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Body by Cher

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Cher makes her debut on the literary stage this month with Bantam Books’ Forever Fit, a comprehensive diet-fitness book she co-authored with sports nutritionist Robert Haas. Cher sought Haas’s expertise after filming Mask in 1985, a demanding project that left her drained. Author of the best-seller Eat to Win, Haas has worked with such superjocks as Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova. Of Cher he says: “She tends to drive herself, and there is always an element of stress. So we went after a total self-care program.”

The result was a diet and low-impact workout routine to keep Cher at peak energy. The program worked so well they decided to go public with a book—which offers a seven-day, 21-mealplan; more than 75 recipes; and chapters on weight loss, weight maintenance, exercise, skin care and spiritual well-being. In the following excerpt, Cher and Haas share their tips on keeping fit.

CHER

As my grandmother was approaching her 72nd birthday, I asked her, ‘ “Grandma Lynda, what do you want for your birthday?” She said, “Well, honey, I could really use some new sweat clothes—you know, some nice leotards.” She had joined a gym near her house, and she just loved going there every day to work out. By the time she was 72 she was thinner than she had ever been, and she couldn’t believe what was happening with her body and spirit. My grandmother is living proof that it is never too late to change the way your body and mind can work together so you look and feel your best.

Robert and I decided to write this book to give people the kind of information they need to get off their butts and commit to a lifestyle of health and fitness. You can’t turn 40 and just think that God or the U.S. government or anyone else is going to take care of your body. You are the only person in charge of your body and your health.

The most important thing is to give yourself a fighting chance. I quit smoking. I don’t do drugs. I never drink coffee and almost never drink alcohol or eat red meat, so I’m way ahead of the game.

I try to avoid foods with a high fat content because they make me sluggish and keep my weight up. Dairy products are not good for us. I weaned myself from whole milk to nonfat milk—if I’m having milk at all. I think cheese is one of the worst things for the body. It doesn’t digest well, and most cheeses are too high in fat and cholesterol. My worst addiction is sweets, Chocolate. Sweets have been the toughest “substance” for me to kick. Robert says: “Treat yourself every once in a while. Don’t deny yourself something you like so much.”

A diet shouldn’t torture you, and ours doesn’t. One of the best things about Forever Fit’s diet plan is the delicious meal replacer protein shake in the morning that absolutely satisfies my craving for chocolate—and my hunger. It’s actually a complete meal. I doctor my shakes with my own recipe. I use water and more ice to make it frostier. I put in regular (not chocolate-flavored) malt, which has fewer calories, three packets of Equal, and a heaping teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder. Then I blend it all for a minute, and I’ve got a nutritious chocolate malt with less than 200 calories.

To make this or any diet work, you have to change your eating habits and your tastes. By eating better foods you’re going to feel much better and be less heavy than if you just go out and stuff yourself with pork rinds, potato chips and Cheetos. You can’t have that stuff in the house and be on this diet.

For me, eating is really emotional. It’s while making movies and being away on locations that I usually have my worst eating patterns. Movie locations can get real lonely because I miss my family. Acting is a job that forces you to sit and sit and not be able to work. It’s not the acting you have to be good at—it’s the waiting and being able to keep yourself constantly ready, so concentrated that at any moment you can start a dramatic crying scene right before lunch. It’s almost impossible to relax. And that can make you vulnerable to bad eating habits.

I have had some bad binges while making movies. At the end of The Witches of Eastwick Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and I really went crazy. We’d go from one of our trailers to the other stuffing ourselves with Pepperidge Farm Cheddar Cheese Goldfish, M&Ms, Cokes and Hershey’s Kisses. Then Michelle and I found out we could microwave sweet potatoes in four minutes, and that changed our entire lives. We lived on sweet potatoes, baked potatoes and Caesar salads.

But lately I’ve been concentrating on eating the foods that Robert has stressed as being terrific: brown rice (not white rice), legumes—lentils, pinto, navy, lima and kidney beans—vegetables, pastas, fruit. Pastas give me a lot of energy, and so do fruits like bananas, papaya and nectarines, because they have a lot of sugar but it isn’t refined.

