The original plan was for me to take my shirt off. I know, you’re all drooling on to your keyboards at the thought, but settle down! I needed a goal, something to motivate me to get into shape. This was in February. I rejoined my old L.A. gym, Crunch, which makes absolutely no sense because it’s really far from where I live in Atwater Village; only, I really like that gym and when I was a member, I went regularly. I had friends there. So I rejoined and ever since February, I’ve been going four days a week. That’s almost six months of regular gym-going and if I had to take my shirt off now on my blog, I’d be a lot less freaked out than I would have been six months ago (OK, maybe I’ll show you my biceps).
The question for me, though, was never really a question of exercise. We all know that exercise is good for us; there’s not much to think about. You go, you do it, you look better, you feel better, etc. The harder question was a question of diet: how do I change what I eat to maximize my efforts? If I wanted to see changes (and I did want to see changes) what did I have to do?
The breakthrough moment came in a conversation with my friend Brent. I was talking about healthy eating, about wanting to look better by eating healthy foods, and he pointed out that there’s not necessarily a correlation between food that makes you healthy and food that makes you hot.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” he said, “you could eat a pile of grilled chicken breasts from McDonald’s and protein shakes filled with protein powders and get really hot, but you wouldn’t necessarily be healthy.”
Somehow that simple sentiment changed my entire way of thinking about food. Food that made you healthy didn’t necessarily make you hot*; and food that made you hot, didn’t necessarily make you healthy. And what about happy? (* I think if I list the foods here that make you healthy that don’t make you hot, you’ll all get stormy in the comments; but, for example, eating a lot of whole wheat spaghetti might make you healthy, but it doesn’t necessarily make you hot.)
That’s when I created a Venn Diagram in my head. If I were more talented at graphics, I’d embed one here, but you don’t need me to do that: the gist is that there are three categories of food in my life, right now. Food That Makes Me Happy, Food That Makes Me Healthy, and Food That Makes Me Hot. My mission is to find a balance between all three categories throughout the week.
So, for example, on Mondays I eat a salad for lunch (most often the chopped salad with chicken at Pitfire pizza with some extra dressing on the side) and, for dinner, some kind of protein with some kind of vegetable: usually chicken with whatever I have from my CSA. (Hence all the chicken breast with this and that posts.)
I often blur the categories; so the chicken breast dinners aren’t strictly healthy or hot-making, they’re also happiness-inducing because I make a sauce with a little butter and a little acid. But, generally-speaking, they’re hotness-focused.
And that’s the general idea as we move deeper into the week: lunches tend to be healthier things (sushi, salads, the occasional turkey sandwich), dinners tend to be protein focused. It’s important to note how the gym-going informs the diet: if I spend an hour running like crazy on a treadmill, burning 500 calories, I’m not going to waste all that effort gorging on a pizza for dinner. If I hadn’t done the exercise, however, I couldn’t imagine denying myself the pizza. So it’s an important loop.
Come the weekend, though, all bets are off. I eat whatever I want and have no regrets. I’ve earned it. Pasta, of course, is a must. So is dessert.
The key to all this, it turns out, is balance. The ideal diet is one that hovers somewhere in the middle of that Venn diagram: it’s possible to find food that makes you happy, healthy, and hot. It’s dangerous to spend too much time in any one category. For example, for a while after my conversation with Brent, I would go to the smoothie place below my gym (BodyBuilders) and drink one of their awful protein-powder packed smoothies (the BodyFuel) which was so cleverly masked with pineapple juice and banana, I could easily forget that I was downing a bunch of chemicals to put on muscle mass.
At a certain point, I said to myself, “Why are you drinking this s**t? It’s totally not worth it!” So I stopped. And in doing so, I realized that my original goal was the wrong goal. Taking my shirt off on the blog would be all about the image, not about the substance behind the image. Who cares if you’re hot if you’re not happy? Or healthy? The goal is to be all three things at once and that’s what I’ve been striving to do.
OK, now it’s time to show off my biceps.