Trainer Harley Pasternak on Gaga's gym shorts & the secrets of Swedish slimness
Harley Pasternak got his entree to Hollywood training actors like Halle Berry and Jim Caviezel on movie sets in his hometown of Toronto. Several years later the 35-year-old fitness and nutrition expert is taking his “5-Factor” concept—five small meals a day, five 25-minute workouts a week—to the masses. He’s on QVC with workout DVDs, equipment and snack bars, and has a rapidly-expanding meal delivery service in LA, Toronto and Vancouver. Though he’s still training plenty of celebs, Pasternak has recently written The 5-Factor World Diet (Ballantine) with Laura Moser, a book that aims to explain why the rest of the world isn’t as fat as us. We talked to him from Honolulu, where he was doing a little “private boot camp” with some musicians whom he politely declined to name.
Can you say who you’re with?
Not this time. A lot of musicians come to Hawaii to produce and record—we spend all day hiking and playing basketball and they spend all night in the recording studio. But I can tell you that in the past ten days my team has worked with Lady Gaga, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Seth Rogen, Rashida Jones and Common.
We have to ask—does Lady Gaga wear face masks when she exercises?
She wears a normal workout outfit, it’s kind of cool actually. She works her ass off, she is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever worked with.
You were Jessica Simpson’s trainer back in her Dukes of Hazzard days. Are you working with her now?
Jess and I are in touch, we work on and off. Right now we’re not working together.
On to the book. How did you come up with concept?
I travel a lot—two years ago I was in 30 countries. And I noticed that people are not as overweight around the world as they are in the United States, so I wanted to understand why that is. As opposed to focusing on what we’re doing wrong, let’s focus on what the rest of the world is doing right.
You make a list of the ten healthiest countries in the world in the book. Some of them we’ve heard about before—Japan, Italy, Greece—but others were surprising. What’s the deal with Sweden?
Sweden is interesting. They use a lot dairy in their diet and there’s a real split in the 10 healthiest countries, half of them swear by dairy and half of them never eat dairy. The ones that ever eat dairy don’t eat it cause it’s unhealthy, they just don’t dairy because of the agriculture of their countries, or for religious purposes. Another thing that’s interesting is the way they eat their sandwiches. It’s an open-face sandwich always in Sweden, so immediately their sandwiches are half the bread as a sandwich here. And the bread is an extremely dark, dense rye bread.
One thing we noticed reading is that nobody in these countries seems to be afraid of carbs!
Right, exactly. If you look at the healthiest countries in the world most of their diet is rice.
Do you attribute that to good portion size?
Nobody ever said a carbohydrate makes you fat [Editor's note: We think they have, but let's see what you've got to say about this.] I think it depends what you’re eating with that carb. A bowl of white rice on its own is very different from a bowl of rice with bok choy and salmon.
What about fitness?
They all walk, for one thing. The truth is to be successful you have to do the exact opposite of what The Biggest Loser is. You don’t want fitness to be something that is contrived in an artificial space with specific equipment meant for fitness. Fitness should be something you do from the second you wake up to the second you go to bed.
It was fun to read that in some countries they have a word or concept for knowing when to stop eating.
Yeah, in Sweden they use a word called lagom, which means just enough. In Japan they practice hara hachi bunme, which is when you’re 70% full you stop and you wait and you see if you feel full 10 minutes later.
I don’t think we have a word like that in English.
No we do not. We have a word called buffet.
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