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20 Questions: Jillian Michaels Fills Us In

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You know what Jillian Michaels is like in the gym, thanks to NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” This month, the tough talking trainer will reveal what she’s like as a mother, a romantic partner, and a businesswoman, on “Just Jillian,” a docu-series premiering on E! In addition to her new show, Michaels has been busy with her fitness empire, which includes New York Times-bestselling books and DVDs, and parenting her two children, daughter Lukensia (“Lu”), 5, and son Phoenix, 3, with her longtime love, Heidi Rhoades. (Rhoades gave birth to Phoenix in May 2012, just days before Michaels flew to Haiti to bring their adopted daughter, Lu, then 2, home.) Recently, Michaels took a break from her busy schedule to chat with us about the moment she realized she wanted to be a mom, same-sex parenting, how she really feels about working out, her idea of the perfect date night, and more.

MT: Were you nervous about giving people so much access to your personal life?
JM: No, I am pretty much an open book.

MT: Most of us only know you as a tough-as-nails trainer. How might “Just Jillian” change our perceptions?
JM: I think that people who have idealized me will see that I’m human. I swear when my kids are around. I make mistakes in business and in my relationships that prove I don’t have it all figured out — but I mean well. I think people who wrote me off as a monster will see that I am a completely normal person who loves her family, works hard at her job, and is constantly trying to improve as a person. I am flawed for sure, but not a monster.

MT: Your children arrived in your life about the same time. What was it like to go from no kids to two kids at once?
JM: It was life changing, in some ways that were good and in others that weren’t ideal, but always worth it. It was very hard on my relationship with Heidi at first. We had to learn how to make time for each other and that is still something we struggle with. But, my children gave my life a purpose that is beyond anything I could have ever imagined prior to having them. Kids put things in perspective and they show you what really matters in life.

MT: We love the names Lukensia and Phoenix. What inspired them?
JM: We met Lu when she was 18-months-old and that was her name. It’s a Haitian name, but I am told it means “bringer of the light” in Latin. We both liked Phoenix because it’s a strong name that symbolizes hope.

MT: What’s been the most surprising thing about motherhood so far?
JM: How much you can actually love two little humans and how the selfish focus of your life is obliterated forever. You see the world and yourself in such a different way. As Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin, pointed out in the movie As Good As it Gets, kids make you want to be a better person.

MT: Did you always imagine that you’d be a mom?
JM: I honestly didn’t know I was going to be a mom until I was roughly 35. I was working on a show where I moved in with families to help them get healthy and for the first time I was living in households with children. I realized through that experience what I was missing and it changed the course of my life permanently.

MT: What inspired you to become an adoptive mom?
JM: I always figured that if I had children, adoption would be my path for many different reasons, including the fact that there are so many children out there who need a home. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 100,000 children waiting to be adopted, according to the Dave Thomas Foundation.

MT: Have you and Heidi faced any challenges as same-sex parents?
JM: Honestly, no.

MT: Did you expect to?
JM: No, because we live in a very liberal part of the country [Los Angeles]. But, I wish that my kids had a father, for their sakes – although my business partner and dear friend Giancarlo is a father figure to them. I don’t have a father, so I try to reconcile my feelings by appreciating that the most important thing for kids is that they are loved, no matter what.

MT: How did you and Heidi meet?
JM: We met through mutual friends. There was no attraction there at first. We became friends and then we ended up running into each other in New York one day by accident. We went to dinner and the rest is history.

MT: You’ve been together for seven years. What’s your secret to a lasting relationship?
JM: [Laughs] We have a ton of struggles and we constantly try to work on our relationship and figure out the answer to that question. What I can say is that like anything worth having in life it takes work and it’s a choice we must make consciously every day to work on it.

MT: What’s your idea of the perfect date night?
JM: I’m a foodie, so we love going to new restaurants and just talking. We are simple like that. However, we are often too tired to do more than dinner. Dinner and a movie would be living on the edge.

MT: Do you have any food vices?
JM: Wine. I have given up many things with regard to my diet for many reasons, including health and ethics, but wine is a tough one. I don’t drink it often, but I have been unable to give it up entirely. I love the art in wine making — the culture of it, the ritual of it. It’s a very romantic food, in my opinion.

MT: Where does your passion for fitness and healthy living come from?
JM: I was an overweight kid and my mom got me into martial arts when I was 12-years-old. I don’t love to exercise, but I love the benefits that it affords me. I know that when we feel strong physically, we feel strong in every facet of our lives. So, for me, fitness is one tool I use to help redefine people’s self-image and instill confidence in them to take on life’s everyday challenges.

MT: Are you more compassionate toward those who are battling their weight, since you’ve been there?
JM: I am definitely empathetic toward them. I despise the word sympathetic. I know it’s hard, I get the struggle, but I also know that anyone can change anything at any point they choose to, if given the proper information and, ideally, support.

MT: Do you think social media encourages people to work out more, because they’re always posting photos of themselves or seeing amazing photos of others?
JM: I think it helps some and doesn’t help others. The key is to take responsibility for ourselves. If you don’t like it, don’t look.

MT: Do you ever miss a workout?
JM: All the time, but when I do, I just manage my food intake on that day.

MT: You have a lot going on. How do you keep yourself healthy with the stress of balancing it all?
JM: I try to control what I can with my diet. I supplement with vitamins and probiotics to try and give myself an edge. I try to sleep as much as possible. I try to get vacations and date nights in to maintain my sanity. I also believe strongly that we must make some time for ourselves or we will be too depleted to be good parents to our kids.

MT: What do you do when you’re not in the gym, working, or with your fam?
JM: I love my friends. I love adventure. And I love putting the two things together. We always do silly, fun things as a group, like Zorb soccer and trapeze lessons.

MT: OK, last Q before we let you go: What’s something about you that would surprise others?
JM: I am a true idealist. This is what makes me a cynic, which I think people would expect. However, the origin of this is sensitivity and idealism. Surprise!

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Photo: Getty