If you're planning to see Jillian Michaels when she brings her "Maximize Your Life" tour to Clearwater this month, don't go prepared to work out.
But do go prepared to change.
The fitness guru is perhaps best known as the in-your-face trainer on NBC's reality weight loss show, The Biggest Loser, which just wrapped up its 14th season. Winner Danni Allen credits Michaels for toughening her up mentally, so she could lose more than 100 pounds and become the newest Biggest Loser.
And it's the psychological side of transformation, more than the physical side, that Michaels emphasizes in her live shows.
Yes, she'll delivers her best weight loss tips from the Ruth Eckerd Hall stage. She'll talk about how and what to eat, how to boost metabolism and fat burning, and the importance of exercise.
But all that will be dispensed quickly to allow ample time for her real focus: "Cultivating your passion, embracing its uniqueness and creating a purpose-filled life."
At age 38, Michaels is an accomplished businesswoman who has produced an impressive collection of fitness books, DVDs and video games. She attributes part of her success to a near lifetime of mental health therapy, which started when she was just 5 years old.
Her childhood was marred by low self-esteem, night terrors and unrelenting teasing from other kids about her weight. Michaels, who is just 5 feet 2, weighed 175 pounds by the time she was 12. Her parents divorced that same year.
Her mother, a psychotherapist, thought that in addition to the counseling, martial arts might also help her daughter.
Mom was right. Not only did young Jillian lose weight, but the practice gave her the emotional boost she needed.
"Martial arts was very much about becoming empowered, not being a victim, realizing my true potential and how I sold myself short," she said during a recent phone conversation from her Los Angeles home. "It's also where my aggressiveness probably comes from."
Michaels bills herself as a life coach who can help people figure out why they are overweight, out of shape, unhappy, stuck in a dead-end job or relationship, drinking too much, spending too much — in short, whatever is keeping them from reaching their full potential.
"The core of the show is helping people understand how they get in their own way and teaching them to blast through obstacles they've created from their past history," she said. She promises to give attendees an action plan, a tool box of personal skills to make their dreams a reality.
"It will be a little bit Dr. Oz, a little bit Tony Robbins, a lot of Jillian Michaels," she said.
The two-hour interactive show is fashioned after the coaching she gives contestants on the Biggest Loser. Not just the tough-love prodding to do one more sit-up, but the behind-the-scenes action, when she works with contestants one-on-one.
Although she doesn't plan to take questions from audience members, some will be invited on stage for exploratory exercises to help get to the bottom of what's holding them back. VIP guests who have purchased premium tickets will get to attend a private meet-and-greet and ask questions of Michaels directly.
If any of those questions might regard juggling work, family and fitness, Michaels will be ready.
Our interview was momentarily interrupted when Michaels' infant son Phoenix — she has two kids with her partner Heidi Rhoades — was brought into the room. No problems there. Then came a four-legged "child.''
"Richard, come here. COME HERE RICHARD," Michaels said in that listen-to-me tone familiar to her millions of fans. "I'm sorry, my chihuahua is annoying me. Get over here, you little wiener."
Child and dog settled, Michaels picked right up where we'd left off, jumping back into this question: Is she tough on people because they are too easy on themselves?
No, she said, she doesn't believe people are out of shape because of apathy and laziness. "That's just someone who has lost hope," she says, "and is unaware of their potential."
There had been some speculation that motherhood might have softened Michaels, or that including teens on the show (though they don't compete head-to-head with the adults) might tone her down. She says absolutely not.
"I have been the same since day one on that show. The only thing that changes is the (contestants') sets of issues," she said, "I wrap the information around their specific struggle or issue, but I am always the same person, and yes, I may start out aggressively in the beginning because I need them to wake up and take responsibility. Then I teach them how to achieve their goals. I haven't changed."
But Michaels hopes you will, after seeing her stage show. Just be prepared for her special brand of tough love, refined over a lifetime of work.
"I learned that life doesn't stop to pick you back up,'' Michaels said. "You've gotta pick yourself back up.''
Irene Maher can be reached at [email protected] Like us on Facebook: facebook.com/tampabaytimeshealth.