Actress Phylicia Rashad has been keeping a secret. For the last seven weeks, she’s been on the Jenny Craig weight loss program and in that amount of time, she has changed the way she eats and lost 16 pounds. While she has yet to reach her goal, she has decided to go public with her story as the new spokeswoman for Jenny Craig. She can be seen in commercials and print ads showing off a healthier, leaner body, but for Rashad it’s not about the outside but the inside that made her want to change. ESSENCE.com caught up with the incomparable stage and small screen veteran to find out how she has lost weight on the Jenny Craig program, her thoughts on the Obamas, and what she thinks about “The Cosby Show,” 25 years after the cast’s first episode.
ESSENCE.COM: What made you decide to do the Jenny Craig program?
PHYLICIA RASHAD: I decided to do the program for health reasons. I met with Jenny Craig representatives last October and was struck by their interest in talking to me about my thoughts on health and life, and they weren’t trying to sell me a product. A few days later, I walked up three flights of stairs. When I got to the top, I wasn’t breathing well. To me, this was a sign that things were not good. People who know me think, You don’t need to do this. But, yeah, actually I do.
ESSENCE.COM: Did you make a doctor’s appointment?
RASHAD: I didn’t have to go to the doctor. I knew that this feeling was not normal and that I had to do something about it.
ESSENCE.COM: Are you also doing this because of Hollywood’s pressure to be thin in order to get more roles?
RASHAD: No, it had nothing to do with appearance, especially with the roles I have been playing. It had to do with the way I felt and the way I was feeling inside. So far, I’ve lost 16 pounds in seven weeks. I’ll be doing the television ads and talking to people about the program. My interest isn’t so much in losing a whole bunch of weight, but more about the way I feel. I will know when I get to that “right” place again.
ESSENCE.COM: Are you on a special diet ?
RASHAD: You can eat whatever is on the Jennie Craig menu, which has over 70 items to choose from and they include things that people eat all the time like pasta, chili, chocolate cheese cake, enchiladas, and baked potatoes. It’s not about deprivation. You have to pay attention to your caloric intake, your exercise and how much rest you get. That was definitely one thing I wasn’t paying attention to. I was always eating healthy foods, but my problem was when I was eating. It was nothing for me to get up at 5:00 A.M. and then not eat anything until noon. So there are many factors involved and all of them contribute to weight gain. We put so much attention on food but it’s so much more than that.
ESSENCE.COM: What about special exercises?
RASHAD: I’m not doing anything new. I’m just more consistent with it, and I must say it’s easier to do when you’re losing weight. You become lighter and therefore more interested in it. So I ride the resistance bike; I do weight training; I do floor bars; Pilates; or yoga.
ESSENCE.COM: How often do you work out?
RASHAD: Now, the minimum would be three times a week. I also get a lot more rest now and that’s key for me. I was running on empty, working all the time and always going, so I have allowed myself to slow down.
ESSENCE.COM: Are there any foods you’re not allowed to eat?
RASHAD: The program is not about giving up anything. It’s really about an awareness of a better way to eat and that for me means the time, the integrals of when I eat and my portions. After all, healthy food is good but not if you eat too much of it.
ESSENCE.COM: We saw your sister Debbie Allen making the rounds in Washington, D.C., during President Obama’s inauguration. Were you there as well?
RASHAD: No, I was watching it with my mother, family and friends. It was such a beautiful inauguration. The city of Washington, D.C., had a heavenly cast of blue set upon it in the pre-dawn light. It was heartening to see so many people from all over the country energized and coming together. Every aspect of the program itself was just amazing, and I thought our First Lady was just gorgeous. I loved the fact that she wears color and is her own person. I just love that.
ESSENCE.COM: She reminds a lot of people of Clair Huxtable. What do you think when people compare Michelle Obama to the character you played on “The Cosby Show”?
RASHAD: I think it’s interesting, but unlike Clair, Michelle Obama is completely unscripted.
ESSENCE.COM: What does having Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States mean to you?
RASHAD: It means that the American people chose a president of the people, by the people, and for the people and that our government will hopefully be that way to. And that we as a people will engage and activate governing ourselves because we were becoming dangerously close to something else.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you still watch episodes of “The Cosby Show”?
RASHAD: Yes, I do. What’s interesting is the morning of the inauguration, I was switching channels before the program started and saw the fantasy episode in which Rudy was reading a story she had written about a time when the naughty people had taken over the kingdom. You forget the particulars of an episode and the dialogue between the characters, so it was so funny when Rudy shouts out “Stop it!” to the people in the court, then says, “When I become president, I’ll take all the bad people and put them in a group and tell them to just stop it!” Then Cliff and Clair are on the sofa listening to the news about attacks and war and Cliff yells upstairs, “Rudy, hurry up because we need you now!” We had such a wonderful time doing that show.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you think of the show today now that we don’t really have shows like that anymore?
RASHAD: Well, it didn’t exist after we finished either. I think that it’s timeless. The issues that were addressed are pertinent and important still today. The way we rear our children, behave with each other, comport ourselves, and the things we look for in life. I marvel at my privilege to be a part of that show because as an actor you can do a number of things that have little or no value, but to be a part of something that stands the test of time is a real privilege.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s next for you?
RASHAD: I might be doing “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in London but I’m also working on a project with my sister. We like to come together and work on something every now and again. We’re not talking about it quite yet other than to say it’s a film project but we’ll definitely let you know when we’re ready to tell all.