Chef Hamilton Johnson Loses 120 Pounds, Improves Mental Health With CrossFit

March 22, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Hamilton Johnson (@hambone_goonies)
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There are many reasons why people do CrossFit–the intensity, the community, or the varied workouts. Chef Hamilton Johnson used CrossFit to improve his mental health and lose 120 pounds. 

One big thing: Chef Hamilton Johnson, who will soon open a new southern restaurant in Washington, D.C., has been doing CrossFit since 2018. He wasn’t able to do a push-up or easily walk up a flight of stairs, so he began working with CrossFit Balance Managing Director Devin Maier on the side to learn proper movement. However, Johnson moved over to the classes after seeing firsthand the community feel. 

  • “I remember watching the classes, and I was like, ‘Man, the energy’s awesome,’” Johnson said. “‘Like the community seems really nice and really uplifting.” And he was like, ‘You should try it.’ So here we are.”
  • “I was jumping in and doing kind of CrossFit-style workouts, but 18.1 was my first workout with Devin. He made me do 18.1 after the fact, a month or so after that Open started. But that was my first one. Sometimes I go back and kind of test it to see what happens, and it’s pretty crazy.”

An important benefit: There are many in the industry that put extra emphasis on their overall health. Chef Antonia Lofasa does powerlifting at Deuce Gym while Chef Michael Symon has mixed in some yoga with his weightlifting and cardio. What is the reason for this besides the obvious aesthetic benefits? 

  • “I think a lot of it kind of derives from mental health,” Johnson explained. “I think that, for me, working out and doing CrossFit and trying to eat healthy is really beneficial for my mental health. And I think in the restaurant/Chef industry, I think that’s a big issue with mental health for people.
  • “And then it’s just a tough business. It’s very stressful. There’s long hours, you kind of fall in a rut where you work 12 hours. Next thing you know, you’re going out, having a few drinks, and you’re eating chicken wings at one in the morning. It’s easy to kind of fall in that rut.”

An early adopter: One fascinating aspect of Johnson’s journey to improved overall health is that he was a fan of CrossFit before he decided to make a change in his personal life. He watched all of the CrossFit Games and had favorite competitors in the field. Annie Thorisdottir, an athlete that Johnson was able to meet, is a prominent example. 

  • “I’ve always watched the CrossFit Games even before I was even thinking about working out. I just thought it was pretty incredible. And I was like, ‘Man, I’ll never be able to do anything like that, any kind of workouts like that.”
  • “I would watch it, and I was just mesmerized by that. So I was like, ‘These guys are crazy, like crazy in shape. Mentally, it’s like, ‘Wow, why would you do this to yourself?’ And then I get it now.”
Photo Credit: Hamilton Johnson (@hambone_goonies)

Johnson may not be going head-to-head with Rich Froning Jr. in Double Grace, but he tests himself during every class. He is also achieving several things that he never thought were possible before he started this journey. 

  • “I started running, and my mile time was like – oh my God, it was horrendous,” Johnson said. “It was like 15 minutes or something like that. My goal is to get it under 10 minutes, and I did.” 
  • “It was just things like that where it was like, ‘F***, that’s awesome.’ Being able to squat three plates for the first time, going from not even being able to do an air squat to I can squat almost 400 pounds now. It’s just incredible.”

Keeping balance is critical: One extra challenge for Johnson is his career path. He doesn’t work normal hours, and he is constantly surrounded by delicious food. His stints at a former DC spot, Honeysuckle, and at Michelin Star restaurant Gravitas are fitting examples. 

In order to keep on the path forward, Johnson has to take extra steps to maintain balance in his life. He puts an emphasis on routine and nutrition. He will still have a delicious Smashburger every now and then, but he will more regularly consume quinoa or Skyr (Icelandic yogurt). Johnson also has extra motivational support from Karolin Nilsson, Director of CrossFit Balance’s Foggy Bottom location. 

  • “Before, I had no energy. I would just almost fall asleep standing up,” Johnson said. “Just sleep issues, just in general. Then getting the routine where I work out in the morning and go to work, my energy drive went up through the roof. I was kind of running circles around people and just felt great.”
  • “As far as eating, I find it very hard sometimes. I don’t eat enough, but My Fitness Pal is something I use every day. So I get in the routine of logging something. Also just seeing how quick your calories can add up from fat or protein or whatever it is, it’s pretty cool to see that aspect as well.”

There have been moments and workouts that have tested Johnson. Murph is a fitting example. The Hero WOD tests participants and makes them question why they are even putting in the effort, but Johnson continued to keep pushing through until he was able to complete it. 

  • The most recent NOBULL CrossFit Open was another example. Johnson, who is 6-foot-4-inches and 275 pounds, was not a fan of the wall walks in 23.3. This movement is hard on him due to his size. 
  • 23.1 was the opposite. Johnson is a big fan of rowing. He can generate a lot of power, so the first week was more enjoyable as he took on one of his favorite movements. Though 23.2 actually became his favorite of the 2023 Open for a reason that only CrossFitters will understand. 
  • “I hate burpees and shuttle runs. And as much as I didn’t like that workout, I enjoyed finishing and doing it. I felt really good about myself after it. So that one just for the simple fact of chasing that feeling of doing that workout.”

What’s next: Johnson has already come a long way on his journey. He has improved his mental health, lost a significant amount of weight, and accomplished so much in the gym. Now, he has more goals to check off his list. 

  • Both of Johnson’s immediate goals are more endurance-focused. The first is taking on a half-marathon. He completed a 5k two years ago, but he wants to get serious about his running once again. The second goal involves one of his favorite movements. 

“We set goals every year on our CrossFit board. Actually, one of the goals this year is a sub-three-minute 1k row. We’ll see. That’s the goal for this year – one of the goals. That’s something I’m working on.”

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