The Weight is Over: From Pastry Chef to Plank Chief

Andrea Charroin at a concert, February 2017.

Andrea Charroin at a recent Adam Ant concert.

Q: Andrea, welcome to A News Cafe.com. For those who don’t know you, could you tell a little about yourself?

Hi Doni!  First, thank you for asking me to be a part of your series on health and wellness!  A few of your readers may remember me from a little downtown pastry shop, Rene-Joule Patisserie. That is where I met you!  I also contributed to ANC with a food column.

My husband Westley and I moved up to Redding in 1999 from San Francisco.  We have two great guys, Rex and Fox, who are 19 and 16.  I work as a third-grade teacher at Rocky Point Charter School.

Q: Oh, how I remember those glorious pastry shop days. Gosh, I remember the boys were babies, and then toddlers at the bakery. Look how grown up they are, now!

While I have you here, I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight and declare that you were the inventor of the super-healthy super-popular Marathon Bars, and Morning Glories, among other unforgettable baked goods. It always bugs me when you don’t get proper attribution. There, I can move on now.

You and I became reacquainted in earnest when you joined Align and started working with Matthew. Can you talk about what started you going, and why?

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you on my first day at Align!  I was just beyond excited to see you and the amazing progress you were making toward becoming your best you.

Andrea and Doni at Align, October 2016. Photo by Matthew R. Lister.

Andrea and Doni at Align, October 2016. Photo by Matthew R. Lister.

I have been pretty active over the years, swimming, running, doing the Tinman triathlon, but I never really felt ‘FIT’.  I was developing some habits I am not very proud of, but I will share because I know I am not alone in these habits.  I had a job – not my current one –  that was mind-bogglingly stressful. This job took everything out of me, and I was constantly stressed. I noticed that I would relieve my stress by drinking wine at the end of the day.  After my first glass I would enjoy some cheese with bread, more wine, and then a little chocolate.  I rationalized that a bottle of wine was only four glasses.  This habit went on for years.  Eventually I switched jobs.

Andrea Charroin and her family, before her health-and-fitness transformation.

Andrea Charroin and her family, before her health-and-fitness transformation.

My new job was incredible, but I was still stressed out. I kept waiting for something awful to happen at work, and I was always on edge. At work if I was stressed I would dive into the chocolate drawer.  andrea charroin before

I would NEVER eat three candy bars in a day, but when you add up all of those small candy bars I was consuming DAILY, that was a tough pill to swallow.  Yup, I was eating that much crap to stuff my stress down. I started to notice that my hips were hurting all of the time.

Andrea Charroin in a lifetime before her transformation

By December of 2015 I was having difficulty standing and walking.  The pain was getting so bad that I just figured I would have a hip replaced in the next few years if I did not find a solution.  In January of 2016 I decided that was it, I was going to change my life and make some positive changes.  I started to walk and went to a local gym.  I didn’t really change my food intake because I figured if I was working out two to three days a week I could eat whatever I wanted. After a few months of nothing really changing I realized that I needed more guidance because my hip pain was getting worse, even with my attempts at working out.

I decided to get a physical therapist and a trainer.  Then I found Matthew R. Lister at Align.  My Align-aversary is April 9th (I think).  I literally cannot think of a day when I even considered not walking in the doors of Align.

Q: I remember when you started working out at Align, and was so excited to see you, and to get to work out with you. But honestly, I never thought you had much to lose. For me, my main goal was weight-loss. Did you have a specific goal when you joined Align? And what what was the process like for you in those early days, weeks and months?

My goal was to walk without pain in my hips.  I was turning 50 and I just saw myself going down the road to ruin if I did not figure something out.

Andrea Charroin with youngest son.

I thought if I lost about 25 pounds I would be doing great!  But it was honestly not about the weight. My main goals were and are about feeling good and healthy.  My first few weeks at Align were spent in what I would call therapy to get my body safe enough to work out. I spent a lot of time in ‘static back’ – that exercise we all miss now!  I remember thinking that I just wanted to get off the table and sweat!  It took A LOT for me to trust and let go of what I thought I should be doing and just listen to MRL.  I remember the first night I noticed that I could get out of bed and not have to hold on to the side of the bed for balance.  My hips no longer ached! I knew I was on the right track and most importantly, in the right hands.

After a few weeks MRL and I really cracked open my pain and diet issues.  After telling him some of the details of my previous job he told me my brain was detoxing from stress!  Hearing that statement really hit me.  He was right. My stress was killing my body, I was not managing my stress in a healthy way (drinking and food) and I was not going to get better until I tackled my stress.

We talked diet, and he gave me an outline.  I carried my food journal and my little worn-out menu outline everywhere.  I always planned my meals and snacks.  I even set a timer to remind myself to eat.  The hardest part of changing my diet was the elimination of sugar.  I know the first few weeks without sugar were hideous.  I joked that I would lick whipped cream off of a shoe, but I persisted and got through the ‘Billie Holiday’ phase of eliminating sugar from my diet.

