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Body Watch : Hyper-perky fitness guru Richard Simmons
still loves eating fried chicken. But he pays for it--by
working out each and every day. | GUEST WORKOUT

Exercising Discipline


Fitness guru Richard Simmons, 47, sat perched at the island counter in his big, cozy kitchen above Sunset Boulevard, where he shared his low-fat cookies, his love for his four Dalmatians--"They become your children and it's so hard because you're never supposed to give dogs table food"--and his passion for food. "I'm an ex-fatty who still thinks like a fatty, but doesn't look like one anymore."

Question: Just how much do you love food?

A: I am a compulsive eater, Milton Teagle Simmons from New Orleans, La., and I always will be. I sold pralines--those luscious New Orleans delicacies--on the street corner when I was 7. I was raised in the middle of all these unbelievable restaurants. I will always love anything fried. I'm talking about cement from a bench deep-fried--I would eat that. I love eating off of people's plates. I can eat breakfast at 7 and eat another complete breakfast at 8. Not because I'm trying to fill an empty stomach. It's simply because I just adore food. I'll always love fried chicken, biscuits and gravy. I was raised that way. It was God, family and food was third.

My love for food led to obesity, which led to eating disorders.

Q: What's it like for you to dine out?

A: It is difficult for me to go to restaurants because people want to see what I'm eating.

Q: Does that bother you?

A: No. It doesn't bother me for people to see what I eat. I'm a real eater.

Q: What if the other people in the restaurant are stuffing their faces and all of a sudden they see it's you?

A: They subconsciously say, "Well, Jesus, I got 50 pounds to lose and I just ordered the filet mignon with bearnaise sauce and French fries and when I go home and take off my underwear there's going to be a little mark all around my bellybutton area because I overate." So, I've cut back on going out to restaurants.

Q: Let's say you also ordered filet mignon. What then?

A: Exercise. I may not get an A in my eating habits, but I get an A in my exercise habits of seven days a week no matter if it's my birthday or if it's Christmas, if I'm on a cruise ship on the Mexican Riviera or at a church doing a fund-raiser.

Q: A day never goes by that you don't exercise?

A: Never. People are taken away from us long before they should leave this earth by just not taking care of themselves. Just plain ol' not eating right and not exercising. You've got to do them both. I can eat these couple extra low-fat cookies. . . . Do you want to try them?

Q: I'd love to, thanks.

A: . . . Because I have a two-hour video rehearsal and then I have to teach [an aerobics] class tonight. So I know already that today I'll do three hours of exercise and I'll burn 3,000 calories.

Q: What's the minimum you'll work out?

A: An hour every day and I have to do it in the morning. I know there are people out there a lot smarter than I am and have prettier bodies than mine and they tell you they can do 30 minutes a day--10 minutes in the morning and maybe during lunch do 10 and then 10 minutes before you go to bed. I am not that believer.

I've got to get out of bed at 4:30--phone calls to the East Coast can start at 5:30--get on the floor and do my sit-ups. Afterward I do my stretching and then I have to get down and do as many push-ups as I can--and I hate those push-ups--and I have to stretch my legs. I do it all to music.

Q: These cookies are good. Do you allow yourself fried chicken now and then?

A: Well, of course. I don't have it every day, but when I want a piece of chicken I'll have it. You know, in New Orleans we'd deep fry a whole chicken and you're talking about one big, big, big daddy fryer. And where I used to eat eight pieces I'll have maybe one. And I pay the piper. I do the exercise.

Q: What are your meals like when you stick to a diet?

A: Breakfast I'll have a bagel with fat-free cream cheese and I go for fruit instead of juice. I'll peel an orange or grapefruit. And vitamins and a couple of large glasses of water. And I try not to eat between meals. When I'm home I open the fridge 20 times during the day--bong, bong, Tupperware tops will be popping up--just for viewing like a museum.

And dinner I eat early and very clean foods. Breast of chicken, a baked potato and vegetables. Whether I'm home or when I travel I can always order a big salad with oil and vinegar on the side. I don't even look at the menu. I just know every place is going to have salad or chicken. I eat red meat once a week and I watch the portions. Every Saturday night I have dessert, which could be pecan pie if I'm in the South or a piece of cheesecake in New York.

Q: So you don't have to give up your passion for food. Not entirely.

A: Yeah. There's some people who grow their own tofu and sprouts. I'm not that kind of person. You know, I got on a plane and there was a fitness celebrity. Seven-thirty in the morning and she was eating a cold yam wrapped in tinfoil. And I said to myself, "I could just never do that."

Guest Workout runs every other Wednesday in Life & Style.

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