There I was, staring at myself in the mirror spanning the gym wall in a sports bra, boxing gloves, a hint of mascara puddling beneath my eyes—laughing. "Do it for the wings!" my trainer exclaimed. Do it for the wings, I repeated in my head. Do Angels think like that? Probably, right? Do they have little motivational mottos? Do they prance in lace undies in Chelsea lofts to up their confidence? Where did my shirt go?
I recently agreed to embark on a weeklong experiment to get runway ready like a Victoria's Secret Angel in honor of the Super Bowl of modeling events—the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, which airs Dec. 8.
My smug self didn't think it would be all that hard; I like to work out. I eat healthy enough. (I mean, I'm an editor at Health; this is my life.) But I quickly learned that my "enough" wasn't even close to the "enough" that's required when your job is to strut nearly naked in front of a star-studded crowd at New York City's Lexington Armory, with nothing more than underwear, stilettos, a spray tan, and heavy decorative wings to cover you up.
I prepped and planned every meal down to the seasoning. I called in the big guns to ramp up my workouts to two-a-days, and wrapped the week feeling exhausted, silly, maybe even a little vain, and wildly motivated all at once. Here's how it went.
Day 1: Prep day
I spent the morning compiling an Excel spreadsheet detailing my meal menu and workout schedule for the upcoming week, one that would have to happen before and after going to my real job everyday. Next, I laid out a grocery list plan of attack by mining the Web for any Angel meal mentions in past interviews (and on their Instagrams!).
The not-so-big surprise: Some top models have the disposable income to cough up $99 dollars a day for organic meal delivery services, like Sakara Life, that drop clean and "sexy" food products (think Goddess Mylk—yes, "milk" with a y) at your door. I didn’t have the $500 to spend on pretty, prepared dishes, but I did have a $100 gift card to Food Emporium. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)
Surprise number two: It is in fact possible to spend nine minutes in the pasta aisle. I got caught up in examining nutrition labels for ones that contained only brown rice and quinoa flour, rather than scary processed ingredients. To say the least, shopping was time-consuming. But I left with healthier noodles, fresh veggies, superfood mix-ins (chia seeds, flaxseed, and matcha, to name a few), smart swaps like hemp milk and Ezekiel bread—and a heftier bill than normal.
The last step was outfits. Yes, workout outfits. It became evident through my research that these long-legged babes never sweat it out in anything short of photoshoot-ready "athleisure" looks. I certainly didn't have to worry about paparazzi posted up outside of the gym, but I did find reason in dressing the part; researchers have found that what you wear really can affect the way you perceive yourself. Pyschologists call it "enclothed cognition," and research shows it can improve your exercise performance as well.
By the end of day 1, I had my dinners, workouts, and array of Spandex arranged to VS perfection. But my evening quickly turned to chaos when my best friend called to stop by and catch up, armed with Chipotle and wine. Watching myself succumb to gentle peer pressure (and a burrito bowl) meant I needed a little help.
Breakfast: 2% fat Greek yogurt with muesli, honey, and blueberries
Lunch: Kale salad topped with shrimp, lentils, avocado, raspberries, chick peas, and olive oil
Dinner: A not-terribly-unhealthy Chipotle bowl
Day 2: Calling in the expert
It was time to get serious, meaning I’d have to take a rain check on romantic nights in with Tex-Mex and red. I called Charles Passler, a chiropractor and nutritionist known to coach a tribe of fashionistas (including veteran Angel Adriana Lima), for an interview.
I expected my stomach to growl at the sound of his voice. But instead, his advice was simple and, to my surprise, didn't stray from the well-established rules of weight loss or maintenance—eat clean, sleep plenty, hydrate, and give yourself a break.
First, he explained, I needed to get the right amount of protein for my body. “A rule of thumb is that you should get roughly the same number of grams of protein as your weight in kilograms,” he said. “And then because you’ll likely be exercising more aggressively, we need to multiple that by 1.5.”
Next, he suggested that I worry less about completely cutting carbs. "I rarely advise a completely carb-free diet. We need a certain amount of carbs for fuel and energy," explained Dr. Passler. He recommended I embrace something along the lines of a Paleo-style diet.
As for the wine? "Let's make that a no-no this week," he said.
Breakfast: A Izabel Goulart-inspired green juice with scrambled egg whites and avocado toast on Ezekiel bread
Lunch: Homemade stir fry with red quinoa and mixed vegetables
Dinner: Salmon with wild rice, avocado, and roasted sweet potatoes
Day 3: Train like an angel
Earning a spot on my imaginary runway meant sweating and sculpting to a point that is unfathomable for mere mortals. And wing-bearers don't achieve it alone.
It became clear that a formula of boxing + barre + yoga + Pilates was the most popular Angel plan. The easy part was finding routines to mimic: After a quick "Victoria's Secret workout" Google search, my browser became a grab-bag of fitness videos, featuring Lima, Candice Swanepoel, and more. The hard part was finding the time to fit them in every single day.
I worked through an Angel-approved ModelFit workout, featuring founder Justin Gelband, from my online finds before heading to the office. There I found myself setting up appointments after work with a trainer at my gym, Moe, who boxes professionally.
The first step, he said, would be assessing my physical status. A few pinches and pokes with a body fat caliper, squats, lunges, push-ups, and a treadmill test taught me this didn't have to be a weight-loss mission, but a strength and endurance challenge. My body-fat percentage was healthy, and my peak VO2 was strong. As for my squats? "Not good at all, I'm just going to say that—sorry," he said.
