Interview with Charlotte Andersen, author of the The Great Fitness Experiment blog and book

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Interviews

Loves this cover! Yes, I am in the publishing industry, and yes, I do judge a book by its cover.

Interview with Charlotte Andersen, author of the The Great Fitness Experiment blog and book

Today it is my great (and guilty) pleasure to share with you the interview I had with the author of my favorite fitness blog and the book based on that blog, Charlotte of The Great Fitness Experiment! Seriously, I love this woman. I don’t know her personally, but I feel like I do between reading her blog, book, and getting to interview her. Basically, she’s awesome. She has the most real, down-to-earth, hey-this-is-me-and-this-what-I-think voice that’s addicting. She tells you straight-up about stuff without being all high-and-mighty, and is the kind of woman you wish you had sitting in the cubicle across from you.

Without going into too much detail, Charlotte started a blog that’s all about doing different fitness experiments and explaining the ins and outs, goods and bads, dos and don’ts of her actually doing each workout. It’s awesome. And hilarious. So of course, such a good idea was turned into a book! Charlotte graciously sent me a copy to read and review for my blog, AND agreed to let me talk to her about my readings after. What a woman J

Let’s start with the review. Please answer each of the following:

  • Do you like to read about fitness but get a little bogged down by all of the photographs, technical speak, meal plans, and awkward side-bar motivational word bubbles and tips?
  • Do you get sick of reading about the same workout plans, same moves, and same step-by-step guides that promise results only to realize that you already know how to do all of that and they didn’t get you results?
  • Do you get annoyed when fitness writers make it sound so easy, like all you have to do are these three moves, run for this long, and cook these meals in order to have your dream body?
  • Do you dislike not hearing the downsides to workouts or how and why certain workouts work better than others?
  • Do you ever think, “Hm, are these people who write and demonstrate in this book real people or athletically-inclined-people-like robots?”

If you answered yes to any or all of the above, then Charlotte’s book is for you! She’s got a little bit of everything without overloading you: workout tips, tricks, and how-tos; specific workout plans for every chapter/experiment; real-life quips about what life was like both in and out of the gym; the trials of sticking to a plan; the funnies and the failures accompanying each workout; and some technical hardcore speak, but she’s just too cool to make it sound boring or scary.

Charlotte’s book is broken into 12 chapters—one for each month of the year. The premise is that she finds specific workouts and does each plan for a month with her gym buddies. (“Meeting” her gym buddies totally makes me want gym buddies now, even though I’m not a big workout-with-people person. Hers just sound awesome and game for anything!) Charlotte breaks down the workout—where she found each, how to do them, and gets into some talk about food, soreness, her personal life outside of the gym, and the final results.

It’s a perfect mix of memoir, exploration, and nonfiction, and works because in her case, they’re all tied together. One of Charlotte’s running themes is the fact that she battled a string of eating disorders that aren’t your everyday anorexia and bulimia. This is where and why I liked the book. MY CONFESSION: I have been battling an eating disorder for six years myself, and Charlotte’s the first one to write about the kind that I have. Charlotte and I have both suffered from overexercise. Charlotte had it way worse than I did (I’m so sorry, Charlotte L), but it’s rough nonetheless. She talks about how she would do hours of exercise in the morning and fit in more (as much as possible really) throughout the day, often working out for 3-6 hours a day. That used to be me, too, and sometimes still is. People don’t realize that this is a serious kind of eating disorder and it needs to be brought to light. Charlotte’s book starts to do that, not only through her journeys, but also by touching on it in the chapter about Jillian Michaels and the Biggest Loser (see below for more). I could go on and on, but will save that rant for another day.

To conclude, if you’re looking for a light-hearted, funny (I genuinely laughed out loud several times while reading this), and real look at a range of different workouts, then you should read this book. I’m a huge fan and have been recommending it to my friends and family. (One of my sisters just finished it and liked it too!)

Get it, got it, good? Good. Now, on to the interview!

*Disclaimer from Charlotte: Her publisher rearranged the order of the chapters in the book right before publication. This took the chapters out of chronological order—she actually lived them October 2007-September 2008. This is important to know because the way the chapters are in the book now makes it look like she had a major backslide at the end when, in fact, she was getting better.

In Ch. 1 (Functional Fitness), was there a meal plan you stuck to? How many days a week did you work out? Were there ever any WOD (workout of the day) that you didn’t or couldn’t do? What were your favorite moves?

