This post was written by Jesse Schenker, chef and owner of New York City's Greenwich Village eatery, Recette. The views expressed herein are his and his alone.
It was on my son Eddie’s first birthday that I was first inspired to change my unhealthy habits. As a parent and chef/restaurant owner, I am always on my feet, and I had been experiencing more aches and pains than usual. When I hopped on the scale, the numbers quickly rose—all the way to 255. Over the course of the next six to eight months, I lost 55 pounds. But success was all about finding the method that was right for me.
I wasn’t, and never will be, a cookie-cutter diet kind of guy. So I met Dr. Stephen Gullo, a psychologist who specializes in helping people shed weight. He understood that I wasn’t going to be counting points, carbs, or calories. We had to discover way to get healthier that would work with my lifestyle. First, we established what kind of eater I am, pinpointed my motivations for eating, and identified my trigger foods. By determining each of these factors, Dr. Gullo and I worked together to build a healthy diet around my life—not the other way around. I learned that I was a “finisher”—I eat for quantity. I like to finish the whole plate, bag, slice, or slab. So I was able to identify foods that I was able to eat all of — pound(s) of shrimp, mussels, or lobster; an entire head (or two) of broccoli (which I like to char in my home toaster oven). I didn’t have to change my lifestyle, or become a portion-controlled eater. I am a finisher, and I will always be. So now, I eat foods that I can finish. I learned that, for me, the timing of meals doesn’t matter as many often think.
As a chef, my daily schedule tends to be crazy. Normally I eat my last meal of the day between 11pm and midnight, and sometimes even after 1am. Dr. Gullo understood that fad diets, which can prohibit eating anything after 9pm, just wouldn’t work for me. Instead of starving myself at night, I began eating healthy foods that were okay to eat late at night (like the recipe shared below).
The weight fell off quickly. In the first week, I lost 9 pounds. But, it was work. I had to look out for myself to avoid getting hungry enough to succumb to the wrong foods. Doing simple things like eating breakfast every day (Greek yogurt with fiber-rich crackers or my homemade egg whites salad) to get my metabolism going and ensuring I ate every three to four hours was key. I also stocked up on Chocolite protein bars (they are great!) and high-fiber crackers, which are both good on-the-go. Over time, it stopped feeling like a diet, and became my lifestyle. Now, I like to snack on raspberries or blackberries when I’m watching TV. Fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, and foods high in fiber are now staples in my life.
Of course, there’s some wiggle room now that I’ve dropped the weight, but there are certain things I have given up, my trigger foods: French fries (and most other potato based foods), breads, and desserts. They don’t make me feel good, and they aren’t satisfying to me. I don’t know many people who can stop after just one or two or three French fries, and I can’t either. The foods I know I can’t moderate myself, I’ve removed from my diet. For me, it’s easier to eliminate than it is to only eat a few.
There have been challenges along the way, some I still face today. Because I’m a chef, I spend a lot of time tasting the food at my restaurant, Recette. So I have re-educated myself about what a “taste” is. If I do it appropriately, I can taste on an as-needed basis. I steer clear of olive oil and butter (which I used to consume too much of), and I also steer clear of a few of our less healthy menu items — like the duck fat fingerlings—because they are too delicious to just have a taste of! In the little time I have away from Recette, my favorite thing to do is to see what other chefs are up to, check out new restaurants and revisiting my favorites.
Now at a healthy weight, my focus is on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Luckily, that means I’m able to make food choices more freely, but initially, I had to watch carefully to make sure I did not touch any carbs or sugar. A few tricks early were to eat a salad after my meal and even order a second one if I was still hungry. Often, I’d double- or triple-up on sides of spinach or broccoli in place of a starchy alternative. I would get the quantity satisfaction by eating a pound or two of mussels or lobster or a substantial piece of fish. Japanese food has always been a favorite of mine, and I learned I could eat a lot of sashimi and other prepared fish dishes and stay within my diet. Over time, my stomach shrunk, and I required less food to feel full. Nowadays, I pretty much eat whenever I’m hungry (but skip the trips to fast food restaurants and doughnut shops). I stay away from foods that are on my “unable to moderate” list, and I pack my meals with fresh ingredients and plenty of vegetables (though I will treat myself to things like steak occasionally).
Planning is key. I found a formula that works for me, and I am determined to hold onto it. Soon after I lost the weight, a friend told me, “Go to Home Depot and pick up a 50 pound bag of mulch. See how much everything changes when you do.” She was right. I was enormously moved by how much harder my body had to work holding all of that extra weight. Today, I am lighter in both body and mind. I do not miss those 55 pounds.
Recipe: Sautéed Shrimp and Broccoli with Shirataki Noodles
Serves 1 to 2
What You’ll Need:
½ pound peeled, deveined shrimp (or crab or lobster) 1 16oz bag organic frozen broccoli 1 7oz bag Shirataki noodles Fresh tomatoes or tomato sauce 1 pinch smoked paprika Salt Extra-Virgin Olive Oil spray What to Do:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Take noodles out of the bag and rinse well. Pat very dry. Set aside.
- Take a large nonstick fry pan, glaze pan with extra virgin olive oil spray (you can find it at Trader Joe’s) and place over high heat.
- While you're waiting for the pan to heat, start roasting the broccoli. Empty the bag of frozen florets on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 5-10 minutes, or until tender, but not overcooked.
- Place noodles down on center of pan and let cook for 3 to 5 minutes to create a super crispy crust. Flip it to cook the other side until crisp. Remove noodle pancake from pan and place on foiled baking sheet. Place to the side.
- Combine shrimp with a pinch of smoked paprika and salt in the pan where the noodles were cooked. Sear shrimp for 30 seconds on high heat, then remove from pan and place on top of resting noodle cake.
- Remove the broccoli from the oven, and turn on the broiler to high. Layer the tomato sauce, broccoli, and shrimp on top of the noodle pancake.
- Place the entire dish under the broiler for 5 minutes to create additional texture. Finish with fresh basil, if desired.
What are your secrets to staying healthy (and eating well)? Share your stories in the comments below!