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WebMD – Chefs’ Diet Secrets

Posted by 4love2love on July 18, 2011

How top chefs manage their weight.
By Lisa Zamosky
WebMD Feature

If you think managing your weight is tough, imagine if your job was to spend all day cooking, thinking about, and tasting food. That’s the challenge professional chefs face each day when they go off to work. In spite of being around tantalizing food all the time, however, many professional cooks manage to keep themselves in great shape. How do they do it?

WebMD talked with three working chefs to learn about their weight management strategies, and with one nutritionist to determine if these methods make sense for those of us cooking at home.

Managing Hunger

How is it possible to eat all the time and still be hungry? Most chefs say they taste small amounts of food all day long but rarely sit down to a full meal.

Chef Dale Talde, director of Asian concepts for the Starr Restaurant Group, which is based in New York and owns many restaurants on the East Coast, says it’s a requirement of his job to taste every dish that leaves the kitchen to make sure it’s up to standards. Talde, who has been featured on the Bravo’s Channel’s Top Chefs and Top Chef All-Stars, figures that amounts to eating thousands of calories each day.

“But you never eat a full meal,” he says. “You’re not hungry but you’re not totally satisfied either.”

Talde works nights and says he’s lucky to get home before midnight. By then he’s ready to eat. “It’s that sense of a hard day’s work finished off by a meal,” he says.

Over the past two years, Talde has packed on about 30 pounds. His blood pressure has risen, too. This has caused him to get creative in finding ways to reduce his caloric and salt intake, but still perform his duties as a chef.

One of his biggest tricks is making sure he doesn’t let himself get too hungry.

“I don’t [usually] like to eat before noon, but now I wake up earlier to get something healthy in – some cottage cheese with salsa and arugula, for example – that way I have something in my stomach before I go to work. It’s easier to maintain what you’re eating when you’re not starving,” Talde says.

The Nutritionist’s Take: Talde’s approach is smart, says Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, assistant director of UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition.

“The night is over and it’s not even a question that they’re famished at 11 p.m. or midnight,” Bowerman says of chefs working the dinner rush. “It’s how they unwind at the end of the day.”

For chefs and home cooks alike, scheduling time for a good breakfast — with some protein (such as a protein shake or some protein-rich cottage cheese) and healthy carbohydrates such as fruit — helps keep hunger at bay, making us less likely to overeat. The key is to fuel up adequately and make sure you’re getting nutrients earlier in the day.

Limiting Alcohol

Drinking fine wines and liquors often goes with the territory of being a chef. “It’s often 2:00 in the morning when we get out of work, so there’s not much else to do but go to the bars,” Talde says.

For many chefs, fine wine – and plenty of it – is the natural accompaniment to a good meal. But alcohol adds a lot of calories to your day. Half a bottle of wine, for example, is approximately 250 calories, Bowerman says. Drinking also loosens one’s resolve to eat well.

Talde says he recently began alternating a glass of wine with a glass of sparkling water at dinner to cut back on the calories. He also found that drinking water from a wine glass made the experience feel more special. “Then I really don’t notice and it doesn’t feel like I’m missing out on anything,” Talde says.

The Nutritionist’s Take: “Alternating an alcoholic beverage with a calorie-free beverage is a tip I always make for people,” Bowerman says. And putting the nonalcoholic drink in a wine glass is a great psychological trick that for some can make sparkling water just as satisfying as drinking wine. “The wine glass idea makes sense,” Bowerman says. “It may be something just about feeling the stem of the glass that elevates the meal to something more special.”

If drinking only half the alcohol you normally would with each meal seems unsatisfying, take a different approach. Bowerman suggests adding up the total number of drinks you have in a week and then cutting it by a third. “Can you cut out one night, rather than cutting back every single day?” she asks. For some people, that approach is more successful.

Keep It in the Bowl

Chef Nikki Cascone was a contestant on the Bravo Channel’s fourth season of Top Cheftestant and owns Octavia’s Porch, a restaurant in New York. She’s among the lucky few with a naturally fast metabolism that has kept her slim for most of her life. But after having a baby four months ago, managing her weight has become a new challenge.

Like Talde, Cascone finds that the chef’s lifestyle makes it difficult to eat well. “You’re never really off when you get to a certain level, especially when you own a restaurant. There are late-night hours and it’s a very tense environment. You’re dealing with the public, high stress, and high temperatures. I’ve had to train myself to eat healthy,” she says.

One trick that’s worked well for Cascone is keeping all her meals confined to one bowl, and consciously filling the bowl with lean protein, such as chicken, legumes, seeds, and vegetables. Packing it full of healthy foods helps her to feel satisfied. Limiting the meal to one bowl helps her to not overeat.

The Nutritionist’s Take: “She’s practicing portion control,” Bowerman says of Cascone. The size of the container we eat from can determine how much we eat, according to Bowerman, and for the average dieter at home, that’s a great tip.

But if you don’t care for the idea of eating every meal from a bowl, control your portions instead by using a smaller plate. “It’s about the visual impact of looking at a full plate of food,” Bowerman says.

Swap Ingredients

Diane Henderiks, RD, is a personal chef and culinary nutritionist who frequently appears on Good Morning America. Her goal is to raise the culinary bar for healthy cooking. “I switch up ingredients to maintain the integrity of the dish without fat and sodium,” she says.

Henderiks’ motto is that any dish can be made healthier. She cooks with fresh and dried herbs, citrus juices, and nectars to make dressings that are lower in fat and sugar. Ground turkey substitutes for ground beef, applesauce or yogurt are used in place of butter, broth or wine instead of oil, and she uses marinades and rubs to add flavor to meat without adding calories.

Similarly, Cascone uses a balsamic vinegar reduction (balsamic vinegar cooked on the stove top until it’s reduced to a syrup) for a very low-calorie salad dressing, and has replaced all table sugar with agave syrup as a way of eliminating refined sugars from her diet.

The Nutritionist’s Take: For the home chef, these are great techniques and they all add up, Bowerman says. “Cutting fat and calories becomes habit.”

Just be careful when replacing sugar with natural sweeteners like agave syrup, because “you’re not saving any calories,” Bowerman says. Still, she concedes it could be a small change that works for some people because the taste of agave syrup is more complex than table sugar, and it often blends better in things like ice tea. “Sometimes these replacements, although not saving calories, are more satisfying, and so people use less of it.”

Focus on Grains

Cascone says when she’s building her bowl of food she grants more space to grains than to protein. “I’m big on grains like quinoa. That’s a priority over fish or meat,” Cascone says.

The Nutritionist’s Take: Whole grains (as opposed to refined grains) are a very important part of our diet, Bowerman says, and few of us get enough of things like barley, brown rice, buckwheat, oatmeal, popcorn, or wild rice.

Still, she says, protein is the most satisfying type of food when it comes to keeping hunger in check. Whole grains are high in fiber and filling but can be high in calories too, so it’s important to watch portion size carefully. “When I have people look at a plate of food, one-third should be filled with lean protein. The rest of the plate should be vegetables and salads,” Bowerman says.

 

©2005-2011 WebMD, LLC.

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