Harley Pasternak: The Man Behind Hollywood’s Best Bodies

Bobbi Brown
·Editor in Chief

Nutritionist and trainer to the stars, Harley Pasternak

You’ve probably heard of celebrity fitness guru Harley Pasternak. He’s the nutritionist and trainer behind the the unbelievable bodies of celebrities like Katy Perry, Rihanna, Jessica Simpson, Megan Fox, and too many others to mention. I met Harley a year ago and we hit it off immediately—I love his direct, no-nonsense approach to health. The best part is that Harley’s advice is not based on fads; it’s based on science. When everyone is jumping on the trend of the moment—from Paleo to juicing—it’s essential to have a voice of reason.

I was so excited to interview Harley and find out exactly how he gets everyone looking so strong and amazing. His advice isn’t complicated. It doesn’t require you to hire a trainer or take a pricey fitness class. It’s surprisingly simple. By the end of the interview I was ready to lace up my sneakers and get outside.

Related: 4 Go-To Breakfasts of Fitness Champions 

BB: OK Harley, I’m really trying to adjust my diet, I just had quinoa, arugula and a hard boiled egg for lunch. What do you think?

HP: That’s good! We all need more protein though. One egg is not going to cut it.

BB: [Laughs] So what should I have eaten?

HP: Each meal should include a protein that is the mass of your hand, a palm-full of a high fiber grain or a high fiber fruit, and then all the non-starchy veggies you want. You want to base your meal around the quality of protein, fiber and healthy fats. That’s the holy trinity.

BB: How did you learn so much about nutrition?

HP: I spent almost 11 years at university. I have three degrees.  I was a nutritional scientist for the Department of National Defense and then I spent the next 20 years studying it and writing about it.

BB: There are a zillion nutritionists and trainers, all with different ideas. You have managed to stay at the top for so many years. What I like about you is when trends come and go—juicing, Paleo, or whatever—you are always consistent. Why is that important to you?

HP: I think it’s because I want proof of something first. I am very conservative when it comes to giving people health advice. I think if you look at the top 50 selling nutrition books in the U.S., hardly any of those people actually have a university education. There are authors who just heard a 90-minute lecture from the first year of med school, or trainers who have no formal nutrition education. I think the bar has been set very low to be a healthy eating guru.

BB: What is your advice for those of us who like a nice espresso in the morning and a cocktail at night? How can those people actually follow your plan?

HP: First of all, you’ll live longer having an espresso in the morning! Studies show people who have moderate caffeine consumption actually live longer, healthier lifestyles. Caffeine consumption can be very healthy and reduce the incidence of certain neurological disorders, increase alertness, and the rate of preferred body fat. There are three important things you want: to live healthy, to look great, and to perform well. When it comes to looking great, alcohol definitely does not have too big of a place. However, I am sure there are those people who have one to two glasses of alcohol a day and actually can live healthier, longer lives.

Related: Chef Sam Talbot’s Ultimate Smoothie

BB: Can you lose weight if you have an occasional drink?

HP:In my program I tell people two meals a week should be your free meals. If you want to indulge and have your favorite margaritas or bottles of wine then so be it. But for the most part, if you are trying to lose weight then you definitely want to minimize your alcohol intake. It is not so much the calories, as much as it is the biochemical impact of alcohol on your liver’s ability to mobilize its own fat.

BB: You’ve had some very public success with some celebs, what are the transformations you are most proud of?

HP:Halle Berry in Catwoman, Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet, Rob Pattinson for Twilight. Megan Fox just had her second child and she looks even better than she did before she had kids. Right now we’re working with Victoria’s Secret’s Behati Prinsloo. How do you take her and give her an even better body? But she looks more toned than ever. I also train her husband Adam Levine.  I think it’s great when couples work out together.

BB: Speaking of couples, are you really training Kim and Kanye?

HP: We definitely work with Kim sometimes, and Kanye has not only been a long-standing client but one of my closest friends. He is one of the most amazing, incredible people.

BB: I am obsessed with his music. You train a lot of hot young stars, but what advice you have for those of us who are over 50?

HP: Here is the good news. I work with Jeff Goldblum, who is in his 60s and looks as good as he did 30 years ago. There is almost a 60-year age difference between Miley Cyrus and Jane Fonda, and one day I trained them both. I would say I trained Jane in her 70s even harder than I did Miley who’s a teenager. I think as you become older it’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter. Resistance exercise is paramount as you age, because it really is the fountain of youth. I think the older you get the less you can sit, you really have to be moving all day. Not intensity, you don’t need to do wind sprints, you don’t need to spin, just walk.

BB: I know you are a big believer in the power of walking. Is that enough?

