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A Chef's Loss Is His Gain

Instead of waiting to eat until after his guests have gone home, he divides his dinner into two small meals: one between 5:30 and 6 p.m. -- say a salad and a grilled piece of meat, chicken or fish. Then, after the dinner service, he eats another small meal, often making a sampler from the seviche at Ceiba.

He doesn't nibble whatever food is in front of him at the restaurants anymore, either. "You don't realize how many calories you consume that way," he says. He still has to taste the food on his menus, but he's started using smaller spoons.

_____Tunks at Home_____
Tips From Chef Tunks

• Plate your meals, and eat only what's on your plate. "In a buffet line, you're setting yourself up for failure," says Jeff Tunks. "I plate meals at home. I keep it within some kind of structure. Otherwise, you can go back for more."

• Be ruthless about controlling portion size.

• Don't give yourself an unrealistic time frame for weight loss. You're less likely to gain back weight you've lost slowly. "People want quick results," he says. "But I've lost weight quickly and gained it back. The failure rate is very high."

• Don't cut out carbohydrates. But try to eat them early enough in the day to work them off before you go to bed.

• Eat at home. It's easier to control what you eat.

• Don't overproduce your meals. You don't need a turkey and a ham for a holiday meal. And you don't need two kinds of pie. For Christmas dinner, for example, Tunks cooked two racks of lamb (16 rib chops) for four adults and two kids. On Christmas Eve, he served stone crab claws, a Caesar salad and white wine or Champagne.

• Exercise. "It's easy to blow off a workout, but once you get there, it's easy," he says. "And it's key."

-- Judith Weinraub

_____The Heart_____
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More Heart News

Oddly enough, being a chef had its advantages. Tunks realized he had resources he'd never taken advantage of: vegetables his kitchen staff had already cleaned and sliced. Fresh fish. Full-flavored ingredients he could add to a salad or stir-fry, like wild mushrooms. Stocks ready to be reduced for a low-calorie pasta sauce. Seviche. "A chef's life is a double-edged sword. There are millions of temptations, but also lots of healthy stuff. Making a salad at home is a pain, but here you have all the prep stuff at your fingertips," he says.

The difficult parts of his new regimen turned out to be the things that all dieters face, the small battles people deal with all day long: being strict about portion control. Dealing with plateaus when he wasn't losing any weight. Making good food choices while on vacation or traveling. "At times I've been tempted to stop," he says. "But I don't want to be heavy again."

So this time around, he's tried to be more realistic. For one thing, he didn't aim for quick weight loss. He thinks his first 100-pound loss was sabotaged partly by losing too much too quickly and not exercising. So this time he's tried to lose about a pound a week. "It's a pretty slow process," he says. "But that's the best chance you have."

He also allows himself controlled amounts of foods not traditionally considered "diet," such as sandwiches. He loves them but controls the kind and number that he eats. He eats pasta, too, but much less than he used to, and less than he would serve to diners.

"There's no way you can give up carbs, but you can choose better," he says. "And portion size is the key. Restaurant portions are much larger than most people should eat."

During the always-dangerous Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve period, Tunks gave himself permission to try to maintain his weight (rather than lose more) until the new year.

"I could gain 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I know how long it could take to get it off. It's not worth it."

Even so, Tunks's best intentions don't always work. Last year, for example, his holiday eating plan didn't work very well, so in January he put himself on the South Beach Diet for two weeks. "It gave me the jump-start I needed," he says. It also helped that he'd given away all his fat clothes and had nothing to wear but his new, smaller clothes.

This time around, Tunks is determined to keep the weight off -- and even lose another 30 pounds. "I don't want to make it too low," he says. "I need a maintainable goal.

"It's a struggle, but I feel so much better it's unbelievable," he says. "My blood sugar is down. I'm no longer borderline diabetic. I've lowered my dose for blood-pressure medication. And I've been able to cut my life insurance costs by half. It's a long, arduous road. I do whatever I can to elongate the odds."

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