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Newt Gingrich trims the fat

Published May 31, 1998
Updated Sep. 13, 2005

Want to learn how to trim the fat in Washington?

Just look at the slimmed-down version of Newt Gingrich. The speaker of the House _ seen here, there and everywhere hyping his book _ is packing fewer pounds these days.

The man behind the weight loss is South Florida personal trainer John DeFendis, 40, a former Mr. USA bodybuilder, who put Gingrich on his "Burn Fat, Build Muscle" program last year.

"He was overweight and out of shape," says DeFendis, whose own bulging biceps are the size of a small ham. "He needed to do what most people need to do. Lose weight and build some muscle."

Add DeFendis to the list of personal trainers whose names make news after snagging a high-profile client. Look what Oprah Winfrey did for Bob Greene, her personal trainer and former director of the Health and Fitness Institute at HealthSouth Doctors' Hospital in Coral Gables. With Winfrey, Greene coauthored the best-selling Make the Connection: Ten Steps to a Better Body and a Better Life. DeFendis doesn't have a book in the works, but he's using his success with Gingrich to tout his weight loss program.

The diet and exercise regimen advocates eating three daily meals and a snack using low-fat, low-salt foods that provide low to moderate amounts of carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein. It also includes nutritional supplements, which DeFendis has a business interest in, and an exercise program that includes weight training and aerobics.

Gingrich wasn't a workout whiner, DeFendis says. He occasionally mentioned muscle soreness, but he stayed with the program. "Newt is very motivated," DeFendis says. "Here's a man who works 18 hours a day and manages to find time to work out. If he can find time, anyone can."

The Gingrich camp learned of DeFendis through a mutual acquaintance and called him with this request: The speaker wants to lose about 40 pounds and get in better shape.

Not a moment too soon, DeFendis discovered when he met Gingrich last year. He says the speaker, at 5 feet, 10 inches, weighed about 250 pounds. DeFendis, at 5 feet, 8 inches, weighs about 240. But it's mainly muscle, he says, not fat.

Gingrich didn't exactly sport a similar physique, but it has improved with diet and exercise. He is 30 pounds lighter and wants to lose 10 more, says Christina Martin, Gingrich's press secretary.

"He's still following the diet, taking the supplements and working out," she says.

DeFendis got Gingrich into the workout habit last year when he temporarily made Washington home base while he worked with the speaker for 4{ months. The cost to Gingrich: about $3,600, DeFendis says.

Four to five days a week, DeFendis met with Gingrich at the gym for an hour to 90 minutes, starting at 6:30 a.m. And, no, they didn't talk politics.

"I didn't know a thing about politics _ I barely knew who he was in the beginning," DeFendis says.