Vinnie Tortorich, who bills himself as America's "angriest trainer," has a lot he could be angry about. Growing up on the Louisiana Bayou, Tortorich suffered from a hearing impairment that caused him to struggle with speech and, consequently, become an easy target at Catholic school, where the nuns were as eager to torture him as his classmates, the Hollywood trainer writes in his new book, "Fitness Confidential: Adventures in the Weight-Loss Game."
"I'd try to participate in class and, as soon as I spoke in my Marlee Matlin style, they'd tell me to 'get the grits out of your mouth,' which only let the other kids know that I was fair game," he writes. (And that's truly the least of it, but Tortorich says he's saving his tales of Catholic school abuse for another book.)
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Tortorich wanted to be a superhero or, more realistically, he figured, fitness guru Jack LaLanne. He wanted to fight back. He wanted to get strong. And he did. His uncle introduced him to a local gym owner and apparent demigod named Joe Bonadona, whose "pecs were like Honeybaked hams," Tortorich writes, describing him as a tough and honest teacher. Judging by the character and content of "Fitness Confidential," the same could be said of Tortorich, who brings a no-nonsense, rough-and-tumble approach to his guide on getting fit. "Cut the Crap," for example, is the title of one section.
"It's not that difficult to lose weight, to get in shape and to stay in shape," he tells U.S. News. "It's very simple, and I'm not going to pretend that it's more difficult than that."
You've got to move your body, and it's best to start slowly, he says. As for your diet, "STAY AWAY FROM SUGAR AND GRAINS," he writes, putting the point in caps, twice, to underscore your bottom line.
Everyone else's bottom line, unfortunately, is getting in your way, Tortorich says. And this is why he's angry. All this diet and fitness business is pretty clear-cut once you realize how much of it is, indeed, business, he asserts. He takes the "follow the money" approach to rail against gyms, trainers, health stores, diets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, arguing that profit gets in the way of the right health advice. At stake is the health of Americans, who have reached epidemic proportions of obesity.
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He blames a couple of culprits for the fattening of America. One is the "calorie-in, calorie-out" concept of dieting that has focused on calorie restriction as opposed to the calorie sources. When it comes to protein, fat and carbs from fruit and veggies, our bodies know what to do – using them, respectively, for rebuilding cells and for providing long-term and short-term energy. But calories from grains and sugar? "They're killing you," he writes.
"It was all pretty harmless when it was just a little extra corn and bread. Our bodies could handle it. But, over time, it's ended up in everything. Like the Kardashians. And now that we're flooded with that garbage in such unprecedented quantities, our bodies don't know what to do with it, and so we convert it to fat and store it."
The other problem: the skyrocketing use of sugar. Tortorich, 50, says when he was a kid, a Coke came in a 6 or 7 ounce bottle. And he was treated to one just once each month, after getting his hair cut. "Today, a 64-ounce soda is nothing." Couple that with laziness, he says, noting that extra-long straws now mean "we don't have to even bend our elbows to get it up to our mouth."
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These days, half of Tortorich's clients are kids – the children of many of the celebrities he trains.
He urges parents to get kids off carbs, which create a sugar spike followed by a crash and only leave kids hungry for more, "like they're chasing the dragon all day," he says. "I'm not telling parents they can't give their kids a sandwich," but carb-loading sets them up for "a lifetime of misery."
Think moderation, not diets – he doesn't believe in them – though he notes that he has as many vegan fans as paleos. "Those two are religions at this point," he says, explaining that his eating style hews closest to the Mediterranean diet.
The approach to nutrition he recommends is one he says anyone can easily follow. Go for eggs and bacon at breakfast, a salad with protein for lunch or dinner and pack snacks like olives or avocado; make use of prepackaged fruits and vegetables, precook some fish, chicken or red meat to have on hand, and, if you can't get home for dinner, find an Italian or Jewish deli for soup, salad or meat, and ditch the bread, or at least half of it. Planning and preparing your meals is a matter of waking up 10 minutes early, he says. "If you can't devote 10 minutes to your health, well, you've got other problems."
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The not-so-subtle subtext reflects his life story, one that comprises the bulk of his book – how, through grit and will, he overcame his upbringing, the physical challenges of ultra sports races and even a rare form of lymphoma (Tortorich endured multiple bone marrow biopsies without anesthesia).
"I wanted to get out of the swamps and see the rest of the world," he says, describing himself as a "middle-class Italian kid living in Cajun country."
"Somehow that kid made it to Tulane, that kid graduated with honors at Tulane and then that kid found his way not only to Beverly Hills and to Hollywood," but "found himself being the sought-after guy" in fitness, Tortorich says. "In life, you have to have a big, giant engine. You have to have a motor. You have to have push. You have to have drive."
Corrected on 08/30/2013: A previous version of this story misstated Vinnie Tortorich’s age. He is 50.