A: At that point in my life I was a vegetarian and I was still counting calories and macronutrients but as for a specific meal plan, no. I worked out 6 days a week. We never skipped a WOD but there were some moves – like “gorilla ups” (a plyo pull up where you slap your chest in the air) – that we just couldn’t do. While I enjoyed a lot of the moves, the thing that I loved the most was the creative way in which they were put together. If you’d have told me to do 200 burpees I would have whined and complained but if you put them into a “prison” workout and make it a competition I’m all over it!

Ch. 2 (Double Cardio), wow… I feel like I could’ve written this chapter! I’m an overexerciser and many of the things you discussed I feel or have felt. Thank you for being honest! So… What did you do/have you done to quiet your overexercising mind?

A: Oh girl, I could write a whole book on this one! First, I’m so sorry to hear that you suffer from this compulsion as well – it’s a miserable feeling. Second, I have done a lot of therapy. As I explained in the book, I had a health breakdown where my thyroid stopped functioning because of too much exercise and too little food, which infuriatingly caused me to gain 10 pounds. I lost my freaking mind. Seriously it was not pretty. My family encouraged me to get help soon after. I did both individual therapy and outpatient eating disorder therapy. The things that helped me the most were CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and ERP (exposure response prevention) because they taught me alternatives to exercise for dealing with all the bad emotions in my life. Any time I felt sad or anxious or afraid, instead of dealing with those feelings and recognizing where they were coming from, I’d just go for a run. The problem with compulsive over-exercise (and eating disorders/OCD in general) is that they don’t stay static. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse and at that point in my life I was definitely getting worse. I haven’t been in therapy in about two years although I still use the techniques they taught me. The things that help the most now are 1) to be accountable. My husband and Gym Buddies know exactly how much I exercise and they know I need to keep it to an hour a day. 2) to set limits. Now I am able to recognize my anxiety and realize that another workout may temporarily ameliorate it but in the long run will only make it worse. 3) to meditate/do yoga.

Ch. 3 (CrossFit) – All I could think about was, “Wow, how sore were you after those exercises!?” So, dish: How sore were you!? What was your favorite exercise? How hard was it to stay on the diet plan?

A: At first we were ridiculously sore every single day. We call it “toilet sore” meaning that you hurt so bad that you can’t even sit on the toilet – you have to fall those last few inches because you can’t hold yourself up. But our bodies acclimated pretty quickly. By far my fave exercise was the pull-ups because CrossFit is what finally got me strong enough to do one! It was such a rush! As for the diet – CrossFit doesn’t come with a specific diet plan although adherents are pretty evenly split between Zone proportion diets (40-30-30) and Paleo/Primal diets.

In Ch. 4 (Celeb Workout), did you have to Google the moves you mention? And how many days/week did you do these?

A: Yes! Figuring out what Tracey Anderson meant with all those moves was really tricky. Because I like to keep my Experiments cheap or free, I was determined to not buy her crazy expensive program but that meant I had to spend a lot of hours researching. As for frequency, Tracey recommends you do them every day… so we did. We wanted to poke our eyes out with scissors we were so bored by the end of the month! Counting to 100 for 2 hours a day sucks.

In Ch. 5 (Action Hero Workout), you talk about mediation. I’ve never tried it myself… what exactly did you do and for how long and how many times a week?

A: Meditation is one of the most powerful tools I’ve discovered through my Experiments. And the best part is that it’s free, anyone can do it and requires no equipment! There are lots of different types out there but since I was a newbie and not good at sitting still, I went with a guided meditation that I downloaded off of iTunes. Basically you just sit with your eyes closed and do what the voice tells you (hahah -that sounds like a cult!). The voice pretty much just tells you when to breathe and what to focus on. It takes practice but it’s so worth it!

I was so excited when you pointed out the obvious in Ch. 6 (Jillian Michaels)! Jillian is totally ripped, but her fitness/health/food approaches are a bit disordered themselves… Do you think that will ever be highlighted though? How would you like to see her tweak her approach?

A: I think there is so much that is disordered in the Biggest Loser machine, Jillian Michaels being one part of that. I don’t think anyone will call the franchise out in any meaningful way because it’s so popular and lucrative. Until Americans change their desire for a quick fix and their vilification of obesity, what she does will continue to look “normal.”

Ch. 7 (Primal Blueprint): Do you do Aikido still? Do you still talk to Mark Sisson? What kinds of reactions did you get when you “failed” this experiment? What were your feelings about those responses?

