A food critic turns a fitness corner

Categories: Bar Belle

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Over the last few months, I went from the worst shape of my life to the best while continuing to eat like a food critic. Don't punch me in the face; instead, read how I did it in this new series.

It's my job to eat out four times a week -- at a minimum -- and to try everything a restaurant can put in front of me, be it cocktails, pork fat or dessert. But still, I'm rapidly approaching being in the best shape of my life, and I'm skinnier than I've been since the middle of college.

Three months ago, however, I was a before picture.

That fact taunted me as I examined myself in my boyfriend's unflattering full-length bathroom mirrors -- nailed, cruelly, to opposing walls so that you could see yourself from all angles. And I didn't want to. I'd accidentally spied my hulking (m)ass when I stepped out of the shower -- and while my body might have been cute were I a thoroughbred sharpei, culled from fat parents with wrinkle-producing genes, as a human it was time to acknowledge that I now had more rolls on my body than a pastry truck, more cottage cheese on my thighs than a breakfast buffet, more jelly in my belly than a raspberry jam-filled doughnut.

It wasn't hard to figure out how this had happened, and the explanation revolved around my penchant for butter and bacon, coupled with my utter disdain for (and, um, two-year hiatus from) athletic activity. When I'd become a restaurant critic, I'd taken my new career as carte blanche to stuff my piehole with not just pie, but also chocolate-injected croissants, pork-belly tacos dripping grease, organs from animals that had been forcibly fattened. Except that in some cruel twist of karma, I was the one who was now fattened, fully ready for my liver to be harvested and eaten on crostini, or perhaps for my back fat to be rendered and crafted into artisanal lard and sold at a premium price.

Delusion had been a warm, snuggly blanket. For a while, I'd convinced myself that I wasn't really gaining that much weight, I was just getting curvier (and curves are totally hot). Plus, I reasoned, no one trusts a really skinny restaurant critic anyway.

But as I looked in the mirror that morning, I realized I'd gone far beyond "needs toning." I'd gained a solid twenty pounds in my first year on the job, and if I kept going at that pace, it wouldn't be long before I firmly planted myself in the overweight category, staring off the edge of the obese cliff, one foot in the air. If I wanted to keep both my job and my health, I had to figure out a way to turn the cholesterol-ridden tide.

After suffering through a couple of halfhearted jogs (and by "jog," I mean walk/trot), I realized I needed more than just a haphazard plan of attack. So I called up Jamie Atlas, a Denver-based personal trainer who owns a studio called Bonza Bodies.

The choice was deliberate. Atlas actually knows what makes the human body run -- which, besides making him epic at working with people who have injuries, helps him help clients get maximum results with minimum effort. I like maximum results. I also like minimum work. Moreover, he has a realistic approach to weight loss and training, and I knew he'd see my situation -- trying to lose weight while still fulfilling the requirements of my calorie-heavy job -- as a challenge.

"Here's the deal," I said. "I can't diet, and I hate exercise. Think you can un-fat my ass?"

"Of course I can. When can you come in?" he asked. Atlas also has a relentlessly positive attitude, which is particularly annoying when he's bouncily encouraging you to run faster, work harder and/or do something you just don't think you can do. (Even more annoying, he almost always proves that you can, in fact, do whatever it is you thought you couldn't).

Clad in workout clothes I hadn't touched since I lived in New York, I trudged into the Bonza Bodies studio one Monday for my initial consultation. And after the 6'7" Australian dude took a bunch of annoying measurements, proclaiming my 36 percent body fat reading "perfect" (perfect for what -- life-saving flotation in the ocean should I fall overboard?), I asked him where to start.

"Breakfast," he said. "Do you review breakfast places?"

"Sometimes, but not very often," I answered.

"So what do you usually eat for breakfast?"

"A pot of coffee," I replied promptly."Or cold noodles, if I have leftovers. Sometimes a chocolate croissant. But I'm not usually hungry in the morning."

He laughed in that way that means, oh, you are so, so wrong, it's almost cute. "Almost" being the operative word.

