…Another helpful tweak is to remember that BLTS (bites, licks tastes and sips) count! If you’re following a meal plan to lose weight, but mindlessly finish your child’s pizza crust or lick the knife after making a peanut butter sandwich, you can be adding hundreds of calories to your daily intake without realizing it. You know how this happens, you think you’re doing well only to get on the scale and see no difference! That’s what makes BLTS dangerous — the mindless, quickly forgotten calories that block your progress.
Asa part of my series about women in wellness, 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 kept 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, popular blog and nationally recognized personal brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was an attorney with home office and a mother, and in the whirlwind of my daily life, I had gradually gained weight. It didn’t really occur to me exactly how out of hand my weight gain had become until I had an embarrassing but life-changing “aha moment.” I decided to splurge on a full day of beauty at a day spa. The receptionist handed me the standard one-size-fits-all robe and I was horrified that I apparently wasn’t the one size it was supposed to fit! I slunk back to the front desk to ask if they had a larger robe. The receptionist only added to my mortification by snidely asking me to repeat the question several times. It was the most awkward and uncomfortable exchange that you could imagine. I returned to the dressing room area embarrassed and upset 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 began my journey to losing and keeping off nearly 100 pounds and 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 top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
One of my tips would involve a shift in how you think about health and wellness. For myself, I realized I couldn’t compare the inside of my weight issues against my perception of the outside of everyone else’s. Comparing just never helped me in a positive way. For example, I had to tune out popular mantras. While there are a lot of people who talk about balance or moderation, I realized that for my own situation moderation only worked for weight maintenance, not for actually losing weight. This meant I had to retrain myself to realize that I’m not depriving myself by passing up on every treat that crosses my path. While life certainly isn’t about never having a cupcake, it’s not about always having a cupcake either. I had to find what worked for me and what I could live with long term. Part of adjusting how you think about things is to frame your goals in terms of a lifestyle.
Another helpful tweak is to remember that BLTS (bites, licks tastes and sips) count! If you’re following a meal plan to lose weight, but mindlessly finish your child’s pizza crust or lick the knife after making a peanut butter sandwich, you can be adding hundreds of calories to your daily intake without realizing it. You know how this happens, you think you’re doing well only to get on the scale and see no difference! That’s what makes BLTS dangerous — the mindless, quickly forgotten calories that block your progress.
In terms of working out, I found that making my workouts like brushing my teeth, something I just do as part of my routine, was very helpful. Workouts are non-negotiable in my daily life. Everyone loves to think they’re too busy to work out, but the simple truth is, “You’re no busier than a fit person.” I tell myself during my most challenging days that my workout will literally give me the strength and energy to handle what life is going to throw in my path that day. Also, tying back a little to the shift-your-thinking tweak I mentioned earlier, tell yourself, “You don’t HAVE to work out, you GET to work out!” Moving your body is a gift.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I think the most surreal experiences for me have been not only getting to meet some of my fitness inspirations but developing meaningful connections with them. When I first began my weight loss journey, I was doing home workout DVDs with Gilad Janklowicz, Cathe Friedrich, and Jillian Michaels. Years later, I was featured as a success story on the Bodies in Motion website and was eventually invited to meet Gilad in person at a fitness convention in New York City! Since that time, I did an interview with Gilad for my blog and we have developed a great friendship and I have such respect for the work he does. I was invited by Gilad to return to New York and we did some fun, inspirational videos and photos in Central Park.
I had written to General Hospital actor Steve Burton when he launched his nutrition company, Burton Nutrition, about doing an interview for my blog. When we got together for the interview, I discovered how similar our philosophies were on living a healthy lifestyle. We have kept in touch, and I’ve met up with him during his Boston visits ever since.
I never would have envisioned when I first started my journey to lose a hundred pounds that I would get to have these surreal kinds of opportunities to develop a real connection with fitness personalities that I admired so much.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first began my weight loss journey in earnest, I was almost overly focused on calories over nutrition. I would eat diet gelatin, drink diet sodas, put artificial sweeteners in my coffee and would buy “zero calorie” buttery sprays to put on my veggies and air popped popcorn. I gradually learned how important it is to your body to eat natural and healthful foods. I began focusing on shopping the outside aisles of the supermarkets as that tends to be where the less processed foods are. I also learned that those zero calorie buttery sprays have nine-hundred calories in a bottle and 90 grams of fat! If you follow the ridiculously small portion sizes, then a single spray is less than 1 calorie, which is how they get to label a 900-calorie bottle as “zero calories.” I’ve come to appreciate how eating healthy and nutritious food makes me feel. Calories are necessary to fuel your body, build lean muscle mass and give you energy and to view them as the enemy is a classic blunder!
