Jillian Michaels catapulted to fame as the punishing trainer who got results on The Biggest Loser and Losing It with Jillian. But the 38-year-old has always been just as interested in building confidence as she has in sculpting rock-hard abs. It's no accident that her most recent book is Unlimited: How to Build an Exceptional Life. Everything Jillian tacklesincluding her recent gig as life adviser on The Doctors, her DVDs (such as her latest, Jillian Michaels Kickbox FastFix), and her intimate podcastis meant to help the rest of us claim a healthier, happier life. Sitting high in the hills of Southern California, the woman who calls everybody "buddy" is surprisingly funny and self-deprecating. And, as expected, she's incredibly open, talking about her tough tween years, how she stays motivated (and how you can, too), and the dream she's fighting to make a reality.
Q: Do you see yourself as more of a life coach than a fitness trainer?
A: For years, I always thought it was hilarious that I was this fitness guru, because fitness was just a tool I utilized to help people improve their confidence. For me, it's never been about fitness. It's always been about helping to empower people.
Q: What is the connection between physical fitness and self-confidence?
A: I've always believed fitness is an entry point to help you build that happier, healthier life. When your health is strong, you're capable of taking risks. You'll feel more confident to ask for the promotion. You'll have more energy to be a better mom. You'll feel more deserving of love.
Q: What inspires you to take care of your own body?
A: That comes from me. You can look for external sources of motivation and that can catalyze a change, but it won't sustain one. It has to be from an internal desire. You have to ask, "Why do I want this?" I want to be around for a family, and to feel good about my body. I want to set an example. My number-one piece of advice is: Look inside and find out what your "why" is. I don't care whose butt you've posted on the screen of your treadmill.
Q: Did you ever post a butt on the treadmill?
A: I always thought Madonna was awesome, and I still do. I remember Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, and just thinking, Really? That scene opens up and she's just banging out pull-ups, and I remember thinking, That's awesome.
Q: What other tips do you have for staying motivated?
A: When it comes to your "why," write it down and put it everywherein your car, on your phone. Remind yourself constantly why you're doing what you're doing. Then remove any sort of temptation. Build a support system, whether it's a workout buddy or a mom from day care, so you have that person to call when you have a moment of weakness.
Q: Can anyone get motivated? Are there impossible cases?
A: Lazy doesn't exist. Lazy is a symptom of something else. The person who can't get up off their butt is just a person who's depressed. It's usually a pervasive lack of self-worth, or a feeling of helplessness. That's why fitness is so important. You have the ability to show somebody what she's capable of very quickly.
Q: As we get older, is time working against us?
A: I really don't believe that. I've worked with people in their 50s and 60s, and I've had a very easy time taking weight off them. If you've been living in an unhealthy way, you might have been getting away with it for 10 or 15 years, but [you'll see] the cumulative effects of toxic living. It's not because you're old. If you leave a car out in the rain, it's going to rust eventually. It's a matter of, what are you eating? How are you living? There's no such thing as not being able to turn back the clock. It's never too late. You just have to change the way you live.
Q: What else will keep our bodies young?
A: God, sleep! I really do prioritize my sleepI get seven to eight hours a night. Sleep, have sex (it's really good for your health), and eat organic whenever you possibly can.
Q: Do you ever watch yourself on TV?
A: I find television to be a bit like a meat grinder. It's like, you have a cow, you put it through a meat grinder, and out comes a hot dog. It's almost unrecognizable. On Loser, I was a cartoon character. And I actually feel like The Doctors made a real effort to tone me down.
Q: So who is the real Jillian?
A: I'm part Bridget Jones, part Larry David. I'm shy; I'm prude.
Q: You are?
I am so prude. We didn't talk about that when I grew up. But on my podcast you see the sense of humor, the vulnerability, the passion. We talk about weight loss, bullyingbecause I was bullied.
Q: When were you bullied?
A: It didn't get really bad until I was in junior high. I was an overweight kid, and I went through a period where, oh my God, they were making cow sounds at me when I walked down the hallway and just humiliating me. Kids can be mean. My mom pulled me out of one school and put me in another, but when you wear that stigma, you start to believe it. When you wear that energy, other kids smell it like blood in the water.
That's when I got into martial arts. I had a second-degree-blue-belt test, and I broke two boards with my right foot, and the next day I walked into school and no one ever picked on me again. I suddenly believed in myself and respected myself. I had some inkling of my power, so the bullying stopped instantly.
Q: You've spoken about your struggle to adopt a child. Is there any news?
A: Oh, God, nothing has been this hard in my entire life. It's very complicated and it's very time-consuming and I'm committed to the process, but two years later, no update. Theoretically, I've been matched with a child. Now I'm just trying to get her home.
Q: How do you decompress?
A: Yoga. I've been doing a lot of it. It takes me out of my own mind; I have to be present and think about my form. I find it very calming and grounding; it makes me happy. Know what I mean, buddy?
Q: What do you think is the best way to get to a healthy weight?
A: It's all about eating better foods. Whenever possible, avoid processed foods and foods containing high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, nitrites and nitrates, and artificial sweeteners.
Focus on eating balanced portions of healthy fats, carbs, and proteins. I know that sounds like a tall order, especially when you're busy, but it is important, so make it more convenient to eat better.
Stock the fridge with fruits and veggies that are easy to access in a hurry.
Pack your lunch every dayit will save you money and be far healthier. If you are able, look into a meal-delivery service. They create balanced, properly portioned meals so they're right there at your fingertips. And you really do have to think about calories. To lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume, so it is crucial to know how much you are bringing into your body every day.