I have the metabolism of a manatee. I could look at a piece of pizza and gain weight. So I really have to bear down on diet and fitness, and I have to be motivated. An election cycle does that for me. The chaos helps me focus. Days are nonstop — meeting with reporters and lawmakers, digging out stories, working on scripts that change four, five, six times before a six o'clock show — and I need stress relief more than ever. But instead of a bar with bad food and alcohol, I choose exercise. Sure, I know how to hide weight on camera — my life is wearing dark suits and white shirts that conceal a lot — but I look and feel better on air when I've shed some lbs.
A Gradual Weight Creep
As a kid I played every sport — soccer, tennis, golf. I was skinny. That changed in college, where I learned the deadly combination of pizza and beer. After that, I worked as a bartender, and the late nights made things worse. My weight became a constant battle, and I've been on a roller coaster ever since.
My first broadcast job was in South Carolina, at Hilton Head. I was the Lowcountry bureau guy, covering big stories like loggerhead turtle nesting and what color the azaleas would be. It gave me time to exercise a lot, to run on the beach. But by the time I started the Fox News Atlanta bureau in 1998, I was busy, traveling a lot and going out for a massive meal every night. It added up. I met my wife on a blind date in 2002 at a porky stage, and the fact that she loved porky Bret tells me a lot about her. By 2012 I was 45 pounds overweight.
I tried diets. Name a diet, I did it: Weight Watchers, that cleanse with the cayenne pepper, the cookie diet, which is not nearly as good as it sounds. But with my cholesterol way up, my doctor put me on the statin Crestor. I remember my wife saying, "This isn't working. We need to be healthy for our kids." My son has heart issues. He's had three open-heart surgeries. It was then I decided to get serious about losing weight.
The Up-And-Down Struggle
I set a goal to be in shape by Election Day 2012, but I didn't tell anybody. I recommend that. Otherwise everybody asks, "How's the diet?" and if you slip, they look at you like you're a leper. I ate a lot of lean protein and a lot less carbs and sugar, especially pizza and bread. I cut out coffee and cut back on my drinking and started running or lifting weights every day. By November I was down from 240 pounds to 195. I wanted to get a little lower, but as long as the first number is a 1, I'm happy.
After that, life hit, stress hit, my commitment faded, and I went back up. I'm using the 2016 election to focus again. I try to work out early, because by the end of the day I'm toast. In the morning I've got energy. I feel like I can start the engine. I have a trainer a couple of days a week for traditional strength work, and I'll hop on the treadmill and do push-ups and sit-ups. If I have no time, I do six 20-second sprints just to get a sweat going. My wife and I also have a weekly date. Every Sunday we hire a babysitter and walk along the Potomac to catch up. Sometimes we'll go eight miles.
The New Goal
A good day for me will be a run in the morning, then some eggs to start, a protein shake at lunch, and then dinner of a salad with fish or chicken and no alcohol. I need that brain food because once I go on air, it doesn't stop, from 6 p.m. until as late as 2 a.m.
Right now I'm cruising — 212 pounds and dropping. I'm striving for the 1 in front again by November.
—As told to Burt Helm.