Tyler James Williams’s Big Secret for Becoming Stronger Than Ever

tyler james williams

Tyler James Williams (right) has learned to listen to his body—and his brother Tylen (left), too.


FOR YEARS, Tyler James Williams thought of himself as a “hard gainer”—a guy who just can’t pack on muscle. He played an adolescent Chris Rock on the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris for much of the mid-aughts, but nearly a decade later, well into his 20s, he was still getting calls to play a certain type. “I was trying to read for roles that were my age and I couldn’t get out of high school,” he says.

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That formerly stuck student went on to become a particularly impressive schoolteacher: Williams, now 30, is best known as the rigid but adorable Gregory Eddie on the ABC mockumentary Abbott Elementary, for which he’s earned an Emmy nom and cemented his status as an Internet thirst trap. But that journey included several hard lessons about his health. In fact, it nearly destroyed him.

In his early 20s, for instance, he hired trainers, lifted heavy, and force-fed himself. Once, he chugged a shake with 1,600 calories, only to throw it all back up. In late 2017, at age 24, the five-foot-nine actor crested 130 pounds while juggling a role on Criminal Minds with travel for the period crime drama Detroit. “I was really pushing my body to the limit,” he says. “By the time December hit, it just crashed. Everything shut down.”

Williams had searing stomach pain and couldn’t keep anything down—not even the doctor-ordered colonoscopy prep—so a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone diagnosed him using X-rays. The verdict: His bowels were so inflamed and clogged with scar tissue that he had less than a one–centimeter gap in his terminal ileum, part of the small intestine near the pelvis. It was a massive flare-up from Crohn’s disease—a disorder he didn’t even know he had.

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At least a half million Americans suffer from Crohn’s, an inflammatory condition that can result in weight loss and malnutrition and can, if untreated, be life-threatening. There’s a genetic factor, but Williams, who has two younger brothers, was the only one in his family to show symptoms. Back then, at least.

He underwent emergency surgery to remove six inches of lower intestine. Then things got worse: His intestines were too beat-up to heal back together, and they perforated. He went septic as doctors raced him back into surgery. He ended up living on intravenous foods with an ostomy bag for several months. At one point, Williams weighed 105 pounds and was too weak to stand. But the moment that sticks with him the most was feeling his whole body “vibrating” after he’d gone septic. “The last thought I had was Holy shit, this could be it. If this is it, I’m not happy. I worked a lot. I did a lot of things. I didn’t enjoy any of this. This can’t be it.

All this happened only five years ago, yet when Williams meets me at the Men’s Health offices in New York, he looks fresh, preternaturally calm, and stronger than ever: a chiseled 145 pounds, with biceps popping out of his T-shirt.

tyler james williams

The Abbott Elementary star focuses on his health to stay ready for everything else.


“When I woke up and eventually got back to [being] myself, it was like, what would make it not suck?” he asks. One answer has been playing more “purpose-driven” roles like Gregory Eddie, who “wants to be in this position of power ’cause he feels like that’s what he needs to be successful but then finds out that that’s not his life,” Williams says. “I was like, ‘That sounds like the very journey I had to come to.’ ” (Show creator Quinta Brunson even wrote that role with Williams in mind: “He brings dimensions to the character through humor that are just unreal,” she says.)

Everything changed again for Williams in early 2020, when his middle brother, Tyrel, had his first, thankfully less severe, Crohn’s flare-up. About that time, Williams invited his youngest brother, Tylen, now 21, who is symptom–free, to live with him. All three brothers focus on their health together. “I had to learn how to stop making a dramatic change happen really quickly and learn how to have a better relationship with my body,” he says. “The important thing for me, and those like me, to remember is that longevity is a big part of the game. If you can’t [stay strong] and be healthy, there really is no point.”

After his diagnosis, Williams gave up Crohn’s triggers like booze, coffee, and red meat. Instead of three huge meals, he eats a small lunch and dinner with lean protein and steamed vegetables, and he has several shakes and green juice throughout the day. Another kind of edible has worked wonders, too. “The doctor was like, ‘Here’s something that’ll keep your system from inflaming. It’ll keep your mind right, and it’ll make you eat.’ And I was like, ‘What is this wonderful drug that we’re talking about?’ And he wrote me a weed prescription,” he says, laughing.

everybody hates chris

Williams, a former child star, has left his Everybody Hates Chris body behind.

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His gym goal is to keep a solid baseline of fitness. To control stress, another Crohn’s trigger, he meditates in the morning with breathwork, counting, and maybe a mantra like “I’m here to be nothing else than what I am.” At night, he journals near his firepit, then burns the pages to let go.

Tyler and Tylen now cook healthy meals together, experimenting with dishes like air-fried empanadas, which can be oil-free. While quarantining during the pandemic, they outfitted their home gym with kettlebells, dumbbells, and a Tonal. Today they get into stretching competitions, crank ’90s hip-hop or house music, and keep it going. When I talk to Tylen a few days after Tyler’s visit, he’s sipping a cannabis tea. He tells me his brother has always been goal oriented, whereas he likes to question things.

For instance, Tyler used to do hard workouts even on days that were exhausting. Then Tylen said something that resonated: “Nothing feels worse than struggling to get weight up when you’re already tired,” Tyler recalls being told. “I didn’t even realize that’s how I felt.” The two have since created a 30-minute circuit that feels good on busier days (see below). “We’re just not afraid to go deep on anything we find interesting,” Tylen says. “Because you might find something that pushes you farther.”

On the day he visited Men’s Health, Tyler decided to do his quick circuit. “Bang it out. You did something; you’re good to go,” he says. The gain is the feeling you’ll get back.

The Williams Brothers’ 30-Minute Total-Body Blast

Do 3 rounds of this circuit, based on their personal workout. Finish each with a plank that you hold for 1 minute.

Kettlebell swings

Focus on being explosive. Do reps for 40 seconds.


Do 30 to 35 reps. Can’t do 30? Do as many as you can.


Do as many good-form reps as you can. Aim for 8 to 10.

Dumbbell curl 21’s

Squeeze your biceps hard on every rep and take them slow.

Kettlebell goblet squats

Do 12 to 15 total reps, holding a medium-weight kettlebell at your chest.

Bulgarian split squats

Hold a kettlebell at your chest as you do them. Shoot for 10 reps per side.

A version of this article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of Men’s Health.