OF COURSEAction Bronson brought a kettlebell to the pizza joint. In a video shared on his Instagram, the chef-turned-rapper cranks out squats at L’Industrie Pizzeria in Brooklyn while shouting the names of Italian delicacies. “Focaccia!” Squat. “Tiramisu!” Squat. And although the short clip is lighthearted and fun–the best Action Bronson moments typically are–it offers a glimpse into the dead-serious journey of a big man taking charge of his life.
At his heaviest, the MC also known as Mr. Baklava was pushing 400 pounds. Now, thanks to an ambitious fitness regimen and an overhaul of his diet, he’s down 127 pounds since March. But becoming a healthier person has been a lifelong struggle.
“This journey started way long ago,” he says. “I was born heavy. I was a heavy child. This transformation was long overdue.”
One reason it’s taken so long to reach this moment is Bronson’s love affair with food. Before he was putting out songs with Chance the Rapper and A$AP Rocky, Bronson, born Ariyan Arslani, was a high school dropout from Flushing, Queens, who found purpose in the kitchen. Bronson attended culinary school, then worked as a chef around New York City. After breaking his leg in 2011 and being unable to work, he turned all his attention to making it as a rapper, releasing a series of well-received mixtapes and gaining props within the hip-hop community for his braggadocious delivery and proclivity for translating his impressive culinary vocabulary into bars. Rapping about food–“Shiraz,” “Brunch,” and “Jerk Chicken” are three tracks from his 2011 debut album–became something of an Action Bronson signature.
He parlayed that notoriety into F*ck, That’s Delicious, a Vice TV show that’s like a hip-hop-infused spin on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. The combined lifestyle of a touring rap artist and stoner TV host focused on sharing decadent meals with his loyal viewers eventually caught up with Bronson.
“There was a lot of shit like prediabetes, eczema, asthma, all kinds of fucking dumb stuff that I had given myself,” he says. He struggled with portion control. “If I made something that was a big, round dish, I would eat the big, round dish. I wouldn’t just have one piece.”
But a major life event finally convinced Bronson he needed to turn things around: the birth of his son in 2019.
“You always want to be around for your family,” he says. “It wasn’t going to happen unless I made that decision myself, and, you know, it takes some soul-searching and some shit to really bother you. Like something that really gets under your skin to make that change. That happened to me.”
The first step was completely reimagining his daily routine. Bronson wakes up at 4:00 a.m. and starts his day with a protein shake. His breakfast is consistent: two eggs, three egg whites, one piece of sprouted rye bread, and an avocado.
Then he drives a half hour to Impact Zone Fitness in Norwood, New Jersey. He boxes for 45 minutes, then gets into his sweat session with trainer Dave Paladino.
“I’ve already got my work in while everyone else is snoozing,” Bronson says, “putting in big gains, big protein, you know?”
Bronson is a fan of HIIT workouts, preferring athletic circuits that test his entire body. He rattles off his favorites like he’s about to spit a verse. “Like 50-pound medicine-ball throws, you know, down a 50-yard track, throwing it as far as you can, all the way down the track and back.” Slams. Carries. Presses. Sled pushes. He finishes with a hundred burpees “or some sort of ridiculous thing.”
Mr. Baklava also needed to redefine his relationship with food in order to achieve his health goals. “I’m kinda like a boring eater at this point,” he says with a laugh, but he claims to be “more interested in food now than ever,” because he’s fascinated by nutrition. He says he’s eating more filling foods, emphasizing protein and complex carbohydrates, and refraining from any carbs at night.
“You’re playing quarterback with your own body. It’s all about decisions,” he says.
Even though he has been able to pull off a staggering physical transformation in just a few months, he’s clear-eyed about the obstacles ahead.
“I’ve only managed to do it for six months, bro,” Bronson says. “I’m known to fall off the wagon.”
He’s loath to talk too much about the future–“this is a day-by-day play”–but Bronson comes across as a man who’s focused on continuing his progress.
“If you’re blessed with abs and 5 percent body fat, you’re gonna be grinding to make that happen your whole life. You just have to realize that that’s what it is. You keep your eye on the prize and don’t let yourself fall down.”