Saturday, December 08, 2001

From Flab 2 Fab

I just did an interview with Mario Lavandeira, a 26-year old writer/editor from Los Angeles who's going to be on VH1's "From Flab to Fab" on Monday, Dec. 13, at 11:30am. Due to size constraints, the interview had to be edited down for the magazine, but here is the uncut, unedited version:

Super Mario
Mario Lavandeira weighs in on "From Flab to Fab"

Mario Lavandeira knew he had to do something about his growing waistline. But instead of Atkins or lipo, the 206lb Los Angelino signed up to star in VH1's reality weight-loss show "From Flab to Fab." Mario and two other hefty homos followed a rigorous three-month exercise plan based on Madonna's fitness regimen (and you know Esther doesn't mess around). The workouts were arduous and the sacrifices were great, but Mario is thrilled with his new rockin' bod. (The $500 clothing allowance was pretty fierce, too.)

Dan Avery : What’s your background?

Mario Lavandeira: I’m the editor of Page Six Six, which I affectionately refer to as "all the news, gossip and satire that’s unfit to print (anywhere else)." I also whore myself out as a freelance writer for a bunch of publications, like HX (where I wrote a piece on electro pop goddess Miss Kittin a few months back) and Cybersocket (where I recently wrote an article about some of my favorite New Yorkers, including the Glamazons and the Dazzle Dancers).

I’m 26 and originally from Miami. I was fortunate enough to escape from the Cuban ghetto and flee to Manhattan, where I went to NYU and lived for six years. I’m slumming it now in Los Angeles while I treacherously prepare my move back to New York.

Dan: How did you get involved with the show?

Mario: It’s interesting how I was chosen for “Flab 2 Fab.” I was reading Us Weekly (my guilty pleasure) and they had a review of the show. VH1 aired two episodes back in May, Beyonce style and J. Lo style. I saw the show and I loved it. I thought it was very refreshing in that it was a positive show with no surprises or gimmicks. It isn’t “The Swan” or “The Biggest Loser.” Don’t get me wrong, I love those shows, but I’d never want to be on them. The one thing that struck me about “Flab 2 Fab” was that all of the participants on the show and most of the executives involved behind putting it on were female. I thought to myself, “They should have an episode with gay men!”

I used to work for GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and I still have a bit of that “activist” in me. So I wrote VH1 a letter and told them that gay men face the same (if not more) pressure than straight women to be fit and fabulous. I thought it was important for the viewers to realize all the similarities that we have, and thankfully VH1 agreed. I guess my letter was good because the producers called me in to meet with them, and next thing I know, I’m on the show! I mean, I didn’t even submit a videotape! It all happened pretty quickly.

What was your original weight?

Gosh, before I decided to do the show, I never would weigh myself, so when I got on that scale for the first time, it was pretty shocking. I weighed in at a portly 206 lbs! But, that wasn’t the worst of it. When we began, they also took our body fat (mine was 30%) and measurements. I think I was really traumatized when they told me I had a 41” waist. That’s one place where less is more!

What prompted you to lose weight?

I had wanted to get my act in order for quite a while, but I was in denial for the longest time. The first indication that something was wrong was when my pants wouldn’t fit, but I refused to by any new ones! Instead, I would just zip my pants up but not button them. The last straw was when I had to work at a gay pride event and was required to wear a tank top, which was not very flattering on me at all! Then, when the opportunity to be on the show presented itself, I couldn’t pass it up. It was so motivating to know that if I stuck to the program and followed what the trainers and nutritionist said, I would be guaranteed amazing results by the end of the three months.

Why did you pick Madonna as a fitness role model?

Actually, I didn’t pick Madonna! It never occurred to me that we could
pick a woman. When I went in to meet with the producers, I said that I wanted to be like Justin Timberlake. He’s just yummy! [Laughs] He’s got great abs, a killer bod, and a bangin’ sense of style, from ghetto fabulous to sophisticated and sassy. The week I went in to see the VH1 folks was the same week that Madonna was playing her LA shows during the Re-Invention tour. I went in wearing the custom-made t-shirt I wore to the tour opener, a baby pink tee with big black block letters that says, “Madonna is my bitch!” So it was kind of meant to be. I had Madonna on the brain, and that’s who the producers assigned to us anyways.

