On Feb. 12, 2017 — one year ago Monday — Bob Harper was doing his typical workout at a New York City gym and went into full cardiac arrest. For nine minutes, he was dead. Two days later, he awoke from a coma. He was confused — and forever changed.
As a star of the Biggest Loser and author of diet, fitness, and weight-loss books, the celeb trainer, now 52, transformed lives, but this has been a year in which he transformed his own. While his fitness regimen and diet have had an overhaul, even bigger was all the stuff in between. He opens up about that new outlook — living life with no regrets — and dialing back his need to have the perfect body (sorry, six-pack!).
“I’ve learned a lot and my life has changed so much, but the main thing that I’ve learned is that life is fleeting,” Harper tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “You have to not bog yourself down with all the unnecessary things that life throws out at you. You have to find a way to appreciate life more — a way to go through your day and look for some sort of kindness you can put out or gratitude you have for being in this day. I know that sounds kooky, but it’s really what I believe in. I can tell you about my diet that has changed, and all the pragmatic things, but what’s really changed for me are those core beliefs and values.”
So what are some of the things he’s let go of? “Being constantly driven for: What’s the next project? What’s the next deal? What’s the next this? What’s the next that?” he says. “And then stressing out about: Does my body look the way I need it to look on any given day?”
He continues, “I was a workout fanatic, and I prided myself on the fact that I was 51, and ‘Look at me, 51 doesn’t look like this.’ … I remember kind of saying to myself: ‘I’m going to have this six-pack in a casket.’ Like, who cares?! I still want to be active. I still want to work out. I want to feel good. But I just don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, my God — I’ve got to look like this.’ It’s like: Who the f*** cares?”
Harper politely apologized for cursing, but you can feel where he’s coming from. And he talks about where he’s headed.
“What I’m trying to do in my life is to not live with any kind of regrets,” he says. “One of the mantras I have in my head is just to cut myself some slack. If things don’t work out the way that I thought they were going to work out, it’s all going to be okay… I’ve been given this second chance at life, and I appreciate everything so much. I appreciate that I’m sitting here with you right now, having this conversation in this really kind of like beautiful room, and nothing gets passed me anymore. I’ve always been super observant, but now I’m just aware at all times.”
He details how his diet changed in his new book The Super Carb Diet. “It’s all about balance,” he says. “It’s about having protein, fat and carbs, vegetables at every meal. Before, I didn’t rely on carbohydrates. I relied on high protein, high fat diets. Now, finding a way to balance that out has made me feel better. Personally, I eat a lot more plant-based, [which is] what my doctors are recommending I do. I made this joke — I feel like my next book is going to be called The Reluctant Vegetarian.”
Hear how Harper’s heart attack influenced his new book, The Super Carb Diet:
As far as exercise, he’s still doing CrossFit, which he’s a big fan of. “I’m not doing it at the intensity that I used to. I’m not going to be beating my Fran time at this point in my life, but I’m still doing that. I’m doing yoga. I’m doing some SoulCycle classes with some people that I love that are teachers, and I meditate a lot, not that meditation is exercise for the body — more that it’s an exercise for the brain.”
Getting back to the gym — after nearly dying there — was difficult at first. “I went through this total identity crisis,” he says. “When I went back into a gym — you also have to remember, I went from doing these crazy CrossFit workouts to having to be in cardiac rehab, where I was walking with fellow heart attack survivors, on a treadmill… It was very humbling.”
And anxiety-inducing — especially group classes, where eyes were on him. “They say people who have had heart attacks are 20 percent likely to have a heart attack within the year,” he says. “I think about that all the time. Now, since I changed how I work out, and I don’t do it in group environments as much as I used to — truthfully, I just couldn’t have people looking at me, it just gave me more anxiety — and I work out with my friend all the time now, and it’s built up my confidence. Whenever I do go into a class now, I go, I got it. I feel better about it.”
As for his depression, which he opened up about last year, it “has gotten a lot better,” he says. “It was really hard throughout this year, trying to figure out who this new Bob is — who the new me is — and I think that the more I started cutting myself some slack, that’s really helped me. I wanted so badly to just go back. I just wanted my life to go back to the way it was. That’s all I kept thinking about: Get me back in the gym. Get me back doing those workouts. All of a sudden, I’m like, I’m not getting back there. I’m going to find a new path, and that’s what I’m doing. That really helped me a lot with my depression.”
Part of each day is finding a little slice of happiness in his everyday life — and he’s started sharing it on social media in a little project he’s calling #TwoCupsIn. “I’m calling it that because I feel like after I’ve had two cups of coffee, I can change the world,” he smiles. “I take someone’s question and I answer it, and just have interaction the way you and I are interacting, because I think that we’re all so used to interacting by texting, you know? Not looking at each other… It’s good to connect with someone. I feel like what I really want to do with #TwoCupsIn — to engage.”
Some recent #TwoCupsIn videos on Instagram:
As for how he’ll mark today’s one-year anniversary of his life-changing heart attack? By getting some new ink.
“I think that it’s going to be an odd day. It’s going to be a day of reflection,” he says. “One thing though, as you can tell, I have a lot of tattoos — and I plan on getting a new tattoo. It’s so funny, because my tattoos don’t really mean anything. They’re all a style of tattooing and it’s all American traditional. I’m going to stay in that vein, but I am going to do a sacred heart and it’s going to be with the date on it — February 12, 2017.
It’s a day he won’t soon forget, but a day that has given him his new lease on life.
— Reporting by Hilary Sheinbaum
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