Bobby Flay’s recipe for eating healthfully

Posted Sept. 22, 2011, at 5:58 a.m.
Bobby Flay gives his recipe for eating healthfully.
Ben Fink
Bobby Flay gives his recipe for eating healthfully.

The name Bobby Flay isn’t exactly synonymous with healthful eating. The Food Network star, restaurateur and celebrity chef is better known for his big juicy burgers than for figure-friendly meals. And you won’t find calorie counts on the menu at his growing chain, Bobby’s Burger Palace.

But Flay, 46, has slimmed down over the past year or so, losing, by his estimate, 10 to 15 pounds. He didn’t do it by joining Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, a la other celebrities. He whittled his waist by making surprisingly few, surprisingly simple lifestyle changes. At 5 foot 11 inches, Flay weighs 172 pounds.

Flay, whose “Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain Cookbook” was published by Clarkson Potter this week, says his weight-loss effort wasn’t motivated by health concerns. “I wanted to feel better about myself,” he says. He’s also aware that, “as you get older, your metabolism changes,” making it harder to shed unwanted pounds.

So, how’d he trim the fat?

“For me, it’s all about moderation,” Flay says. “I don’t kick things out of my diet, like carbs,” he says. “But I’m not going to eat fast food.”

Beyond that, Flay says four basic changes in his diet have fueled his weight loss:

  • “When I go to a restaurant, I eat three-quarters of the food in front of me. That cuts my calorie intake by 25 percent.”
  • “I work out to eat.” Flay’s exercise of choice is running; he’s done several marathons, and he says he always runs as if he’s training for the next one.
  • “If something doesn’t taste good, I stop eating it.”
  • “I don’t eat late at night.” Flay says he used to eat out with restaurant staff members after hours and has now changed his eating schedule.

That “small-changes” approach is heartily embraced in nutrition circles.

Katherine Tallmadge, a D.C. registered dietitian and author of “Diet Simple” (Lifeline Press, revised edition July 2011), notes that even a relatively small weight loss such as Flay’s “can make a dramatic difference in your health,” improving your blood sugar, cholesterol levels and other factors that contribute to your body’s well-being. “And it’s not just the weight” loss itself that helps, she says. “It’s the new habits themselves that make people feel better.”

Tallmadge notes that when “boring” dietitians, such as herself, mention moderation and small changes as a weight-loss strategy, “it’s usually something people roll their eyes over. It’s hard to tell people to avoid rigid diets, fad diets. But research shows those diets can’t work. They’re temporary. They don’t last.”

Making a handful of doable lifestyle changes is a better way to achieve lasting weight loss, Tallmadge says. And while she loves “absolutely everything” I told her Flay had done to shed pounds, she points out that others don’t need to follow his lead precisely.

Instead of running, for instance, Tallmadge says many people benefit more from walking. Although Flay is motivated by his next marathon, Tallmadge suggests the rest of us “find a cause to walk for.”

“For some people, just training for a breast-cancer walk is enough to lose 30 pounds.” You can also adopt several causes a year. “You’ll never run out of causes,” she says.

Similarly, Tallmadge finds few people have the discipline to stop eating when there’s still food on their plate. Rather than go that route, she suggests “controlling what’s put in front of you” in the first place.

“I do believe in an occasional splurge,” Tallmadge says. “Splurges can help you stick with your plan better. But if you eat in restaurants on a regular basis and splurge every time, you’re going to be overweight.”

“If it’s not your splurge time,” she says, control what’s put in front of you by “making advantageous food choices.” Choose a vegetable-based dish like a salad with a bit of protein, such as salmon or chicken, or order an appetizer and a salad. That way you can clear your plate without worry.

What about when you’re eating at home? Flay, who advises Aetna’s Healthy Food Fight program, has some ideas about that, too.

Now in its second year, the program, developed with chefs from the Culinary Institute of America, includes a healthful-food recipe contest and a Web site, www.healthyfoodfight.com, featuring Flay’s tips for healthful cooking and eating. The site also offers a recipe analyzer, created by the Culinary Institute. Enter a recipe’s ingredients, and the tool tells you how healthful it is.

Flay’s tips for healthful cooking are as straightforward as his weight-loss strategy. Go easy on cream and butter, for instance, building flavor instead with savory ingredients such as garlic, onion and shallots, chili peppers and raw mushrooms. Instead of heavy sauces, use vinaigrettes — not just for salad but also to sauce meats, such as chicken and pork.

Flay further suggests you “go vegetable heavy. Reverse the psychology of your plate by making meat the side dish and vegetables the main course.”

Of course, the guy who brought us Bobby’s Burger Palace says a healthful diet can occasionally include a cheeseburger. “The easy answer would be to just eat salad,” he acknowledges. “But people aren’t going to do that.” Instead of shunning treats, he says, seek out those made with top-quality ingredients and are expertly cooked.

That’s another thing Flay and Tallmadge agree on: Don’t waste calories on substandard foods. One of the 195 tips Tallmadge offers in her book is “Eat only the best.” Flay’s on board with that. When every calorie counts, he says, “you should be getting something for every bite you eat.”

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