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I openly share my story in the hopes that by reaching such a wide audience that my success encourages and inspires others who may be struggling. I take the time to personally write back to every private message I receive and am humbled by the incredibly personal stories people share with me. I freely share what worked for me and offer encouragement, tips and support. The weight loss industry is full of all kinds of false promises and quick weight loss schemes. They prey on people’s struggles and insecurities. I’m not selling anything. I use my platform to show that real, sustainable weight loss is possible. I use my experiences to encourage people to find what works for them, to dispel the notions that either nothing will work or that there’s some illusive secret to weight loss. You don’t need any special food, workout, or pill to lose weight.
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 get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
After I had begun my journey, I decided I wanted to hire a personal trainer. 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!” When Carla finally had an opening in her client list, I jumped at the chance to train with her. 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 pushed 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. She probably didn’t think twice about saying it, but the fact that she considered me to be like herself in any respect, remains 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 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.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
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. Remember 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.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
One of the things I wish I knew before I started was that it’s okay to take a hundred first steps. Despite the fact that I had tried virtually everything from Atkins to Weight Watchers to lose weight in the past, this didn’t have to dictate that I wouldn’t be successful this time. Having tried and failed many times before made me not have the faith in my resolve that I do now. It was easy to doubt that this time would be any different, but instead I kept trying. If you keep taking that first step, eventually, you’ll take more steps and then you’ll be on your own wellness journey.
Another one of the hardest things for me to learn and come to accept was that not everyone would be as supportive or encouraging as I would have suspected. Did you ever hear that expression, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future?” If you’re trying to develop healthier eating habits and a solid fitness routine, you may be surprised by how those closest to you respond. I’ve said it a hundred times, saboteurs are everywhere with their very tempting catchphrases: “Well start tomorrow;” “Just this once;” “You’re no fun anymore;” “Don’t deprive yourself,” etc. You’re going to need to be the captain of your own fitness ship. As captain, you should also be aware that your crew is not always going to be supportive or encouraging. You often won’t know whey they’re doing that, and that may be for a million reasons. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why. Besides the saboteurs, beware of what I call “funeral friends.” Funeral friends are there for you whenever things are bad in your life or you’re in trouble, but if you won an Academy Award or Nobel Peace Prize, they wouldn’t so much as click “like” on your Facebook status. Ultimately, you’re the only one who’ll make sure you succeed.
I also wish I knew that there is absolutely no correlation between how much money you spend and how much weight you lose. To be successful, you simply need to find what works for you, and what you can live with long term. I wasted a great deal of money on all kinds of weight loss programs, fads, and gizmos. There simply isn’t a magic bullet but there’s no shortage of people and companies willing to take your money to convince you otherwise. Some people get so disappointed when I tell them there’s no secret gadget that you can buy to lose weight but think about how fabulous it is that wellness is a gift you can give yourself regardless of your financial situation.
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
It is on my bucket list to meet Cathe Friedrich and she would absolutely be my choice to take to brunch! Cathe is a certified instructor and well-known fitness personality and released a vast library of amazing DVD workouts at Cathe.com. Not only was doing Cathe’s many DVD part of my fitness success, but in connecting with her on social media, she was such a source of support and encouragement. She has a vast following and they affectionately refer to themselves, as I do myself, as a “Cathlete!” Her workouts are always innovative and rival having a personal trainer in your home. Any Cathlete will vouch for the fact that it is almost as though she sees you through the TV screen! She is such a huge part of my weight loss success journey and has truly felt like a friend guiding me along the way.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I try to practice sustainable living in the areas that I can to help make a difference and set a good example for my sons to model as well. It can be as simple as avoiding single use plastic water bottles. As a fitness enthusiast, I’m constantly drinking water, and opt for my Beast Tumbler Insulated Stainless Steel Cup by Greens Steel and reusable metal straw. I also think being aware of sustainable fashion and supporting ethical and transparent brands are important steps towards dealing with this large global issue. I love purchasing dresses from La Fille Colette, a brand that really focuses on sustainability in fashion. Colette Chrétien, the brand’s founder and creative director explains that sustainability in fashion particularly is an important feminist issue. Colette explains that, “as the majority of garment workers are women, and face issues unique to women, like being fired for getting pregnant or pressured into getting abortions, suffer sexual assault by their superiors, and not having adequate access to child care, that by supporting ethical brands, we can shift the culture away from throw-away fast fashion, and push for fashion that betters the lives of the people making it.” I also work with Laura Christensen, owner of Thrift Me Beautiful in Marblehead, Massachusetts to help me reduce my fashion footprint for all kinds of looks without sacrificing style! Laura understands that, “thrifting can play a major role in leaving a smaller carbon footprint, lessens water and landfill waste as well as pollution from chemicals used in producing fast fashion.”
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Thank you for these fantastic insights!