One morning in 2005, renowned chef Phillip Dell had a bit of a wake-up call. Looking at himself in the mirror, the former pastry chef at Wynn Las Vegas was utterly revolted by what he saw. “I saw fat rolls going up past my waist,” he says. “I thought to myself, ‘This is gross.’ Then and there, I wanted to change it.”
Phillip, 36, had a long way to go. Immersed in a fast lifestyle that included burger and beer binges at 2 a.m., the Las Vegas-based chef tipped the scale at 217 pounds. “Being a chef, we’re prone to eating not-so-healthy on a regular basis. My vice was whole pizzas—I’m talking a whole large pizza to myself, loaded with toppings,” Phillip says.
Galvanized to make a change, he traded fast food for a clean-eating diet program and eschewed all soda, refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Within a few months of revamping his diet, Phillip dropped 50 pounds. “I essentially retrained my palate to eat cleanly,” he admits.
Then, at the prodding of a friend, Phillip stepped foot into a gym for the first time in years. The fitness newbie was instantly hooked: “I’m not kidding you, within 3 minutes of being at the gym, I ran back to the front desk and said, ‘Sign me up,’” Phillip says.
Quickly morphing from couch potato to gym rat, Phillip began an intensive weight-lifting regimen and dropped a total of 92 pounds from January 2005 to July 2006. “It was invigorating. I was going to the gym every single day,” Phillip says. At the suggestion of his trainer, Phillip decided to take a shot at bodybuilding competitions. On his 30th birthday, he walked onstage of his first bodybuilding show flaunting a lean 5 percent body fat composition and 28-inch waist. That first year, Phillip competed in nine shows and eventually participated as a member of Team USA 2007 in Greece.
“From the fat kid to the fit man, I feel awesome. I can’t even express to you how great I feel,” Phillip says. “It’s like I’m a whole new person.”
In 2011, hoping to debunk the notion that healthy food can’t be tasty, Phillip launched Sin City Chefs, Inc., a private chef and on-site catering service specializing in recipe transformation and healthy eating. “I built Sin City Chefs on the premise of helping people eat better one bite at a time,” says Phillip, who recently won an American Heart Association endorsement for his healthy cooking style. “I jumped ship and changed my life completely. Not everybody can do that. I want to help others be the best they can be.”
When the Food Network issued a casting call for a special weight-loss edition of Chopped—the cooking competition in which four chefs create three-course meals using ingredients from a mystery basket—friends and family encouraged Phillip to try his luck. Phillip submitted an application and was chosen. “I’m naturally very competitive,” he says.
Bringing his competitive edge to the Chopped kitchen, Phillip vied against three other previously overweight chefs and emerged as champion, pocketing the $10,000 grand prize. Phillip wowed judges with his decadent-yet-nutritious dishes. Although proud of his accomplishments on the show, Phillip also hopes his story will inspire couch potatoes to ditch their sedentary ways.
“Trust me when I say this: There is nothing like the feeling of being fit,” Phillip says. “Take it one bite at a time. If I can do it, so can you.”
Below, the celebrity chef and competitive bodybuilder shares his top weight loss secrets:
1. Eat right. “This is to say to eat “cleanly” (no creams, butters or highly processed foods)—instead, choose whole foods and as fresh as possible,” Phillip says.
2. Eat for your lifestyle. “Your meals should be designed around how active you are,” Phillip notes. “If you are sitting at a desk all day, then you likely are not burning a lot of calories. Adjust your sources of those calories as you feel your body needs. In most cases, carbohydrates are the first to go.”
3. Exercise. “Once you start a clean eating lifestyle, it is time to get off the couch and be active,” Phillip says. “Resistance training such as weightlifting is a great way to build fat-burning muscle mass.”
4. Get plenty of quality rest. “In order for your body to do the things you want it to do, you must allow it time to rest so it can recover,” Phillip says.
5. Surround yourself with positive people. “Don’t let anything or anyone stop from hitting your goals!” he says.