingly honest during the hours-long interview (read it in the January/February 2008 issue of WebMD the Magazine), the star admits to many mistakes and reveals how her dramatic turnaround is unfolding.
Even her cleanest-living, most upbeat, cellulite-free fans are bound to identify with at least some of these lyrics, reflecting Blige's down times and her get-up-and-get-back-out-there attitude. The lyrics are real-life -- born of sweat, tears, fears, and prayers.
Getting real with herself and taking charge of her life -- physically, mentally, spiritually -- is an ongoing effort, she admits. Blige is the first to tell you she's still a work in progress. But she's learned to pat herself on the back at least a little and to share what she's learned along the way.
The music superstar offers these six strategies for improving your body image, your workout, and your life this new year:
- Embrace exercise, even if you hate it. "I do not love it," Blige says. "I appreciate what it does for me. And I wish there was a pill you could take that could do everything that is in that gym." But she finds that putting in her time on a hard cardio workout pays off later on stage with better endurance and stamina. "All that stuff that you hate that you do, it pushes you further," she says. "It makes me feel like a rocket, almost."
- Set realistic goals. Blige dropped 9 pounds in three months and is trying to lose another 10 to get her 5'5'' frame down to 125, which she thinks is her ideal weight. To get there, she sets a daily calorie limit of 1,500 and tries to work out five times a week. That's a very realistic goal, and a realistic calorie total for someone as active as Blige, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a New York dietitian who often helps celebrities deal with weight issues. "She's avoiding the mistake many people make, dropping calories below 1,200, which makes it next to impossible to fulfill your nutritional needs," Taub-Dix says.
- Celebrate small victories. To motivate herself, Blige bought a pair of too-small size 28 jeans and dubbed them her "goal jeans." She'd try them on, and they wouldn't fit. She admits to feeling disgusted with herself. Blige promised herself, "If I can't fit in those jeans soon, I am giving them away." But she didn't give up. And within a few months, they fit. "I was so happy!" she says. "Goal" clothing is good motivation, Taub-Dix says. She tells clients to hang that too-tight dress they are dying to get into in plain view. "If you live by yourself, hang it in the kitchen, near the refrigerator."
- Inspire yourself. Blige's personal trainer is Gregg Miele, a New York City-based personal trainer who's also worked with artist Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, actor Chloe Sevigny, Sports Illustrated model Lujan Fernandez, and other celebrities trying to fit a regular exercise routine into a hectic, globe-trotting schedule. Miele posts motivational sayings in front of Blige's treadmill so she can read them as she works out. Her favorite: "What you eat in private shows up in public." Miele has other tricks, including giving his clients a black wristband stamped with "self discipline." His clients see them constantly throughout their day and are reminded to follow good health habits, whether that means saying no to dessert or making it to the gym.
- Acknowledge your weaknesses. And focus on your strengths,she adds. Blige loves salt and also has a wicked sweet tooth. "The only sweets I hate are black jelly beans and black licorice." But thankfully, she also loves vegetables --cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, okra, corn, zucchini, spinach, and cabbage. "Raw, cooked, it doesn't matter." And she makes sure to drink plenty of water. She also tries hard to not get down on herself. Her trainer helps her see weaknesses in a whole new light when he tells her and other clients, "Weaknesses are goals to work on in the long-term."
- Appreciate your uniqueness. On Blige's new album, one song is called "Work That." The premise, she says, is this: "Whatever I have, I am going to make it work for me. I don't have what everyone else has, but whatever I have I am going to make it work." Miele heartily agrees this is a good attitude when working out, too. Because he works often with celebrities, he sometimes hears from other clients that they want so-and-so's great arms or another star's awesome abs. He advises them, as Blige has learned, to focus on their great or unique body parts -- and make improving the other parts long-term goals.
What gets Mary J. moving in her workout routines? Listen to "Work That" and other songs from her new album, Growing Pains.