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How Food Network's Amanda Freitag Got Fit

Food Network personality Amanda Freitag, 39, grew up with big kitchen ambitions and an even bigger appetite. FITNESS helped her put her health back on the front burner.

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Amanda Freitag at the gym
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Amanda Freitag's Fitness Goals

I was destined to be chubby. My mom sent me to school with seven-course lunches -- sandwich, soup, apple, Fruit Roll-Ups, peanut butter–filled crackers, Doritos, Twinkies -- that were so hefty I carried them in a grocery bag instead of a small brown paper sack. Later, in culinary school, there was only one golden rule: Make it delicious. So I became an ace at creamy sauces and buttery cuisine without ever considering calories for a single second. I've spent the past 20 years working 12-hour shifts as a chef in some of New York City's best restaurants but lived off of hurried staff meals before the dinner rush and two heaping bowls of pasta -- made with butter, Parmesan, garlic, and chili flakes -- past midnight when I got home. Now as a judge on the Food Network's Chopped, I'm actually paid to eat! But lately I've been working on opening my own restaurant, and I've given myself until then to get my body in gear. That's where FITNESS came in.

My Moment of Success
It's amazing how I could stand for 10 to 12 hours cooking but couldn't hold a plank position for five seconds when I first hit the gym. Two and a half months later, by doing four workouts a week and finally putting the brakes on all that butter, I've dropped 11 pounds and seven inches. I'm also rethinking the menu of my new restaurant: More protein and veggies; hold the Hollandaise.

Read on for tips from Amanda and her team of experts to meet your own fitness goals.

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Measure Your Steps and Reps

Aside from walking to work, I was doing almost zero exercise. I feared gyms. My trainer, Amanda, started me off with baby steps: 30-second sets of strength moves, like shoulder presses with 7.5-pound dumbbells, and 15 minutes on the stationary bike. Eventually I did each exercise until failure -- that is, until I could do it no longer. Every time I eked out an extra rep or minute, it motivated me to push on.

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Excuse-Proof Your Workout

Amanda had me make this list of exercises that require no equipment, so I wouldn't skip my routine because of travel or time crunches.

Bridge: Lie on back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Lift hips up so that your body forms a straight line between shoulders and knees. Lower and repeat.

Burpee: Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, arms by sides. Lower into a squat and place palms on floor in front of feet. Jump feet back into full push-up position. Jump feet toward hands and then jump up immediately, extending arms overhead. Repeat.

Three-legged plank: Begin on floor in full push-up position (wrists below shoulders, arms extended, and toes tucked under). Lift right arm forward, hold for a count of three and return hand to floor. Repeat with left arm, then lift right leg and then left leg.

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Chop! Chop!

Ironically, the key to eating right was to set up my home kitchen like a restaurant. My dietitian, Lisa, suggested I wash and cut vegetables and prepare complex carbohydrates, like quinoa and brown rice, and store them in containers. Now I can steam broccoli, warm a serving of rice, and grill salmon for dinner in less than 10 minutes.

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Seek Alternative Energy

Before I grab a snack for an energy boost, Lisa taught me to check mentally whether I'm stressed, low on sleep, or thirsty. When I do need a nibble, I go for one of these complex carbs that Lisa suggested, which have less than 200 calories.

  • 1 cup dry Kashi GoLean cereal
  • Three crackers (like GG Scandinavian Bran Crispbread) with two Laughing Cow Light cheese wedges
  • A Gnu Foods Flavor & Fiber bar
  • A small banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

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Count to Three

Now when I do multicourse tastings on TV or test new restaurants, I follow Lisa's three-bite rule for anything that's not a vegetable. Because the first and the last bites are always the most satisfying, I don't miss overdoing it on all those bites in between.

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Find Your Splurge Protector

Instead of starving myself prior to sampling a restaurant or taping Chopped, I make sure to have a Greek yogurt with fruit an hour or two beforehand.

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Watch Your Portions

"Use your BlackBerry or iPhone as a guide to estimating the proper serving of meat; it's just the right size," says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, of Nutrition Energy in New York City. "At a restaurant, have the rest boxed up for later."

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Match Machines to Your Level

"If you're new to exercise, as Amanda was, begin with nonimpact cardio on the stationary bike and then move to low-impact machines, such as the stairclimber," says Amanda Obregon, a personal trainer for David Barton Gym in New York City.

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Amanda's Progress

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Weight 184 lbs 173 lbs
Height 5'9" 5'9"
Chest 38" 36"
Waist 31" 28"
Hips 43" 41"
Body Fat 33% 31%

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, January 2012.

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