The former American Idol judge, 63, spoke to PEOPLE recently about his journey to better health. “For a long time you see me on TV and people have noticed me in the past and I was struggling with my weight, then I finally got it off by using some pretty drastic measures,” he says. Jackson had gastric bypass surgery in 2003.
In addition to the weight loss surgery, he worked with multiple fitness experts, nutritionists and mental health experts, and Jackson was able to lose and keep off 114 lbs.
Looking back, he says the feedback he received while on television encouraged him to make a change. “I think it was season 2 on Idol. You come in and they go ‘Yeah dawg, you’re telling me I’m terrible but you’re fat!’ he adds. “And I would go, ‘I am. I have mirrors in my house. I know!’ So I think that finally, it was that and also I had an emergency room visit that I thought I was really sick and had a cold or something.”
Jackson was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes — and the diagnosis changed his life and approach to health.
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“Managing type 2 diabetes also runs hand in hand with managing your weight,” he says. That’s why he co-founded Unify Health Labs, a product that he says helps “other people in their journey to get healthy — while sparing them the long confusing search I went through.”
“This is me sort of giving back,” he tells PEOPLE about his new product. “Something that’s a simple solution because all of us probably have 50 bottles on the counter or 50 bottles in the bathroom of different vitamins and things that we take. The root causes of these certain diseases and trying to get your best health, it all starts in the gut. Gut health is really best health.”
“You have to change the way you think about food,” he explains. “You have to almost have a complete divorce break up … and start back bit by bit and find out the things that work with your body and you also find out the allergies and really pay attention to how you feel.”