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Michelle Obama: Happiness tied to how I feel

  • Story Highlights
  • Michelle Obama talks exercise and diet with Oprah Winfrey
  • First lady says she learned about people's shared values while campaigning
  • She exercises at 4:30 a.m. to feel good about herself
  • She taught her daughters to read food labels for healthy eating
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Oprah

(OPRAH.com) -- For all the majesty of the White House, the first lady has already infused it with a palpable ease; her presence makes the place feel open and approachable. When we sit down to talk, Michelle Obama seems as relaxed as she did when I first interviewed her and her husband in their Chicago apartment in 2004. "This room has the best light in the house," she tells me as we settle in, shoes off, on a comfortable sofa. "And there's pie here, too. The pie in the White House is dangerously good." -- Oprah Winfrey

Michelle Obama is the first person to join Oprah Winfrey on the cover of O magazine

Michelle Obama is the first person to join Oprah Winfrey on the cover of O magazine

Oprah Winfrey: How are you a different woman today than you were when Barack Obama announced his candidacy in 2007?

Michelle Obama: I'm more optimistic. More hopeful. It comes from traveling all over America and connecting with so many different people. And this was long before anyone thought Barack had a chance. This was the kindness of strangers. I think we should all have to get to know one another around kitchen tables. It changed me. It's helped me to give other people the benefit of the doubt.

Winfrey: What did you see that changed you?

Obama: I saw our shared values. We fundamentally want the same things for ourselves and for each other. We want our kids to be safe and to grow up with some resources and aspire to a slightly better life than ours. No one's looking for a handout. People just want fairness and opportunity. Oprah.com:The heart and mind of Michelle Obama

Winfrey: That's so good to hear. Because you know what? We live in an "American Idol" culture where it seems like everyone just wants to be in the spotlight.

Obama: That's not the America I saw. People value their communities. They're rooting for one another. Even in places where I thought people wouldn't accept or relate to me, I always walked out feeling like, "Wow -- that was fun."

That changed me. And it helped prepare me for this. Because I think if you're going to be first lady, you have to believe in the possibility of what this country stands for. You have to see it in action and know what you're working toward. Oprah.com: How Michelle gets unstuck

Winfrey: That's so interesting -- and it all came from sitting around kitchen tables. Speaking of which, did you change your diet during the campaign?

Obama: When we first started running, my big concern was making sure we ate well on the road. So we started looking at our diet, trying to eliminate junk, getting seasonal fruits and vegetables that were grown locally. We walked the kids through reading labels. We talked about why one juice might be better than another.

Winfrey: That's right. In addition to eating well, do you work out?

Obama: Yes. There's a small gym here that has everything we need. I work out about four or five days a week -- and Barack does six. He's a workout zealot.

Winfrey: Well, you look better than ever -- despite the rumors that you've got a baby bump.

Obama: [Laughter.] I know -- I was like, "Baby bump? As hard as I work on my abs?!"

Winfrey: Okay, so that's settled. Back to exercise. You do treadmill?

Obama: I do treadmill, I do weights

Winfrey: I think anyone who saw you on the cover of Vogue knows you do weights. Those arms!

Obama: I also do some jump rope, some kickboxing -- and I'd like to take up Pilates, if I could figure out whether there's time. After I had Malia, I began to prioritize exercise because I realized that my happiness is tied to how I feel about myself. I want my girls to see a mother who takes care of herself, even if that means I have to get up at 4:30 so I can do a workout.

Winfrey: When you first told me that a few years ago, I was like, "You get up at 4:30 to work out?"

Obama: Well, I just started thinking, if I had to get up to go to work, I'd get up and go to work. If I had to get up to take care of my kids, I'd get up to do that. But when it comes to yourself, then it's suddenly, "Oh, I can't get up at 4:30." So I had to change that. If I don't exercise, I won't feel good. I'll get depressed. Of course, it's easier to do it here, because I have much more support now. But I always think about women who don't have support. That's why work-family balance isn't just a policy conversation; it's about changing the expectations of who we have to be as women and parents.

Winfrey: What you mentioned earlier is key: We have to ask for help. You can't do it all. It's impossible.

Obama: That's a conversation I'd love for us to have as a society. How do we set expectations that are attainable?

Winfrey: So what do you know for sure, Michelle Obama?

Obama: I know that all I can do is be the best me that I can. And live life with some gusto. Giving back is a big part of that. How am I going to share this experience with the American people? I'm always thinking about that. Oprah.com: Read the entire exclusive interview

By Oprah Winfrey from O, The Oprah Magazine, April 2009

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TM & © 2009 Harpo Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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