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A food critic creates a sustainable workout routine

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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 part ten of this series:

Ow, every single part of my body hurts -- even my eyelashes, I think.

I wish I could distill and bottle this feeling so that next time I'm tempted to fall off the workout wagon -- and believe me, there will be a next time -- I can just get a hit of this pain and reverse right back toward the straight and narrow.

I spent the holiday season deluding myself into thinking I hadn't fallen so far off the wagon as to be left to die of dysentery by my traveling party (that was an Oregon Trail reference... I went there), even though I spent more than one night cramming my face full of all sorts of seasonal and unseasonal treats paired with all kinds of booze. In the moment, I'd think, "It'd be rude to the host not to try her cookies...and fudge...and caramel corn...and homemade marshmallows...and festive Christmas punch" or "The calories from these Hershey's Kisses practically don't even count because I'm only eating one at a time." Making matters worse, because the month of December is a veritable shitshow of scheduling, I didn't even mitigate my activities with workouts, convincing myself I was too busy even for a twenty-minute re-feed exercise.

When Jamie Atlas heard about my antics -- and insistence that I would get back in gear once New Year's Resolution season rolled back around -- he asked, instead, that I make a St. Patrick's Day resolution. Because I'd rather not reverse all the progress I've made since late last spring, I agreed. And come January 2, give or take a couple of travel days, I put myself back on the food plan.

But to really succeed, I knew I'd have to get my butt back into spandex and sweat out my food-related sins.

Most fitness experts -- including Jamie -- say food is most of the battle. If you can get your eating in check, then you're most of the way toward a shiny, happy lifestyle with flat abs and clothes that fit. That may be true, but for me, exercise is way more important, and that's not just because it allows me to cheat a little on the whole protein-and-vegetable regimen to eat out for my job.

I've mentioned before that the re-feed workout, a burst of activity I do before chowing down on a meal, is a key part of my success -- and that's mostly for the mentality that comes with it. If I don't cheat before I re-feed workout, then I usually spend most of my day sticking with the food plan. Doing it that way also makes it routine-forming: Because I eat out at least four times a week, I also work out at least four times a week. And because I'm working out four times a week, I'm consequently more conscious of my fitness level. Bam. See how that happened? As effective as the re-feed workout is, though, I'd be lying if I said that was all the physical activity I did to shave off my gut last year. But because I knew how important working out was for my mental game, I knew I needed to find something that fit my lifestyle so that I could make it a real, effective routine.

Here's what I knew about my workout style:

Fact: I get bored easily when I'm physically exerting in a monotonous fashion. I'd rather speak publicly in a bikini, fat rolls or no, than jog on a treadmill for ten minutes. I can't bring myself to do three sets of anything, especially when it's repetitive movements holding weights. And yoga? Kill me after sun salutation A.

Varying workouts is beneficial, anyway, because as your body adjusts to movements, it becomes more efficient at doing those movements -- which means you have to run, for instance, longer and longer and longer just to burn the same number of calories. No thank you.

Fact: I will enjoy a leisurely paced activity if left to my own devices, but toss me in a room full of people, and I'll freakin' kill someone to be the best one there. I'm not sure where competition-induced insanity comes from, but I knew if I could harness it during workouts, I'd do a lot more than if I just solo-jogged down some lame scenic path or worked out halfheartedly to, oh, a P90-X video (which I tried one day only to get distracted half way through, abandoning the endeavor entirely) or, um, worked out by myself with a personal trainer. Even Jamie Atlas, with all of his tactics, couldn't push me as far in a one-on-one session as he could if a friend joined me. Because suddenly, my psychotic need to one-up that friend would push me to perform feats of strength I didn't even know I was capable of.

Fact: I do not have time to work out for more than an hour a day. Period. Sometimes even that is a stretch.

So what worked for me? Boot camp. Specifically, Jamie's Bonza Bodies boot camp. Full-body, not-boring workout + group competition + 45-minute time slot. Done. After forcing myself to overcome the initial pain associated with raising my heart rate again, this is something I can do forever.

And that's the lesson here. Jamie's boot camp might be your thing, and that's totally fine, because otherwise, I will totally try to crush you if we're ever in class together. But to make a balanced, fitness lifestyle work, I had to be honest with myself about what I would -- and could -- do.

That makes goals -- and a St. Patrick's Day resolution -- a whole lot easier to attain.

Following the plan? The step-by-step:

- Step one: turning the corner with a high protein breakfast

- Step two: cutting the trash

- Step three: getting a handle on the booze

- Step four: the short workout key

- Step five: eat more like a food critic

- Step six: surviving a multi-course feast plus a re-feed workout video

- Step seven: staying on the wagon for the long haul

- Step eight: avoiding diet food while losing weight

- Step nine: making a St. Patrick's Day resolution

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