Health

How Edible DC’s AJ Dronkers Balances Working at SoulCycle, Being a Social Media Influencer, and Walking Six Miles a Day

Some tips: Walk everywhere, be kind to yourself, and listen to your body.

Photo by Kate Headley.

Welcome to Busy Bodies, where we ask busy Washingtonians how they balance health and fitness while working crazy hours, raising a family, and meeting the demands of the daily hustle. Know someone who’s killing the fitness game while getting it done (maybe it’s you)? Email mmontgomery@washingtonian.com 

If you follow AJ Dronkers on Instagram, you probably have an idea of how busy he is. Edible DC’s associate publisher also does freelance work for groups like Brightest Young Things, works the front desk at the West End SoulCycle, and is a social media influencer. The Edible DC gig means he’s always out trying new restaurants and bars, and he also loves hosting dinner parties at home, too.

That may sound like a lot, but Dronkers makes it work. “I’m a Capricorn and I’m extroverted. I definitely have a go-go-go mentality,” he says. “The more challenge I have, the more things I have on my plate—I tend to thrive under those circumstances.”

But in between his work and social life, he still manages to squeeze in five workouts a week (with plenty of walking and some self-care time). Here’s how he gets it done.

“I wake up moderately early. I’m usually awake at 6ish everyday. I’m an advocate for coffee at home, getting ready, and tackling some stuff, whether it’s personal or work-related. One day a week I open SoulCycle. I’m there from 5:30 to 9:30 in the morning. That sounds terrifying, but it adds this immense structure to your day. You leave feeling like, Wow, I’ve accomplished so much already. It’s like that trick everyone talks about: You make your bed and it’s that one task you’ve finished in the morning and it sets you up for the rest of the day.”

“I usually try to bounce around my client’s offices for a few hours, which I love. Then, with Edible, we’re always out and about. So we’re meeting at lunches or dinners or we have photoshoots or client dinners. It’s definitely a mixture of work from home or meet with the team wherever.”

“I’m a huge eggs for breakfast person. Any eggs and veggies that I have, always a piece of toast in the morning, coffee. I’m ravenous every morning when I wake up. When I was younger and I’d try to have a yogurt or banana, it was never enough for me. Especially if I’m opening SoulCycle at 5:30 AM, I need a banana and then I need to eat again when I’m off. I love sandwiches at lunch, and I’ll balance it off with a salad here and there. I always joke that if people actually took a screenshot of what I eat, they’d probably be shocked. And I am, too, most of the time.”

“I find food to bring me joy. I love sharing food, so for me, it’s never been about dieting or counting or saying I earned anything. I think that’s a really dangerous slope to talk about earning something by burning off something—that’s not how I think. I try to focus on eating local and eating seasonal, unprocessed foods. I don’t really worry about butter and carbs and calorie intake. If I’m hungry, I eat. If I’m not hungry, I stop.”

“You can say no to things when you’re out. At the events I go to, it can feel like you want to try everything. It’s okay to have a bite of something and not be so consumed with finishing your entire plate. When you’re not making decisions about what you’re being served, you have to take precautions of how you eat and balance that out.”

View this post on Instagram

Why does it feel like everything hits at exactly the same time? The EdibleDC Spring 🌱 issue deadline, two trips to NYC 🌃 for our BYT True Crime Festival, dinner 🍽 parties, my Dad happens to be in town, and then my brother also is coming down for a visit this weekend. ⁣ ⁣ When things feel crazy I used to drop exercise 💦 out of my schedule 🗓 , felt like the easiest thing to cut. But now I've learned how important it is for me to #keepshowingup for my mental and physical health by just carving out one hour each day. It's my only ME time during stressful periods and I treasure it 🙏🏼 . ⁣ ⁣ One other trick I've found is to treat myself to new gear occasionally to stay motivated and these Glycerin 17 👟 were perfect – super soft cushioning and the plush fit from the mesh that moves and expands with my movements. This has all kept me moving in the 52 chaotic miles I've walked since last Thursday alone. @brooksrunning #runhappy #glycerin17

A post shared by AJ Dronkers (@aj_dc) on

“When I started the Edible DC job, I put on a lot of weight. I turned 30 and I was like, it’s time to focus on my personal health instead of working and going to events day and night and eating and drinking anything I wanted. When you first enter this industry, you have huge eyes and never say no to anything and then you realize, ‘Okay, you can have a bit of moderation.’ So I made a commitment when I turned 30 to sweat five times a week, every week. It didn’t matter what that looked like. I didn’t say what kind of workout it had to be, I didn’t say how long the workout had to be, I didn’t have numbers in mind about weight loss or anything like that. But I lost 40 pounds in about nine-to-twelve months.”

“I don’t over schedule the workouts. I don’t sign up in advance for things. I try not to stress myself with OK, you committed to a 7 AM yoga or a 12:30 spin. I just do walk-ins, and it allows me to feel out my day. When the lightning strikes and I’ve got that hour, I try to figure out what’s closest to me. I’ve been doing a lot of SoulCycle and yoga—I go to Flow. I always have shorts and a shirt with me. The good thing about these workouts is you don’t have to have your shoes, you don’t have to have your mat. You can just walk in and work out.”

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This week marks my 1 year anniversary since I joined the #SoulFam behind the desk part time. Prior to joining the team I was an avid rider and the community had been a common thread through a lot of personal transition physically and emotionally. You'd think taking a peak behind the curtain would lessen the experience but honestly it's only made it richer. The entire team is really such a family – we celebrate life accomplishments, lean on each-other during rough days, and dance and laugh daily together. That same vibe often extends into our rider community. I can't tell you how many times I've bonded with riders or they've checked in on my personal well being. One major thing I've learned even this late in my career is take immense PRIDE in everything you do whether it's picking gum off the floor or eating and drinking at a Michelin release party. #soulcycle @soulcycle

A post shared by AJ Dronkers (@aj_dc) on

“I try to walk everywhere. When I moved to my spot on Scott Circle, I found everything’s a little over a mile away. It always seems silly to grab a car. So those miles add up, and I’m hitting on average six miles a day.”

I work out for my mental health. That release, the endorphins, the stress that you get to let go of. In any given day, if I can say that an hour was just for me—it’s probably that workout. I think it’s so important to not feel like that’s a selfish thing to prioritize. I do acupuncture and I try to get a massage once a month. And cooking and the other things I do in my life are very therapeutic to me. They add energy and calmness to my life.”

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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Associate Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She previously was the editorial assistant at Walter Magazine in Raleigh, North Carolina, and her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Adams Morgan.