Late Nights and Early Mornings: How Honeysuckle’s Chef Lost 75 Pounds While Working 12-Hour Days

Photo courtesy of Hamilton Johnson.

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In early 2017, Hamilton Johnson, 36, opened Honeysuckle near Dupont Circle, a Southern American-meets-Icelandic restaurant offering up hushpuppies, citrus-cured Loch trout, and banana bread, his childhood favorite. The chef was also 75 pounds heavier and “always tired. I hated myself and my body,” he says. Then, in November, he met personal trainer Devin Maier through a mutual friend. Johnson’s been training with him ever since. Here’s how he continues to prioritize his health—fitting in four to five workouts each week at Balance Gym—while meeting the demands of running a restaurant.

I get up around 7 AM, eat breakfast, and head to the gym. I spend around an hour at the gym and usually get to the restaurant around 10 or 10:30 AM.

Working out with [Maier], it’s very fast-paced. A lot of high-intensity kettlebells and bear crawls. I don’t know how he comes up with this stuff. You feel like you’re going to die, but in a good way. I’m sore every day.

I’d rather go to the gym than work out at home. You develop this routine. I always see the same people. You make friends—it’s almost like a gym family. They motivate you, too. Some days you just don’t have motivation.

It’s daunting at first. But then you do it and you surprise yourself. It’s pretty rewarding.

I try not to eat white bread, but bread and potatoes are my favorite foods. It seems like a constant battle. I eat 40 percent carbs, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent protein. I have [the app] MyFitnessPal and log everything I eat. I’ve been doing that for three months or so now. I’m connected to [Maier] and he can see it. That helps. 

As a chef, it’s hard. It’s really hard. You have to taste everything. But just a little taste.

It’s a very stressful job. You’re prone to bad habits. But you think, do I really wanna have a drink or two and get up the next day? That’s helped me create a better lifestyle. When you’re lifting, you realize that you start your day feeling refreshed, feeling better. You can take on the day.

I leave the restaurant around 10 or 10:30 PM and get to bed around 12:30 or 1:00 AM. It’s hard to wind down. But I have so much more energy now. It feels so good. I also had sleep apnea and now it’s gone. I sleep better.

Everything’s better, as cliché as it sounds. It’s a pretty awesome feeling. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Kim Olsen

Kim Olsen ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Alexandria.