Perhaps it’s something in his Italian blood, but Rocco DiSpirito has a knack with food.
The born-and-bred New Yorker was first introduced to the craft of cooking as a money-hungry teen, toiling in an Italian pizzeria in Queens for a mere 50 cents an hour. Later, after graduating from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in 1986, DiSpirito quickly ascended through the culinary ranks. In 1997, he opened his crown-jewel restaurant, the Union Pacific in Manhattan, which nabbed a glowing three-star review from the New York Times. After making his television debut on Food Network’s The Melting Pot in 2000, the chef skyrocketed to reality TV stardom, appearing on various primetime series including The Restaurant, Dancing with the Stars, Top Chef and The Biggest Loser. He has also authored a number of popular cookbooks, including the James Beard award-winning Flavor in 2003.
But Rocco’s busy lifestyle and unhealthy habits eventually caught up to him. In 2006, tipping the scale at almost 230 pounds, the self-proclaimed “fat guy” decided it was time for a change. Adopting a more health-conscious cooking approach—and ditching his penchant for bacon fat—the celebrity chef shed more than 50 pounds. He now maintains his svelte figure thanks to a wholesome Mediterranean-style diet and a healthy dose of exercise. In his highly-anticipated diet book, The Pound A Day Diet, Rocco shares his weight loss wisdom, illustrating how to drop 5 pounds a week by following a restricted 850-calorie diet.
We caught up with the all-star celebrity chef to chat about his weight loss journey, his new “Pound a Day” diet plan and more.
Favorite Healthy Meal: “My ultimate go-to meal is the smoothie,” Rocco says. “With a good blender, protein powder, coconut water, fat-free yogurt, a little monk fruit extract, and a lot of ice you can literally create dozens of delicious smoothies that are extremely low calorie and very filling in less than five minutes.”
Favorite Exercise: “I don’t know what it is—it might be my Italian genes—but I feel like I was born to ride a bike,” Rocco says. “My favorite exercise is cycling and, in the winter, spinning.”
Favorite Motivational Saying: “Healthy and delicious are no longer mutually exclusive.”
New Year’s Resolution: “I have decided that I am going to read all of my emails three times before I hit the send button,” Rocco says. “If you’ve ever sent an email you wished you didn’t send, you know what I’m talking about. Sound familiar, anyone?”
Spry: You used to be a so-called “fat guy” who gorged on succulent food in the kitchen in which you worked. Did you have a wake-up call—a moment that galvanized you to lose the weight?
Yes, my life was an embarrassment of riches—the best wine, the best food, the best butter. The best of everything was available to me 24/7, and boy, did I enjoy it. The illuminating moment for me was when my life-long doctor handed me three prescriptions for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and said, “By the way, two of those medications cause loss of libido, so you may be needing Viagra as well. ” That’s when I thought to myself, “There is no way I am letting this happen to me.” He then added, “You can try diet and exercise – it actually works.” I handed him back the prescriptions and did exactly that…I dieted and exercised. And guess what? He was right—it does work!
Spry: You’re surrounded by food 24/7, and yet you’ve managed to keep the weight off for many years now. How do you stay on track in spite of your busy schedule?
Part of my lifestyle transformation was to eliminate temptations. So, I no longer surround myself by unhealthy choices – much like you advise a recovering drug addict to stay away from friends who still do drugs. While being busy makes accomplishing anything a challenge, it is not an excuse for making bad choices. It’s all about impulse control—be conscious and make better choices. It doesn’t take any more time to choose to eat an apple than to choose a side of McDonald’s French fries when you are hungry.
Spry: The “Pound a Day” diet promises to scorch 5 pounds in 1 week—fairly rapid weight loss, by anyone’s standards. Why, in your opinion, is fast weight loss better than slow and steady weight loss?
Let me be clear that the “Pound a Day Diet” is as high velocity as a weight loss program can get. Only liposuction provides faster results. I believe it is safe because I did the research. I know it works better because I personally tested it on over 3 dozen people. As I cite in my book, there are two new major studies that prove rapid weight loss produces more reliable and long-term results. In 2014, people want results quickly. No one has the patience to wait a month to lose a pound. Rapid results serve as further inspiration to stick with the plan long-term.
Spry: Phase 1 of the “Pound a Day” diet has dieters restricting their calories to only 850 calories for 5 days a week. How does your plan ensure that dieters stay satiated on such a restricted calorie intake?
That’s a great question! My recipes were carefully engineered using low-calorie density foods that are nutritionally dense and voluminous. That means they are really good for you and there’s a lot of it, thanks to water and fiber—the magic pill in weight loss. There are diets that call for even less calories that are called “extreme low calorie diets” that call for consuming only 500 calories a day. Those are generally used for morbidly obese patients who are facing imminent death unless they change their habits quickly. My diet takes a more optimistic approach. Because of the way I’ve constructed these recipes, the amount of food I’ve produced per calorie unit is much more than you’d expect. Again, all thanks to fiber and water.
Spry: As a renowned chef, you certainly have an appreciation for flavorful, high-quality food. How do you make dishes taste delicious without adding a ton of butter or salt?
When I first decided to transform my own lifestyle from an unhealthy one to a healthy one, I asked myself the same question. I was a magician with butter and bacon fat. I could work [bacon fat] into just about anything, including ice cream! But after 10 years of experimentation and trial-and-error, I figured out how to use my culinary knowledge and my enthusiastic pursuit of flavor to prove that healthy and delicious are no longer mutually exclusive. In other words, my recipes taste damn good!