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From Fitness Fan to Sure Sloth : Many ex-hard bodies are no longer hoisting the barbells, which are gathering dust along with gym shorts and diet books. They're plumb tired of the workout and menu-control routine.

March 01, 1994|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two years ago, Dr. Mark Aranbasich was the poster guy for healthy living. He worked out four or five times a week, took aerobics classes, lifted weights and didn't let too much fat creep into his diet.

Then "It" happened. He stopped working out.

"I wish I could say that it was because I was injured or I attained my fitness goal," says the Los Angeles dentist, "but it was just a matter of laziness. Once you've fallen out, it's hard to get back into the swing of things."

Recent lifestyle surveys suggest that Americans have been slowly backsliding on their health regimens--eating more junk food, smoking more, exercising less--despite an almost daily assault of information about the benefits of good nutrition and moderate exercise.

A poll of 1,250 adults for Prevention magazine found a 5% rise in the number of smokers from 1991 to 1992. And in an American Dietetic Assn. survey of 1,000 adults last year, 39% of respondents said they were "doing everything they could" to eat a healthy diet. The year before, 44% said they were.

Even in body-fat-obsessed Los Angeles, where most gyms are packed during the 6 p.m. crunch, we've been slipping.

Rich mashed potatoes and artery-clogging goose liver pate are what diners hunger for, says chef Joachim Splichal of Patina and Pinot Bistro restaurants. Although his lower-fat spa dishes satisfy the lunch crowd, dinner is another story.

"People are ordering more mashed potatoes, double orders of mashed potatoes, and it seems as if we're selling a little more foie gras than the year before," he says. "A few years ago, a five-course menu was impossible to sell. Now, people are really indulging themselves in that."

Splichal hesitates to suggest that this binge has reached trend status: "It's too early for me to say that--we've just started the new year."

Ah yes, the New Year, when resolutions are made and broken. But resolutions are remade all year long and re-broken in a predictable pattern of being good/being bad. We wake up at 5 a.m. to exercise and eat steamed vegetables until we've had enough personal sacrifice, thank you, and then it's back to sleeping in and inhaling chocolate chunk cookies.

Personal trainer Adrienne Williams knows the mind set behind the healthy-unhealthy roller coaster. First come the excuses, then the missed appointments.

"I sense it when their enthusiasm starts waning and work starts to take precedence," she says. "Or they'll say they're not feeling too well, and before they'd go even if they weren't feeling well. They don't pull out for good reasons--it's never because great things are happening, but because money's too tight or something bad's happened. One client said she'd been eating and drinking so much that she wasn't fit enough to get back into the gym, which is kind of ironic."

But Williams won't shake a finger at anyone, because she's been through slack-off stages, too.

"I think it's all interconnected with the ebbs and flows of energy, and mental strain that produces these types of effects," she says. "At different times in our lives we need more or less exercise."

She also believes that society endorses inactivity via media messages: "Read this, watch this, come to the movies--it's easy to let yourself slip into that."

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When burnout--or just plain inertia--hits, it can produce intense guilt feelings, coupled with rationalizations: My job is so tough I'm too exhausted to go to the gym; I've been working out a lot lately, I deserve a break. And so on. The mental gymnastics can be as exhausting as an hour of aerobics.

"It's hard to say exactly what made me stop going," says Aranbasich, the dentist. "Burnout . . . there were some things going on in my personal life that were taking my up attention. Between those two, that was enough to do it."

He was an exercise die-hard for six years before getting off the treadmill two years ago, easing up on a fairly strict low-fat diet and gaining 15 pounds. ("But I haven't ballooned out or anything," Aranbasich says.) Forays to the gym have been sporadic.

"I think having that routine made it easier to follow through on other routines," he says. "My life used to be more regimented--every Friday I'd bring my clothes into the cleaners. I still get things done, but thinking back on it, my life was really together."

But on the flip side, too much structure began to wear him out.

"I'd go to the gym, be there for two hours, get home at 8:30, eat dinner and go to bed. I thought, 'I'm spending so much time doing this, what other things could I be doing rather than devoting so much time to this?' "

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Job pressures, money worries and relationship problems cause enormous stress, which can trigger episodes of self-indulgence.

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