Protein Bar Challenge: I Get By With a Little Help From My Chef Friends (Day 14)

Chefs are constantly surrounded by unhealthy food choices in the kitchen, and it’s their job to be testing it relentlessly. Oftentimes these quick bites don’t add up to a full meal, so they end up eating dinner late at night or early in the wee hours of the morning after work (and they usually aren’t choosing salads). Most gyms are closed at those hours, which leaves precious little time in the morning to get in a workout before they’re back on the line again.

This is all to say that chefs have the most barriers of any profession when it comes to eating well and exercising regularly (though food writers are a close second). So I chatted with five of them – Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant Eve), Jeff Tunks (Fuego Cocina y Tequileria), David Guas (Bayou Bakery), Glenn Rolnick (Carmine’s) and Dennis Marron (Poste) – who have undertaken weight loss programs and/or exercise regimens to see how they handled it. Their answers are an inspiration to me as I continue on with my Protein Bar Challenge, which has helped me drop 10 pounds in the past two weeks.

Cathal Armstrong – Chef/Owner of Restaurant Eve

When did you know that you had to lose weight?

I looked at a photo and said, ‘Who is this guy?’ I had big love handles, and you couldn’t tell where my chin started and my neck ended.

What finally made you go on a diet and start exercising?

I went in for a physical and weighed in at 221, the heaviest I had ever been. Between the photo and the doctor’s visit, that was it. I had to do something, particularly if I’m going to be an advocate for healthy school lunches for kids. I mean, I can’t be fat; that just looks ridiculous.

What was that regimen?  

I stopped drinking soda completely and eliminated alcohol 100 percent, except on Sunday. Mostly I changed when I eat, not what I eat. I have dinner with the staff at 4:30, and then I don’t eat after that. I didn’t give up anything. I eat more fruit, more raw food and fiber in my diet, take a good vitamin supplement and spirulina, a super-food. And I drink lots of water. The other big thing is exercise: energy in, energy out. I took up Tae Kwon Do, which is my passion.  I work out 6 times a week and am currently the National Champion in my weight class.

How much weight did you lose?

Initially, I lost 24 pounds. However, I have kept up with Tae Kwon Do and eating right, so I lost about 40 pounds total.  Right now I am in the best shape of my life.

What was the hardest part?

The hardest part of working out is the first day. Realistically though, it’s the second day, because, after your first workout, you are going to be very sore.  Getting through the barrier of the initial pain of working out for the first time takes a lot of determination and focus.  Mentally prepare yourself for it.  I started working out in the gym first before I went to a trainer and that was definitely helpful.

What food did you miss the most?

Late night sandwiches. I used to love to come home from work and have a turkey and cheese sandwich before I went to bed, but really any sandwich late at night was night was delicious.

Is there a food that you came to love?

When you work out you start craving certain food.  One thing I really craved was fruits, and I really couldn’t get enough of them – pears, apples, peaches, oranges, whatever was lying around.  More vegetables, too. It’s funny that somehow when you are exercising your body knows what you need.

Do you have tip that helped you during your weight loss?

Pick a date that you are going to start working out.  Don’t break it; don’t make any excuses.  Start slowly.  I started initially with an app on my phone, going to the gym. I gradually built towards getting physically fit again. Later on, a personal trainer made a huge difference. When I knew someone was there waiting for me to meet, that I had an appointment, it made me get up on days that were raining or I didn’t feel like getting out of bed.  It really motivated me not to break my commitment.  Really determination is the biggest thing – you have to decide that you want to do it and are committed. Then once you start, it’s actually pretty easy.  The initial weight comes off really quickly. Having a scale in the bathroom where you monitor your weight at a set time each week really helps. Watching those pounds fall off is so encouraging and it keeps you going.

Finish reading this story on the CityEats’ Plate blog now.

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