Recognize that there are no short cuts. You truly can’t walk ten miles into the woods and expect to walk out in five. I learned to accept that I didn’t gain weight overnight. I had not been heavy growing up and that I gradually gained the “freshman 15” in college, more in law school, more after getting married and then even more after having children. Much as I wanted to lose the weight overnight, I came to terms with the fact that it would a gradual process to becoming literally half of myself.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlene Bazarian. Charlene is a Boston-area attorney who has become a nationally recognized weight loss and fitness success story who has been featured in Good Housekeeping Magazine, Oxygen Magazine, Pop Sugar Fitness, First For Women Magazine, Muscle and Strength, MSN, Yahoo, Reader’s Digest, The Sun, Daily Mail, and many other publications and is known for mixing a no nonsense style of fitness advice with humor. Charlene has managed to lose nearly 100 pounds and keep it off for years. In her quest to figure out what really works, she began to share her thoughts and experiences with others — a practice that eventually helped her create a substantial social media following and nationally-recognized personal brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path
At the time, I was working as an attorney out of my home office while raising my children, when I decided to take a break from my busy schedule, splurge, and treat myself to a full day of beauty at a day spa. I was horrified when I had to return to the front desk to ask if they had a larger robe, as the one size fits all robe didn’t fit me. The receptionist only added to my mortification by snidely asking me to repeat the question several times feigning that she didn’t understand what I was asking in an awkward and humiliating exchange that felt like it lasted a lifetime. I remember tearing up with rage and frustration as suddenly the denial of exactly how overweight I had managed to let myself become painfully crystal clear. That was my now somewhat famous “aha moment.” I returned to the changing area upset and embarrassed and vowed to myself that no matter what, I would never feel like this again. From that moment on, I began to learn everything I could about fitness and weight loss and started my journey to losing and keeping off nearly 100 pounds. Without realizing it at the time, this fat shaming moment not only changed the trajectory of my life but impacted countless others as well. I certainly never imagined that my ill-fated encounter at the spa would lead to my becoming a motivational weight loss writer and personality.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
One of the most difficult things about starting my journey to lose a hundred pounds, was that I had tried so many times before to lose weight and was always unsuccessful. Until that moment at the day spa, I really had tried virtually everything from Atkins to Weight Watchers and everything in between. Because I had tried so many other times to lose weight and get in shape, it was challenging for people to come to terms with my new “and this time I mean it” resolve. I was relentless in my determination. I was meticulous with my nutrition choices and made my workouts “like brushing my teeth” something I just wouldn’t think of not doing. Along the way, I learned that saboteurs lurk in the strangest places, and sometimes even those closest to you will not support you in the ways that you would hope and expect. I came to realize that not everyone on my boat was rowing and that if I wanted to get to my destination, I was going to need to be captain of my own ship. Much like the flight attendant will tell you to put your own oxygen mask before assisting smaller children, I realized that by caring for my own health, I could better assist the people I loved and cared for in my own life. This was true in caring for my children and during the most difficult time in my life as I cared for my father as he battled terminal lung cancer. I continue to tell myself that by working out, I’m literally giving myself the strength to handle what life throws in my path.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I channeled how I felt that day in the spa and began in earnest a journey to losing literally almost half of myself. The drive came from a combination of that embarrassing moment and a simple realization that I was no busier than a fit person. We all like to think that we’re busy but fit people are busy too. We all truly get the same twenty-four hours in a day and we make the time for what’s important to us. In the days that followed my encounter at the spa, I began a relentless mission to become a healthier and fitter person. I began to do all the things I could think of that fit people do. I found an amazing personal trainer, joined a gym, I subscribed to fitness magazines, purchased workout DVD’s, made a point to be more engaged with my fit-minded friends, and even signed up for a course to become a personal trainer myself. If you’ve ever listened to a Tony Robbins motivational speech, a common piece of advice is: “If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do, and you’ll achieve the same results.” I literally tried to mimic a fit person until I became one myself.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
If success came easy there really wouldn’t be any grit involved. Having tried and failed so many previous times to lose weight and get in shape, I believe that understanding that it was okay to take my hundredth first step was a necessary starting place. I embraced the fact that I was now relentless in my determination. This required an ability to disregard anything and anyone that didn’t support my goal. There were plenty of people along the way who tried to tell me that gaining weight as you got older was inevitable, or that it’s all genetics, or that I’d gain it all back as many studies seemed to suggest. I worked on incorporating tactics and strategies that would help me be successful. For me this meant checking menus online before heading out to eat at a restaurant so I could make better choices, setting a general rule that if I wanted to watch TV, I needed to be on a piece of cardio equipment, and learning to avoid some trigger foods that I simply couldn’t have a little of without over-indulging.
