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Biggest Loser's Jillian Michaels wants to help you, not scream at you

Despite what you may think, Jillian Michaels doesn't want to yell at you. And she doesn't want you to yell at yourself (not all the time, anyway). But the tough-love fitness guru does want you to put aside self-doubt and start working toward your goal, whether it's your dream job or six-pack abs. TV's "toughest trainer" is moving on from The Biggest Loser and hoping to help people improve every area of their lives. She spoke to The Globe about her new book, Unlimited: How to Build an Exceptional Life.

When you see people eating brownies or loading up their grocery cart with Oreos, do you want to shake them by the shoulders and scream at them?

It's never sweets. It's not that that gets me. What does get me is when I see people eating stuff that I know is so bad for them, like anything with trans fats or high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. I just want to say, 'Oh my God, do you have any idea? That's going to give you cancer, heart disease, cognitive dysfunction.' That's what frustrates me, is the lack of knowledge people have about the quality of the food they are eating.

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Why did you want to tackle the self-help genre?

It's at the core of everything that I do. I can teach you lunges, I can teach you crunches. But the reality is that if somebody doesn't have that shift in their head, nothing is going to change, no matter what it is, whether it's a healthy relationship, pursuing a career your love or a better physique.

Throughout the book you stress that whatever change a person wants to make will take a lot of work. Have we become a culture that expects things to be easy?

I don't think our true nature is lazy. To a certain extent, people feel hopeless and they don't believe in their ability to do work.

Is that why you say it's so important to start with very small goals, whatever it is that someone is ultimately aiming for?

If tried to sprint tomorrow like Maurice Greene I would probably pull a muscle. And then I would think, 'Oh my gosh, I'm a failure.' But if I start out walking, then jogging intervals, then jogging distance, then working on sprint drills, then you can build success upon success. If you're shooting for something that is five steps ahead, of course you're going to fail at it.

But people fail at diets or fitness regimens all the time even when they start slowly. Why do they fail?

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They fail because of three things. One, they don't have a crystallized vision of where they want to go and they haven't established an emotional connection to the goal. People will say, 'I want to be healthy.' Well, what the hell does that mean? How do you form an emotional connection to that? You need to define it - does it mean wearing skinny jeans, is it running a marathon? When you define that goal it's worth fighting for. Two, a lot of people don't have the belief in themselves to achieve it. And three, it's lack of information.

You also talk quite a bit about the importance of evaluating weakness.

Failure is the best teacher. You need to ask yourself, 'What did I do wrong, what could I do better, how do I improve?' It's actually an incredible opportunity when you have a setback. Who are your heroes? You think they haven't had setbacks?

What is 'metacognition' and why is it important?

It's thinking about thinking. Basically, it's a constant process of self-evaluation. It allows you to reformulate your strategy and how you do things and lets you re-evaluate your technique. It's critical.

Why are you leaving The Biggest Loser?

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I want to start a family. And at the same time, I feel like I've learned everything I can learn here, I've done everything I can do here.

Is yelling at people all the time on TV tiresome?

It is such a caricature.

Despite your screamy reputation, the overall message of the book seems to be, decide what you really want out of life, work hard, be good to yourself and only scream at yourself when you really, really have to.


This interview has been condensed and edited.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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