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How a trip to Milan made me totally rethink my approach to wellness


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Photo: Instagram/@joeygonzalez

A single trip can be seriously therapeutic—and sometimes can change you forever. Barry’s Bootcamp CEO Joey Gonzalez learned this firsthand, on a trip to the land of pasta, which held surprising wellness lessons for the fitness guru and Well+Good Council member.

This has been a very exciting year for me, in part because we opened new Barry’s Bootcamp studios in Dallas, Atlanta, and Washington, DC—and in Toronto, Stockholm, and Milan, too. (Yes, I’ve racked up quite a few frequent flyer miles!) When my team and I take Barry’s into another country, we never steamroll in and say, “This is how we do it.” We spend time with our boots on the ground learning what makes each place different. The workout is the same no matter where we are, but when it comes to everything else, like what we serve at the Fuel Bar, we take a cue from the culture.

All of the openings were meaningful to me, but Milan was the most dramatic. Culturally, the people there are in a very different place and space as far as fitness goes. It reminded me of what life was like maybe 15 or 20 years ago, because they just enjoy it. Being there taught me a surprising lesson about wellness.

Even though I was eating things that I wouldn’t necessarily eat in the States, I was definitely not putting on weight.

Normally, I live in a cycle of working out hard, eating gluten- and dairy-free, and kicking myself whenever I overindulge in sugar. But I was going to Italy, and for a couple of weeks, I would have to give that lifestyle up. It was impossible for me at first—I was trying to stick to my usual diet, which isn’t easy in the land of cannoli and pasta. Plus, people look at you a little bit weird when you’re that person who’s eliminated four food groups out of your life.

Then, I got a message from my naturopath. She told me, “Just enjoy Italy. Go eat pizza—their food is better than ours is. Relax.” I decided to take her advice and let myself indulge. Even though I was eating things that I wouldn’t necessarily eat in the States, I was definitely not putting on weight. Not only was the food more delicious, but because the way European food is processed—or, should I say, not processed!—it actually turned out to be a lot cleaner, too.

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That trip got me thinking a lot about the American approach to food. Forty percent of American adults are obese—the highest-ever number recorded in the United States. Part of the problem is that our food is so highly processed that what we’re eating is actually not what we’re eating.

I believe that this campaign we’re on to be fit, healthy, and nutritionally aware is in response to this epidemic.

I believe that this campaign we’re on to be fit, healthy, and nutritionally aware is in response to this epidemic—because we see it and we don’t know how else to respond to it. Most of the other parts of the world don’t have access to such large amounts of cheap, accessible, highly processed foods, so they’re not really dealing with the repercussions of living with this fear of obesity. They are almost eating the way that they were 100 years ago.

That Milan trip shifted my perspective and reminded me that Americans look at fitness differently than other cultures. As I spend time in the international Barry’s Bootcamp locations, I’m thankful for having such culturally different experiences. It’s certainly given me a lot of interesting things to think about.

As a trainer turned CEO of Barry’s Bootcamp, Joey Gonzalez has a holistic view on wellness that includes family, mental health, and, of course, fitness. Since he took the top job in 2015, he’s grown the popular fitness empire to 41 studios—11 of them international.

What should Joey write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to experts@wellandgood.com

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