Emmy Awardwinning talk-show host Montel Williams is a man with a mission: to convert Americans to a healthier lifestyle. (In other words, if you made a New Year's resolution, keep it!) Williams has laid out his game plan in his bestselling new book, Living Well: 21 Days to Transform Your Life, Supercharge Your Health, and Feel Spectacular (New American Library). TIME's Andrea Sachs caught up with the author and TV star between broadcasts.
TIME: Is this another diet book?
Williams: No. I don't believe in diets, and no one should. If you get on the Internet right now, and search the word "diet," I think you'll have well over 1.5 million entries, with about 1.2 million different diets out there. If any one of them worked, there would only be one. So the truth is, none of them work. My book is a lifestyle change and an eating regimen.
What's the main message you would like people to take away from the book?
What your grandmother told you, and what Aunt Betty said, is true: Eat as many green vegetables and colorful fruits as you can. Try to reduce the amount of man-made garbage that you put in your body. And guess what? You'll start feeling better and you'll be surprised at how amazing some of the changes that take place in your body [will be].
Do you follow your own plan?
I follow it religiously beyond religiously. I carry my own food with me everywhere I go. I take apart restaurant menus everywhere I go. I kind of tick off a lot of chefs in restaurants because I'll say, "You can keep all of the sauce, keep all of that garbage just give me that piece of fish. Forget the salad dressing, I don't need all of that extra stuff. Just give it to me straight up, and I'll eat it." And it works. Right this minute, I happen to be standing in my kitchen, and I'm making myself some ground sirloin steak. I ground it no fat whatsoever. I'm going to make myself a burger, and this will be the only piece of red meat that I'll have this week.
I was surprised to read that you own a couple of Fatburger restaurants [a fast-food chain].
Absolutely. I've owned them now for about three or four years. I'm an individual franchisee, an owner in Colorado. I've been modifying the menu there since I've been on this kick. The fact is that there's nothing wrong with eating a hamburger from time to time you just can't eat them every day of the week. Fortunately, Fatburger is one of the healthiest burgers. All the meat is bought locally; it's low-fat, the lowest fat of any of the restaurants that are out there. I think we can do a really good job at keeping the fat down, and keeping the sodium out of our product. [But] if I can't change it, then I'm going to sell it.
You were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1999. How are you feeling these days?
That is part of the reason I decided to write this book. People walk up to me all the time and say, "My goodness, Montel, didn't someone tell me that you used to have MS?" And I say, "Used to? No. I still have MS." But MS does not have me, nor am I going to allow it to. I can [control] my illness through eating, exercise, making sure that I take my medication on time that's what I set about doing two years ago. Three years ago, I had all of these friends [talking] about these secret cures if you eat this, or drink this, everything will be fine. So I experimented, eating stuff that people claimed would make me healthy, and found out that it's a bunch of garbage.
The truth is, you just need to stick to the basics that you've been taught your whole life eat as much green, leafy vegetables as you can, as much fruit as you can, as colorful as you can make it, every single day of the week. Along with that, have lean forms of protein fish, nuts, lean, lean meats but you don't have to eat them every day of the week. If you can, bring in good carbohydrates from grains and rice and quinoa, and reduce your man-made products like processed foods. Reduce your saturated fat and salt. No ifs, ands or buts. We can reduce our chances of cardiovascular illness, multiple forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer's and osteoarthritis just by changing what we put in our mouths. So why don't we do that?
In your book, you write that you live with pain from MS.
I do. I live with pain consistently. Now, at its worst, [the pain is] between a 6, 7 or 8. At one point in time, it had reached almost a 9 or 10 and it was strong enough to make me want to take my own life. I started working very hard from that point on, trying to figure out if I could find anything at all that would lessen the severity of that pain. Most of the response inside the body of a person with MS is an inflammatory response. So if I eat foods that lessen the opportunity for inflammation in my digestive system, that's less inflammation in my body. I've been doing that, and I'm now noticing that I've [reduced] the pain in my feet just through diet alone.
Are you still a bodybuilder?
I lift, I work out and exercise. Though now, rather than trying to be fit for some contest, I'm more into being fit for life. But I work out religiously. I've already been in the gym twice today. I'm happy with the fact that at age 51, I have a 30-in. waist. I have a six-pack any day of the week I want. But that's the residual effect [of exercise].
As a bodybuilder, what do you think about steroids in sports?
You watch the NFL every single Sunday, and if you don't think those players running up and down that field have utilized steroids, you're lying. And if you're lying, that means you can accept it in one sport but not in another. The truth is, we're not going to spend $50 for a ticket to go see our neighbor play baseball. The truth is we want these [athletes] to be what they are. We don't want them to ever miss a game. We want them to play superhumanly. Then, we complain when they do what they have to do to get there.
You were in the military 22 years before you became a TV star. Do you have any thoughts about the war in Iraq?
I'm not hearing any [of the candidates] discussing the allegiance that they have right now to the current military. How do we make one of these people, who have zippity-do-da military experience almost across the board, with the exception of McCain, our Commander-in-Chief? Not one of them can give me an idea of how to bring this war to an end. They can all talk about what's been done wrong, and about what we shouldn't be doing, but not one of them has told me how they're going to bring it to an end. It's a shame that we live at a time in a country when we have our children dying every day, and the front page of the newspaper can only talk about Britney Spears.
You got remarried recently. How's that going?
It's been the best thing that's happened in my life. I got married in Bermuda, one of the most beautiful places on the planet to get married, to an absolutely incredible person who really has been my real support mechanism. I've been able to learn a lot through diet and exercise, but I've got to tell you, it's having true love in your life and somebody who has your back 24 hours a day that makes the difference.