Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Chef's approach to eating lighter, losing weight, and getting in shape .... Part 1

Right from the start, I'll acknowledge that when one starts thinking about whose advice to seek out in order to help them lose weight, shape up, and live a healthier lifestyle, a chef probably isn't the first person most people think of. After all, the classic image of a chef in most people's minds isn't exactly the lean, fit, athletic type. Usually when we think of a chef, the image that comes to mind is a portly, somewhat effete gentleman, often with an accent, an over sized mustache and, of course, holding a large plate of tempting, but hardly healthy, food. The kind of guy you'd love to have cook you dinner but not exactly your first pick to be on your team in a game of softball.
Granted, with the rise in popularity of food TV and celebrity chefs, the image in many people's minds of what a chef looks like has expanded in recent years. Yet, still to this day, when I meet someone and tell them what I do for a living, it's not uncommon for them to respond “Really? You don't look like a Chef!” Understanding what they mean by this I usually respond “Thank you.”

Some years ago there was a slogan that you could find printed on novelty cook's aprons, hats, t-shirts and even bumper stickers, “Never Trust a Skinny Cook.” Since in my younger days I was rather thin, that saying got tossed in my direction fairly often. Always with a sense of good natured teasing of course, but still something about that saying always bugged me. I think it was because that what it said to me at the time was that if I didn't clearly over indulge in my own craft, that I obviously wasn't very good at it.

I learned a response to that phrase from a co-worker of mine. “Yeah, well a fat cook is like a drunk bartender.”
OK, it's probably not a very good analogy but it was a gentle way to snap back without going into a soliloquy about long hours, hot kitchens, no time to actually eat what I was cooking, etc.
However, I didn't have to worry about responding to that remark for very long because the time soon came that the term “skinny cook” no longer applied to me. And it was then that I realized what was probably the real underlying meaning of that slogan. Yeah, I'm overweight, but I have a passion for fine food and cooking and an unhealthy, overweight body is that price of that passion. And that meaning bothered me even more.

So that was it? Since I lived in the world of cooking and dining, I was doomed to be out of shape, overweight and probably in poor health? Talking to my colleagues at the time about it seemed to reinforce that idea. It seemed like everyone I spoke with about how I was getting heavier, came back with a response like “Yeah, what are you gonna do? That's just the way it is with us.” Or “Sure you can lose weight if you want to give up eating anything good.”
Then, when I decided to look outside the culinary world to find out what I needed to do in order to reverse the direction in which my body and health were headed, it seemed like all the standard advice from the diet experts wouldn't work for me.

How was I to remove temptation from around me when I worked with and around non-diet food, some of it extremely non-diet, on a daily basis?
How was I to avoid snacking between meals when it was part of my job to taste test the food my crew was creating?
And keeping count of calories in that situation? Are you kidding me?
As far as finding a diet/accountability partner with whom to share the effort; I don't know how much you know about the culture of the restaurant world. Suffice to say that my colleagues and peer group wasn't exactly full of people interested in living a healthy lifestyle.
Speaking of lifestyle, I didn't exactly live the life of Jack la Lane myself. I worked long, erratic hours. My social life consisted of late night drinks with friends and dining at the most decadent restaurants I could afford. And when I wasn't going out I was, and quite frankly still am, a bit of a couch potato. What can I say? I'm a child of the TV generation.
Was I going to have to give up my social life and my beloved TV?

However, my biggest concern was having to give up eating the foods that I so dearly loved. I lived in a world where sauces were started and finished with butter, cream was its own food group, and we lived by the words “fat is flavor.”

So I finally concluded that if I really wanted to do this, I was going to have to find my own way. I could do that couldn't I? After all, we all pretty much know what we need to do in order in order to eat a more healthy diet and lose those extra pounds, don't we? It's not like there are scores of “experts” out there bombarding us with false claims and conflicting reports after all.
Oh wait....

Don't worry, if you care to follow along I'm going show you my method for navigating through all that mess.

---- To be continued ---------

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