Profile: James Duigan
The celebrity trainer's take on health & wellbeing
(This article first appeared in Asia Spa magazine)
James Duigan is the founder of Bodyism gym and the Clean & Lean diet philosophy. He is the personal trainer responsible for transforming a host of celebrities including Elle MacPherson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Lara Stone.
“Diets don’t work,” was Duigan’s first admission on meeting with him in London. “The mentality of diets is not even designed to work and once you understand that, it’s easy.” The 40-year-old celebrity trainer was part of an expert health and wellness panel speaking at the Vogue festival and what amazed and me most was the positivity emanating from that core group of professionals, who, despite their varying expertise, all spoke the same language – the mindset language. “There are only so many ways you can lunge,” he explained, “it comes down to your attitude and mindset. If you have a healthy self-respecting, self-accepting mindset, it will reflect in the choices you make.” This same mantra resonated through the interview.
He believes that with most people it’s never about just eating less, it’s about finding what works and estimates that a staggering 80 to 90 percent of women have negative perceptions about their body, being blinded by the belief that they are not good enough. “Waking up every morning feeling exhausted isn’t normal – it’s common. People need to be kind to themselves in the way they think and the way they speak [about themselves]. The perfect body is the body you are happy in, so listen to it – your body loves to move, so let it move.”
Duigan’s own wellness journey began as a young boy growing up in Australia when food was scarce. At 5 years of age he was prescribed a hefty cocktail of sedatives, steroids and tranquilizers in an effort to treat a chronic cough and improve his behavior. Rather than taking this brew, his parents radically reduced his sugar intake and almost instantly his attitude improved. “Then the cat ran away and my cough disappeared,” he adds wryly. “It could have been a lifetime of medication, so I think I now appreciate the link between what you eat and how you feel and think.
Fast forward to the age of 21 and Duigan landed in London, worked odd jobs to make ends meet, and during those time when they didn’t, he resorted to sleeping on night buses and tubes. He admits it was scary but he was too proud to ask for help. He found work in a gym, while also studying anatomy, physiology, nutrition and anything else he could to further his knowledge. “I now have a really good work ethic because I didn’t want to experience this again.” Then he was introduced to Elle MacPherson and the rest is history.
Bodyism, Duigan's high-end gym, was founded in 2007 and Clean & Lean (the nutrition, thinking and movement philosophy of Bodyism), in 2009. “Bodyism and Clean & Lean is more than a gym, it’s a way of thinking – a 360 degree approach to wellness,” he explains. “Clean & Lean is a blueprint and guideline for what we know works – we want to empower people and teach them to listen to their bodies. We set out to remind people that they deserve a happy, healthy life. So few people actually think about that, or believe it. Any transformation that happens in your body, happens in your mind first and the moment you change your mindset, it becomes so easy.”
While Bodyism is known for training and reshaping supermodels, Duigan works with women at every age – from pre-teens many of whom are “dieting and destroying their metabolism before they even find out who they are” and older women pushing themselves beyond their limits. “Why is this all happening?” he asks, “because there is billions spent in shaming people into thinking they need to do something, ruining their bodies and destroying their lives.”
Bodyism works with a person’s body, not against it. “You can’t hammer your body into shape. You have to work with it and mould it,” he explains, citing personal experience: “When I was in my twenties I exercised and trained and I was always sore and exhausted. And one day I thought, ‘When is the pay-off? When am I actually going to feel good from this?’ So I changed everything, started exercising for enjoyment, started yoga and I have never felt fitter or stronger or healthier. It is about focusing on why you are doing something – to change your life, to improve your experience of the world. That is what we do with our clients.”
Duigan is now in the enviable position of being able to say no to business. “Bodyism adds a lot of value to any proposition so we are constantly being approached. But life is too long to be working with someone with whom there is no synergy, so we wait for the right partnership.” This year - two new state-of-the-art London gyms, the Capri Palace in Italy (opened in April), an antioxidant-supergreen-enriched chocolate (that apparently doesn’t taste like something from the bottom of your shoe), a range of herbal tea infusions and a striking 9-bed house of wellness in Byron Bay, Australia – the company is growing fast.
Just 8 years ago he was worth 3,000 pounds and now his value is close to 20 million and sniffing at 1 million books sold – that’s 5 titles in 5 years– not bad going for a man who started his career sleeping on London buses.
Combining his constant travel with the demands of a young family means that time for Duigan himself is limited.
“I do what I love, when I can – it’s never a chore. He swears by Brazilian Jiu jitsu (akin to wrestling, wearing a karate outfit) saying that it gets men into shape faster than anything else and is great for strength and mental discipline. He eats intuitively following his own Clean and Lean principles (fresh organic ingredients, no ‘bad’ carbs or processed foods). “I tune into what I need at the time, maybe a vegetarian breakfast or steak and eggs - it depends on what I need. If I’m travelling and working hard, I need more nourishing meals like stews and sweet potato.”
“It’s heartbreaking that people are destroying their bodies based on the Instagram anorexics telling people to eat 800 calories and exercise for hours on end, ruining their bodies and destroying their lives. It all starts in the mind and with the choices you make. It’s almost trivial to be talking about lunges. The truth of the matter is, it’s so simple – get out and do something you love – go for a run, a walk. If you cant do that move your body in whatever way you are lucky enough to do. It’s a scary time for young people with social media. I’m glad I’m not growing up.”