What was involved in following Madonna's regimen?

Well, we were put on a macrobiotic diet, which Madonna adhered to religiously for many years. And, it sucked ass! I was never a big fan of tofu before we began the program and we had tofu with just about every meal! We eat tons of tofu, vegetables, complex grains, and minimal fish. No chicken, beef or dairy. But, it was nice to have all of our meals made for us. That way the temptation to cheat was definitely minimized. Also, we were not able to drink any alcohol at all for three months. Going out to bars was pretty tough because I could only have water.

Fitness-wise, we also did yoga and went fencing, which was so much fun. Style-wise, they took us a few times to get facials at Madonna’s favorite spa. It was nice to be pampered after working so hard. I really have never worked harder! We would work out six days a week. For one hour in the morning, we’d do strength training with one of our two trainers, and then at night, we’d do an hour of cardio on our own. And we’d also do cardio on the seventh day. So it was like we’d never get a break! I really felt like I had to put my life on pause for three months. I wasn’t able to see my friends as much as I would have liked, and that was tough. I would have to be in bed every day by 9pm to wake up at 5am, at the gym from 6:30-7:30. At work by 8:30. Back at the gym by 6:30pm. I’d get home by 8, where I had just one hour to eat, pay bills, jerk off and just take a moment to breathe. [Laughs]

I also had my eating down to a science: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner. I always ate at the same times – the same thing, day in and day out. I felt like a machine.

Were all the other contestants gay men? How did you feel about all being lumped in one episode?

At first I was very nervous about who was going to be on the show with me. I really didn’t want to be on an episode with women because I kept thinking that they’d be resentful of having a man on board, because men do have an advantage in that they can lose weight a bit faster than women. I was relieved when I found out that I was going to be on an episode with two other guys, and when it became apparent that they were both gay and that we were on the Madonna episode, I just had a good laugh! I knew we would have fun and were definitely in for a ride.

Was there any "drama" with the trainers or other contestants?

The whole program was very stressful. Our trainers were merciless, and they were asking a lot of us and our bodies. Plus, working out super early in the morning, you’re not the friendliest. [Laughs] During one of the workouts, one of the other guys was goofing around when we were boxing and he inadvertently cause me to injure my wrist, which thankfully wasn’t a very serious injury. After that, we were a bit icy towards each other. Things got pretty heated towards the end. We almost got into a fight, but thankfully, before the program was over, we were able to work out all of the crap. I mean, we were put in such an extreme situation and having the cameras on you does not make it any easier, it just heightens the experience.

What was the most fun part of doing the show?

The most fun part of doing the show was the very last day when it was all over! [Laughs] All of the hard work, sweat, early morning workouts and a few tears were behind, and I could really just sit back and enjoy the final reveal. I got my hair did and my nails done. They even had an old school barber come in and shave our faces! It was so much fun to be pampered and taken care of all day. Then, we put on our fancy new duds and were introduced to all of our family and friends. It was especially meaningful for me because I flew my mom out from Miami and she had not seen me since I began the program. I made sure that a friend picked her up at the airport and everything so that she wouldn’t see me until the reveal. And then when she saw me, of course she started crying. It was a touching moment.

What was the most stressful?

The most stressful part of the whole experience was the newness of it all. I never really worked out on a regular basis before the show, and there was a big disconnect between my brain and my body. It was very frustrating to have the trainers yell at me because I wasn’t doing an exercise properly. My brain was watching them do it and I thought it was computing it, but I couldn’t always translate it and get that movement into my body. It took a while to really get in synch and become one with my body. That sounds so frou-frou and Kaballah-ish, but it’s true.

Would you do it again?

I would definitely not do it all again! [Laughs] Thankfully, I now have all the tools and know what to do to keep up a healthy diet and fitness regimen.

