DOING SQUATS at the gym is a lot like dancing at a club, except I'm not drunk, there are full-length body mirrors, and the lights are up all the way. Basically, it's horrifying.
As I've spent the last three months in the quest of fitness glory—while keeping up my duties as the Mercury's food critic—I've found myself renaming the moves I do during my intense workout classes and personal training sessions at Southeast Portland's Studio X Fitness.
Squats = fat Beyoncé. Giant rubber band-assisted pull-ups = human slingshot. Running outside = public humiliation. Planking while hungover = barf.
I first undertook this grand experiment in personal responsibility in January for the Merc's Fitness Issue ["A Food Critic's Quest for Fitness Glory," Feature, Jan 20]. Owner Tim Irwin took me under his wing, and gave me 10 weeks of classes, training, and nutrition counseling—partly because I think he also needed a challenge. Why else would he adopt a chubby 31-year-old professional eater who made whiskey and chicken wings the foundation of her food pyramid?
I'd put on about 25 pounds since I started reviewing restaurants in early 2014; a pace of weight gain that I couldn't sustain without being hoisted out of my bed with a crane in 10 years. And so it began. I went to three one-hour boot camp-style sessions a week, and logged my each and every calorie into an app that Irwin personally monitored.
Irwin, who just celebrated 12 years at Studio X, is good at what he does, mainly by being scary. Not in a yelling real loud way, but when you admit you ate a rib-eye the size of your face, you can expect a crack like, "Where's my whip?" followed by a particularly amped-up punishment workout. He literally loaded me onto a purple human-sized rubber band on a rack and made me do bouncy pull-ups (see: human slingshot). I've been forced to row more meters on dry land than most Viking crew members, all while this fit man crouches next to me, urging me to "push" and "keep it up." (If this is a preview of the ab workout childbearing involves, count me out.)
At the same time, it's been okay. Irwin loves Mucca Osteria and will definitely talk up his latest prix-fixe pasta adventure with wine pairings during our sessions. Don't get me started on how this makes me feel while I'm lunging my way into oblivion to pay for my culinary sins, but it's nice to know he can relate.
To that end, I've still been eating all the stuff I have to during my reviews while still losing weight. I've had to seriously scale back my drinking habits (a bottle of Pinot Noir is more than 600 calories!? UGHHHHH), and I've cut back big time on indulgent non-work-related meals. I haven't had a giant chocolate chip cookie in several months. BUT during the same period, I reviewed two fried chicken places, an Asian-barbecue fusion food cart, two brunch places, Pizza Jerk, AND ate at every sushi track in town.
And the stats are in my favor. Between January 13 and April 1, I lost 5.25 inches from my hips, three inches from my waist, two inches from my thighs, and 3.25 inches off my chest. I'm back in jeans I last saw two years ago.
When I started, I could do zero push-ups—even on my knees. Now, I'm up to 11. I've gone from doing 90 ball squats in two minutes to 118. Trainer Amy Truitt stopped me after class to say she's been excited to watch me go from a whimpering pile of bright red mush during her classes (my words, not hers), to someone who is "killing it" (her words, not mine).
Here's the kicker: I'm still doing it. I'm still hauling my wobbly bits over to Studio X at least twice a week. I'm still logging my stupid food in that stupid app. Because I feel great. There's a certain joy in being able to hold my own weight on one arm and outsprint the girl next to me. I've been frustrated that my muffin top hasn't melted away instantly, but I'm realizing that's a reflection of today's bullshit juice-and-bone-broth fasts and unsustainable Half30 or whatevers. How can I expect to lose 25 pounds in two months—and keep it off—when I gained that same amount of weight in two years?
Unless you're Gwyneth, you're not gonna subsist on blended beet root and never again consume Skittles for the rest of your sad, deprived life. And it's a lot easier to swing back the pendulum in the opposite direction once you finally crack.
Not to say that won't happen if I go back to my old decadent ways. And I'm a grownup: Nothing can stop me from doing that except myself. But something I was told at the start of all this was to consider hedonism in moderation. Turns out, there's something to that.