And then he detailed the first part of the plan: I was to eat a high-protein breakfast every morning -- ideally, something like three eggs with black beans and some vegetables, such as spinach, tossed in. Leftovers were fine, as long as the leftovers were hunks of meat and vegetables devoid of starch and dairy. Sadly, bacon and other high-fat meats were to be used sparingly. "Unless you want to be on the slow track," he said. That was mean: Who wants to be on the slow track?

The purpose of this, he explained, was that his nutrition plan is based not on calories, but on raising the blood sugar first thing in the morning and then keeping it steady all day -- which, research has shown, signals the body that it doesn't need to hold on to fat stores. Because of the way the body digests proteins, eating plenty of protein -- instead of starch, dairy and sugar, which spike the blood sugar -- is key in accomplishing that goal. And as an added benefit, it takes fewer protein calories to feel full and stay full. So if you can start your day that way, you'll be less hungry later on.

"Can I still drink coffee?" I asked.

"Sure," he said, "But no dairy or sweetener. And drink plenty of water -- at least eight glasses a day. Hydration helps your body get rid of nasty stuff."

"That's it?" I asked. "That's all you've got for me?"

"This time, that's it," he said. "A high-protein breakfast and plenty of water helps everything else fall into place."

Three months and several other steps later, things have, indeed, fallen into place. And since I did this without sacrificing my job duties -- as in, I haven't given up alcohol, pork fat or dessert -- I'm inclined to believe that anyone can do this. And I'll be detailing the rest of the plan here -- complete with demonstrations of how to follow it -- over the course of the coming weeks.

In the meantime, a high-protein breakfast to get you started:

Jamie's brekkie salad: bed of spinach, turkey bacon, chopped boiled egg, sliced pan-fried leeks, basil, salsa and pine nuts for topping.

If that sounds too complicated: Sauté a little garlic and onion, toss in about a fourth cup of black beans straight from the can, scramble in three eggs, and serve it on a bed of spinach, dousing the whole thing with sriracha.

Watch for the next installment of Bar Belle next Monday.


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23 comments
GFTW
GFTW

Is Lori Midson also doing this??

Lbortolotto
Lbortolotto

Great idea for a blog!  Spreading this kind of information to as many people as possible will undoubtedly help with our obesity epidemic. Thanks for making this info easy and simple to follow.

GFTW
GFTW

Three eggs a day -- that's gotta be great for the cholesterol. Routine vigorous exercise cures all.

akonk
akonk

i love this! excited to read more every monday

Bsuqb12
Bsuqb12

great article!  look forward to hearing about the journey.

Meghan Eyerman
Meghan Eyerman

Oh those breakfasts sound delicious - I need something to spice up my '3 egg white omelet with turkey'that I eat every morning

Lori Midson
Lori Midson

God knows I need to, but my budget doesn't allow for a personal trainer/fitness expert. Alas. But Laura looks amazing, and I think Jamie knows what he's talking about.

Jamie Atlas
Jamie Atlas

Lbortolotto, I thought the same thing when Laura approached me about doing this blog!  If these posts make just one person believe that there's a chance they can lose weight, get healthier and still enjoy some of the finer things in life (just as Laura has been doing), then it's all worth it - don't you agree?

Jamie Atlas
Jamie Atlas

GFTW - Routine vigorous exercise sure does do a whole bunch - the major challenge society has today (esp. in the good ol' USA) is that we've discovered all sorts of meals that can negate those benefits (at least from a fat loss perspective).

On the cholesterol side of things, I gave Laura the option of egg whites if cholesterol was something she was concerned about, but if you give it a bit of a google search-a-roonie, I think you'll find that the research-based evidence around cholesterol doesn't really indicate eggs to be the bad guy we once thought it to be. A few of my clients are living proof of this  - the most recent client has been eating 3 eggs a day and actually dropped 50 pts off her cholesterol in 3 months.  If it's still a concern, then just eat 3 egg whites..  Not worried about that, are you?  It's the blood sugar leveling properties of the protein in the egg whites that I'm really after anyway.

Lara
Lara

Right on Laura!

