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Mary J.'s Real-Life Growing Pains

The R&B/hip-hop queen reveals her 6 secrets for transforming mind, body, and soul.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on December 12, 2007

The wait is over. Mary J. Blige's hotly anticipated new album, GrowingPains, has hit the stores and the airways. Aptly titled, the R&Bqueen and hip-hop soul's eighth release is forthright about Blige's fight withher demons -- including depression, cocaine, excess alcohol, and out-of-controlanger -- 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 satdown with WebMD, after a rigorous workout designed to whip her body intoconcert-tour shape (she kicked off an eight-concert tour in South Africa andJapan in mid-October), and let us in on the back story, the secrets behind thelyrics. Endearingly honest during the hours-long interview (read it in theJanuary/February 2008 issue of WebMD theMagazine), the star admits to many mistakes and reveals how herdramatic turnaround is unfolding.

Even her cleanest-living, most upbeat, cellulite-free fans are bound toidentify with at least some of these lyrics, reflecting Blige's down times andher get-up-and-get-back-out-there attitude. The lyrics are real-life -- born ofsweat, 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 firstto tell you she's still a work in progress. But she's learned to pat herself onthe 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 bodyimage, your workout, and your life this new year:

  1. 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 pillyou could take that could do everything that is in that gym." But she findsthat putting in her time on a hard cardio workout pays off later on stage withbetter endurance and stamina. "All that stuff that you hate that you do, itpushes you further," she says. "It makes me feel like a rocket,almost." 
  2. Set realistic goals. Blige dropped 9 pounds in three months and istrying to lose another 10 to get her 5'5'' frame down to 125, which she thinksis her ideal weight. To get there, she sets a daily calorie limit of 1,500 andtries to work out five times a week.  That's a very realistic goal, and arealistic 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 below1,200, which makes it next to impossible to fulfill your nutritionalneeds," Taub-Dix says. 
  3. Celebrate small victories. To motivate herself, Blige bought a pairof too-small size 28 jeans and dubbed them her "goal jeans." She'd trythem 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 givingthem 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 toget into in plain view. "If you live by yourself, hang it in the kitchen,near the refrigerator."
  4. Inspire yourself. Blige's personal trainer is Gregg Miele, a NewYork City-based personal trainer who's also worked with artist Shawn"Jay-Z" Carter, actor Chloe Sevigny, Sports Illustrated modelLujan Fernandez, and other celebrities trying to fit a regular exercise routineinto a hectic, globe-trotting schedule. Miele posts motivational sayings infront 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 "selfdiscipline." His clients see them constantly throughout their day and arereminded to follow good health habits, whether that means saying no to dessertor making it to the gym. 
  5. Acknowledge your weaknesses. And focus on your strengths,she adds.Blige loves salt and also has a wicked sweet tooth. "The only sweets I hateare black jelly beans and black licorice." But thankfully, she also lovesvegetables --cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, okra, corn, zucchini,spinach, and cabbage. "Raw, cooked, it doesn't matter." And she makessure 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 andother clients, "Weaknesses are goals to work on in thelong-term." 
  6. Appreciate your uniqueness. On Blige's new album, one song is called"Work That." The premise, she says, is this: "Whatever I have, I amgoing to make it work for me. I don't have what everyone else has, but whateverI have I am going to make it work."  Miele heartily agrees this is agood 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 oranother star's awesome abs. He advises them, as Blige has learned, to focus ontheir great or unique body parts -- and make improving the other partslong-term goals.

What gets Mary J. moving in her workout routines? Listen to "WorkThat" and other songs from her new album, Growing Pains.