Jillian Michaels orders two eggs over easy with a smidgeon of oil and two slices of dry toast.
Coffee?! “Two strong cups, 400 milligrams, fights pancreatic cancer,” she says, “plus Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes and improves cognitive functions.”
Not that Michaels is a health-nut goodie-goodie.
“I haven’t been to the gym in five days!” she says
No wonder. There’s this gruelling book tour on top of an always-heavy workload, plus the routine demands of parenting a 3-year-old daughter and an 11-month-old son, who have come with her on this recent New York visit.
But all is never lost, says Michaels, in the battle to lose weight and be healthy. “Even if you’re just standing while you’re talking on the phone,” she offers, “you can burn up to 300 calories in a day.”
That’s the sort of forgiving advice found in her latest book, Slim for Life: My Insider Secrets to Simple, Fast and Lasting Weight Loss (Harmony Books).
“It’s my softest approach to weight loss,” says Michaels, a wellness coach to whom the word “soft” is seldom applied.
After all, she is famous as the drill-sergeant trainer on NBC’s The Biggest Loser, a 5-foot-2-inch force of nature who doesn’t hesitate to throw her tautly muscled weight around.
But during this recent breakfast she seems different from her Loser persona. Clad in jeans, sweat shirt and Ugg boots, her hair pulled under a newsboy’s cap, she could pass for half her 39 years. She is animated, high-rev. But no way overbearing.
“I wanted to write a book where you felt like I was sitting right there with you,” she says, a vision of reassurance seated across the table, “providing a simple solution for every problem or complaint I've ever heard.”
Fitness is too time-consuming, complicated, costly, inconvenient, plus I’m hungry all the time — Michaels has heard every excuse from the audience for her website, weekly podcast and speaking engagements.
“I wanted to integrate the answers and knock down the myths and the fad diets,” she says. “For every possible dieting dilemma that you could ever have, I provide umpteen amount of solutions. Pick one!”
In her book, every strategy comes with a point system scored from 1 (a “bonus” tip) to 3 (most effective and important). Totalling the strategies you’re able to adopt can help predict your rate of weight loss, she says.
If some of this stuff gets a little technical (she prescribes workouts complete with calories-per-minute burned for each exercise), Michaels also packs the book with simple no-brainers: Eat before you head to the party so you’re less tempted by those fatty hors d’oeuvres. Nix foods tagged with “danger words” such as smothered, loaded, tender, deep-fried and creamy. At the supermarket, avoid the centre aisles (high-trafficked destinations for junk food, she warns) in favour of the store perimeter, where fresh foods are likely to be stocked.
For those who aren’t satisfied with the occasional beverage, she even offers recipes for low-cal cocktails.
“I’m going to show you exactly what you need to understand, exactly what never to do, and what it looks like in your life,” she says. “This is never going to be easy. But it’s never gonna be easier than this.”
Growing up, physical health wasn’t something that came easily to Michaels.
Her dad was overweight, she says, “and one of the ways that we spent time together was through food: ‘Let’s go get a pizza’.”
Her parents went through what she calls an ugly divorce when she was 12, which only hardened her image of herself as “a fat kid, a loser, someone who deserved to get picked on.”
But a few years later she got hooked on martial arts. She had long felt like an outsider in school and most everywhere else. But here in the dojo she was part of a community. She felt supported. She blossomed.
Then came a real turning point: She broke two boards with a sidekick.
“The next day when I walked into the school, no one ever (messed) with me again,” she says, her eyes blazing at the memory.
From there a career unfolded for Michaels as a trainer, physical therapy aide, then sports-medicine professional.
A decade ago, she signed on to The Biggest Loser. There, instantly, she stood out as a taskmaster, even a bully.
“I always identify with the underdog, and I think that’s one reason I feel fine yelling at them," she explains. “I feel like I’m yelling at a peer: Take responsibility, own this situation and bring your best. Let’s start exploring your potential.”
As The Biggest Loser” heads toward its season conclusion, Michaels has seen full potential reached by her charge, Danni. A 26-year-old advertising account coordinator. Danni has lost 40kg under Michaels’ dogged coaching and has guaranteed herself a slot as a finalist.
“You found yourself and you just soared,” Michaels told her recently in a voice choked with emotion, ‘and you became everything that I had hoped you would be.”
Michaels returned to The Biggest Loser this season after a two-year absence. Her reasons for coming back included “a whole new group of producers I really trust and like,” she says. “Besides, it’s a heckuva platform.”
But it’s only one of many platforms from which this go-go fitness guru spreads her mantra- a mantra she says isn’t really about fitness.
“It’s never been about fitness for me,” Michaels says. “I don’t even really like to work out. But when you’re strong physically and you feel confident about your body and your health, you're strong in every other facet of your life. It’s transcendent.”
Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier