Jillian Michaels is intense.
Television's toughest trainer is perhaps best known for yelling, loudly, at "Biggest Loser" contestants and for her brutal workout DVDs. She says her aggressive approach is intentional: Obesity kills, and she's providing a life or death intervention.
Some call her scary. Others go with motivational.
But during a recent phone interview, Michaels, 39, who's in between stops on her "Maximize Your Life" tour, was in full-on mom mode. "Sorry, I'm dressing my toddler as we speak," she said, later stopping to banter with her daughter: "How are you doin', bud? You're not going to swim today? It burns your eyes? I know, man."
Indeed, it appears that tough-as-nails Michaels has a soft spot. She cares about her kids (Lukensia, 3, and Phoenix, 1), and she cares about all the people who watch her DVDs and read her books. That's why she's in the midst of a 35-city tour designed to help audience members live up to their full potential.
Michaels spoke with U.S. News about "Maximize Your Life," how she stays healthy, motherhood and why you don't need to be a gym rat to be fit. Her responses have been edited.
What can people expect from this tour?
It's not a fitness show. A lot of people are thinking, "Do I need to come dressed to work out?" No. If you want to work out with me, buy a DVD. This is much more about the way that we hold ourselves back in life, why we hold ourselves back and then how to get unstuck so we can unleash our potential, achieve our goals and fulfill our dreams. It's everything you don't get to see that gets done behind the scenes on "Biggest Loser."
How's it going so far?
It's been such an incredible experience. For me, the ability to get out and have a direct connection with the audience, look people in the eyes, converse with them and be with them is such a reward. It's such an honor, such a pleasure. It's an intimate setting, and I enjoy that connection—I find it exhilarating.
You're fond of an 80-20 rule for healthy eating and fitness. What's it all about?
Everybody gets caught up in thinking that health requires an extreme philosophy or state of mind, cutting out things like carbs, or fats or protein. I've seen every diet, from "I'm paleo" to "I'm vegan," to fasting diets and cleanses. But the reality is, to lose weight and maintain your health, you've gotta have balance and common sense. So I say: 80 percent of the time, make the better food choice. And 20 percent of the time, have the fries. Have the pizza. That's how you achieve that balance, so it's not all or nothing, and it becomes manageable and sustainable.
Is it necessary to count calories and log many hours at the gym?
I need people to be mindful of calories, but the reality is, if you look something up one time, you know what's in that food. And we eat the same 20 things over and over again. It doesn't have to be endless journaling and endless logging, and no, you don't have to spend hours at the gym. If you employ certain fitness techniques that are the most effective, the hours or minutes that you do put into your workout are going to yield really impactful results. I get maybe four 30-minute sessions in each week now. But it's the way that I utilize that time that matters the most.
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Why is establishing support so critical to achieving health goals?
We spend pretty much every waking minute with people, though some of us are more reclusive than others. And the ability to communicate, express our needs, hear somebody else's needs and build trust in a relationship allows us to ask for help, feedback and support. When we do get into these situations where we're utilizing negative behavior patterns as coping mechanisms, we need help. We need support to get us through that in ways that are life-affirming, rather than self-destructive. And if you want to improve in any facet of your life, you need feedback. You need to ask your boss what you can do better, for example. So having those communication skills is not only going to help you ascend in any goal you choose to pursue, it's also going to deeply enrich the quality of your life personally and professionally, and make you a better person if you let it.
What motivates you?
In my 20s it was skinny jeans, in my 30s it was business and in my almost 40s, it's now my kids. That's not to say I'm not still professionally motivated; of course I am. Or that I don't appreciate skinny jeans—I certainly do. But at 39, with a 1 year old, I want to make sure that at 50 I'm on the slopes next to him or out there on the surfboard next to him—that I'm not on the sidelines of my children's lives. That's very important.
Are you still squeezing in workouts while you're on tour?
I am. Ever since the kids arrived, it hasn't been a 90-minute yoga class—I'm very rarely able to get to the gym for an hour-long workout. But it's 30 minutes of an exercise DVD, or it's a jog, or bike ride or taking the kids on a hike. It's fitting it in whenever you can. It's stuff like going to the pool with the kids and swimming with them. So I fit it in, and in conjunction with healthy eating, I find a balance.