Celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito shares his personal story and tips for eating healthy.
Rocco DiSpirito grew up in an Italian household where cooking was a family passion and good food was a fundamental part of his lifestyle. He has turned that passion into his life’s work, focusing on cooking and serving good foods.
DiSpirito’s career path started as a teenager at the Culinary Institute of America. He later expanded his food experiences throughout Europe, became owner of a New York City award-winning restaurant, an established chef, and author, with several books appearing on The New York Times Best Sellers List, all before the age of 40, where he found himself overweight and unhealthy.
DiSpirito’s journey started when he was just 11 years old in the kitchen of a pizzeria, working toward the goal of buying a couple of his favorite rock albums. Started as a part-time means to an end, his brief experience cooking in that restaurant and serving others became his passion.
“I fell in love with the hospitality business,” says DiSpirito. “It was ultimately the interaction between people that I was so attracted to, I recognized that I was in the position to provide joy and pleasure to other people.”
Shortly after his 16th birthday, DiSpirito graduated high school after being in an accelerated program. He took the next step and found himself undergoing intense culinary training at home and abroad. After returning from Europe, DiSpirito attended Boston University and received his degree in business.
DiSpirito’s will to cook led him to become head chef of a top New York restaurant. The combination of rich foods and the restaurant lifestyle took a physical toll on DiSpirito. In a visit to his physician, he was told to make drastic changes or face dire consequences.
“He said that I could choose prescriptions or diet and exercise — I chose diet and exercise,” DiSpirito says. “It took me about six months of internal struggle, and then I did it.”
After selling his restaurant, DiSpirito, realizing he now had ample free time, decided to use it to fix his lifestyle. He took to riding his bicycle, exercising and doing things he couldn’t do before. One day, his chiropractor called in a favor, which ended in DiSpirito running in his first triathlon.
“I came in second to last place, and it was one of the greatest days of my life,” he says. “Once you cross the finish line, you either never want to do it again, or you get hooked. I was hooked.”
DiSpirito’s lifestyle change led him to review his diet. He began making more conscious choices, taking responsibility for his health and everything that ends up on his plate. He went from high blood pressure, bad cholesterol levels and 21 percent body fat to 176 pounds and 10 percent body fat in just six months.
DiSpirito’s love for food, cooking and serving others has remained strong, but he has now refined his style, dedicating his time and energy on making focused food and lifestyle choices for a better, healthier well-being.
“I believe that the average person will always make a better choice if the choices are available,” he says. “In order to beat the cycle of obesity, we have to be more conscious of making good choices. In my book, Cook Your Butt Off!, I give people one more reason to cook: Cooking is a form of exercise.”
DiSpirito stresses to his readers that each and every one of us is responsible for our own quality of life and how healthy we are going to be. The average person can cook incredible, healthy, good-tasting meals right in their own kitchen. And dining out? He says don’t sweat it.
“When you go into restaurants, you have to understand that you are in charge; you are the customer,” he says. “You get what you want. Period. Whether it’s a filet mignon grilled with a sweet potato or salmon with two cups of steamed broccoli, it’s very simple.”
Five years ago, gluten-free meals were almost nonexistent. Due to higher demand by customers, many restaurants now offer healthy, gluten-free options. DiSpirito says the same goes for calorie-restricted meals. His goal is to get people eating consciously.
“Typically we eat unconsciously. We crave, and then we indulge,” DiSpirito says. “You need to eat consciously. Crave, then give yourself a choice, and you have control. Make a conscious decision to choose something better. Be direct and clear about what you want.”
When it comes to cooking, DiSpirito knows how to do it right. After hosting Now Eat This with Rocco DiSpirito, the exemplary chef turned to authoring more cookbooks, and has worked tirelessly to perfect cooking filling, healthy, well-rounded meals. He recommends grilling meats and vegetables, as it is hard to cook unhealthy on a grill. DiSpirito says he stays away from sugary, salty rubs and marinades — the simpler the better.
“Even the fattiest piece of meat, simply grilled, is going to be healthier than if you bought the same cut in a restaurant,” he says. “You can grill any lean meat and vegetable with just a little salt, pepper and olive oil, and it will be absolutely delicious.
“When I changed my lifestyle, I saw immediately that health and flavor weren’t mutually exclusive,” DiSpirito says. “If you give someone a choice between a healthy burger and a fast food burger, there’s a good chance they’ll pick the healthy one. When you cook, you give yourself that choice.”
Can’t get enough? Check out 5 on being a master chef in your own home with Rocco DiSpirito!
Tweet @roccodispirito about his #SamsClubMagcover story.
Jodi Marsh is Executive Editor for Healthy Living Made Simple.