As the culinary director at a company that owns at least five different restaurants and bars in Minneapolis, including the celebrated P.S. Steak, chef Mike DeCamp is constantly around rich and delicious food. And, unfortunately, it began to have an effect.
“I used to eat whenever I felt like it with no regard for how much [I was eating],” DeCamp said. A regular day of eating for DeCamp involved snacking on plenty of salty, processed foods like potato chips and Cheetos, and giving in to whatever cravings he had at the moment—be it pancakes or a porterhouse.
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DeCamp said being surrounded by food for almost 24 hours a day took a toll on his willpower especially since he or one of his chefs could (and often did) whip up amazing dishes at nearly any hour of the day or night. This began to have a negative impact on his energy levels and weight.
That’s when the chef first heard an episode from the Jocko Podcast about intermittent fasting—a way of staying healthy that involves confining your eating to just 1/3 of the day—and became intrigued.
He was attracted to the idea that choosing to eat only during a portion of the day could have potential weight loss benefits and could help with mental clarity. And the idea that the body needs time off from digesting food made sense to him. He also appreciated that this type of diet (which didn’t restrict certain foods, and didn’t require him to count calories or change the grazing that his job requires) could fit his nontraditional work style and schedule—being a chef, he doesn’t exactly work nine to five.
He quickly began experiencing health benefits: He dropped several pant sizes in one month and lost his “mental fogginess” in even less time. And he was so encouraged, he began making more healthy lifestyle changes.
Not only did DeCamp clean up his diet, his improved health renewed an enthusiasm for cycling and he began biking to work in the summer. He even felt less joint pain, as he started consuming fewer inflammatory foods.
“[Intermittent fasting] has shown me that if I have the willpower to maintain a style of eating, then I can have the willpower to eat better too,” DeCamp said. “It has really changed my attitude towards food, which I think will be key in ensuring that it’s more than just a fad for me.”
Intermittent fasting is now a full lifestyle choice for DeCamp now: He eats between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. every day. He begins each day around 9 or 10 a.m, attending meetings and doing administrative work in the afternoon until dinner service starts at 5. That’s around when he first breaks his fast with a salad or something light, before tasting the dishes and specials being served to guests throughout the evening.
The chef practices mindful grazing by prioritizing plant proteins and vegetables though of course he still tastes plenty of protein (a requirement if you’re working at a steakhouse). He enjoys eating legumes and makes sure to consume plenty of omega-3 fats every day.
“I try not to limit myself in what I eat since [some of the food] is more of a treat,” DeCamp said. “That being said, on a normal day I try to eat as many plant-based items that I can and consume a smaller amount of meat. I get to taste incredible food when I want to, but I try not to overdo it and maintain a healthy balance.”
DeCamp typically gets home between 11 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., which is when he has his final meal. After a long shift cooking for hours on end, he admits he will sometimes pick up takeout on the way home, but he often makes vegetable curries and stir-fries because they are healthy and only take a few minutes to put together.
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While everyone has their own motivations for losing weight, DeCamp advises beginners to be unafraid of starting slowly, as long as you just start something.
“Start by pushing yourself in uncomfortable ways little by little until you feel like you can do more, DeCamp said. “That might mean eating better at just one meal a day to start, and gradually making all meals more healthy. Try to make it as enjoyable as you can so that it becomes a lifestyle instead of just a diet.”
Fifty-five pounds and loads of energy later, DeCamp says he never wants to go back to his old way of living.
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