We then moved through a jump-rope and sliding disk workout that left me feeling like I had been hit by a car the following day. "You asked for Victoria's Secret, so I'm giving you Victoria's Secret! You can do this," my trainer said as we stretched.
Breakfast: A protein shake made with a banana, hemp milk, and chocolate whey protein
Lunch: A kale salad and a spicy citrus beverage from Juice Press (Gigi Hadid mentioned it helps her warm up before a workout. And she may not be totally off; spicy foods, like chili peppers, may help activate your metabolism.)
Dinner: Salmon ... again
Day 4: Best of both worlds
I woke up early before work and pulled up a series of Ballet Beautiful videos on YouTube, a fancy barre workout founded by former New York City Ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers. A former ballerina myself, I felt nostalgic (and extremely tight) moving my limbs through the steps in the middle of my studio apartment.
On Day 4, it hit me that there's a giant difference between Angel glamazons and myself (aside from a few inches in height and pore-erased skin): I have a traditional day job.
To be fair, my job sometimes involves working out, making it far easier to blend my two current worlds than it might for other people. I attended a yoga event with a co-worker, but ended up bailing on our second scheduled stop, a taco tasting with craft beer pairings in Brooklyn. Don't tempt yourself, I told myself. The solution: cook 'em yourself.
Breakfast: Overnight oats with chia seeds, cinnamon, a chopped dark chocolate square, and berries
Lunch: A farro salad with spinach, pistachios, sweet potatoes, lentils, avocado, and olive oil
Dinner: Homemade tilapia fish tacos with mango salsa and two corn tortillas
Day 5: The Model Whisperer
ModelFit's Justin Gelband once told Elle that the fashion show was "my Grammy's. It's my Golden Globes. I cry, to be honest with you." So no way would my week be complete without a trip to his buzzy downtown studio.
I strapped on ankle weights, grabbed a Pilates ring, and found a spot in the back. Gelband shouted things like, "Don't look in the mirror; you'll all still be beautiful after class!" and "We're building lean muscles here," while we moved through micro-movements to perk up the tush and tone the triceps. There was little to no sweating involved and no model sightings, to my disappointment, but OMFG you guys, I made it onto Justin's Instagram.
(That's me hiding in all black in the back!)
At night, I paid another visit to my trainer for a boxing and TRX session that more than made up for my lack of perspiration earlier in the day. But I realized I was beginning to feel sluggish and tired, and sore in a way that no longer felt beneficial. I went home to cook, meal prep, and wake up to do it all again.
Breakfast: An egg-white scramble with avocado, red pepper, and mushroom
Lunch: Brown-rice pasta with turkey sausage, broccoli, and marinara sauce, à la Lindsey Ellingson
Dinner: Stuffed peppers (inspired by Romee Strijd)
Day 6: Drawing the line
I got up at 5:40, groggy, but got dressed and went to the gym to meet my trainer, who agreed to comp me a session when he saw my dedication on the road to a lingerie bod (and knew I was writing an article). I liked that I had become a morning person for the time being. I liked the mental challenge of a strict schedule. But I was so tired.
Do it for the wings. I heard it loud and clear, and I knew he wanted me to crack a smile and remember why we were there. It worked; I laughed and cocked my head in the mirror, wondering how I ended up at a point where I was wearing a VSX crop-top and mascara (MASCARA!) at 6:15 in the morning. Why would anyone do this regularly? I have no idea. But trying it out, in this moment, was funny—if not exactly fun.
After work, I hit the gym again for a private Pilates session. The tower and chair were foreign pieces of equipment to me, and the moves and stretches felt borderline painful. The instructor saw I was a little dazed, and clearly sore. "With every move, you have to smile from now on," she said.
Breakfast: An egg-white scramble with avocado, red pepper, and mushroom
Lunch: Brown-rice pasta with turkey sausage, broccoli, and marinara sauce
Dinner: Stuffed peppers (inspired by Romee Strijd!)
Day 7: Touched by an Angel
I awoke feeling like it was Christmas morning. Today, I would meet Taylor Hill, one of the newest VS Angels. Yes, I did my hair.
Hill's 5-foot-10 physique and perfect curls were unmistakeable immediately upon walking into the Victoria's Secret store in SoHo, Manhattan. And to my delight, the 19-year-old was friendly, bubbly, and happy to chat.
"Before the show, I didn't change my eating routine," she told me. (Sigh.) "I already eat all year long everything in moderation. That's what makes me happy. I have a great relationship with food."
I also learned that she does not strut in undies around her apartment leading up to the big night. "I can't practice. I can't even think about the show," she said. "I can't talk about it or look at anything Victoria's Secret; I just want to watch a movie and relax. I don't even work out the day before the show. It all just stresses me out, so I play with my dog."
We posed in a photo booth, made kissy faces in Santa Hats, and bid farewell. It was now time to hang up my proverbial wings.
No, I didn't celebrate with Chipotle and a glass of wine (come on, it was only seven days). But I was eager to return to my normal schedule of one-a-day workouts, not to mention my social life.
I'll never walk down the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show runway. And why would I want to? It's a gaudy parade of beauty, glitz, and glam that deserves to be chuckled at and not taken too seriously. But hey, it's a job for lingerie models, and it is certainly not mine.
My thighs still touch. I still hate cooking. But I'm waking up earlier, and packing my lunches like a champ. And that's "enough" for me.