As one of the leading experts in health and fitness, Jillian Michaels is dedicated to motivating, inspiring, and empowering people to not only reach their nutrition and fitness goals, but to live their best life.
Best known for the 10 years she spent working with contestants on “The Biggest Loser” to achieve their weight-loss goals, Michaels embodies a tough- love approach. She doesn’t sugarcoat any topic, especially when it comes to what she knows best: health and fitness. Since her days on the show, Michaels has found success in a multitude of areas, from eight New York Times best-selling books and countless workout DVDs, to TV and speaking engagements and her very own app, “My Fitness by Jillian Michaels.” We spent time with the fitness guru to learn more about health and wellness and get tips on becoming the best version of ourselves. Read on, and get inspired.
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Growing up, you were bullied for being overweight. Did that experience play a part in your fitness journey?
What the experience did was give me a strong identification with the underdog. When you’ve been picked on and overweight, you don’t tend toward sympathy. In fact, I find sympathy to be a dangerous sentiment. It’s almost like saying, “Oh, you poor sad little thing, just do what you can.” With empathy you get that it’s hard, but the thought is, “Just do it—if I can, so can you.”
Was a career in fitness something you had always set your sights on?
Not at all! As a kid I loved music, even though I can’t sing, dance, or play an instrument. I loved music because of the way it makes people feel—it can inspire, unite, and motivate people, and that’s originally what I wanted to do. I fell into my career through a series of serendipitous events. I took what I loved about music—how it empowers and motivates—and brought that into fitness.
What lessons did you learn from your experience on “The Biggest Loser”?
The show was a tremendous platform, and without it there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak with you today. I’ve learned that if you are in a scenario in which you are being represented as yourself and not a character, you need control. If you can’t have control, you need to give some serious consideration as to whom you are giving control and what their intentions are. Nowadays, kids have platforms they can control, and that’s wonderful.
What are some of the changes you’re working on for your fitness app?
It’s a constant work in progress, which is what’s cool about an app—you can modify, upgrade, and add to it. We’ve added a 10K, a yoga workout, an in-gym equipment program, kickboxing, a prenatal program, and more than 1,000 exercises. We’ve also added audio workouts for people who don’t want to look at their phone but just want to listen; I can coach them verbally. A community tab is available with message boards where you can find and communicate with other people who are using the app. I think the community component is extremely important.
What’s cool is that the app is 100 percent customizable. If you allow me, I can monitor things like the weather outside, whether or not you slept, and how much water you’ve been drinking. Based on the information, I can make suggestions. This is my best way of allowing people to be my actual clients: I can ask them what a trainer would ask, and create their programs accordingly.
What excites you most about your app?
I love the personalization aspect; it’s how fitness should be. While there are universal rules of fitness— eat less and move more—so many people fail because they don’t have a program that’s tailored to their needs.
What was most important to you when creating this platform?
One, that it’s effective. I think that’s the secret to my longevity—my workouts work. I don’t make promises, and I don’t sell false messages of lethargy. And two, I wanted to make sure the app is easy to use, simple and straightforward, and affordable.
In 2017, “My Fitness” was named “Best App” by both Google and Apple. What do you think sets it apart from other apps?
A lot of other apps focus on only one aspect, while this one can do everything. Whatever you want, you get. I can train you for any type of workout; it’s what I do. We offer six meal plans and hundreds of recipes, with the ability to filter out the ones that contain ingredients you’re allergic to or don’t eat. You can swap out any meal and replace it with one you want.
What’s the biggest misconception people have when it comes to weight loss?
Oftentimes people grab onto a kernel of truth they hear regarding health and wellness and spin it into a diet. They get caught up in these trends that get so much hype, and they’re usually ineffective. If they are effective, they aren’t sustainable. There are two simple rules: Don’t overeat, and use common sense with your food choices. If you eat more than you burn in a day—even if it’s the healthiest food—you will store that energy as fat.
Your mother’s support has helped guide you. Are there other women you admire?
I love Suze Orman and Maria Shriver—both of these women have been a real source of inspiration for me, along with my mom. What I appreciate about Suze and Maria is they have that Madeleine Albright mentality that there is a certain place in hell for women who don’t help other women.
When are you happiest?
I’ve had a lot of friendships end, but the relationships I have now make me the happiest. They make me laugh and feel supported, and they distract me from painful or stressful situations. I don’t know what’s better than that. I also have a lot of animals, and I love to spend time with them—that’s a close second.
What type of legacy do you hope to leave behind?
If what I do helps people lose weight, it brings me a tremendous amount of meaning to be part of their journey. Most important, I want to raise a strong daughter and son. I want to know that they are going to contribute to the world and be better people than I am. That’s my number one priority.
Photography: John Russo
Styling: Philippe Uter with The Only Agency Hair & Makeup: Chloe Franke
Location: Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel