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July 26, 2021

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New year, new you: Losing weight doesn’t have to be a drag

Shrine Alternative Fitness


Shrine Alternative Fitness

It’s January—time to atone for the sins of the season. If those turkey dinners, Christmas cookies and Halloween candies are haunting your waistline, you’re not alone. More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Las Vegas might be the land of eternal temptation, but with this guide you can overcome your instincts and have some fun in the process. We’ve scoured the town for the most delicious healthy eats and unique places to get fit; found strategies for navigating the minefield of a restaurant menu; compiled wellness tips; and gathered the true stories of real locals who have successfully lost weight using a variety of methods. Because in Las Vegas, it seems there are as many ways to be fit and lose weight as there are people. Now be strong, read on and prepare for a new you.

Justin Blum

Founder & CEO of Raw Fitness; lost 22 percent body fat and gained a new career

Blum's fitness tips

1. Just get started. You’re not going to get it right on the first shot—that’s OK. Just eat healthy (no processed food, keep sugars low) and work out (start with 10-15 minutes a day, and every week gradually add another five minutes.)

Be consistent. The days you don’t want to do it are the days you really have to do it. It takes much more work to remove body fat or increase cardio endurance than it does to get out of shape. A few weeks of slacking can take months to fix, so be consistent.

Sometimes the process of getting fit brings on a total life transformation. More than 10 years ago, Justin Blum drank too much, ate poorly and felt indifferent about his job in construction. The single father would hit the gym regularly, but it wasn’t enough to overcome his other poor habits.

“My health was terrible,” Blum says. “I was probably 40-45 pounds overweight, wearing a size 40 pants and XXL shirts. I had what they call ‘man boobs’—I was probably a good B cup.” He says that he was under the misconception that working out allowed him to overindulge in food and drink. “It doesn’t matter how much you work out—if you’re eating and drinking bad, your health is, most of time, in the toilet.”

Blum has a family history of heart disease—his father died of it when he was young. So he knew he had to do something to be there for his own young son. The turning point came when Blum connected with a personal trainer named Lisa Maloy, who gave him a nutrition plan and a more-focused exercise regimen in early 2009. “I sat down with my son and told him I was getting in shape for him first and then for me,” Blum recalls.

The results were so positive, he started training others in his free time. After losing his construction job to the Great Recession, Blum was free to focus on training full time. He wanted to have more impact than could be achieved with one-on-one personal training, so he began running boot camps. In 2011, he opened his first Raw Fitness gym with 16 clients, a couple tubs of dumbbells, four pieces of rubber gym flooring and a desk stashed in the corner.

Today, the gym is a Las Vegas-born success story with six local locations, about 5,000 members and nearly 50 employees. “We try to meld all aspects [of fitness] into one program—strength training, cardiovascular high-intensity interval training and one-on-one nutrition coaching,” Blum says. Maloy now works as Blum’s director of nutrition.

Even though owning a series of gyms makes it easier to exercise, Blum still makes a conscious effort to fit wellness into his schedule, working out six days a week and starting as early as 4:30 a.m. He says his diet is similar to the Mediterranean style of eating, with high protein and moderate fat and carbs. When traveling, he keeps it simple by doing intermittent fasting. It has all paid off for Blum: “My own personal health is amazing.”

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Jennifer and Clay Thelen

Jennifer and Clay Thelen

Weight loss method: vegan diet; married couple lost a combined 145 pounds

The Thelens' tips

1. Do your research and join online support groups. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

2. Go to the doctor before making any changes. Let them know your plans and have lab work done to prove that what you’re doing will help your body.

3. You don’t have to go 100 percent vegan in order to see positive benefits from diet improvement. Small, incremental changes can work.

4. Read food labels carefully, because animal products can be hidden in technical names, such as casein, a milk protein.

5. If/when you eat an animal product, that doesn’t mean you have to give up completely. Just move on and learn not to eat that ingredient again.

6. If you don’t want to go plant-based, at least stay away from processed foods. Buy grass-fed meat rather than grain-fed.

Jennifer and Clay Thelen didn’t switch to a plant-based diet in hopes of losing weight; that was just a happy side effect. The married couple went vegan together to improve their health: She suffered from heartburn and digestive problems; he wanted to escape a family history of heart disease.

“We both tried different diets and were never been able to keep weight off,” Jen says. “Since switching [to vegan], it’s just coming off. Every day the scale changes. It’s the easiest thing in life to see such great results.”

Since going vegan in August of 2017, Jen and Clay have lost 70 and 75 pounds, respectively. Her digestive issues have resolved and his vitals have normalized. For Jen, being able to drop her daily medications gave her the determination to stick with her new lifestyle. For his part, Clay enjoys a sharper memory and much more energy, in addition to a slimmer waistline.

When Clay went in for his yearly physical, his cholesterol had dropped 50 points and his doctor was amazed. “SW Medical classifies vegan as a condition and gives it a diagnosis code,” Clay says. “If anything, label me with that,” he jokes. It’s certainly superior to a label of cardiovascular disease.

The couple gradually switched to a fully plant-based diet, which made it easier to adapt to a new lifestyle. Initially Clay didn’t know how to plan a meal without meat. “I went ahead and started cooking; I learned that you don’t need to add meat or cheese or buy vegan cheese at the store.”

Instead of feeling deprived, they found that they enjoyed more foods than before. They’ve discovered that they love Brussels sprouts, for example. “We really don’t have any go-to foods,” Clay says. “From what I understand, your tongue is desensitized by foods when eating the standard American diet. When eliminating foods, something happens where you have more tastes. Our palate has actually expanded rather than condensed.”

Beryl Forst

Weight loss method: Weight Watchers; lost 55 pounds and has kept it off 30 years and counting

Forst's wellness tips

1. Your “why” fuels your success. You have to have a why; it’s fluid and it will change.

2. You have to have short-term, relevant goals because nothing fuels success more than success.

3. Find a good mindset. Happier people make better choices—a lot of it is psychological.

4. Weekly gatherings help with weight loss or maintenance. Beryl says the WW workshops help because, “It’s continuity, it’s accountability. It’s a safe area where people who have totally different lifestyles get together and become friends and we all help each other.”

Sometimes even healthy choices have unintended consequences. When Beryl Forst ditched cigarettes in 1979, the New Yorker didn’t expect to pick up some very stubborn pounds. After trying all sorts of diets and failing to achieve long-term results, she joined Weight Watchers in 1987.

As opposed to solitary diet plans, Weight Watchers—now known simply as WW to reflect its focus on wellness—offered accountability and social support through weekly workshops and weigh-ins. “Even though this program was different, I think you have to be ready, and I was ready,” Forst says.

Following the WW program, which uses a proprietary formula to give all foods a point value, Forst reached her goal weight in about a year.

When she moved to Las Vegas in 2005, one of the first things she did was find a WW meeting. “I’ve never missed and I still attend meetings.” The enthusiastic member was soon recruited to become a group leader. She’s now been inspiring others for 12 years. “It’s been the most wonderful experience of my life,” says Forst, who last year won a regional Leader of the Year award. “I wanted to pay it forward. I wanted to help other people. Their success is my success. Nothing makes me happier than someone who is successful.”

Forst has managed to keep the weight off through healthy living and the WW phone app. She doesn’t eliminate any particular food group, but she accumulates at least 10,000 steps a day, eats lots of turkey salads and monitors her sweet tooth.

An important aspect of WW is finding your “why,” and Forst is a master of motivation. “Your ‘why’ is not a finite thing, it has to constantly change,” she says. “[First] I was a young mom and wanted to keep up with my kids. I couldn’t go up a flight of steps without gasping for air. Now, my ‘why’ is because I have more energy than people half my age. Thank God I’m healthy, and I want to keep it that way.”

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Jose Santos

Jose Santos

Weight loss method: Heavyweight Ultra Runner; lost 175 pounds in three and a half years

Santos' tips

1. See a doctor before getting started.

2. Start by just walking 15 minutes a day. Slowly add time to your walk.

3. Let go of negativity and accept that you have work to do. Accept where you are, commit to making a change and move forward.

4. You’re not alone—know that people will be willing to help you because they see you want to improve.

5. Eat a diet of about 20 percent vegetables and 80 percent lean proteins. Keep portion sizes limited to the size of your hand.

6. Set multiple small goals to give yourself the strength and confidence to achieve larger goals.

Jose Santos used to believe he was just born big. “Even my family would say, ‘You’re just a big boy,’ or, ‘You’re big like that,’ ” says the 5-foot-11 man who peaked at 440 pounds. “Sometimes we believe our own lies.”

It took heartbreak for Santos to change his life. A brutal breakup lead him to take up running in 2012. “It was anger the first six months,” Santos recalls. He was motivated to prove his ex wrong. After the pangs of rejection subsided, he needed a new goal, so he signed up for a 5K and walked it. “That anger become more of a confidence in myself, and I’ve been running ever since.”

In addition to getting down to 287 pounds, Santos can now run a 5K in 48 minutes and a 10K in 92 minutes. In April, he competed in his first ultra run, a multi-day, 50-mile race. “Honestly, being a big guy, I never thought I’d love running as much as I do,” Santos says. “I get focus, clarity and a sense of zen. It helps me put my life in perspective.” He even started a website ( to chronicle his running adventures, charitable contributions and community outreach. And he found love again, too.

Of course, running at a heavy weight is not without its risks. (Before starting a new workout routine, you should always check in with your doctor, and this is doubly important if you’re significantly overweight.) Santos is always cautious about the potential wear and tear on his body. To ease knee pain, Santos has added variety to his workouts. In addition to running, he swims, cycles, rows, lifts weights and plays basketball. “When I bench press I feel kind of like a wimp, but that’s whole point,” says Santos, who began by lifting just the bar. “I’ve got to be humble.”

Lifelong fitness isn’t always a tidy before -and-after photo comparison. Santos recently gained about 10 pounds around the holidays, but he plans to lose it and then some. His goal is to reach 210 by the end of 2019. In fact, Santos’ plans for the new year are no less ambitious than his original weight loss: run his first 100-mile race in April, the Chicago Marathon in October and a sprint triathlon by the end of the year. If none of these feats were on his radar when he first started, it goes to show the power of small, incremental improvements. “The best thing to do is just step forward and take it one step at time,” Santos says. “Remember that it’s your pace, your race—nobody else’s.”

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Ina Zeigler

Ina Zeigler

Weight loss method: Bariatric surgery; lost 96 pounds since April 2018

Zeigler's tips

1. Don’t listen to the negativity of people around you. Some won’t want you to have the surgery.

2. Have a good support system that will help you succeed.

3. Get your mind right—wake up every morning and decide to eat healthy and exercise. You have to make that change every single day. It’s a true lifestyle change.

4. Changing your mindset is the hardest part. Be patient and good to yourself, but be strict about following the new plan. It will get easier.

Ina Zeigler diligently tried to lose weight. Like many of us, she’d go to the gym, lose a few pounds, get stuck and discouraged, then eventually regain the weight plus interest. By her late 40s, Zeigler weighed 268 pounds, had high blood pressure and was pre-diabetic. Despite her best efforts, Zeigler’s health was spiraling out of control.

In need of a change, Zeigler attended an informational seminar at Surgical Weight Control Center. She chose bariatric surgeon Dr. Darren Soong to perform the gastric sleeve surgery, in which most of the stomach is removed, leaving the remainder in the shape of a small tube or sleeve, hence the name. The smaller stomach constrains the amount of food a person can eat while also decreasing the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin.

Two weeks after surgery, Zeigler already felt like a different person. Added bonus: She could ditch her blood pressure meds. “I don’t think I’ve felt this good about myself since I was 20 to 30 years old,” Zeigler says. “I felt absolutely amazing.”

The drastic weight loss—she shrunk from a size 20 to a size 8—included a mental journey as well as a physical one. “You have to get your mind right,” Zeigler says. “Your body is naturally going to lose the weight because you have the smaller stomach. … It does take a few months for your mind to catch up with your body. That’s the hardest part, changing your mind.”

Zeigler now exercises three to four times a week, for up to two hours. She lifts weights and works out on a StairMaster or elliptical for cardio. For diet, she always eats protein first, focusing on chicken, ground turkey, salmon and then a vegetable. Sometimes, because of her smaller stomach size, Zeigler is too full to eat the veggie. Snacks are almonds, cheese and maybe half an apple with peanut butter.

Zeigler, now 49, was so happy with the procedure that she got a job at the Surgical Weight Control Center as a patient advocate, helping others through the process.

“Surgery has completely changed my life: body, mind, soul and spirit,” Zeigler says. “This surgery has completely saved my life—not just my health but mentally as well. All the toxic people around went bye-bye with my weight.”

How to eat healthy at a restaurant

In the past, dining out was truly a special—and splurge-worthy—occasion. Now it’s just part of everyday life. Nutrition Moves! registered dietician-nutritionist Geri Lynn Grossan says that because more than 50 percent of meals are taken at restaurants, it’s vitally important to be mindful and make healthy choices while eating out. She suggests following these guidelines when restauranting:

1. Don’t get too hungry. Eat a piece of fruit or some nuts so that your belly doesn’t override your brain. The danger of grocery shopping on an empty stomach also applies to menu ordering.

2. Order a soup. Research shows that a broth-based appetizer leads people to eat less during a meal.

3. Slow down. There’s a 20-minute stomach-to-brain delay before you start to feel full, and it can take up to 45 minutes to feel full if you’re overweight because your stomach has likely stretched. As a general rule, stop eating when you’re 75 percent full.

4. Try the to-go box trick. Put half your food in a doggie-bag before you start eating. Research shows that the bigger quantity of food served, the more people tend to eat, regardless of hunger.

5. The menu is a guide, not a trap. Identify the healthiest items on the menu (avoid cream sauce and breaded or fried items). Then put your meal together from those better choices; sometimes your meal will consist of sides or appetizers instead of the traditional “mains.”

6. Use the server as an ally. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or make substitutions, such as ordering veggies or a side salad instead of french fries.

