Meet Christopher Sasha.
The author of Transforming Your Lifestyle One Belief at a Time, Christopher Sasha is a top healthy lifestyle consultant to Chicago’s CEOs and billionaires who travels to clients' home and corporate gyms. Sasha believes it’s paramount to stay on top his game by keeping up with what’s new in the fitness industry.
Attending seminars and educational programs on cutting-edge information are essential in this ever-changing lifestyle industry. Avid of improving his clients’ health, Christopher Sasha has dedicated over a decade exploring various philosophies of diets that in the end don't work.
Christopher talked to us about his career and his life in Chicago.
Tell us a bit about how you got into modeling. Was it something you always wanted to do or was it something that developed later on?
My entire adolescent and young adult life revolved around quitting anything that took any sort of effort. If I didn't succeed at something with the first go of it, I would quit. I was taking acting classes in a community college when I was 19 years old, when I started waffling on the idea of using modeling as a stepping stone to get into acting in Hollywood. I know this all sounds twisted - why would someone who quits everything that takes effort even entertain the idea of getting into acting in movies? I was completely oblivious to the fierce competition of acting. I was always told that I looked like a model or actor so I thought, "How hard could it be?" That was my rationale for getting into modeling.
I hired a local photographer who had an artistic eye to do my first test shoot. I looked through hundreds of fashion magazines so I could mimic their poses for the shoot. But when the camera was facing me dead in my eyes, I froze. I forgot every modeling pose I thought I could replicate. So the photographer suggested a glass of wine to calm me. I was shaking at my knees. That one glass of wine led into two bottles and being on the verge of being comatose. Needless to say, I was extremely relaxed and the shoot went rather well.
The following Monday morning I called every modeling agency in Chicago to set up meetings to represent me as a fashion model. I went into the first agency expecting them to exalt me as the new Calvin Klein underwear model. My delusional expectations led me astray. I was rejected. I was going to quit then and there. But I decided to try one more agency. The booker at the next agency looked at the photos of my first test shoot, and without even looking at my physical being, turned me away. Again, I was going to quit something that I wanted to do. I started walking back to my car with the negative tape recorder in my head repeatedly telling me that I will always be a quitter.
Something in me made me sit down on a park bench instead of going to my car to drive home. I sat there for a while and just thought about what my real purpose of becoming a model actually was. At the very rawest form of reasoning, I wanted to become a model to be inspirational to others. However, on the superficial level, I wanted to become a model as a stepping stone to acting. The people in my life at that time would admire all the models in fashion magazines. It was like these strangers on the cover of magazines were their heros. I thought if I could become one of their heros, I could inspire them to achieve their every dream.
Challenging my ego's warnings of rejection, I turned around and went to the next agency. After 10 different bookers from 10 different modeling agencies rejected me, I met Elite's men's department booker, Brad. He broke me down a little, too, but saw that I could work in the Chicago modeling market and was willing to take a chance on me. So after all the rejections from the other modeling agencies in Chicago, my perseverance, or glutton for punishment, landed me a contract with one of the most recognized modeling agencies in the world.
How did the transition to personal trainer come to pass?
I used to compete in amateur natural bodybuilding as a hobby, and to release stress from my studies while in college. Then I started helping other local amateur bodybuilders dwarf their body fat down to the 4-5% range where they needed to be to compete. I really enjoyed helping others achieve their physical goals. I eventually graduated DePaul University with a degree in finance and I bagged a job as an internal auditor for Chicago Title.
I put myself through school and had a monstrous student loan bill with no idea how to pay it back. I wasn't making much as a newly hired internal auditor. A few weeks after starting my corporate career, an old friend of mine asked if I wanted to work a few hours per week as a personal trainer for a friend of his. I interviewed with his friend and was hired to help him train his clients on the weekends. So I thought, "Cool, I can use the extra cash to apply toward my monthly student loan payments.”
About a year later, I encountered my first experience with corporate perfidiousness. The company I was working for merged with another company and eliminated the entire team I was on. There were rumors that a merger was in the offing, but my manager continued to deny the rumors. Luckily, I was able to increase my hours as a personal trainer until I secured another finance position. But that other finance position didn't happen. I enjoy helping people get personal results - their joy, their excitement and laughter. You can't see that on a company spreadsheet or any other piece of paper.
You’re a "healthy lifestyle consultant" primarily, correct? What does that mean exactly and what can a potential client expect if they decide to work with you?
I'm different than a personal trainer in that I offer many other services. The personal trainers I'm amid, handle a physical training regime and offer basic nutritional guidance. There are six major facets to a healthy lifestyle and most personal trainers focus on only two of the external factors that affect our health. It is fair to say that the two external factors (diet and exercise) that the majority of personal trainers concentrate on do have the biggest impact on our health, but they are ignoring other external factors as well as internal factors. Other factors like stress management, hormonal balance, sleep patterns, and our own personal beliefs also have profound effects on our health. And if just one facet is missing, lasting overall health will be impossible to sustain.
A textbook example of why a person who eats healthy and exercises but can't lose weight, or has a very difficult time losing any weight, is most likely a sign that he/she has hormonal imbalance. There might be an excess of estrogen in his/her system - yes, guys have estrogen, too. And the fatter we get, the more estrogen is created. This is because fat cells also produce estrogen. By the way guys, testosterone also converts to estrogen because of aromatase (an enzyme in fat cells). So, again, the fatter a guy is, the more testosterone will be converted to estrogen. Or leptin resistance might be the problem. Chronically high cortisol levels (biochemical reaction due to chronic stress) is a major reason why people can't lose weight, even if they are eating properly and exercising. Not getting quality sleep triggers hormones to make the body store fat and stay fat. As you can see, hormonal balance is crucial to a healthy lifestyle. My job as a healthy lifestyle consultant is to educate my clients on all six elements to attain lasting health.
A potential client would initially be asked to record a food journal for 10 days. I suggest using www.calorieking.com for most foods. The food journal (I have an electronic food journal on my website, www.fitbodiesbysasha.com/fitnesstools) would entail nutritional information like the three major macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat (total fat and saturated fat), total calories, cholesterol, sugar, sodium, fiber, and the time the foods were eaten. It's not only what you eat, but also when you eat, how much you eat, and the distribution of macronutrients of the foods you eat. From this food journal, we can either totally reconstruct the client's eating habits or tweak-and-peak areas to give the client the biggest nutritional bang for his/her buck. Almost everyone forgets to include the "forgotten calories" in their food journal. One of my clients, for instance, would eat Tic-Tacs all day to keep fresh breath. I have to say, those little breath mints are only 1.9 calories each. But when she munched on a box-full of Tic Tacs all day, every day, we included those calories into her food journal. At the end of the year, we found out why she gained seven pounds. And that's just from a box of Tic Tacs every day! These forgotten calories will put pounds on you slowly but surely.
We then complete a hormonal balance analysis questionnaire. This allows us to find possible hormones that are keeping the client from losing weight. The questionnaire indicates possible hormonal imbalances, which we would ask the client to get either saliva or blood tests with their physician to confirm if a particular hormone(s) are indeed out of balance. The thing with hormones is that they are all intertwined - no hormone works in isolation. This means that if one hormone is not in balance, it will trigger a cascade of other hormones to be out of balance. Over time, these hormonal imbalances eventually lead to degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, etc. I strongly encourage the client's doctor to be part of the team to help the client achieve optimal health. If we find hormonal imbalance, we try to correct the problem with various diets and supplements, depending on the client's individual needs. Again, the client's doctor needs to be a part of the team to monitor the client's biological changes and confirm that certain suggested supplements are safe to include in the client's health regime. Just because many supplements are "natural," it doesn't necessarily mean that they are all safe for everyone. Some people take medications or have allergies that might have adverse effects when certain supplements are implemented into their diets.
We also conduct a 13-point body composition analysis. This test indicates how much body fat the client is carrying around all day. It also suggests which hormones might be imbalanced because certain hormones force the body to store fat in specific areas of the body. Once we know how much body fat is stored within the client's body, we can calculate how many daily calories each individual client should consume to maintain his/her current weight. HINT: it's rarely 2,000 calories per day like most people think! From that point, we can safely manipulate calorie consumption in conjunction with a periodic food journal analysis. This will ensure that the client will lose weight the proper way so that it stays off.
We then schedule a kitchen extreme makeover and educate the client as to why most peoples' kitchens are disease-filled havens. We'll follow that with scheduling a personal grocery shopping trip at the client's local grocery store and educate the client as we shop for foods.
Then comes the exercise program. Not everyone should do the same type of exercise regime, so we utilize a method of training that was used by the ancient Greeks readying for the Olympics called periodization. Again, we customize every workout for each individual client because no two individuals are the same gender, age, height, weight, body composition, or have the same activity level for strength or endurance. The client participates in a fitness assessment which consists of various exercises. With each exercise, we find the maximum amount of weight the client can safely handle and take different percentages of that weight to change the intensity, tempo, and pace. These manipulations allow us to structure a periodization program that is customized to each individual client.
Why did you decide to become your own boss and what's the most rewarding part of what you do?
Well, I didn't exactly decide to become my own boss. I was somewhat forced into being my own boss. I mentioned earlier that I was moonlighting as a personal trainer while I was an internal auditor for Chicago Title Company. After my entire team was laid off due to the merger of the two companies, I picked up more hours as a personal trainer. As I was working as a personal trainer, I was actively interviewing for another corporate financial position.
One day, as I finished training a client, I went into my boss' office to fax my resume to a company for a financial analyst position. As I was faxing my resume, my boss walked into the office. He asked me if I had time to talk. At that moment, I thought I was in trouble for faxing my resume. But he told me that he was starting a new health spa company and wanted to know if I would be interested in being the new company's finance guy. I jumped at the opportunity.
The deal was that I would take full responsibility for the personal training division of the company until it was time for me to transition into the new company's financial role. We agreed that I would give him a year to get the new health spa up and running. At that time, I would hire a new manager to take over the personal training aspect of the business as I become the finance guy of the new company. Everything was great for a month or so. Then my boss was having trouble paying the bills as he borrowed from one investor of the new health spa to pay the interest to another investor. Soon, he was in over his head and couldn't make ends meet. I didn't know of the "robbing Peter to pay Paul" schemes he was playing. Finally, he fired me. I didn't see it coming. This was the second time I experienced deceit in the workplace. I stopped interviewing for a finance job because I was under the impression that I was going to have the finance duty in a few months for the new health spa. I resolved the only way I could protect myself from being a victim of other people's surreptitious business decisions was to be my own boss. I was fired on a Thursday night. That Friday afternoon, almost all of his clients wanted to leave with me. I was very lucky to have such loyal clients.
The most rewarding part of my job is when my clients reach their personal goals. When my clients succeed, I succeed. The most triumphant moment I have ever experienced with a client was when she was able to once again fit into the dress she wore the night her husband proposed to her. That was 15 years ago. It was an amazing moment when she came out of the locker room wearing her dress. Her hands were shaking, her voice was quivering, tears were cascading down her cheeks. She was so happy, which made all the hard work we did together priceless.
How has making a life in Chicago affected your career as opposed to a city like New York or Los Angeles?
Both New York and Los Angeles are majestically beautiful cities with tons of energy. I'm totally awake and feel alive when I visit these two cities. However, I feel balanced in Chicago, which has a certain vibe that creates an environment of both a major metropolitan city with a distinct hometown feel. There is a rather impressive pool of health-conscious people who can afford my prices here, while still offering me all the cultural necessities I mentioned earlier.
The competition is becoming more fierce as a personal trainer due to the modern-day depression our economy is currently suffering. With the "real" unemployment rate hovering around 18% and 1 in 7 Americans living on food stamps, a glut of business veterans and college graduates are scrambling for ways to put food on the table. A vast majority of these people workout on a regular basis and are getting certified to be personal trainers; maybe to ride out our faltering economy, or maybe to make a career of it. In either case, the cache of potential clients has recently exponentially diminished.
In hindsight, I was very fortunate to be at the right place at the right time when a wealthy and influential businessman saw me training a client at a gym and asked if I could fit him into my training schedule. That was 12 years ago. Six years later, he began telling his friends about me. In one way or another, I can trace most of my clients back to him. This is a business based on referrals. I don't know if the same situation would have happened in New York or Los Angeles. Because of that one client, I'm somewhat of a big fish in a small pond. And because this luck happened in Chicago, I'm lucky to be in a position I am with balancing both my career and my personal life. The bonus is that I'm only an hour away from any of my siblings in case I need support.
Chicago is a small, large city. And thankfully, some people I've been blessed to meet are closely acquainted with influential movers and shakers, which enabled me to make connections to advance to a higher level in the health and fitness industry. At this time in my life, Chicago is the perfect city for me to be a big fish in a little pond until I set all my kings and queens to move to the next level.
Tell us about your book "Transforming Your Lifestyle One Belief at a Time." How did you decide to write a book and who is the audience?
My new book "Transforming Your Lifestyle One Belief at a Time" started out being a collaboration of recurring health questions and concerns from clients (past and present), friends, other personal trainers and their clients, and anonymous people on trains, planes, buses, and social events. During my years as a personal trainer, many people have asked me many of the same questions, repeatedly. It occurred to me about six years ago that the general population doesn't know what a healthy lifestyle really means. It didn't matter the level of education or income, the uncertainty of what a healthy lifestyle constitutes ran across the board. And I don't blame them because of all the information out there. How does anyone sift through the superabundance of information that is at our fingertips?
My background comes from a bodybuilding perspective. So I broke down all the facets to building the perfect healthy physique like nutrition, exercise, hydration, rest, etc. I was fully aware that this type of book could be a dry read and the reader might have to wade through a lot of the biological explanations. So to make the information more interesting, I decided to do two things to keep the readers' attention.
First, I called on my professional modeling experience to have visually stimulating photos that I hoped would give inspiration. Others who have written health books have stated that their strategies had helped them get into the best shape of their life. There was even one author who said that he got his body fat down to 3.4%. But if you notice, all of the male authors wear a t-shirt on the cover of their books. A person can have very impressive arm size and chest size but still carry too much unhealthy body fat.
I believe a person's midsection tells the true story of how healthy a person is. And this is why I have risque photos on the cover, and throughout my book. I'm not hiding behind a t-shirt. When I say that the strategies I use have gotten me down as low as 3.3% body fat, I mean it by showing it. And the photos prove it.
"Transforming Your Lifestyle One Belief at a Time" is geared toward the 35-55 year age range. I'm 44 years-old, yet I have a physique of a twenty-something. I also look 10 years younger than my chronological age and have plenty of energy. You can still be in smashing shape and have plenty of energy as you age. And I'm living proof.
The second thing I did to keep the readers' attention was pepper my book with personal stories and health tips. People remember stories. Readers may not remember one statistical fact in "Transforming Your Lifestyle One Belief at a Time" but they will remember at least one of my personal stories that will help them with their personal health goals. I did so many unhealthy things while trying to find a true healthy lifestyle. My stories were intended to fast-track the reader past the mistakes I made.
There are so many diet, exercise, and lifestyle books out there. What makes yours different than all the others?
I go beyond the scope that most of these types of books limit themselves to. For example, I deliberately gained a considerable amount of weight to verify the negative health issues excess weight causes to the human body. But I got more than I bargained for with that experiment. I also appreciated a new found perspective on the psychological effects of being overweight. So I can relate to the frustrations and depressions overweight and obese individuals feel. It's a vicious cycle when you eat to relieve yourself from depression caused by being overweight, which leads to more depression and more eating. This is a possible sign that there is an imbalance in hormones like dopamine, cortisol, DHEA, sex hormones, and/or thyroid.
Most of the people I talk to have no idea what the information on food labels and ingredient lists means. I devote an entire chapter to dissecting these little informative tables. I also don't believe in cookie-cutter diet programs. I understand that no two people are the same gender, age, height, weight, activity level, or have the same biological makeover. If this is so, how could one diet program work for everyone? It can't! Again, almost every person I know does not know how many daily calories they should consume. The number one response I get from people after asking them how many daily calories they think they should consume is 2,000 calories. When I ask them how they derived that number, they cite the 2,000 calories on the food label on the back of all packaged food products. Nor do most people know how many calories they take in on a daily basis. When a you don't know a ballpark figure as to the amount calories you consume and expend on a daily basis, it's no wonder why two-thirds of American adults are overweight and obese. The weight problem with children and adolescents is even more disturbing.
I reserved a lot of space to explain, in detail, a safe and effective exercise program - there are plenty of photos to show the reader exactly how each exercise should be properly performed to avoid injuries. I used the core muscles as an example that can be applied for every muscle group in the body. I explain the "how's" and "why's" of proper exercise to ensure no injuries, proper rest, and getting the most effective workout to achieve optimal performance inside the gym, and out.
I entangled personal stories that take the reader on a journey as to how health and fitness changed my beliefs about myself and my perspective of the world around me. I spent most of my life broke, in jail, and unhealthy. The gym was my savior. Everything I learned in the gym, I applied to every aspect of my life. Things like discipline, hard work, pushing myself beyond my own comfort zone, and determination were all learned in the gym. And I took those learned lessons outside the gym to abolish my self-destruction and eventually became a healthy lifestyle consultant to Chicago's CEOs and billionaires.
I give the reader a true understanding of how the human body functions. I explain why so much of what you thought you knew about dieting and fitness is wrong. I carefully explain what doesn't work, then, most importantly, explain what works. My book is much more than just another cursory treatment of diet and exercise, "Transforming Your Lifestyle One Belief at a Time" gives you the knowledge you need for a lifetime of health and well-being!
What's next for you?
One of the greatest tricks the pharmaceutical industry did was convince Americans that everyone with type 2 diabetes needs to be on their drugs for the rest of their lives to control their disease. Ninety-five percent of all diabetes is reversible, without drugs. There is one exception to this, and that is sometimes drugs are a necessity for an acute emergency. When these drugs are used long-term, they make matters worse; not only for the diabetic's pocketbook, but also for their health. Most people are ignorant about diabetes and need to be educated so they can learn how to help themselves. I'm starting to collaborate with doctors to get this message out to their patients. I believe people with type 2 diabetes, and are currently on medications to control it, have been sadly misinformed. The pharmaceutical industry wants people to be on their drugs for life so they can make a hefty profit for a very long time. They don't care about all the deadly complications diabetes and their drugs cause. Ninety-five percent of all diabetes is reversible. And it doesn't come in a pill.