A: This is probably the most controversial chapter in the book. At the time I did take a lot of flack for quitting early – so much so that I repeated the Experiment a year later only to fail at it again. The Primal Blueprint works so very well for some people that they take it very personally when it doesn’t work for others. And I freely admit that I don’t think it was a flaw in the program, but rather a fault in myself. Really restrictive diets make me psycho. Period. Intuitive eating may not make me as healthy as the Primal folk but I have such peace with my food now that I wouldn’t trade that for anything – even six-pack abs. And yes, Mark and I still talk. We get along quite well – he was very supportive of me both during the Experiments and afterward when the book came out. I have nothing but great things to say about him – he is one of the smartest guys in the fitness world and I love his blog!

Okay, I’m totally curious, in Ch. 8 (Suspension Training), did you get any more nasty comments or signs from the management when you tried to go the TRX around the gym? 🙂

A: Oh yes. I still don’t think they’ve forgiven me for that one! Our workouts are generally quite the circus show but this one was even more so. We try and be really respectful of the rules and of people’s space but we still need to get our workout in. The really funny part is the Y now has about 8 TRXs installed… and they still won’t let us use any of them! They’re for personal training use only. So we still bring mine into the gym and hang it from the chin-up bar on occasion!

Ch. 9 (Kettlebells): Do you still use kettlebells? Do you prefer them to dumbbells? And on a different note… have you ever considered a tummy tuck? You talk about it, but don’t never really answer it.

A: We absolutely do use them – they are one of my favorite pieces of exercise equipment! They are very effective for training both cardio and strength and we use them in almost every Experiment in some aspect. As for a tummy tuck, no absolutely not. While there are things about my body I wish I could change I could never justify the expense and risk to my health from plastic surgery. My husband loves me just the way I am and my stomach looks flat in jeans so I call that good 🙂

So… did you ever get sick doing the Ch. 10 HIIT experiment? That Zoomer* looks so intense. My coworker and I may or may not be trying it soon!

A: DO IT! We do a HIIT workout twice a week, always. They are amazingly effective, albeit horribly painful in the moment. Even after 4 years of doing them, we still dread them every time. But we are always glad we’ve done them.

Vegan. It’s like this awesome/taboo word when it comes to training. In Ch. 11 you dive into veganism – what was the best part about going vegan? Do you have a favorite food or recipe you found? Also, your orthorexic diet sounds like the 80/10/10 Diet (a fruitarian/low-fat-raw-vegan diet) – have you ever heard or read about it? Thoughts? What was a typical eating day like for you on that “diet”?

A: Veganism is like its own religion! My favorite part was knowing that I was doing my best to not kill other living beings and reducing my ecological footprint. I still eat a lot of vegan foods and have tons of raw/vegan recipes that I use weekly. My current favorite is raw, vegan coconut balls made with shredded coconut, almond flour, agave or stevia and coconut oil. I add all kinds of things to them and they’ve never failed me! I also have a vegan recipe for peppermint patty bars that all my friends beg me to bring to every party (although they’re not in the least bit healthy!). I think the best thing I learned from being vegan was how to make my own chocolate – it’s super easy and I still do it as it’s cheaper and I can control the sugar content better than chocolate I buy in the stores. And no, I haven’t ever heard of the 80/10/10 diet although I do know a couple of fruitarians. A typical day of eating when I was orthorexic was very limited – a lot of salads that were mostly just lettuce, some fruits, nuts and at the beginning oatmeal although I later cut that out because it wasn’t perfectly gluten-free. It pains me to remember now how restricted my eating was. I had absolutely no joy in my food.

And last but not least, Ch. 12 was about karate. Do you still practice it?

A: I still do martial arts, most notably Muay Thai kickboxing but I stopped taking karate lessons when I was about 6 months pregnant with my daughter. I’d love to start back up again but the time is an issue. Due to my 1-hour-per-day-only exercise rule, it would require me to take out some of my Experiment workouts and I’m just having too much fun with those to give them up right now. Thankfully Sensei Don (since he’s married to Gym Buddy Megan) is still in my life so I still get a dose of his sage wisdom when I need it!

In theory, this is how one works:

    1. While straddling the treadmill, set it to level 12 (5:30-minute miles).
    2. Jump on and run like mad for 10 sec.
    3. Increase the incline to 5. Run for 10 sec.
    4. Increase the incline again to 10. Run for 10 sec.
    5. Drop down to 0 incline and level 6 (10-min. miles). Run for 10 sec.
    6. That’s one Zoomer. Repeat.

Charlotte, thank you again! It was such a pleasure reading your book and getting to “talk” with you about it. I will be spreading the word about your book and blog!

  1. charlotte says:

    Thank you sososososo much for reading my book and enjoying it! I loved reading your sweet review! It’s nice to know too that I’m not the only girl out there who struggles with overexercising – it seems like it’s the one eating disorder everyone wishes they had when in reality it is life-destroying. Thanks again for the interview & everything!!

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