Five years ago, Joe Bastianich’s doctor took the famed, then-overweight chef and restaurateur to the proverbial whipping shed. “He read me the riot act,” says Bastianich, 43, who has restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and who appears as a judge on Gordon Ramsay’s Master Chef. “I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea”—a serious condition that interrupts breathing during sleep. Bastianich’s marching orders: Get serious about medication, exercise, and diet.
Those were tough words for a gourmand to hear. “My life was excessive consumption,” says Bastianich, who is married with three children—and whose mother, Lidia Bastianich, is a world-renowned chef in her own right. “I come from a traditional Italian family, and food was about celebration and reward. After a great day at work, I’d go out at 3 in the morning and celebrate with a 48-ounce ribeye and a magnum of Bordeaux.”
But misery brings discipline. Sleep had become a distant memory. So Bastianich, now 43, stepped on a treadmill, the first exercise he’d ever tried. “I was breathless after a few minutes,” he says. He persisted, though, and soon ran a mile to the stop sign on his street corner in Greenwich, Conn. He added another and another, and then a friend persuaded him to sign up for a 5K. To his surprise, he found himself hooked on running—“It’s my private time, my meditation”–and his relationship to food shifted. “Food became energy to fuel my athletics,” he says.
Now, Bastianich has run several marathons, and last October completed the World Championship Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. When he’s not training, he runs 7 to 9 miles a day. And over several years, he’s dropped sixty pounds. “I just had my annual physical and my doctor said my numbers are perfect: good cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate and EKG,” Bastianich says. The only medication he takes: Nexium, for heartburn (an occupational hazard).
How’d he do it? “It was not just about losing weight,” he says. “It’s about healthful cooking and shopping. It’s about buying seasonal foods and no processed foods. I eat smaller meals and more often—oatmeal with raisins and honey; pasta, tomato sauce and olive oil; lean protein. And my athletic ambition is my moderating force: How I sleep, eat, everything is focused around accomplishing those athletic tasks.”
Bastianich also gave himself plenty of time to make the changes: “The biggest hurdle is making healthy eating part of your lifestyle. People get frustrated because they don’t get to the point where they can enjoy the results. You have to give yourself enough time to reap the rewards.”
Enjoy this recipe from Bastianich's kitchen, and go to HeartintheKitchen.com for more recipes and video cooking demonstrations.