As a barre instructor at Fit Girl Studio in Evanston, sophomore Abby Reisinger tries to prioritize eating right and exercising in a realistic way. After all, she’s a busy student — just like all of us. This Spoon staffer highlights her approach to healthy living on a college schedule and gives concrete advice for burning off some of those extra calories from holiday meals.
What classes do you teach at Fit Girl, and how long have you been teaching there?
I teach barre. It’s a 60-minute full body workout. It’s kind of a blend of ballet, yoga, Pilates and weight training. You fatigue the muscle completely so it physically can’t do any more work. I’ve been officially teaching since October 8 [of this year].
What made you want to start teaching, and how did you get involved?
I started coming here last fall. It was my freshman year of college, and I really needed something to take the place of my athletics in high school. I really needed something to occupy that part of myself. The staff really just made me feel so at home and made me feel just so awesome about coming in and doing something good for my body. I had a very rocky first two quarters of college so it was great to have this stable thing in my life. I decided to get certified because I loved the workout. I wanted to make other people feel the same way that I do about Fit Girl.
How important is healthy food to you, and how do you try to incorporate it into your diet?
It’s very important. A piece of fruit at breakfast, picking whole wheat over white — consciously making those healthy decisions but also being really practical about it and just cutting yourself some slack. You’re not always going to make the best decisions and sometimes you really just need to go have a burger. I’m very much about 80/20, 70/30, that nice split of 20 percent indulging all the way, 80 percent taking care of yourself.
Do you find that your take on healthy living has changed since you’ve started working at Fit Girl?
In high school I loved to work out. I ate healthy things kind of subconsciously just because that was what was kept in my house. Since I started coming here — I started working the desk here last January, it just has sort of become more of a presence in my life. It’s something I preach more about — annoyingly — to my friends. But it is something that I feel a lot more passionate about. That’s definitely been augmented since working here. Really being part of people’s journey to health. Being a part of that really brings that to the forefront of my life.
How often do you typically exercise on your own, and what kind of workouts do you do? Do you consider teaching your own workout, or do you exercise outside of your classes?
It really depends. Each class is different. So if I have a class of mostly beginners, I do most of the class with them just because they need the visual cues. Some classes benefit from me being very hands off and just giving them verbal cues. So I don’t typically count teaching as a workout. Outside of teaching I try to work out three to five times a week, so either coming to Fit Girl or I run a lot. But to that same token, I say I try to work out three to five times a week. If I have a lot of papers maybe it will be one or two, or if I’m having a really great week maybe it will be seven. So I have a goal that I try to reach every week, but sometimes it’s not met, and that’s okay.
How do you balance exercise and healthy eating with a busy school and work schedule?
I always ground myself in reminding myself that I am here in Evanston to go to school. But you have to think long-term and my body is something that needs to be taken care of long-term. So my priorities kind of go school, health, social life. If it means that I go to bed a little bit earlier so that I can wake up and work out, that is very okay. If it means I turn down a dinner invitation because I just haven’t had a great week eating-wise, that’s gonna happen. Northwestern students are notoriously busy. They slip. You miss a workout, you miss a whole week of workouts, you eat fast food, whatever. Giving yourself some slack and just being okay with being human is really the most important aspect of that.
What would you say is your favorite pre- and post-workout food/snack/meal?
I actually teach 6am [classes] here so it’s really easy to say “eh, I’ll just eat after,” but [that’s] really really dangerous. I typically try to toss down a handful of dry cereal or something before just to line my stomach, give it some carbs to burn, and then afterwards I have a peanut butter sandwich and an apple, or grab a smoothie from Peeled. And lots of water. Always, always, always. You tend to eat a lot less and your body just feels better. Your hair is shinier, your eyes are brighter, skin is clearer, mind is sharper.
What do you think is the biggest diet myth or fad that’s out there that you don’t really agree with?
I think the biggest one is — with the exception of vegans and vegetarians — cutting out entire food groups. I have heard so many girls who are like, “I’m not eating carbs this week because I have formal.” Well, that’s absolute garbage because a: your body needs them and they’re not bad, and b: the second you go right back on them you’re just gonna gain all the weight back. I actually hate the word “diet.” I think that the word “diet” is a bad word because it implies something temporary. So I think a better word to use is “lifestyle,” so focusing on having a really, really balanced lifestyle.
With the holidays coming up, what advice do you have for students who are seeking to make healthier choices in terms of food or exercise over the holidays?
My rule is, on the day of a holiday, so Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, you can eat whatever you want. Because it’s a day of family. It’s part of that cultural experience of a holiday is very focused on food. Just focusing on staying active and consciously making balanced, healthy choices all the other days. I mean, when you’re opening presents with your family or when you’re sitting down and your grandpa is carving the turkey you don’t want to be thinking, “Oh, jeez, I can only have one piece of this.” Just letting yourself be that day.
What are your favorite tips for students who might want to burn some calories after they eat that big meal?
The best thing you can do for your body, hands down, is go for a walk. It is the most natural thing for your body. Actually, the more that you walk and use correct posture, the more evenly distributed that your weight is and the better that your spine is. If you want to “burn it out” — as I typically say in my classes — I really love the side pretzel move for your booty. It’s just getting your thigh pushed back behind you and getting that thigh parallel to the ground. Just lifting really slow, really controlled, really focused motion. It gets right at that side body, gets it nice and tight. But a disclaimer: A fitness myth is that you can spot reduce. So a lot of people think that oh, if you do 100 crunches, you’ll flatten your abs out or you’ll lose weight in your stomach. That’s not how it works. Your body burns fat from wherever it wants. So, the whole point of barre is to tone out those muscles so they burn calories more effectively and then as the calories start to burn more effectively, then you’ll burn the weight off depending on how it wants to burn off. I typically lose it in my stomach first.
On a lighter note, what does your favorite holiday meal look like?
Well, my grandma is kind of the best cook in the world and I’m not just saying that because I know she’s going to read this. So for Thanksgiving, I love her stuffing — her stuffing is amazing — and she makes her own mashed potatoes. She does a mean broccoli cauliflower casserole. But for Christmas — twice baked potatoes. There’s cheese involved and there’s starch involved, which is the best. She makes a great apple cider as well.
Do you have any staple that you always have on hand? Do you have a typical breakfast, lunch and dinner? What are your grocery go-to’s?
Green apples — because they’re the only color apple I will eat and because they have a lot of natural sugar. Almonds — unsalted almonds — are really great. Peanut butter’s a good one. You have to be careful with the amount of sugar in your peanut butter but the healthy fats in it are fantastic. Whole wheat bread, I think, is a great staple to have on hand. I actually recommend that if you live off-campus you only buy whole wheat bread because then that’s the only thing that you’ll reach for.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed.