Informer: Growing up with some of the cultural culinary favorites that African Americans enjoy, how hard is it for you to maintain a healthy weight?
HF: I don't eat many of the "soul foods" I grew up with. I love fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, collards with neck-bones, etc. But I don't eat them like that anymore. I still love collards but with smoked turkey. Rarely will I eat fried chicken. I love it so much it's hard to control the craving, so I stay away from it. Baked is how I buy chicken or when I cook it myself, I get creative with seasonings and have fun with it.
Informer: How hard is it to pass on your favorites?
HF: It's not hard now, but when I was eating high fat, fried dishes with third helpings, there was no way I could maintain a healthy weight. There was also little or no exercising.
Informer: When did you get fit and what was the catalyst? What was your highest weight and what are you now?
HF: It started in the spring of 2010. I bought new shirts and one month after buying them I could not close them around my stomach! After gorging myself during Thanksgiving I looked in the mirror and saw a 240-pound slob! I couldn't take it. I started going to boot camp twice a week and core (mid-section) exercise class twice a week. I also completely changed what and how I ate. By the middle of December, I could not only fit those shirts, I had an inch to spare! I'm about 217-219 pounds now. I'm working on getting to about 200-210 pounds. I went from a 48 suit with a 40 waist to a 46 suit with a 36 waist -- broad shoulders.
Informer: Why did you decide to teach boot camp, and for people who are not as enthusiastic about exercise what would you say to encourage them?
HF: I kind of fell into teaching the class at the YMCA. The instructor's wife was pregnant with twins and he was coming sporadically. I was always showing up and would lead the class when he wasn't there. I didn't want to lose momentum, and I also wanted to keep others in the class motivated. When the instructor left the YMCA, they asked if I wanted to continue teaching the class and I said certainly.
Exercise is not fun. I get that. But not being fit isn't fun either. You have to decide what you want for yourself... vanity plays a part but I just feel better [when I'm fit]. Clothes fit better. I sleep better. I believe exercise helps you live better. In my class I'm not just working out the members, I'm cracking jokes, teasing and having fun with them to keep them interested.
Informer: You went to a fast food chicken restaurant recently. Does being fit mean that you have to totally eliminate foods that are unhealthy -- or is moderation the key?
HF: There's nothing wrong with "comfort foods." Just don't get too comfortable. That's how you fall back into an unhealthy lifestyle. I pack my lunch every day. Not only is it healthy for me, it's cheaper! The day I went to buy the fried chicken, I hand-packed enough lunch during the day and I was really hungry during the commute home. I must say the chicken was not as good as I thought it would be and I felt like a slug after I ate it. The next morning I really hit the boot-camp workout hard.
Informer: Have you ever had a moment in your life where you just thought – "I don't like the physical shape I'm in and I need to do better?" And what would you say to people who are feeling that they're destined to be a certain weight for the rest of their lives and there is nothing they can do?
HF: Yes, the first time was in high school. I was a fat kid, but wrestling and lifting weights really made me see the potential to change. As a former television anchor, I sat a lot. That didn't help either. I started to gain weight. I also quit smoking on November 13, 2001 and I gained more weight because I began eating more.
If you don't have a medical condition that makes you overweight, then start slowly with your diet and exercise, but start! Get it in! Get it done! You can change you, but you have to be focused, you can do it, you just have to have the desire.
Informer: You have children. What do you tell them about the importance of eating well?
HF: My daughter is a Type I diabetic. She's 13 years old a very healthy eater. She has to be. She is aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle. She's still a child and isn't always happy about goodies she can't eat, but I'm so proud of her. She has great will power. She counts her carbs, tests her blood and injects her insulin three times a day. She's a great role model for children and adults.
Informer: Obesity has reached epidemic proportion in the African-American community -- why do you think this is?
HF: Several reasons. Under-served communities still deal with food dessert issues. In other words, they don't have access to the healthiest foods or high quality grocery stores. That's a huge problem. I believe traditional "down home" soul food dishes are full of fat. Fat carries flavor in foods -- we love flavor. If that's what you grew up eating, that's all you know. That's all you eat. My family is from the South.
As a child I was an over-eater, from fried fatback in the morning to a plate overflowing with smothered pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese, greens, yeast rolls, dressing peach cobbler and pound cake. Oh LAWD shall I go on? That was just one meal at Grandma's!! Who can move physically after that?
I think we eat too much food at one sitting. We don't need to gorge ourselves to be satisfied. We have to take control of how we act at the table and make sensible choices.
Informer: We know exercise promotes weight loss, but talk about the other benefits of exercise -- (elevated self esteem, more energy, raised metabolism etc.) feel free to talk about your personal experience or what you have seen in some of the people who take your class.
HF: There is nothing like walking past a mirror and liking what you see. You may see a photo of your self and say 'Hey not bad.' That's vanity, but there's a healthy lifestyle behind it. I think if you're fit, you feel better, you feel great! Thanks Harold.
Harold Fisher teaches boot-camp at the YMCA in Baltimore, Md. He reports that several people have lost weight and dropped a few dress sizes in his class. He recommends that people start slowly with fitness by walking, meditating, cutting out sodas or calorie-laden foods. He also happens to be an amazing chef. He shared one of his gourmet yet fitness conscious recipes. Harold Fisher worked as a TV anchor and reporter in Tallahassee, Florida; Huntsville, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; and, Kansas City, Missouri. Harold returned to WHUR in Aug. 2007 as a news reporter and host of The Daily Drum. Occasionally he writes African-American lifestyle articles for The Baltimore Sun and has recently finished writing a romance novel.
Harold's Spicy Sexy Seafood Supreme
HF: Spicy, because it has a kick to it.
Sexy, because you can eat it and still work on bringing your sexy back.
Supreme, because, well... why not?
½ pound medium shrimp (shelled deveined)
½ pound sea scallops
1 large red or yellow onion (chunky chopped)
1-2 celery stalks (chunky chopped)
1 green pepper (chunky chopped)
1 sweet red pepper (chunky chopped)
3-4 large leaves of fresh basil
3-4 large leaves of fresh oregano
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
4-5 Roma tomatoes (cubed)
1 large fresh garlic clove (minced)
1/8 cup olive oil
1 cup brown rice
Start the brown rice and set aside when done.
Heat olive oil in LARGE pan or 2 quart, non-stick pot. This is big dish!
Add the garlic and lightly brown it for about a minute, then add basil, oregano, peppers, celery, and onions. Gently stirring. You want them cooked, but with a crunchy texture. Sprinkle cayenne pepper, add tomatoes and continue gentle stirring. Add an extra chopped tomato or two, if desired.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Add seafood. Gently stir until pink. About 3-5 minutes. Don't overcook the seafood.
Serve over rice.