ROBERT

The Forever Fit Permanent Weight-Loss Plan uses a special combination of two solid-food meals, two “meals” of fresh fruit, plus a low-fat meal replacement drink (a variety of brands are available in most health-food stores, drugstores and supermarkets). We don’t recommend eating big meals. It’s better to eat smaller, more frequent meals so the body has a chance to deal with smaller amounts of calories, fat and cholesterol at a time. The proper diet will also lay the foundation for a healthy skin plan.

CHER

I never had any serious skin problems until I was doing The Sonny & Cher Show, and my face was in makeup for 18 hours at a time. I developed a horrible allergy, makeup poisoning. I looked like Freddie from A Nightmare on Elm Street. One specialist put me under radiation and basically tried to nuke the problem away. My face turned brown all over, like a hand-tooled Mexican wallet. I had a series of chemical peels to strip away the discolored skin until it got somewhere near real-looking.

In the early ’70s I developed what is called adult acne. This was made worse by being in makeup constantly. With Dr. Arnold Klein in Beverly Hills I began using Retin-A to treat chronic cystic acne, and I’ve been on a prescription for Retin-A for 10 years now.

I know Retin-A works. I have used it to control my acne. But what I learned is what everyone else has discovered over the past couple years: that Retin-A also acts as a de-aging agent. I’m in my 40s, and I have no wrinkles. But you have to be careful. Retin-A must be used under a dermatologist’s care. If you start on it without being on a doctor’s program, you’re going to be the unhappiest person in town because the side effects like severe dryness and scaliness will be as bad as the problem you’re trying to cure.

ROBERT

Most scientists now agree that regular aerobic activity such as walking can help you live longer, live better and stay slimmer. But now strength training is high on the list of many longevity experts. Recent research suggests that maintaining or building just a little muscle can help you lose excess body fat faster, take preventive measures against osteoporosis by building bone density and help reduce some important risk factors for heart disease.

CHER

I don’t think I will ever stop exercising. Walking is the single most important exercise you can do. Unless you buy a treadmill, it doesn’t cost anything beyond a good pair of walking shoes.

I tried running for years and hated it. Your breasts arc going everywhere, your ovaries are going everywhere, and you’re jarring your shins. It’s not the greatest thing for your body. I really work hard when I walk. I can go as fast as many people run—four to five-plus miles an hour—and I sweat like you wouldn’t believe. Walking encourages me to go to my limit, but running pushed me over it.

To control weight you need at least 30 minutes of walking, at a speed of four miles per hour, at least four days a week. That’s one mile in 15 minutes. If you have never walked for speed before, you may want to set your initial goals lower—but advance toward a 15-minute mile. If you want to do more, start by increasing the frequency and duration rather than the speed. Set your own pace. Even if you’re starting from zero and do only five minutes a day, just add two minutes every few days—it’s consistency that counts.

I’m fortunate in that I can almost always arrange to have treadmills, small weights and other workout equipment set up in my hotel when I’m on location. So far, the only rough time I’ve had staying with workouts was when I did Mermaids in and around Boston the last four months of 1989. I had exercise equipment—a Lifestep machine and a reclining stationary bicycle to go with the treadmill. The real problem was tension on the set. We were on a tight schedule, constantly under the gun. There was just too much stress. I started eating out of nerves. I got heavier than I have ever been as an adult. I put on 12 to 15 lbs. and lost an awful lot of my overall muscle tone. I was bummed.

Afterward I gave myself three months to get into shape for the Heart of Stone ’90 tour. Knowing what kinds of outfits I had in mind, I knew I had to lose every ounce. There is no excess baggage allowed in those outfits. So I threw myself into a disciplined diet and exercise schedule that is an extension of the Forever Fit Plan. I threw away my M & Ms but allowed myself a treat once in a while. I kept working out like crazy—and, yes, I got results.

I’ve always felt a “philosophy” of fitness is as important as the actual routines. Whether you can keep to a program or not depends as much on your motivation and attitude as it does on your muscles and lungs. Try to set up a buddy system. If you stay home, get a group together, have members take turns watching the kids or work out to a videotape when the kids nap. Make room for exercise because your whole day will go better afterward.