Healthy restaurant options

Flower Child. You don’t have to be a hippie to enjoy the farm-fresh, scratch-made bowls, salads, wraps and plates of Flower Child. There are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, plus you can add chicken, steak or salmon to meals. 1007 S. Rampart Blvd., 702-507-2545.

Protein Source. The perfect post-gym recharge spot promises food that will help foster “energy, performance, well-being.” There are juices and smoothies, protein waffles, bowls and wraps. (Choose a cabbage wrap for the ultimate low-carb meal.) 4220 S Grand Canyon Drive, #8; 7060 S. Durango Drive, #115; 702-701-7054.

Greens & Proteins. This healthy local café chain focuses on catering to every diet and lifestyle—from high-protein bison and angus patties to vegan and raw fare. You’re never far from a summer berry salad or a green shake. Five locations, greens

Eatt Gourmet Bistro. A Michelin-starred French chef gets healthy with this Spring Valley restaurant that includes vegan options. This might be the only spot on the list that offers a tasting menu and employs an executive pastry chef. 7865 W. Sahara Ave. #104-105, 702-608-5233.

VeggiEAT Xpress. This vegan and vegetarian restaurant offers stir-fry noodle dishes, fried rice, sushi, Vietnamese sandwiches, desserts and more. Chef specialities include vegan walnut shrimp and Korean-style vegan BBQ ribs. 390 N. Stephanie St., 702-458-8899.

SkinnyFats. When you wanna eat healthy but your friends wanna gorge, SkinnyFats’ dual menu will please everybody. The “Healthy Side” items are 600 calories or less and include a “cranburkey” sandwich, a portobello “vegwich,” ahi srirachi tacos, juices and more. Five locations. 702-979-9797,

Toast Society. This gourmet toast and coffee bar offers signature toasts (think delicious open-faced sandwiches). Try the Just Beet It, with beet hummus, avocado, feta and microgreens. Bowls and smoothies with optional superfood add-ons round out the menu. 6005 S. Fort Apache Road, #110., 702-538-8951.

Juice Standard. Are your New Year’s resolutions so serious that solid food just won’t do? It’s time to undo holiday indulgences with some raw, organic cold-pressed juice. The Juice Standard will help you with a juice fast, or you can simply enjoy some fruity hydration. Four locations, juice

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The Ride

Trendy, hip and unique places to get fit

SoulCycle. The luxury fitness brand opened in November with a 62-bike, 3,145-square-foot studio in the Wynn Plaza. Blurring the line between spin class and nightclub, SoulCycle has a lighting system synched to playlists as well as a retail collaboration with The Chainsmokers. Ask for the locals discount. 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #207, 702-637-3230.

Aerial Fitness. For those who love heights, get fit and flexible as you learn aerial acrobatics, dance and CrossFit gymnastics. Aerial Fitness offers instruction in aerial silks (for adults and kids) and stretching, incorporating jazz funk, Latin jazz, hip-hop and more. 7980 W. Sahara Ave. (in City Athletic Club), 702-886-2250.

Camp Rhino. Overcome obstacles in Ninja Warrior classes; train for Spartan and Tough Mudder races; complete a six-week challenge; take boot camp, outdoor or Crossfit classes—Camp Rhino offers a variety of ways to get fit without the boring gym routine. 7211 S. Eastern Ave. #120; 6430 N. Durango Drive #B110; 702-767-8797.

Shine Alternative Fitness. Who needs mainstream exercise? Shine offers antigravity yoga, pole fitness, handstand, aerial bootcamp, acrobalance, aerial hoop/lyra, flexibility, ballet and more. 6415 S. Tenaya Way #100, 702-685-1864.

Aerial Athletica. Get your circus fun in one place with aerial silks, lyra/hoops, bungee fit, straps, rope, dance and pole fitness, vertical bar, strength and conditioning classes, and an open gym. It also hosts private parties. 4570 W. Post Road #700, 702-848-7894.

The Ride. Premium indoor cycling in the Southwest with fun class themes such as Britney vs. Christina, 2000s hip-hop and holiday pajama rides. It also has a welcome focus on community. 4245 S. Grand Canyon Drive #116, 702-202-1229.

Trapeze Las Vegas. No experience necessary to get circus fit. Start with Aerial Arts 101 for an overview, then advance to classes in trampoline, flying trapeze, silks, pol acrobatics and more. 4185 W. Post Road #C; 121 E. Sunset Road; 702-551-4858.

Gravady Extreme Air Sports. Let loose on more than 25,000 square feet of trampolines in this open gym. There’s a tramp wall, a dodgeball court with trampolines, foam pits, silks, a trapeze and a Ninja Warrior course. 7350 Prairie Falcon Road #120, 702-843-0395.

Superhero Foundry. Become your own hero as you learn martial arts and develop weapons skills. Learn how to throw a knife, ax, star, slingshot or batarang. Self-defense classes for women included. By appointment only. 3155 W. Post Road,

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.