HP:I always say that Americans are working out too much, but are underactive. They are sitting all day, driving everywhere, ordering in lunch, and getting automated coffee machines next to their desks so they don’t have to go anywhere to get it. Then they are driving to a spin class, sitting on a stationary bike for 50 minutes, and thinking that is enough activity. When it should be skip the spin, and bike or walk to get your coffee. Park a couple blocks away when you get to work. Get off the subway one stop earlier. All those little things are exponentially more impactful than those super high intensity bouts of cardio two to three times a week. I tell all my clients, you need an activity monitor like a Fitbit, and to walk no less than 10,000 steps a day, optimally 12,000. I don’t care if you want to dance in your spare time, take the stairs, walk more, have a walking desk—just whatever you need to keep moving. If you’re a New Yorker you’ve got no excuse. 

BB: In your new book, The Body Reset Diet, you say you can change your body in 15 days. How is that possible?

HP: For years my method has always been slow and steady wins the race, and that one to two pounds of weight loss a week is healthy and sustainable. But much like everything else in our culture these days, people want more and they want it faster and they want it easier. So people start doing cleanses and juice fasts and all this ridiculous stuff. They are losing a lot of weight really quickly and then of course gaining it all back and messing up their metabolism and making themselves miserable in the process. So I have this reset that’s like the anti-cleanse. Rather than just giving you the water from squeezed fruits and vegetables, I am including whole fruits and vegetables, plus protein, which you don’t get in juice, plus fiber, plus healthy fats. So you are going to feel full and you are going to feel great. You will also learn about three meals and two snacks a day and about getting all the essential nutrients you need in every meal.

Related: The Amazing Health & Beauty Tonic in Your Kitchen

BB: So let’s talk about the Paleo diet because that’s what everyone is currently talking about. What is your opinion on Paleo?

HP:I find it very strange that someone would base an eating philosophy on a civilization that only lived to the age of 17. Things were very different back then, there were no automobiles or bicycles, everything you needed you had to go get it physically. So the daily caloric expended was incredibly high for these people, they were moving nonstop. Meat was not easy to get, they did not have primarily red meat in their diet—they lived off of seeds and nuts. They also tell you to stay away from dairy, the truth is people who have higher dairy intake actually live significantly longer, have a lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes. So that is one thing you have to take into consideration. I think the principle that we should eat like our Paleo ancestors is very misleading. I think that it’s a marketing tool, it’s another cool sounding concept.

BB: Have you always been super healthy? Was there ever a time where you weren’t?

HP: You know when I was a little kid I was chunky. My mother would always joke she would have to get me husky jeans for larger kids. [Laughs.] My wife reminds me sometimes if I overdo it with chocolate chip cookies, that I will have to wear Husky pants again.

BB: I would doubt that!

HP:I grew up in a household where both my brothers had Type 1 Diabetes so I was raised eating healthy food with healthy ingredients. 

BB: It definitely worked! I know everyone always asks about your advice for others, but what do you do for yourself to stay healthy?

HP:I usually start my day with a white smoothie. It is like an apple pie smoothie for the most part. I love it: Greek yogurt, apples, almonds, cinnamon, a banana and almond milk. I do it in my own big restaurant quality blender that I designed.  Then I will walk to my favorite coffee shop because I used to have an espresso machine at home but I got rid of it so I could force myself to take steps in the morning. At lunch time yesterday I had an open-faced turkey Panini on double fiber bread with a side salad. Dinner-wise, I have fish almost every night. For my afternoon snack, my wife bakes me these incredible zucchini oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (recipe below). It is actually has a whole zucchini, but you can’t taste it, you can’t smell it, you wouldn’t know. It’s a way of sneaking vegetables into my diet. She makes them with oats, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, and she uses a little bit of coconut sugar.

BB: Is coconut sugar is the best kind of sugar?

HP:It works for me. I like that you don’t have to use that much of it.  It doesn’t give you that insulin spike.

BB: Do you eat dessert?

HP: Well everybody has their one thing, and mine is definitely the chocolate chip cookie. It happens at different days of the week at different times.

BB: Is it a healthy cookie?

HP: No it’s the most opulent decadent cookie from the coffee shop around the corner from me called Commentary.

BB: That sounds awesome. Do you walk it off after dinner?

HP: I walk all day. Right now my earpiece is in and I walked around the block twice. I have a rule that I don’t sit when I am on the phone.

BB: I am going to put my sneakers on and get out the door before I do anything else! I learned a lot today. I can’t wait for you to do more with Yahoo Beauty.

HP: Thanks Bobbi! 

HARLEY’S ZUCCHINI OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

  • 4 cups (not packed) - shredded, drained Zucchini (3 cups 0% Plain Greek Yogurt

  • . 2/3 cups Brown Sugar

  • Protein Powder-2 Scoops

  • 1.5 cup  Quaker Oats

  • 3 Tablespoons Smooth Peanut Butter

  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract

  • Chocolate Chips to taste

Combine all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl to achieve a thick texture.

Cover, and place in fridge overnight (or at least 2 hours)

Preheat oven to 350

Use spoon to dole out small round balls of batter

Bake for 45-50 minutes

Let cool