Never set your goals so high that you fall short and beat yourself up about it. There is always that tendency to throw yourself into it for a few days, see no change, and go, “Screw this—who wants to be in this kind of pain? Time to get a pint of ice cream.” Be patient.

There is nobody whose body won’t change through exercise. When I began working with Robert, he put me on the walking program and changed the way I was eating. Since then I have continued to exercise with my workout partner for the advanced strength-training workouts and moved into alternate low-impact aerobic workouts on Lifestep, Biocycle, Precor, Cybex and other kinds of equipment.

I begin with a ballet-type workout that warms the muscles and loosens me up. My legs-stomach-butt routine is split up like this: 20 to 25 minutes on my back for various kinds of killer stomach crunches; 10 to 12 minutes on my side for inner-thigh lifts; 12 to 20 minutes on all fours for various reverse leg lifts: donkey kicks and stretches to strengthen and tighten the hamstrings, hips and the butt.

My workout class for the abdominal muscles is broken into exercises for lower, middle and upper stomach muscles and for left and right sides. Many of them are “crunches” that are common to almost every workout class or videotape. I do at least 10 separate exercises. My final class is for upper body work, which uses both free weights and a weight bar, with each exercise series focusing on a specific muscle group.

Don’t con yourself. If you can, move up when you’re ready. Be flexible and build up to the exercise routine that works best for you. It will pay off. Women who have never been able to show off their arms or wear short skirts or bathing suits arc suddenly hooked on exercise and just out of their minds to keep at it because of the changes they see and the way those changes make them feel.

I’ve been a peaks-and-valleys person ever since I was little. Much of my life has been about great heights. I don’t know if there’s any place to go from the heights but depths. And yet even in rough times—when I’ve been stressed out, had anxiety attacks and felt practically suicidal, thinking life, as I know it, is over—I’ve gotten on the treadmill for an hour, and the exercise just wore down the negative feelings and pulled me out of the valleys.

For the ’90s there is plenty to change in our society. One thing that has to change is the way society deals with women and aging. Growing older in America is harder for women. Most of us are, to some degree, fixated with not wanting to be obsolete. We’re given less and less value by society as we get older.

I’m sure a lot of people think I’m obsessed. Maybe I am. Most people don’t have to go out in front of 20,000 people and not only look good but be good and funny and happy even if they have a cold or a sprained ankle or had a fight with their boyfriend and their heart is broken.

This isn’t just paranoia over something that doesn’t exist. The pressures on a woman my age in the film business would make the healthiest person a little bit paranoid. Paul Newman can still do love scenes with 23-year-old girls. It’s almost never the other way around.

It isn’t like I’ve got some amazing secret that nobody else has. I’ve killed myself in the gym to have this body. What’s ironic is that the press wants to write off my body as the result of cosmetic surgery. This way they can dismiss me—and exercising—by saying, “Well, look at her, she just went out and bought that body.”

I just don’t understand people’s preoccupation with the amount of surgery I’ve had. I’ve been pretty open about the stuff I’ve had done, and it’s come back to me in the most negative ways. But are these cheekbones any different from the ones I had back with Sonny? This rib cage is still my rib cage.

People should do what makes them happy. Frankly, when I saw my face 10 feet tall in close-ups on a movie screen, I wanted my nose done because it really bothered me. My teeth were straightened and brought out with braces and a retainer. It improved the shape of my mouth. Maybe that’s why people think I’ve had chin and cheek implants. I’d like to look really great for as long as I can. If some people think that makes me terminally vain, then yes, I am that.

I think many women will buy surgery over exercise because they aren’t aware that you can really change your body by working out. Plastic surgery is no panacea. Nothing can change and maintain the shape of your body better than exercise and proper eating. More to the point, by fixing your look entirely through plastic surgery, you miss the exhilarating highs of daily workouts, and you don’t learn how to use your body to help your mind and spirit stay healthy.

The point is to create a new attitude about health and fitness and about your physical and spiritual selves, working together harmoniously. A program for fitness can’t be just a fad. It can’t be part of your way of life. It should be your way of life, just as it has been for Robert and me. Staying in shape and feeling your best isn’t just for today—it can be forever.