How Musician Michael Franti Got Into the Best Shape of His Life at 54


You know the saying: Old habits die hard. For musician and filmmaker Michael Franti, those habits finally caught up with him in March 2019 when he stepped on the scale and saw 240 pounds. But he had some serious doubts about overcoming them. After all, he’d been living this way for decades—touring on the road, working 18-hour days, sleeping four hours a night (if he was lucky), and using sugar as a crutch to boost waning energy levels.

Unsurprisingly, he felt exhausted most days. Other than practicing yoga a couple times a week, he says the only other exercise he got was trying to burn as many calories as possible running around on stage every night. After most shows, he’d usually eat half a pizza and wash it down with margaritas before crashing in the tour bus bed.

And while this way of life is de rigueur for most touring artists, Franti thought, Man, I gotta do something different. So he vowed to make some changes.

“The only problem was that at 53, I had two knee surgeries [on the same knee from overuse injuries], and could no longer bounce back the way I did at age 23, 33, or 43 for that matter,” he says. What’s more, he had just welcomed an energetic baby boy into the family who wasn’t exactly going to wait around for him to sleep in.

Something’s Gotta Give

All in all, Franti didn’t realize how “unwell” he really was.

“I just assumed feeling shitty a lot of the time and the extra middle I’d put around my gut was part of being over 50,” he says.

And even though Franti was a former recreational runner and collegiate basketball player, he wasn’t sure where to begin. But as fate would have it, that summer, Christina Farias, a fan who also happened to be a wellness coach reached out on social media offering to help him get back in shape.

“She told me it would take six weeks to create new habits, six months to make them feel effortless, and, after a year of creating new habits, they would stay with me for life,” he explains. “I didn’t believe her. Or, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t believe her, I didn’t believe I had the ability to do it.”

But that June, Franti committed—if he felt better after working with Farias after six weeks, he’d continue on in hopes of meeting his goal of losing 25 pounds and gaining some muscle.

“Farias told me that wellness wasn’t about dropping 10 pounds—even though that might be a goal—but, rather, it was about creating great habits,” he says.

Creating New Habits

First, they evaluated Franti’s diet. His impulse to grab anything with sugar in it—licorice, chocolate, ice cream, cake, cookies; you name it—was first to go. Next he cleared out any other junk food and went on a high-protein, plant-based meal plan.

“I created a food calendar and started doing weekly meal prep to have on the tour bus,” he says.

What’s more, he swapped juice, soda, and kombucha for plain ol’ water, aiming to drink 3-5 liters per day.

The only calories he drank came from smoothies made with plant-based protein powder, blueberries, oats, peanut butter, water, and ice. “These were more like a complete meal, so by the time I was done, I was full,” says Franti. “I had to make sure I was eating on a schedule [roughly four meals a day] so I never felt hungry.”

Next on the list was his activity. Gone were the days of calling sporadic yoga and on-stage performance a “workout routine.” Franti started training five days a week focusing mostly on HIIT training and keeping things interesting with dumbbells, resistance bands, medicine balls, a Bosu ball, and even a Pilates ring. He also continued to practice yoga a few times a week and began using an activity tracker to keep an eye on his daily steps, which was a “game changer,” he says because he wasn’t walking much before. “I’d go from the tour bus to a car and that was it,” he says.

But since incorporating the tracker, “even on days when I didn’t work out, I made sure I got my steps in,” says Franti. “Before I knew it, the strength and mobility were coming back to life in my knee, and low back issues that plagued me for years were going away.” Soon he was able to run again.

The Biggest Battle

While cutting out sugar and sticking to HIIT were difficult to stick to, neither were as tough as improving his sleep hygiene. “Sleeping was the greatest challenge for me,” he says. “I worry a lot, and part of it has to do with not being able to shut my brain down at night.” The biggest culprit was another vice: booze.

“Alcohol put me to sleep at first, but then about two hours later, I’d wake up and couldn’t go back to sleep,” he explains. So, first Franti cut back his drinking to two drinks a week, then one, then none—no small feat.

In addition, he made sure to turn all screens off an hour before bed (since the blue light emitted from tech has been shown to mess with your sleep-inducing hormones) but also “all the stuff I was reading from emails and the news and Instagram was stressing me out and kept my wheels spinning all night,” he explains.

These efforts led Franti to sleep more incrementally over time: What began as three to four hours a night turned into five, then he tried adding another 15 minutes and so on until he was successfully sleeping six and a half hours most nights.

Seeing Progress

Each week he checked in with Farias to report back on what worked, what didn’t, where he fell short, and what he could improve on in the coming days. But the results spoke for themselves: Franti was sleeping more, drinking less, gaining strength, and six months into his journey he lost 25 pounds. “But by that point something much more important happened,” he says. “I felt better.”

Over the course of his work with Farias and the dedication he found within himself, he realized that losing weight (and that initial number he saw on the scale) was really just skimming the surface of what this lifestyle transformation was really all about.

Now, Franti says “I’m less tired, less stressed, and lighter on my feet. I can walk effortlessly for miles. I’m able to run every day again. I play basketball five days a week. I’m stronger physically in every way. I’m more rested, and I sing better because of it. My eyes are clearer, and I look fitter, but most importantly, I’m happier.”

A New Outlook on Life

Franti says the methods he’s learned to replace bad habits is something he plans to apply to other areas of his life, too. “As a father, it’s easier for me to pick up my baby,” he adds. “My wife and I bonded a lot over the training, food preparation, and eating better together.”

Plus, he says his entire perspective on wellness has changed. “It’s not just about having an organic salad every now and then between eating like shit,” he says, “and it’s not about having a really mindful yoga class two days a week and never sleeping.” Wellness is about feeling great, knowing each day you’ve done something good for yourself and are more equipped to handle life’s stressors—feeling healthier and happier, he adds.

Since then, Franti has gone on to lose another six pounds and has even begun hosting yoga retreats at his property, Soulshine Bali, a boutique hotel, which is where you’ll find him, his wife, and Taj, now 20 months old, hunkering down during the coronavirus quarantine. While you can’t catch Franti in down dog any time soon, you can check out his latest album, Work Hard and Be Nice, debuting on June 19.

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