Jillian Michaels: The Queen of Lean
And this, Michaels believes, is the approach that's necessary for people who have been making excuses for their behavior all their lives, who have a "negative dialogue" going on in their heads with respect to the things they think they can't do. "You can circumvent the negative thinking with fear," Michaels says. "Just the way a mother can lift a car off a child -- it's like, fear makes you live in the moment. Sometimes I need to intimidate a person, and then they do what I ask, and when they see they can be successful it is the most amazing experience for them. I can use the techniques they have used to program themselves for destruction and program them for success."
That's exactly what Michelle Aguilar, the Season 6 winner, says Michaels did for her. "When I wanted to quit in week five, she wasn't all, 'There's the door; it's my way or the highway.' She knew I'd had a problem with women supporting me. I thought if I messed up, they'd leave," she says. "So instead she was like, 'I'll support you no matter what you decide but I want you to stay.' It was her attitude, not just her training techniques, that made all the difference."
While Michaels (and the contestants) defends her strategies, she hates being defined by them; in real life she is not, as she puts it, "Crazy Yelly Girl." "The Biggest Loser is like a funhouse mirror. I've loved the show and the platform it has given me, but still, it is the nature of reality TV to manipulate," she says. "You never see what's going on in its entirety. For every 10 minutes we're on the show, acting like insane people, there are a hundred hours of training you don't see. The stretching, the icing. Nobody wants to watch that."
Michaels is not only concerned about the overblown drama but about the contestants themselves. They are, of course, screened and under medical supervision. But when I mention that I'm sure at some point something horrible will happen, she looks at me grimly. "You're the fifth person to say that to me this week. And you're not wrong. The contestants keep getting bigger and bigger."
The producers of the show do not disagree. "We all worry," says executive producer Todd A. Nelson. "You're setting yourself up for failure if you don't." On the other hand, Nelson believes that every year they learn more about how to monitor and manage the medical conditions of the heaviest contestants, "and this allows us to fine-tune the process and reach out to a heavier population."
Still, last season two people told to run a mile on their first day wound up in a hospital with heat exhaustion. And the season before that a woman who wasn't prepared ran a half marathon and got a stress fracture. "As the trainers we have no say over the challenges," says Michaels. "We worry about them, too."
One thing Michaels does not worry about is going back to her former chubby self. Cheerfully she gives me a tour of her refrigerator and cupboards, quick to point out that she is no fan of deprivation: Everything is organic, but there is dark chocolate, wine, Peanut Butter Newman-O's. When she's not working she's doing something active, like kickboxing.
And what does she think of the Time magazine cover story that said exercise won't necessarily help you lose weight? "That's the dumbest thing ever," she says. "I've taken 100 pounds off someone in seven weeks -- you think that's just diet?" Exercise accelerates weight loss, Michaels adds, but a person can eat his or her way through the exercise. "Look, it's simple math," she says. "You run, you burn 500 calories; you eat a slice of pizza, you're f---ed."
For those of us who are dubious about the power of people to make great changes in their lives, meeting Michaels is, genuinely, inspirational. She has transformed her body, which, she says, has transformed her mind. And she has made peace with her family: She and her mother are close, and while she is estranged from her father, she is still grateful that he gave her an "ambitious, aggressive, larger-than-life persona" -- not to mention her abiding love of horses and fast cars (she has a Ferrari). Michaels rejected the status quo in other ways, too. Unhappy about her tough-love image on The Biggest Loser, she complained long and loud. She wanted a more positive way to help people reach their goals. And so in addition to Loser she'll be filming a new NBC show, Losing It with Jillian, in the spring. This time she'll be a life coach who moves into people's houses and fixes their various problems -- a premise that will allow her to be "not just this one-dimensional screamer."
As her star rises it makes me wonder about the status of her romantic life. In the past she has complained about being unlucky in love. Is that still the case? "Let's just say I believe in healthy love. If I fall in love with a woman, that's awesome. If I fall in love with a man, that's awesome. As long as you fall in love...it's like organic food. I only eat healthy food, and I only want healthy love!" Whoever it is for Michaels, they should know what they're getting: one smart cookie.