A chat with Jillian Michaels is a master class in how to take care of your body and mind. Hear what the fitness guru and €”star of the new show Sweat Inc. eats now, her surprising take on age-appropriate workouts and her advice on how to do what you fear.

jillian michaels
Credit: James White

James WhiteI'm guilty: I snooped around Jillian Michaels' dressing room. I was left alone for a few minutes while she filmed part of her new show, Sweat Inc., and I spied something far too tempting to ignore: her stash of snacks.

After all, the fitness entrepreneur, 41, is a powerhouse, and I wanted to know what fuel she's putting in her machine. Her snacks include organic brown rice crackers; dry roasted, salted almonds; and root vegetable chips.

And, boy, does Jillian need to keep her energy up. In addition to this show, which debuts on Spike TV this month, she's shooting an E! channel docuseries, Just Jillian, that captures her life at work and at home with her partner, Heidi Rhoades, and their two kids, Lukensia, 5, and Phoenix, 3, set to air in January. She's also busy writing a new book for mothers-to-be, Hot Mom, Healthy Baby, and has just launched a fresh-food line called Slim Soul (in select supermarkets). And that's on top of the Impact fitness wear she created for Kmart. Jillian is still in full exercise garb because she's just finished a workout on camera—but despite the name of her show, she isn't breaking a sweat. "I take better care of my body now than I did at 20," Jillian says as we walk across set to grab lunch. "I got kids. I'm like, 'I need to be around for a while!'"

Back in her dressing room, she sits cross-legged on the floor. Diving into salad and ravioli, Jillian shatters some myths about working out and offers seriously practical advice on leaning in to get the body and life we deserve.

I notice you're not eating any of the grilled chicken.
I don't eat a ton of meat. I have grass-fed beef once a week, and farmed shrimp and ocean-caught salmon, and sometimes some sole or tuna. I'm looking at the planet and really starting to see how our food policy and food practices are destroying the world. Even grass-fed beef is so bad for the planet. And we're fishing out the oceans.

Do you cook at home?
We're terrible cooks! Well, Heidi is a good cook, but she doesn't have a ton of time. I am a terrible chef, so I hate to admit this, but one of the things we do is have a couple of restaurants that feed us—literally. The more I work out, the more carbs I need. I stopped eating sugar in December. Carbs, yes, but straight sugar, no.

Is there one food rule you think we should all follow?

I don't believe in all or nothing. I think the key contents are: Don't overeat, avoid chemicals as often as possible and...that's it.

And of course people always want to know what one move is best for the whole body. Is there one move?
People think there is a simple solution. Honestly, the majority of people with fitness phenomenons build a business by giving you a magic-bullet answer: "Eat whatever you want, except this, and you'll lose weight." "Eat whatever you want, but only during these hours." "Just do one exercise." And none of it is true. In fact, [doing one exercise] would be the worst thing you could ever do for your body. One, you'd get an overuse injury. Two, your body would adapt and you would stop seeing results. And three, you would create imbalances. Would you ask a doctor, "I have to do a quadruple bypass. Pick one tool." Like, you can't. You're going to kill someone!

jillian michaels

James WhiteSo what's the key?
The key to fitness is it's got to be fun, or you won't do it. Then you need variety and intensity. Variety so you're working your muscles from as many different angles as possible. And intensity based on heart rate in relation to energy output—so if you're going for a shorter period of time, the intensity level has to come up; for a longer period, bring the intensity level down.

How should women's workouts change in their 30s, 40s and 50s?
[Jillian laughs.]

What? Is that an annoying question?
[Laughing] No. I'm glad you asked because it helps me dispel myths! A lot of people think that as we age we decline rapidly, right? Think of your body like a car: If you leave a car outside and you never change the oil, you never change the spark plugs and you never wax the paint, what is going to happen? "Well, in the '80s this car ran like a gem, but now that it's the '90s..." No, no, no. It's the accumulation of damage and corrosion. At 40, I train harder now than I did when I was 20, and I can do s--t that I was never able to do: I can do pistol squats. I can do Superman push-ups. I can do one-arm pull-ups. I'm way more fit now.

So if you're 50, you can do whatever you build yourself up to do?
Here is what matters: your current level of fitness. If you're out of shape at 20, it's the same thing as being out of shape at 50. It's never too late! A 20-year-old should be training for the same reason the 50-year-old is. We want bone density. We want lean muscle mass. We want to burn intramuscular fat. We want to make sure we keep our arteries clear. We want to have cardiovascular strength. The human body is the human body.

If we could give your thoughts a microphone while you work out, what would we hear?
"God, I hate this. When is it over? How long are we in this pose?" But if you focus on the end result and it's more pleasurable than the discomfort you're feeling in the moment, you'll get through it. That's the difference between inspiration and motivation. Inspiration is external. You saw somebody do it and you thought, "Oh my God, I want that." Motivation is when you're in that moment going, "This sucks, but my why is: buns of steel, bikini on vacation, walking my daughter down the aisle, meeting my son's son." That's what's going to help me tolerate this in the moment. Inspiration is a jump-start. Motivation is the driving force—and that has to come from inside.

