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The Wacky World Of LA Fitness

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I moved from London to Los Angeles, a little out of shape, thinking it was all smoothies and jogging and hard-bodied strangers that look like movie stars… and here is what I found.

First of all people out here take their gluten-free very seriously. Every Sunday at the farmer’s market in Hollywood local institution Bezian Bakery peddles its gluten-free sourdough loaves with homemade signs saying things like:
Another sign elaborates that Ancient Roman soldiers survived on sourdough as their only source of protein, and were able to takeover half the world. So compared to London it’s easy (well, less hard) to go gluten-free in LA because so many others are attempting it, and most menus are clearly marked, and there are implausibly gluten-free options everywhere, even for things like pizzas and cookies.

Now the most popular diet seems to be the Paleo (short for Paleolithic) which is a fairly sensible-sounding diet in which one eats like our ancient ancestors, before the advent of farming, on a mixture of meats, nuts, and berries. I call it the “eat-like-a-caveman diet”. So upon walking into the brand new Whole Foods downtown (there are Whole Foods everywhere in this city) you’re immediately confronted with a whole section dedicated to Paleo, making a healthy, prehistoric shop all the more straightforward. Don’t worry though – way weirder diets are available.

Notably the much, much stranger Bulletproof diet as endorsed by the likes of Ed Sheeran and, recently, Harry Styles. Also by my roommates who begin every day with a cup of Bulletproof coffee: a steaming, unlikely brew of low-mold coffee (Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey is convinced that almost all our coffee is covered in debilitating mold), and spoonfuls of grass-fed, unsalted butter, and coconut oil (or similar). It smells and appears absolutely disgusting, with globular pools of fat congealing on its surface, so I’ve always refused to try it. However the highly Californian idea underpinning this fatty potion is that you can hack your body like a computer and trick it into burning fat at an unusually high rate. Whether or not this actually works, is highly contested.
My roommates also undertook a pilgrimage to the first and only Bulletproof Coffee shop, by the beach in Santa Monica, and reported that there was a machine – the Vibe – that shakes you around very, very quickly, which is known as whole body vibration training. Apparently the experience was “unpleasant”, but then those of us in search of health and happiness are often willing to try an unlikely, potentially upsetting shortcut. Also very popular at the moment, amongst those for whom yoga and transcendental therapy is not transcendental enough, such as notable advocate Lindsay Lohan, is cryotherapy: the practise of freezing yourself inside a unfathomably cold chamber (minus 140 degrees Celsius, which is way, way colder than Antarctica) full of smoke and pop music for up to three minutes. Essentially your body believes you’re going to die and brings all your blood into your core to protect your vital organs, and accelerates your metabolism, and releases lots of uplifting endorphins. It’s another way of hacking your body.

Does this have any proven health benefits to the ordinary person? No. However I tried cryotherapy in Beverly Hills and if nothing else it was terrifying and euphoric, like a rollercoaster that convinces your body it’s about to die, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Another thing I’d recommend is the popular pastime of hiking in LA, which is profoundly different to the rain-sodden, wind-beaten family treks through Welsh farmlands of my childhood. It’s much more glamorous and bizarre: Taylor Swift recently hiked a whole trail backwards, just to prevent a paparazzo from snapping her. Even more surprisingly, notorious noughties party photographer The Cobrasnake has reinvented himself as a sort of neon-spandex-clad fitness pied piper and he leads twice-weekly hikes (open to all, free of charge, advertised on his Instagram @cobrafitnessclub) up the mountain trails and through the canyons that wind around the city, followed by a shiny, happy posse of muscular model-types: admiring the view, posing for photos with water bottles and chia seed bars, feeling the burn. It sounds weird (it is weird) but I went along once and had a lovely time. It’s a particularly LA experience, a really healthy and body-positive one.
So does the Los Angeles lifestyle really make you fit and healthy? Kind of, yes, and certainly it makes it easier. There’s an obsession with the body, much more than with fashion, and that sets it apart from British cities. While you wouldn’t come out here to be inspired by street style (there is almost none), you might to be inspired by how people look after their bodies, which is just as important. Also, it’s just easier to eat avocado salads and go out jogging in the morning and all that when the sun’s always shining, and everyone’s pretty chill, and nobody expects you to spend your every waking moment in a mad-house office and afterwards the pub.

California has one of the world’s biggest and most influential health and fitness industries, and it’s open to all sorts of ideas – even totally bonkers ones – but the best ideas, the ones that work, will trickle down to the rest of the world sooner rather than later.
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