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A little research revealed that this was the boot camp of Nisa Counter, a 38-year-old certified fitness trainer. I called her. "Is it, you know, talky and huggy?" I inquired. "Absolutely not. That's the other boot camp. My motto is: Your body is my problem, your mind's your own."

I made an appointment to show Nisa my long-ago fitness assessment. She frowned. "This is ancient stuff. Nobody does these tests anymore. Like, 'grip strength'? What is that? 'Flexibility'—how did they measure that?" I explained that I'd had to sit on the floor with my legs extended and reach past my toes. "That's not even a safe stretch!" she exclaimed, appalled.

I told her about my extra pounds acquired since then, and how I'd located them with some precision.

"Okay, so you now know that your entire weight gain has gone to your middle. Well, the bad news is there's no such thing as spot reducing. Seventy percent of that weight is what you put in your mouth. You'll have to work on that. I'll work on the other 30 percent." I asked her for diet advice.

"Sure. I've got a diet: Eat five almonds a day for a month and you'll get thin. No question. But no one can live like that, and it's the same with all these crazy, stupid diets. My rule is simple: Look at the food and ask yourself, "Do I want that glued on my butt? Is a minute of yum in my mouth worth a month of working it off?"
Suddenly I found myself looking at a muffin and realizing it looked just like a curvaceous deposit of midriff fat. And that mound of orzo bore a striking resemblance to cellulite....

Armed with this new dietary perspective, I set out to let Nisa take care of the other 30 percent. Six A.M. is an hour with which, until three months ago, I was not that well acquainted. Now that hour found me up, dressed, and moving. Fast. For an hour, Monday through Friday, we'd meet up at a prearranged location to discover what Nisa had in mind for us. Spinning one day, kayaking the next, aquarobics the day after, lunging along the seawall the day after that, working out with weights, a step class, a power walk along the beach while the sky put on a dawn extravaganza. Every day was a different activity, so I didn't have a chance to get bored. I've learned that variety is key to a program I can stick with. Camaraderie helped, too. For someone who spent her working hours alone in a room, it was fun to start the day with a bunch of supportive, noncompetitive women. It was amazing how fast an hour of lunges went by if, between grunts and gasps, there was some juicy morsel of local or celebrity gossip to chew over.

But after a month, I hadn't had a trumpets-blaring, Rocky-like transformation. I called Lisa Sanders, MD, a physician with a special interest in obesity and the author of The Perfect Fit Diet. I wanted to know what I was up against, metabolically. Is it really harder to shed midlife weight, or is that just a myth we use to excuse our failure?

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