My workouts started off only two days a week.  The workouts were harder than I thought, but I noticed positive changes in how I felt really fast.  I know part of the good feeling was because of the changes in diet, as well as the amazing gang at Align, and having a healthy outlet for stress.  I was jealous of some of the other Align clients that got to come in four days a week.  I couldn’t wait to be invited to train four days a week.  When I asked MRL if I could come in on my off days he told me he would let me know when I was ready.  That was yet another time where MRL made me be patient!

Q: You made me laugh about your Billie Holiday reference, but man oh man, I can relate to what you’re saying about kicking sugar. And I love the way you abbreviate Matthew R. Lister to MRL. Cracks me up.

But seriously, I have watched your transformation, and I have to say, it’s beyond impressive. As I told you today at Align, you look like a healthy, hardcore athlete. That must feel so awesome!

I do feel awesome and healthy!  I still feel shocked when someone tells me how different I look.  In a weird way, I have always thought I looked the way I look now. Maybe now my outside has finally caught up to my inside.

Andrea Charroin, after losing 60 pounds, and more fit than ever. Photo by Matthew Lister.

Andrea Charroin at Align Private Training, after losing 60 pounds. Photo by Matthew Lister.

I train to feel good and to have longevity.  My grandmother, uncle, and father did not get that luxury of growing old, and I do not take that gift for granted.

Q: I’m sorry that you lost people you loved before their time. It’s sobering to look at your family, the reality of your gene pool and understand the potential risks. You’re wise to look to health-and-fitness as the best possible way to extend not just your life, but your quality of life.

Now might be a good time for me to mention that you’re pretty much a super star at Align. Not only have you lost more than 60 pounds, but then you broke the plank record by holding one for 8 minutes, which gave me something to shoot for. But then you broke another record and reached 10 minutes, and then, finally, a few days ago hit 12 minutes, 15 seconds! I, whose record is 3 minutes and 15 seconds – and that’s a push for me – cannot even imagine how you do that. Planks are hard! Seriously, what’s your secret?

The secret to the long plank is to get through the first 2 minutes. You can do anything you set your mind to. While doing the 12 minute plank MRL came over and asked me how long I was going to go for.  I said 12, but in my brain I thought, I bet I could do 15.

Andrea Charroin holds the record at Align Private Training in Redding with a 12-minute 15-second plank.

Andrea Charroin holds the record at Align Private Training in Redding with a 12-minute 15-second plank.

Once the clock was at 12 I felt my body start to give up.  Right now 12:15 is my record.  I love planks because they really do work your entire body, but I love all of the crazy exercises MRL makes us do.

Q: I love the rowing machine for that reason. I wish I could say I love planks, but I still find them extremely difficult. I will say I notice that the day after I’ve done planks at Align I am thinking that I could push my personal best further the next time I try them, and so far, I have. But 12 minutes … that’s pretty extraordinary.

You look great, but how else has your life changed since this transformation?

Well, my quality of life has improved drastically.  I am excited and joyful every morning that I wake up.  I feel like I am the best version of myself.  I am a better wife, mother, sister, daughter and teacher. I strive to continue to improve my health and well-being.  My stress is now under control, and a big bonus is that I am no longer on blood pressure medications!

Q: Congratulations! That’s awesome, Andrea!

Do you have something about which you’re really proud – I mean other than your epic plank record?

I am most proud of my new friendships that I have developed from my Align experience.  I love I mean LOVE each and every person I have had the pleasure to work out with at Align. I feel like when I am at Align I am with my people; people who get me. I am proud that my husband Westley and son Rex are now Align members.  I am proud of myself for being part of Align.

Q: How have people reacted to your success?

That is really an interesting question.  Most people have been so nice and supportive.

I am always surprised when someone asks me when will I just stop.  That is such a confusing question, because I am never going to stop trying to achieve the best of myself, and honestly, that is what I believe I am doing. Weight loss is just a bonus. I am also on a mission to eliminate the word DIET.  I am not on a diet.  I have changed the way I eat.  The word diet to me indicates that you will eventually be OFF your diet.

For me, changing the way I eat is a lifelong plan.

Q: Yes, I get that question a lot, too, and you have exactly the right answer: It’s not a diet, it’s a healthy change in the way we eat.

Andrea, what do you say to people who are discouraged; who are now where you were when you started?

I get being discouraged and wondering if even starting a new plan to improve a person’s health will be worth it.  I am a walking testimony of the worth of making positive life changes. The hardest part is making the effort.  I tell them to build on the effort; each small change can roll into a larger change, and so on.  Get the momentum to build and you will find yourself on the path to success.

Q: That’s beautiful advice, Andrea.

As I look to the future, one of my goals is to do a pull-up. Do you have anything like that that you’re shooting for? Shoot, now you’ll go out and do two pull ups! (Kidding. Kind of.)

Ahhhhh.  The pull-up.  It’s the Mount Everest of exercises isn’t it?  You know what I am shooting for?  Being an 80-year-old hiking up a mountain with a giant smile on my face because I can, and because I want to.

Q: I love it! Thank you so much for taking the time, and courage, to share your journey with us today. I know it will inspire others as much as you’ve inspired me. Anything else you’d like to say?

Be supportive of each other.   Find your people who will support you in the positive changes you want in yourself.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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