In 2014, Penn Jillette — the tall half of the popular Penn and Teller magic act — couldn’t walk up stairs and got winded speaking full sentences. At 6 feet, 6 inches and 330 pounds, he was hospitalized for his high blood pressure and a 90% heart blockage. Already taking six medications, he was warned that early death was assured unless he got serious about his health. He was advised to have his stomach stapled and lose 100 pounds.
Jillette wondered if there was another way. After taking a deep dive into some internet research, the co-host of the CW’s “Penn & Teller: Fool Us!” avoided surgery by making a radical change to his eating habits and losing 105 pounds in just three months, a journey he chronicled in his bestselling 2017 book, “Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales.”
But as anyone who has struggled with the scale knows, losing the weight is only part of the battle. Has he been able to maintain the weight loss? Yep.
We caught up with Jillette, 65, in Las Vegas, and spoke to him about his health secrets:
Losing 105 pounds in three months is almost a pound a day. What’s your big advice?
My first tip is this: “If you take health advice from a Las Vegas magician, you are an idiot.” That said, my advice is … make it hard. Easy is your enemy. Don’t believe those articles that say, “Just cut your portions down by 20%,” “Skip dessert” or “Cut out sodas.” Yeah, that seems logical. But it doesn’t work for me — I want to lose a pound a day. I want to see the scale go like this [points straight down]. So I went for a radical change in diet — whole-food plant-based, hard-core vegan, vegetables, no processed food, no sugar. And I limited my eating to just an hour a day, so I’m always fasting 23 hours.
So do it the hard way. Go all the way.
Maybe that’s easy for a renowned Type A guy with a nonstop life of shows, acting and bestselling books. But does it apply to the rest of us?
I don’t consider myself special. For anybody, there’s no pride in doing things easy. No one brags about walking up the little grassy slope. They brag about climbing Everest. Decide it’s going to be hard and do it like the other things that are hard in your life.
When dieting was compared to something simple, I had no interest.
But when someone said, “This is going to be as hard as getting your own theater in Vegas” — then I was interested. That would be something I could be proud of.
I don’t respect moderation. In my whole life, I always thought, the easy way is not fun. So the way I lost weight made me proud. Because it was hardcore.
What’s in the diet?
“Vegan” doesn’t really cover it. Oreos are vegan. You have to cut out processed foods.Throw out pasta and bread. I eat huge amounts of salads, steamed vegetables, brown rice. It was hard. You feel strange and different. It took three years to not want a chocolate shake, or a cheeseburger. Right now, I miss peanut butter.
All diet is habit. We have the disadvantage of being born in a very rich country with food everywhere. And changing your eating desires takes years.
How important for you is exercise?
You gotta do it, but I didn’t until I hit my target weight. It sounds counterintuitive but exercise is easier on your cardiovascular system and joints if you lose weight first — especially if you’re 100 pounds overweight. Now I do what everyone does — the elliptical and weights. But I actually exercise less than I did before, because it’s more effective.
Isn’t the one-hour-a-day eating window and 23-hour fasting kind of stressful?
Not at all. I love it. I’m so clear. Intermittent fasting — too few calories — was the norm for all of history until recently. Now, in this short blip of time, we have too many calories, and it overwhelms us, clogs our arteries, fogs our brains.
I started writing at twice the speed. We got much more material at Penn and Teller. Everything went better.
And now I can walk the stairs.