Is there some sort of prize or competition involved or does everyone just try to reach their fitness goals?

There are a few “rock star indulgences” as the show likes to call them. Whoever lost the most amount of weigh, body fat and inches each month would win a prize. I won the indulgence the second month, which was a 3-day stay at one of Madonna’s favorite resorts. I took my cousin as my guest, and we just had a wonderful time. They gave us complimentary massages and facials. We event went in the mud baths and mineral hot springs. It was totally fun.

Were you happy with your results?

I was more than happy! I far exceeded all of my expectations. I lost a total of 45lbs in the three months! And I dropped 13” around the waist! Now I’m at a normal and healthy 160 lbs and 28” waist for my 6’0” frame. Plus, it feels so good to have abs! [Laughs] I’ve never had abs before. So now, of course, I keep telling all my friends to touch my abs!

Have you kept the weight off? How have you incorporated what you learned into your life now?

Since the show ended back in early October, I’ve not only been maintaining, but I’ve also been fine-tuning. I’ve incorporated everything I learned from the show, and I’m very proud that I’ve still been hitting the gym six times a week. Thankfully, I’m only going once a day though! [Laughs]

Are you nervous about America seeing you go through your ordeal?

I’m a little nervous about the show airing. It’s pretty amazing that our whole three-month experience is condensed down into 60 minutes! The editors have tons and tons of footage and they really can paint you in whatever way they want. But, on the whole, I’m very excited for the show to air. I think that a lot of gay men and people in general will be able to relate to me and my experience. And, hopefully, I may inspire some people along the way. It’ll definitely be a good chuckle!

How did you feel when you started seeing noticeable results?

I first started to notice results when my pants started to fit again.
And, my first thought was, “I’m glad I didn’t buy fat pants!” [Laugh] It all happened so gradually. I don’t remember a specific moment when I was like “Wow. I see results.” Because for the first 3 or 4 weeks I was on the show, I was in so much pain. I had to pop as many Advil as Anna Nicole Smith. But she probably uses stronger meds! [Laughs] The first moment of real tangible accomplishment was at the one-month mark, when we weighed ourselves for the first time since starting the show. They didn’t let us weigh ourselves, so I had no idea what my results would be. When I got on that scale and I saw that I lost just over 20 pounds in the first month, I was shocked and amazed and totally blissed out. It was great to be able to put a number to all of the hard work that I put in, although it’s not about losing weight. What’s more important is losing body fat, and that’s what I’m really focusing on now that I’m off the program. I’m trying to build muscle without getting bulky and without losing any more pounds.

Have you changed on the inside as a result of your change on the outside?

One of the great things about working out so much and also the yoga is that I have really been able to learn how to focus my energy, which has been wonderful. It’s great to have a lot of energy, but it’s a waste if you don’t use it wisely.

Do you have more self-confidence?

I definitely have a lot more self-confidence, but in my own quirky way.
I look good and I feel good, but I don’t think I’m hot shit or anything like that. It’s the minutia that I’m proud of. Like, I’ll tell people,
"Touch my abs!" Because I take five abs classes a week. That’s almost three hours of ab work! [Laughs] And, I’m proud of having lost 45 lbs, but more importantly, I’m more proud of having dropped 13” around the wait.

Are looks more important to you now?

I don’t pay any more importance to looks now than I did before. What I do value more now is discipline. Going to the gym is very important to me now. I look forward to it, I enjoy it, and I get a lot out of it – both physically and mentally. I make sure that I go 6 times a week. And it’s just done. Not going that much is just not an option for me anymore. And, it’s kind of awesome to see that I have that much discipline. It’s a new thing. And I like it! [Laughs]

Have you changed your fashion style?

My shirts have definitely gotten tighter! [Laughs] It was also nice to
get an allowance for new clothes from the show once we were done with the program. Let me tell you, you can spend $500 real quick! If I had as much money as Madonna, I’d be so fashionable I’d give Tom Ford a permanent erection! [Laugh]

"From Flab to Fab: Madonna Style" Airs Monday, Dec. 13 at 11:30am on VH1