My (Reluctant) Fitness Makeover

Life was good! Nachos for lunch. Cocktails before dinner. Spinach dip at midnight. Exercise, never. Here's how my day of reckoning arrived—and a workout-phobe became a new woman.

by Judith Newman
judith newman picture
Photograph: Brian Finke

Here are the facts about me. I am 49 and had kids at 40. (Twins—better living through chemistry.) I am chronically sleep deprived. I never exercise. I am five foot eight and have always been 20 to 25 pounds overweight. Never mind what that number on the scale is; I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. But I’ve been a size 12, fluctuating to a 14 or even 16, my entire life.

Here’s the truth: I never really minded. Having my particular father helped. My skinny father was a chubby chaser; my mother was always fat, and he liked it that way. And you know that when it comes to body image, fathers matter. I was doted on and admired, and I never grew up with the sense that I’d be more appealing if I dropped a few. Undoubtedly there were plenty of men to whom I was invisible. But the world’s a big place; I found the ones who accepted, and perhaps even preferred, me the way I was.

But last February my father died, and with him the sense that being pudgy was fine. Maybe the problem was that I didn’t feel great. My blood pressure was high (140/90); my LDL cholesterol, while not terrible, was about 130, on the border of problematic. My blood sugar hovered around 105—a little high. Also, I drank too much, or too much for me: maybe 20 glasses of wine or cocktails a week. Nothing that should have sent me scurrying to AA. But the day I realized that my local Manhattan watering hole, Temple Bar, knew me by name—and knew to put a mojito in front of me before I said a word—was the day I began to feel like Norm from Cheers.

So I decided to give health a chance.

I didn’t have grandiose, Biggest Loser dreams. I figured if I could drop two dress sizes in five months and maybe improve a few of those sugar and blood pressure markers, I’d be ahead of the game. I was going to work out; I was going to . . . I refuse to use the word diet, but let’s say stop eating spinach dip and chips at midnight. And beyond actually going to the gym, I would find new ways to move. For five months, I’d make myself a veritable swag bag of self-improvement—with a big assist from some helpers More lined up to work with me gratis, so I could see what was possible when money was no object. Here’s a record of my adventure.

June 1   

Meeting with trainer at the Equinox gym in SoHo tomorrow. Eating M&M’s like I’m facing the guillotine.

June 2

My new trainer is Clark Kent. He has another name, Zachary Yurcisin, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s Clark. He’s six foot three, conventionally handsome, with a long, lean physique, a square jaw and a cape. OK, not really, but the cape is implied.

Clark knows exactly how much of a couch potato I’ve been. His goal is not only to help me slim and tone but also to increase my flexibility and mobility. I have lousy posture. I am stiff. So I will work with the Superhero for one hour, two or three times a week, an expensive arrangement made possible by Equinox, which kicked in a free six-month membership plus 50 Clark sessions.

Each time we’ll follow a similar pattern: mobility exercises (stretching), then aerobic conditioning and weight training. The last two activities are important, since everyone in my family dies of a stroke or heart attack related to high blood pressure. Besides my Zach time, I commit to doing cardio on my own at least once a week.

One problem. Not the soreness or fatigue, though there is that. But from the get-go, I am bored out of my mind by exercise. I have to think of a way to make this interesting.

June 5

When it comes to eating, the fewer choices I have to make, the better. My main problem is that I love to be ­hungry—and then I love to be a glutton. So I subsist on coffee until noon, then go out for a late business lunch, no holds barred. Or worse, I’ll eat nothing but a bagel all day, then have a glass of wine (or three) with my husband and nine-year-olds while they eat their dinners, then wait until everyone is asleep and Jon Stewart and I can dine together on a Cobb salad roughly the size of my head.

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