What is the biggest issue inside of women's minds holding us back?
Society plays to women in a way that is so patronizing. "Just take the stairs," or "Just do this one exercise," or "What are five things I can do at my desk?" I'm like, "Nothing! Are you kidding me? Go to the gym! You have to work out!"

How do we turn off those fears that we're not measuring up?
You have to shut that out! I wish I could get completely off social media. It's the comparison element that makes you feel bad—because everyone else makes themselves look perfect! Nobody's self-esteem is bulletproof. Unfollow things that make you feel less than and go to a community—fitness or otherwise—with like-minded people.

Once we get confident on the inside, how can we be bolder on the outside?
When guys say aggressive things, people go, "He really knows what he's talking about." When a woman does it, she's a bitch. I've heard people call the most successful and powerful women in the world bitches. Well, they're laughing all the way to the CEO position. You gotta get over the desire to be liked. That's the number one thing: If you are afraid people aren't going to like you, you're not going to be able to say what needs to be said. I remember when I had speech training, I noticed women make a statement like it is a question. Women go down, down, up. Men do up, down, down. I can't even do the "up" at the end anymore, because I've trained out of it. It's owning the way that you feel. Making sure that something is a statement and not a question. Unless it is a question. [Laughs]

You always seem so confident. Do you ever get nervous before you take a big leap?
I hate to fail—even though I do it so often! It sucks. Nobody likes failing. I get nervous every time we put something new out there, whether it's this show or the E! show. I was super nervous about that. I am most worried about Heidi. She thinks, like, "I got this," but I don't think you can ever really know until [you do it]. I was like, "Honey, people are going to say all kinds of horrible things." I worry that she's not used to being a public figure. But she's a really smart woman; I'm sure she'll be fine.

Next Page: Jillian talks marriage [ pagebreak ]

jillian michaels

James WhiteAre you and Heidi married?
No, we're not married yet. We were domestic partners. And then we had to co-adopt each other's kids. Then we were like, "OK, we're going to wait until everybody can get married." Now everybody can get married!

How did you and Heidi celebrate the Supreme Court marriage equality decision?
I texted her and was like, "Oh my God, babe!" And she's like, "Yay!" And then we went back to our lives. All my heterosexual friends were turning their profiles rainbow-colored. I hate to admit it, but I think sometimes it's better to let other people fight your fight for you. It's good that the heterosexual community is being supportive because, otherwise, I don't know that your point is taken as well. It's like, "Oh, well of course you want gay marriage, you're gay." I think when heterosexual people are talking to their peers and they're like, "This is an equal rights thing," it's a little bit easier. People know who I am. They know where I stand.

Your reality series will say to the world, This is normal life; this is what it looks like with two moms. Are you excited about that?
Well, we skipped right over this being revolutionary the minute Caitlyn Jenner came around! Everyone at first was like, "Is this going to be revolutionary?" Now it's all about being transgender. Dude, we're old school. We skipped right over this. I was like, "Oh my God! We're tired!"

What is your biggest fear when it comes to your health?
Honestly, cancer. Heart disease I can avoid. Osteoporosis I can avoid. Diabetes I can avoid. I can't tell you how many healthy people I know who are getting cancer. I could become Howard Hughes about, like, "What's in the water they made the juice with? What's in this frickin' hairspray? What pesticides do they put on the cotton?" But there are things you can't control.

What about your biggest life fear? Do you have one?
Before kids, I was like, "Well, if I lose everything, I don't care. I'll go back to, like, slingin' hooch. I'll be Tom Cruise in Cocktail." But after you have kids, I think your worry is you're going to make such a big mistake that you're going to become homeless and take the kids down with you. It's not rational; I'm well aware of that. And I love my work, but I definitely think there will be a time when I want to sell it all off and retire into the sunset. My heart, I think, is going to go elsewhere. I've taken a lot in life, so I'm just like, "Where's the time that I'm going to be able to stop, get off the ride and settle in?" No more competing. No more moneymaking. No more rat race. Just chilling and trying to do good things only.

The Trick to Doing What You Fear
"Here's a great lesson that helps me with fear," says Jillian. "Pick the thing that you're afraid of. For example, 'I'm afraid to start that business.' 'I'm afraid to ask out that girl or guy.' Then play out these three scenarios."

Scenario 1: Ask yourself, What if it all goes right?

"That's your why," says Jillian. "That's how you tolerate the discomfort in the moment. That's your motivation."

Scenario 2: Ask yourself, What if it goes wrong?

"Well, 99 percent of anything that occurs in your life is recoverable, other than death," she says. "But it is highly unlikely that asking out that person is going to make you die should you fail. If I fall down, I've got supportive people around me. I'll learn from my mistake. And I'll reapproach more intelligently until I get it right."

Scenario 3: Ask yourself, What if I do nothing?

"If you do nothing," Jillian points out, "you will always manifest the worst-case scenario. So you might say, 'I'm afraid this show is going to fail, and no one will ever hire me again.' But if you don't do the show, you're already not working! If you do nothing, it will always create the exact scenario that you are trying to avoid."

The bottom line? "When you play these three things out," says Jillian, "you'll find that there's nowhere to go but to take that leap of faith."