Jamie Atlas
Jamie Atlas

That brekky sounds real tasty Meg!  Unless you're really going for a complete ketosis (carb free) approach, I'd think adding a small bowl of kidney beans or throwing a few white beans or black beans in the pan while it's all cooking up would help your body keep the blood sugar in the best range for a fat-loss friendly environment :)  Just my 2 cents! :)

Jamie Atlas
Jamie Atlas

Hey Lori!  Thansk for the kind words.  GFTW, I gotta tell you I agree there are way too many diet fads out there.  The tricky thing about fads is that they all have some truth and some false to them, which means they rarely stick. 

What I love about what we've been able to do with Laura and her food and exercise (and her life) is be able to give her her cake and let her eat it too - so to speak (she has worked hard and had to be disciplined, don't get me wrong here). 

To me, most of the diet fads fade out because they're based on a short term result with restrictive foods - eg diets that only let you eat one food - like grapefruits).  We haven't even started to get into the details of the food plan and how it works GFTW, so bear with me here - hold off on making a judgment on this until you've got all the information in front of you and I promise you'll be seeing stuff that helps you realize that this is more than just a fad.

Cheers!

Jamie AtlasBonza Bodies

GFTW
GFTW

It really seems like yet another in a long line of diet fads. The basics of weight loss really are quite simple.

GFTW
GFTW

Sounds like another fad. What are your qualifications and education?

Regular exercise and watching calories works for me. Actually, the former even trumps the latter.

Ghana Jules
Ghana Jules

Trust me...Jamie Atlas is not a proponent of the quick fix. But he does push you...gets you to think about what going in your mouth...never fails to challenge or make you laugh...all the while getting you to a better place...much farther along than you thought possible. Jamie has made me believe I can get there...even if I keep taking myself back to the starting line...just keeps reminding me to never, ever give up.

GFTW
GFTW

Oh I agree! Weight loss and staying fit is really simple, but it's not easy! And it's a never-ending job. Too many people are looking for a quick fix.

Jamie Atlas
Jamie Atlas

One more thing GFTW -  while I'm not sure what your perspectrive is on how weight loss should be facilitated, I've found that the application and integration of the optimal habits and lifestyle changes can be where the challenge really lies - it's not in the knowing what you should be doing, but in the taking action on that knowledge .  We've never had more knowledge out there, yet never been so overweight.  Don't you agree?  

GFTW
GFTW

"strutting out for a night on the town in a hot get-up"

Okay, some photos are clearly in order!! :)

Good for you, seriously! I know what you're saying. I'm not advocating tediously counting calories but just be aware of how many are in things (tough in many restaurants) and how many you need every day. And don't worry about blowing it out once in a while. But being a professional eater has got to be tough!

Laura Shunk
Laura Shunk

Oh, you know, all of those things have dropped (though, to be honest, not a one was high to begin with) as has my body fat percentage and weight (significantly). I can't specify the 5K time because the only time you'll find me running is if I'm being chased (that's how much I hate it), but I have found an appreciation for other physical activities that I never thought I'd enjoy (especially since I'm now good enough at them to compete -- but more on that later).

That said, my strongest measurement? My gut is gone. My love handles have melted. I can wear clothes I haven't touched since high school (and if they weren't horrendously out of fashion, I would). And more than that, I have the energy to kick ass at my day, whether it's strutting out for a night on the town in a hot get-up or participating in some silly recreational activity that most people move to this state for. My goal was to get there without making a single part of my lifestyle feel unsustainable, and that's what I've done (Sustainability, by the way, is why straight, simple calorie counting doesn't work for me -- besides the fact that the practice conflicts with my personal views on what constitutes healthy eating, I'm also simply not going to journal input in, input out forever and ever and ever).

In short I've never FELT better -- from a health standpoint and about myself -- and I've never been more sure that I can keep it up.

Maybe I'm vain, but that's a way better measurement to me than any number.

GFTW
GFTW

What metrics are you using for "this good of shape"? What's your resting HR, BP, cholesterol levels, time to run a 5K, ...?

Laura Shunk
Laura Shunk

Thanks for your comments-- more power to you if that works for you.

Call this plan whatever you want, but I've never been in this good of shape. Period. I'm merely writing about what I did to achieve that -- if you've already got a system, then by all means, don't follow the one I'm outlining here.

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