Think it’s hard to lose weight? Try being a chef, constantly surrounded by tempting foods. James Beard semifinalist Jesse Schenker dropped 60 pounds in one year – without going on a diet. He shares how, and offers a healthy recipe…
Jesse Schenker’s wake-up call came in a pediatrician’s office, when he went for his son’s first-year checkup.
The celebrated chef of New York’s Recette and Gander restaurants casually stepped on the scale and watched it top 260 pounds.
“Whoa, I’m really big,” Schenker recalls saying.
That was putting it mildly.
“My wife Googled ‘BMI’ and put in my height, and it said I was ‘extremely obese,’” he says.
Related: Calculate your BMI here.
Determined “to see my kids grow up,” the 33-year-old chef set out to do the seemingly impossible for a guy who spends his life in a kitchen.
In this exclusive interview, the 2011 James Beard Rising Star semifinalist reveals how he dropped 60 pounds and kept it off – without dieting.
How did you gain so much weight?
When you work in restaurants, you come home late at night and just want something to fill you up before bed. I would do a lot of carb-loading.
It was common for me to eat an entire Domino’s thin-crust pizza, a dozen [chicken] wings and a 2-liter bottle of soda after work. My wife would see the aftermath the next morning and go, “Wow, you really had a party last night.”
How did you start to lose weight?
I dropped about 10 pounds right away just by cutting out the obvious stuff: I stopped eating late at night and stopped eating bad foods like pizza, burgers and fries.
Then, my friend introduced me to Stephen Gullo [a New York-based psychologist who helps people change their behavior around food]. He’s very influential in the weight loss community – they call him the “weight guide to the stars.”
What did he say?
He called me out on all my bad habits right away. He debunked a lot of the traditional thinking about dieting, moderation, balance. His mantra for me was “if you can’t moderate, eliminate.”
How did that work?
I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy – if I have a plan, I stick to it. Dr. Gullo’s plan worked for me.
We worked to identify the psychology of my eating – I would wake up late, go to bed late and eat dinner late in restaurants. So we didn’t try to change those things, but we tried to work within that framework to find healthier ways of eating.
Dr. Gullo told me that if I followed the meal plan we set up, I’d be down 9 pounds by the time I saw him the next week. I was.
How much weight did you ultimately lose?
There were fluctuations, but at the year mark, I was down to 193 from 260.
That’s amazing for your first try. How did you approach it?
First, it’s important to recognize that traditional diets don’t work. The diet model is a fallacy.
So what does work?
Re-associating foods. For a while, I wouldn’t touch burgers, even though they’re not the worst thing for you on their own. The problem was, every time I had a burger, I needed the fries with it – and they’re a huge trigger for me.
So the secret for weight loss is to eliminate trigger foods?
It is for me. You have to identify what your trigger foods are – the things that are going to make you overeat, go overboard in general.
Food lights up the same parts of your brain as addictive drugs like heroin. Part of the psychology approach is to understand that treating overeating is the same as treating addiction. It’s never the [last drink or bite] that kills you – it’s the first sip of beer you have, or it’s the first time you take a bite of something sweet.