Can you really lose weight when food's your passion - and your profession? Get inspired by these pro chefs who overcame their own daunting diet challenges. By Amy Ahlberg, REDBOOK.
Andres MerazStay on schedule
Never let yourself go too long between meals, or you'll be tempted to overdo it with between-meal bites," says Andres Meraz, chef de cuisine at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach's DiLido Beach Club. "Being a chef can be very challenging when it comes to slimming down. I taste everything and I am exposed to so much food, so it can get tempting to eat everything in sight." His solution? Sticking to a strict schedule: breakfast at 8, lunch at 11:30, a light snack at 3, and dinner at 7. "Spacing out my meals and being consistent has helped me reach my target weight." In one year, Meraz lost about 50 pounds, and has successfully maintained his new weight. "I am motivated by the way my body feels and the energy I have since the weight loss," he adds.
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Tailor your diet to your body's needs
After restauranteur and celebrity chef Art Smith was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he lost more than 100 pounds - and got his disease under control - with a personalized eating plan. But Smith didn't have to give up all the foods he loved; instead, he added more vegetables to his diet and started making some of his favorite dishes more diabetes-friendly. "Eat your favorite family recipes. It may surprise you to find that you can still enjoy many of the foods you currently eat with just a few simple modifications." To get started, consult an RD, who can offer tips tailored to your likes, needs, and lifestyle.
Fill up on low-cal faves
To kick-start his weight loss, Jesse Schenker, chef and owner of the NYC restaurant Recette, focused on seafood and vegetables, which he could he eat in sizable quantities. "At first, I cut out all carbohydrates and sugars," Schenker says. "Mussels, clams, lobster, shrimp, and vegetables were my staples. I am a quantity eater, so I learned that I could eat a pound of lobster or other shellfish and get the quantity satisfaction while keeping the calories low. Broccoli with a little bit of sea salt - I can eat as much of that as I want. Feeling satisfied while I was losing the weight was very important to me." To avoid hunger pangs during long shifts, Schenker eats a small meal every three-to-four hours.
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Be aware of emotional eating
Michael Psilakis, chef and owner of New York restaurants Kefi and Fishtag as well as several MP Taverna outposts, suggest seeking non-food outlets for your emotions. "Keeping my weight down is a constant struggle because I use food as therapy for anxiety - which comes over me every time I open a restaurant," he says. "Working in a kitchen makes it even tougher because food is readily available to me as a crutch." His tactic? Avoiding what he calls "silly eating," or munching even when he's not hungry. "When you consume food to relieve stress, you're not really enjoying or tasting the food," he adds. "Think about why you're eating, and you will be successful at keeping the weight off."
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Keep track of what you're eating
Pastry chef and restauranteur Sarabeth Levine had tried Weight Watchers in the past, but didn't closely adhere to the program. On her second try, she truly committed to documenting her food intake and to going to meetings, and that's when it "stuck," she says. She learned how to think in points, and if she knows she's having a big meal for dinner, she'll eat lighter during the day in order to even out the day's calories. Levine also tweaked one of her classic recipes to create the Morning Cookie, a treat with no more than three Weight Watchers points - she indulges in one every day. She also tries to eat mindfully, enjoying the experience, and to never nosh standing up or on the run.
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