The first thing Jillian Michaels did after taking a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Miami and traveling to Palm Beach Gardens to give the keynote speech at the Women’s Health & Wellness Conference was meet one-on-one with a few cancer patients nominated by their doctors.
Michaels, who had to cut her speech in February short to catch another flight back the same afternoon, turned down requests for media appearances so she could spend her time doing what she does best: inspiring others to keep going. One of the patients she met with, Lila Abrams, describes their session together as both humbling and hilarious.
“What you see is what you get,” Abrams says of the slim and shapely star of “The Biggest Loser” who has authored eight New York Times bestsellers and launched a downloadable app offering personal-training workouts. “She apologized for kicking her shoes off (Michaels doesn’t believe in high heels. ‘They’re so bad for you,’ she says.) She was really funny about it. And she was so nice. I was afraid she was going to be all about fitness—and she was—but she was more like, ‘Tell me what you want to do or what you like to do.’”
Susan Bender, another patient, had a similar encounter.
“She was like a sister, friend,” Bender says. “She kept touching my hand. She mostly was all about ‘I must take care of myself and not everyone around me.’”
Michaels has built an empire around helping an international community of followers that exceeds 100 million transform their lives through exercise, nutrition and self-help. At 44, with black belts in Akarui-Do and Muay Thai, and certificates from the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and the National Exercise Sports Trainers Association, she has no plans of stopping.
“I’m going to give you the secret to how I’ve built this huge empire,” she tells the crowd gathered at the Jupiter Medical Center Foundation’s Women’s Health Advisory Council event at PGA National Resort & Spa. “Are you ready? Eat less. Move more. I’ve made millions. How it’s possible? No idea. Laughing all the way to the bank.”
Michaels, an overweight child who was 170 pounds at her heaviest, found the path to change through martial arts.
“It did not happen overnight, but over time, this environment of supportive individuals that were focused on their health began to give me these accomplishments, physically, that redefined my belief in my abilities,” Michaels says. “I learned at a very young age that when you’re strong physically, you’re strong in other facets of your life. Fitness was very transformative for me not just physically but psychologically.”
Throughout her speech she talks about the ketogenic diet—“I hate it”—fake food—“fake fat, fake sugar, fake color, fake flavor, preservatives, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics”—and what health looks like in everybody’s life and fighting for it.
“If you have a why to live for, you can tolerate the how,” Michaels says. “If you can associate a passion to the end result and have some perspective about what it gets, it’s worth it.”