So, how are things going today? 🙂
My fitness and weight loss journey have created some surreal moments for me. I was able to meet my own fitness heroes, Jillian Michaels and Gilad Janklowicz. I was also able to do an interview with Emmy winning actor Steve Burton on his launching Burton Nutrition, a line of health and nutrition products. The attention and publicity my story have received have given me some great opportunities. In addition to writing for my blog, fbjfit.com, I also have been published by Women’s Fitness and LittleThings.com. In addition to being featured on some company websites like Luna Bar and Riceworks, I had such strong response to my reviews of FitVine Wine, a lower calories, lower sugar and sulfite wine, that they featured me in a commercial promo for them. I’m enjoying getting to do more reviews and having new opportunities to advance health and wellness.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
- Don’t judge the inside of your life against the outside of everyone else’s. When I had been struggling with trying to lose weight, I felt that everyone around me seemed to be thin and worse than thin, thin without trying. They would seem to eat salami and cheese sandwiches on white bread while I felt like I stared at a lettuce leaf on my plate. It all just seemed unfair. When I stopped trying to compare my circumstances to everyone else, I was better able to meet the challenges I faced head on.
- Recognize that there are no short cuts. You truly can’t walk ten miles into the woods and expect to walk out in five. I learned to accept that I didn’t gain weight overnight. I had not been heavy growing up and that I gradually gained the “freshman 15” in college, more in law school, more after getting married and then even more after having children. Much as I wanted to lose the weight overnight, I came to terms with the fact that it would a gradual process to becoming literally half of myself. There wasn’t going to be some magic pill or some fancy gizmo that would deliver on promises of losing weight without diet or exercise. It would be my day to day choices and actions that would ultimately get me out of the woods (and keep me there!)
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable for there is no finish line or touch down dance. I would read articles about how many of The Biggest Loser contestants would regain the weight they lost or hear stories from people who had success with one diet or another but had also regained the weight they lost. Whenever I previously had success losing some weight on one diet plan or another, I would get comfortable and then revert to my previous ways. I don’t consider my workouts or meals now as a means to an end, but rather my lifestyle now. There are people in my life now that never knew that I was ever heavy and don’t understand why I order food the way I do or why my workouts are non-negotiable, but I realize that “tomorrow” can easily turn into “never.”
- Adjust your mindset. You “get” to workout, not “have to” workout for example! Think of your decisions as choices and not punishments or rewards. You don’t “deserve” a decadent dessert, nor are you “depriving” yourself if you don’t have it. If you’re thinking of your daily actions as being a drudgery, it’ll certainly feel like it! When people tell me that they don’t like to exercise I hear “I don’t like to move.” I try to think that at that very moment there are people in hospitals and nursing homes that would give anything to be able to do just that!
- Break big goals into smaller steps. A lofty plan can seem overwhelming. Smaller, more manageable mini goals along your journey will help fuel your sense of accomplishment and progress. When I was losing weight, people loved to tell me, “Everything in moderation.” I found, for myself, that “moderation is for maintenance” but that if I focused accomplishing the smaller steps in the right direction, they added up in a big way!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
When I first met Carla Dunlap, a Ms. Olympia and body building competitor, to ask about hiring her as a personal trainer, I remember telling her that I was going to be her biggest success story. She was unmoved by my declarations and simply said, “Everyone says that.” I replied with, “That’s probably true, but I mean it!” After an opening to train with Carla became available, I jumped at the chance. This began one of the most important relationships of my life. Carla simultaneously became my no nonsense trainer who helped me develop a love for weight training that I never envisioned possible but also became a dear friend. Carla would push me in ways I never would have challenged myself on my own. She set an example of a healthy and fit lifestyle that you couldn’t help but want to emulate. After training with Carla and reaching my goal weight, I remember we were talking about fitness and working out and she said used the phrase, “people like us” referring to the two of us. It will remain one of the best and most treasured compliments I ever received. It was Carla’s suggestion that I should submit my “before and after” pictures to some publications as I had lived up to my word and done a remarkable transformation and lived up to my promise to be one of her star students. At first, I laughed off the idea, but did eventually send my story into a workout catalog and it was published. Later, I was contacted by Good Housekeeping Magazine that they wanted to do a story on my weight loss success journey. Once the article appeared in Good Housekeeping, several high school girlfriends reached out to me on Facebook to say that they too struggled with their weight over the years and asked for my advice. I created a Facebook page for what I thought would be a small group of my friends to talk about weight loss tips, advice and most importantly, accountability. I never envisioned that by so freely sharing my story, tips and advice, that my story would go on to be featured in countless magazines, sites and media outlets or that I would create a blog, give talks and begin writing health and fitness articles for other publications. None of this would have been possible without Carla’s support, encouragement, wealth of knowledge and dedication to her craft. It’s a debt of gratitude that I’ll never be able to repay but one that I do my best to pay forward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
