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Jillian Michael’s secret struggle

It’s a reality check for the TV wellness goddess

On the US version of The Biggest Loser, Jillian Michaels was the terrifying personal trainer and drill sergeant who bullied obese Americans into losing massive amounts of weight. She may have saved their lives, but her hard-nosed approach won her few fans.

Chatting to Woman’s Day on a whirlwind visit to Auckland, the internationally famous fitness guru admits she’s not to everyone’s liking. Laughing, she tells us, “There are two schools

of thought when it comes to me. Some people are like, ‘Ugh, she’s horrible. She’s a bitch. I hate her guts.’ Then there are others who say, ‘Oh, my God, I love her. She changed my life.’ Of course, I’m not a saint and I’m no devil either – the truth is somewhere in between. I’m a normal person like everybody else.”

Normal might be a stretch, but Jillian certainly revels in domestic life at her beachside mansion in LA, which she shares with her longtime partner Heidi Rhoades and their two children – five-year-old daughter Lukensia, who was adopted from Haiti, and three-year-old son Phoenix, conceived via a sperm donor – plus a menagerie of animals.

Yet she is also running her own global wellness empire, with regular TV appearances, motivational-speaking tours, a website, podcasts and weight-loss apps, as well as a library of bestselling self-help books, DVDs and video games. Her latest venture is the E! reality series Just Jillian, which follows the 41-year-old as she struggles to balance her business with her home life. While from the outside it might look like she has the perfect life, she says, this show exposes her mistakes and the compromises she has to make.

From her romance with Heidi, to taking care of their kids, Phoenix (left) and Lukensia, and a menagerie of pets, life is a juggling act for Jillian, but she somehow still manages to bring home the bacon!

“It’s the comedy of errors as I go about the juggling act, trying to be the best parent, partner and co-worker. I don’t have a secret,” she admits. “You see me struggle. And if I’m struggling, other people are struggling. “

The show normalises failure, disappointments and arguments. “As well as laughing at the humour in these situations, I hope the thing that people take from this is that there is no answer. It’s OK to not make everybody happy. You don’t have to be everybody’s hero. We can’t be perfect.”

Jillian takes what she calls the “squeaky wheel” approach. She explains, “If the kids are going through stuff, my energy goes into them. If the business is falling apart, it goes there. If Heidi and I are having a hard time, I concentrate on that. It’s definitely a juggling game. I’ve learnt to let go of perfection and embrace progress.”

She follows the same philosophy with her fitness. “Now I’ve got kids, there are no more 90-minute yoga classes,” confesses Jillian. “When I go to the gym, I go as hard as I can for half an hour. I make every second count. I wish I could do that 45-minute spin class. Instead, I take a jog around my house. I definitely go up and down two kilos, which you can see on my body because I’m so small, but I don’t give a s*** – I’m healthy.”

However, that wasn’t always the case for the 1.59-metre powerhouse. At age 13, Jillian weighed 75kg and struggled with her self-esteem, but she won her battle with the bulge after her mother introduced her to martial arts and booked her into a therapist.

“Those two things helped me understand the unhealthy dynamic I had with food,” she recalls. “I used food as a coping mechanism and I wore the results.” But though the excess baggage may be gone, Jillian still refers to herself as a “fat girl”. She explains, “It’s a state of mind rather than a physical state. I look at food the same way a sober alcoholic looks at booze. I still have the same issues with food, but I know how to manage them better.”

Get a move on!

Jillian sympathises with women who are struggling with their fitness after becoming mums, but like on The Biggest Loser, she doesn’t mince words when it comes to dishing out advice.

While you might not always have time to exercise, she says, “There is something you can control – what you eat and how much of it you eat! That should be enough, but you should be on the lookout for four half-hour slots a week to exercise.

“Leave the kids with your significant other or get someone to babysit so you can take a spin class. Or God forbid you give your kids an iPad to play on for half an hour so you can work out at home – they won’t be damaged for life! Otherwise, it’s about getting outdoors with them as much as possible, whether it’s bike riding, ice-skating, hiking or bodysurfing.”

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