TL:DR How to maintain a “healthy” diet, physical stamina and mental fortitude while working in the restaurant industry.
DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert in fitness, diet, or psychology. I am just chronicling my experiences and personal journey. What works for me might not work for you but I hope that my experience might give insight into some of the techniques I’m doing. Please enjoy!
Hello! Welcome to the first post about my revival and rediscovery of my true self as well as journey into unlocking my full potential. Most of these posts that I will categorize under, “Revival” will give insight on what I am doing to improve my physical health and mental state of being.
Ask anybody that has worked in a restaurant, whether it be back-of-the-house(BOH) or front-of-the-house(FOH), that finding time to workout or maintain a decent diet, or just staying sane can be very difficult. I remember having jobs where I would work 60+ hours a week with little or no time so anything else. My social life declined. My diet was appalling, and I was getting sick or injured relatively often. Needless to say, if you dedicate your life to your passion, it becomes tough to justify allocating time for anything else. I remember a time where I would tell women on dates that my career will always be my number one focus and if they wanted to be the number 2 then that was a huge privilege. Now I know how stuck up and egotistical I sounded but for a brief time in my life it was the truth. I will be the first one to say that this is not a sustainable way of living (refer to my post on Burnout).
I would say that for a good part of my life I was always interested in the capacity of the human mind and the limits of the human body. I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee growing up and would reiterate his ideals of pushing the limits of what is truly capable. I would watch documentaries on Shaolin monks and their super human abilities that were attributed to the saying of “mind over matter;” the idea that anything is truly possible. During this forced sabbatical I am currently enduring, I have had time to really reflect and refocus on that mindset. That being said, I’ve started to add structure back into my life. There’s a lot to be said about making “To Do” lists and daily timelines. As a chef, the idea of mise en place was drilled into my head over and over as well as the importance of prep lists and timelines. So the realization for me was, “if making prep lists and timelines to perfectly execute 300 person banquets always ended in a successful service, then why shouldn’t I translate that into my life outside the kitchen?” Instituting that system was the first step in taking control of my own life.
The next steps I was already attempting, which was improving my physical health and my diet. I would say that by the time I graduated with my associate’s degree, I weighed about 245 pounds. I started buying XL t-shirts and I had a 40-inch waist. This was in spring of 2013. I remember making a realization that I was not in good shape at all and I should do something about it. My motivation came from two factors. The first was the fact that the gym facilities at my Culinary school were pretty deplorable, but usable. Previously, I had gone to a state university for four years and made the connection that I had wasted four years of having the opportunity to work out in one of the two best gym facilities in the entire state, for free. My next motivation factor came from my best friend, who also wanted to start working out, but was unmotivated to do so. We became gym buddies and held each other accountable to at the very least, get the other person’s fat ass to the gym. During my bachelors program, my roommate, who was a Navy vet, motivated me to work out with him. My last year in New York, I would meet my FOH manager in training counterpart at the gym every day before work. This past year, I made friends with a former Marine and he really helped get me into shape. Long story short, getting into a workout habit is exponentially easier if you have someone there with you or someone to motivate you. Currently I weigh 185 pounds, wear medium size t-shirts and have a 34 inch waist, which took 4 years.
The hardest aspect of my life to change is my diet. I’ll keep this section relatively short but the key here is intermittent fasting. As a chef, I hate my food so I usually don’t eat the food I make. There is just something about making a dish from start to finish that makes me lose my appetite. Also the fact that I never think my food is good enough. I do, in fact, taste a lot of things through out the day and technically I’m constantly snacking, but this usually get negated when I drive home and pick up $20 worth of fast food. Any chef that says they don’t eat fast food is either married or lying to you. After a long day of cooking, the last thing any cook wants to do is cook for themselves, at least that’s the consensus around my colleagues. OK, so what does this have to do with intermittent fasting? I just started this program so I’m still new at the whole idea but in a nutshell, you don’t eat anything for 16 hours in the day, and then only eat during an eight-hour window. Unknowingly, I’ve been pseudo practicing this for the past few years. If you are a cook, ever wonder how you lose weight when you’re working 12 hours a day but only eat junk food? Well, you too have been inadvertently been practicing an unrefined, unstructured form of intermittent fasting. The basic idea behind this diet trend is that while you are fasting, your body has to dip into its’ fat reserves to replenish your energy. Then when you feast, you metabolism gets a jolt and starts to metabolize the new food coming in. How I’ve implemented this is by simply skipping breakfast and by not eating anything after 8pm at night. This way the bulk of your fasting is done while you sleep. Simple right? Again, I am not a doctor or a nutritionist or anything like that; I am simply a man of science.
Finally, I began meditating daily. If you have trouble with your mind constantly racing and your thoughts are constantly distracting you through out the day and, for me, even at night, then maybe try meditating. This is a completely new concept for me because I always felt like it was a personal strength that I could think about multitudes of things at once. This had a profound negative effect on my sleep because I couldn’t “turn off” at the end of the day, which lead to years of insomnia. I have to say that I’ve tried over the counter sleep aids, cocktails of tea, melatonin, and other drugs that would forcibly knock me out. I don’t have any conclusive results as of yet, since I’ve only started meditating three days ago, but, the potential mental skill of being able to “turn off” the world is exciting to look forward to.
Well, that’s it, at least for now. To answer the lingering question of, “How the hell do I apply all this to my 12 hour work day were I try to sleep for at least 6 hours so I only have 6 hours of free time?” Well I think I you answered that yourself. Planning my day and meditating take up about 15 minutes of my day. I can technically complete my current workout in 15 minutes (I’ll talk more about doing the least amount of work to get the best results in a later post) and my diet is passive. So in 30 minutes of my morning, I’ve cleared my head for the day, planned my day, and jump-started my body. This sounds too good to be true, and it might be because it has taken a lot of self-discovery, discipline and motivation to get to this point. It’s not impossible though, just remember: mind over matter, anything is possible and most importantly, Mise en Place.