She’s inspired millions of Biggest Loser viewers to get in shape after once shedding 60 lbs. herself, but some old habits die hard for Jillian Michaels. “I had brownies for breakfast,” the hard-nosed personal trainer reveals, opening up the dishwasher in her Hollywood Hills home and showing an empty brownie pan. But these brownies were made with olive oil, yogurt and whole wheat flour and are just 300 calories-the same amount she’d normally consume for breakfast. All the same, “I still have a part of me that seeks food for comfort-it never goes away.”
Michaels, 36, is exploring those emotions and more on her new NBC series, Losing It with Jillian, going into the homes of families across the country who are “unhealthy in every facet of their lives, not just the weight,” she explains of the Biggest Loser spinoff. “There’s diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, but there’s also divorce, overcoming cancer, overcoming the loss of a loved one, bankruptcy. Diet and exercise are tools that I use to help empower people.”
Her passion for helping others, she says, “comes from me being picked on and bullied as a kid.” Growing up in Los Angeles, Michaels says her childhood was “far from perfect.” She began therapy at age 5 because she was “repressing things” and “having hallucinations.” Her parents divorced when she was 12, and while she remains close to her mother, JoAnn McKarus, a psychoanalyst, Michaels says she and her father often butted heads. “He was real angry,” Michaels says. “I had a couple of dogs and a horse, and I became very close to them. They were really my only friends.”
As an adolescent, Michaels often related to her father via food. “He’d say, ‘Let’s make popcorn,’ or ‘Let’s have pizza and ice cream,'” says the 5’2″ Michaels, whose weight ballooned to 175 lbs. at age 16. “It was the one thing I would look forward to. If I could just get through this one friggin’ day at school, I’m gonna get a bag of Cheetos and watch Punky Brewster.”
Despite strained relations with her father for more than 20 years, Michaels says now “I’ve become the parts of my dad that were amazing. He was ambitious and funny and driven. He had horses and motorcycles. The other parts of him, I’ve tried to let go of.”
A martial arts class she took at 14 was the beginning of her personal transformation. “When I broke two boards with a side kick, I felt infinitely strong. It changed who I thought I was,” says Michaels. She soon lost 60 lbs. and over the next decade became one of L.A.’s top personal trainers, leading her to Biggest Loser in 2005. “I was able to turn my life around, so now I feel my job is to tell people, ‘This is not your reality. Anything is possible for you,'” says Michaels.
These days, her own confidence is rarely rattled. In February she was the target of two class-action lawsuits claiming that her Calorie Control weight-loss supplements don’t work. “Seriously? Anyone can file a lawsuit,” says Michaels, who firmly stands behind her product.
Her multimillion-dollar empire has been built on her supplements, books, DVDs, video games and exercise equipment. But you won’t find any of that in the contemporary three-bedroom Hollywood Hills home she shares with her dogs Seven and Harley. “I don’t need that in my house!” she says, preferring to stay fit by retreating to her Malibu beach cottage, where she can “paddle board, kayak, jog-or just do nothing.”
Currently single and “dating” (“I have dated men and women,” she adds), she’s setting her sights on her biggest challenge yet: parenthood. “Hopefully it will happen by the time I’m 40,” says Michaels, who was diagnosed with endometriosis as a teen and is unsure if her body “can handle a pregnancy.” Instead, she says, “I may adopt. It doesn’t matter to me how a child is brought into my life. I’ll be happy being a mother.”