Family Matters

Boot Camp, Part 1: An Exercise in No Pain, No Gain

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The words “boot camp” and “Bonnie” do not go together. I am one of the last people you’d ever envision willingly signing up for a 45-minute class, four days a week, that has as its goal exercising to the point of exhaustion.

See, I don’t really like to exercise. I love to hike, but I hate going to the gym and can only make it through a session on the elliptical trainer with the distraction of The New Yorker. I dislike sweating, but on Sunday, with one impulsive online click, I decided I dislike even more that too-tight feeling when I button my jeans.

Personal trainer and boot-camp leader Ian Weinberg lured me in with his “27 Day Flat Belly Formula” pitch. I’ve given birth three times and gained scarily more than the recommended 25 to 35 pounds with each pregnancy. I’d managed to lose (most of) it, but flat belly? Hardly.

It helped that Weinberg included a guilt-inducing postscript:

“P.S. Most people GAIN weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Start 2012 with some momentum in the health department.”

MORE: Fit Versus Fat: Which Matters More for Longevity?

It’s not inconceivable that I could morph into a hard body. Sure, there’s a generous helping of obesity genes on my dad’s side of the family, but my brother’s a triathlete. When I sent him the summary of the boot camp and its accompanying diet plan in a fit of pique — they expect me to swear off sugar and carbs for an entire month??? — he took no pity.

My email to my brother, earlier this week:

“I signed up for boot camp! Started today and the freak running it wants us to adhere to this attached diet, which he calls slow-carb. It’s supposed to be a high-protein only diet, plus veggies. No carbs, no fruit and apparently no dairy. What the hell am I supposed to eat?”

His response: “Aaaawwwww, poor sis……This is great. You will be totally ripped.”

Early Monday morning, class began. Turns out Weinberg’s got somewhat of an empire going on in Seattle, with ongoing masochistic classes in multiple locations. That morning, the only newcomers were another hapless female and me. But four other diehard fans were there. One told us she’d been coming since April — and she looked happy saying it.

Boot camp, I presume, can mean many things to many people. My class consists of six stations that change daily, featuring challenging abdominal exercises, plus cardio and Pilates. Stations might involve lunges with weights and push-ups using Bosu balls (impossibly difficult) and “mountain-climber” exercises on the floor with towels folded beneath sneakers to eliminate friction and make a tough workout even tougher. We go for 60 to 90 seconds at a time, stop, do push-ups or jumping jacks for a minute, then resume the circuit. For 45 minutes, it’s pretty relentless. The class ends with some excruciating ab work. After four days, my stomach muscles are so sore that I can’t sit up in bed without them protesting in pain. I assume that means the regimen’s working. Right?

MORE: Study: Women Who Exercise Every Day Are Less Depressed

A very limited diet is another component: whether or not it’s scientifically vetted to aid with fat loss is not something I delved into, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone swearing off rice, pasta, bread, cookies and fatty foods, plus anything sugary, could not end up considerably slimmer. But even foods I considered healthy, like oatmeal and brown rice, were verboten. Lean meats, legumes and veggies around the clock are a recipe for weight loss, explained trainer Ian, after I balked in an email, complaining, “Ian, this diet is crazy strict!”

His explanation: “The idea is to limit the amount of carbs and sugar, so that when you are working out, you get into the fat-burning zone a lot faster than normal…if you are looking to make a change in your body, you need to make some changes in your eating and working-out habits.”

The deprivation diet isn’t sustainable — or healthy — over the long haul, but I decided to give it a go for the month I’m enrolled in boot camp. Each week, I’ll update on my progress with the program. After all, what do I have to lose?

Hopefully, a lot.

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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