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"Go ahead, punch me in the stomach," Maria Menounos is saying to the crew on the cover shoot for FITNESS. Seriously, she's inviting anyone to sock her. Why? Because that's how she gets her great abs. "I learned that from my dad," she explains. "When someone punches you there, you tighten up."
On the job, Menounos is equally hard-hitting. She not only does a bang-up job as a journalist for Access Hollywood and NBC Nightly News, but she's an actor who seems entirely capable of doing her own stunts. She's that strong and agile. Menounos wasn't always this way; in fact, she once packed an extra 40 pounds. But before you roll your eyes, thinking, If I were a celebrity with personal chefs and trainers..., get this: She lost the weight long ago. "I did it on my own, when I was dirt-poor," she says. "And I've kept it off for nine years."
Looking back, she says her problem was overeating in college, when she would easily down five slices of pizza at a time. She woke up from her food coma after she realized she'd gone up to a size 14. "I decided enough was enough," she recalls. After several frustrating starts, she hit diet-plan pay dirt: cutting back slowly, pizza slice by pizza slice. "Depriving myself didn't work because, yeah, I'd resist a craving one night, but then it'd come back the next day and it'd be worse," she says.
Just by watching her intake, Menounos lost the first 20 pounds in about five months. The last 20 took nearly six more months and the addition of regular exercise. Her workout: a plan put together by a trainer for a grand total of $70. "I hired her for one session, and she wrote out for me a general circuit program of jump rope, steps, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges," says Menounos, who also put in up to 45 minutes four times a week on the elliptical. "In fact, I still have the piece of paper in case I ever regain the weight."
That's not likely, given how committed Menounos is to getting in her exercise even when she's on the road -- which, in her line of work, is most of the time. Recently, she took up Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art. "I started it last year when I was preparing to go to Iraq. I wanted to be able to defend myself if I needed to, God forbid," explains Menounos. "But what I found was that it's the best overall workout I've ever experienced. It's cardio. It's strength. It's reflexes. It's everything."
Additionally, she runs on the treadmill, plays basketball with the Access Hollywood gang, works out with a trainer when she's home, and does squats when she's on the phone. "I squeeze things in every which way I can," she says.
Adjusting her diet to her hectic life is also an improvisational act. "I eat a lot of chicken and tuna wraps, which are pretty quick to prepare. But when I have no time, I'll grab a slice of pizza," Menounos says, her ability to wolf that down already established. "If I indulge, though, I'll balance things out by switching to salad and fruit for the next meal." On her watch, those extra pounds don't have a fighting chance.
"A bowl of raisin bran, Grape-Nuts, and soy milk. I need to fill up because being in TV, where things pop up all the time, I often don't know when I'll get to eat again."Her Stress Relief
"Driving in my car with the music blasting. If you're ever in L.A. and see some girl singing Greek music in a convertible, it's probably me!"Her Home Gym
"A stability ball, Bowflex Ultimate and Xtreme machines, a heavy bag, weights, a treadmill, and an elliptical. But honestly, if I have only 20 minutes, I'd rather just take my dogs for a walk."Her Krav Maga Workout
"I practice on my own for exercise and meet with my trainer, Jarrett Arthur, to use the techniques in self-defense."
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2008.