There are plenty of people who have asked me, now that I’ve lost the weight, how on earth I continue to let my awful fat “before” pictures be so widely published. I use my fat shaming experience and my before and after pictures so freely in order to try to reach as many other people who are struggling to find their own health and weight loss success. I know that my story resonates with people and while I can’t go back in time to give my younger self advice that I wish I had known, I can help others with what I’ve learned along the way. I’ve heard extremely personal stories from people around the world that explained that something in my story spoke them and writing my blog and articles have become a labor of love. Nothing is more humbling than to hear from someone that something I said or wrote triggered the start of their “aha moment.”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I freely give my advice and tips to anyone who asks for my help. So many people who have contacted me say that there is so much information to take in and they don’t know where to start that I have started to create a visual workbook. There’s something about checking things off of a to do list or seeing your daily/weekly progress that can helps breed a passion for success. I found when I was losing weight that seeing progress fueled a desire to do better, achieve more, and to dream a bit bigger. I think having a tangible plan on how to have someone chart their own success story would be a great tool for someone just starting out. What I do now isn’t necessarily how I started out and that you don’t need to change everything all at once. You can take small, consistent steps to get yourself headed in the right direction and I feel that a workbook that includes prompts and places to journal progress would serve as map. Even for myself, when I look back, I don’t have a lot of “before” pictures as I avoided the camera when I was at my heaviest. I regret this fact now, as my before pictures serve as a reminder of how far I’ve come and what I’ve accomplished.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Run your own race. Constantly comparing yourself to other people isn’t going to impact or advance your own accomplishments. When I am faced with something that even remotely resembles envy, I try to channel it into motivation to improve something about myself or my own performance. I also think it’s important to stay open-minded. What I did to achieve fitness and weight loss success evolved over time. I remain open to trying and learning new things that may improve even those things that were already working. I talk to all kinds of people and have learned that inspiration and ideas can come from surprising sources.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Having had my weight loss journey stem from a fat shaming moment puts me in a strange position. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel the anger, frustration and embarrassment I felt that day at the spa, but I always wonder what would have happened if the receptionist sweetly handed me a larger robe. I firmly believe that body acceptance does not have to translate into complacency about fitness and health. If I could spark a movement, it would be to embrace movement itself! Don’t be a spectator in your own life. Your body is capable of amazing things and it’s your responsibility to take care of it. Self-care isn’t selfish, that being kind includes being kind to yourself and that kindness should include a dose of tough love when it comes to excuses you allow to get in the way of the life you want for yourself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s easy to be Santa Claus at Christmas. It’s easy to do the right thing when the spotlight is on you, but it’s the day to day things that tell you the measure of a person’s character.” As an attorney, a mother, and now as a weight loss and fitness ambassador of sorts, I try to bring an authenticity and positive energy to the world. I have three sons and when people comment on that they’re kind and well-mannered young men, I always respond, “that you may have a son, but you raise a gentleman.” The weight loss industry is full of all kinds of miracle products or programs and they all prey on the people who struggle with weight loss hope that there’s some secret that will get the job done without diet or exercise or in only minutes a day. Every day I receive pitches from companies willing to pay for me to use my influence or platforms to promote one product or another. I take the faith that my readers place on my opinions very seriously as your reputation and character is determined not by one grand event but by the choices and decisions you make every day.
How can our readers follow you on social media? You can follow me at @FBJFit on Instagram and Twitter, at FBJ Fit on Facebook and on my blog at fbjfit.com.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
I have sent the photos and it’s important that the photographs be credited to the photographer Elia Photography (except the one “before” photo which is just my own photo).