- Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois, of NYC’s Blue Smoke eateries, weighed 345 pounds when he knew he needed to make a change
- The executive chef lost 100 pounds by exercising and changing his diet
- Bourgeois adopted a ketogenic-inspired diet and practices intermittent fasting
Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois is a meaty man.
Born and raised in the small town of Thibodaux, Louisiana, Bourgeois, 33, comes from a family of big guys. Trained in fine dining, the executive chef is known for his Southern, meat-centric Blue Smoke eateries in New York City, part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group.
But weighing 345 pounds was starting to take its toll on Bourgeois. This executive chef had to see a gastroenterologist for acid reflux and other digestive issues. His ankles, knees, and hips were starting to hurt during those long hours on his feet all day shuttling among his restaurants. He didn’t want to pass an unhealthy lifestyle onto the children he hopes to one day have with his wife, Candace.
It was time to burn off that marbling and toughen up.
“I didn’t like the man that I saw in the mirror. I wasn’t happy with myself. I wasn’t happy mentally,” Bourgeois told MensHealth.com. “I knew I had to do something.”
On Jan. 22, 2017, Bourgeois started working with a trainer three mornings a week. He exercised three other mornings on his own. Like any good New Yorker, he walked as much as he could to get from place to place, and he took the stairs instead of escalators.
“Those little things help, but we’re talking about moving real cheese, and not just losing weight, but changing the way you live, the way you eat, the way you prepare for the next day,” he says. “It’s both a nutrition and activity regimen.”
A little over a year later, Bourgeois has lost 100 pounds.
So how does a chef — who oversees eateries famed for their andouille sausage, five-pepper brisket, barbecue potato chips with blue cheese bacon dip, Southern fried chicken, buttermilk drop biscuits, baby back ribs, and brunch beignets filled with coffee and chicory crème anglaise dusted with powdered sugar — create a lasting change?
1. Be Selfish With Your Time
Six days a week, Bourgeois wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to start his workout at the gym at around 6:30 a.m. He does a variety of workouts, but they’re usually no longer than an hour, because he has to be at work at 8:30 a.m.
“That hour is for me. Nothing comes between it,” Bourgeois says. “You’ve gotta have that selfish hour to really focus on creating a better life, creating a better body, a better mind, a better spirit for yourself.”
Bourgeois’ three days with a trainer lasted for seven months, dropping to once weekly for a few more months, and the last several months he’s been working out on his own — sometimes using social media for support.
2. Mix Up Your Workouts
Over the course of two weeks, none of Bourgeois’ workouts are the same. On any given day, you might find him cranking out a high-intensity interval training circuit, doing some active recovery on the elliptical, practicing yoga, or working through the crazy-comprehensive Bear Complex. A successful strength training session means he’s sore for three days.
“It’s really about keeping your body guessing and not overextending yourself with weight,” Bourgeois says.
To maintain his strength and protect his joints during complex moves, Bourgeois followed this strategy: “As I lost 20 pounds, I’d put 10-pound dumbbells in each hand to equal the weight that I was. I was carrying it anyway, and I wanted to keep those muscle strong, so I kinda tricked my body to think I’m still carrying those same 20 pounds.”
A year ago, Bourgeois was using his body weight only to do sumo squats. Now he does them holding 100 pounds of weight to his chest. Same difference, right?
3. Set Fitness Goals Beyond What You See in the Mirror
Sure, you wouldn’t mind an “after” version of yourself with rippling rock-hard abs. But there’s something powerful about being… powerful.
For Bourgeois, strength and endurance goals felt like a healthier focus. A year ago, he couldn’t run a mile without walking; now he runs seven miles at a time, and is considering a half marathon.
At one point, Bourgeois told his trainer he wanted to do one unassisted pull-up. It took a lot of work, starting with an assisted pull-up machine and then a resistance band. “Now I can do three strict pull-ups, which is a huge accomplishment for me,” Bourgeois says. “It’s about finding those accomplishments so that you can see that journey progress.”
4. It’s All in the Timing: Intermittent Fasting
Bourgeois fasts for 15 hours a day. True, he’s sleeping for about half that time. But he limits his meals and snacks to approximately eight hours a day, between 10:30 or 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. That means he doesn’t eat anything before his workouts, and not for a couple of hours afterward, either.
Bourgeois is onto something — at least with his pre-workout fasting. Men aged 18 to 35 lost more body fat when they didn’t eat before exercise than when they had a typical breakfast, according to a small University of Bath study published in April 2017 by the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology & Metabolism. Those who did eat burned more calories, but not fat. Researchers concluded that eating is likely to blunt long-term changes within your fat stores from regular exercise.
What’s it like to try intermittent fasting? Find out here.
5. Find a Diet That Fits Your Lifestyle
Bourgeois has to taste his restaurant food, so he can’t follow a ketogenic diet to the letter, but he sticks to the general idea of eating a high-fat, low-carb diet with a lot of vegetables, especially leafy greens. He starts his day with eggs and sautés in olive oil whatever greens are nearby, such as spinach, collard greens, kale, Swiss chard, carrot tops, or turnip greens. He usually sprinkles in some Tabasco hot sauce.
Chefs hardly have time for a sit-down lunch, and Bourgeois isn’t any different. He usually grabs a meal replacement shake, such as Invigorate, and a handful of raw nuts if that doesn’t do the trick.
For dinner, he’ll often whip up a stir-fry meal of protein and vegetables, using all sorts of herbs and spices to keep the flavor profile interesting. He’ll toss in seeds for texture, and avocado for a creamy and satisfying plant-based fat replacement.
“I don’t feel guilty about eating a couple pieces of bacon,” he says of his keto-inspired diet. “I mean, look, I’m still a dude who likes to eat meat and grill … I mean, that’s what I cook every day, so thank goodness someone introduced me to something that was in sync with my lifestyle.”