After losing more than 50 pounds a few years back, celebrity chef Alton Brown not only remained in the culinary industry, he became an even more frequent contributor to the Food Network. In addition to his now-defunct show "Good Eats," he signed on as host of the pro competition series "The Next Iron Chef," which starts its fifth season on November 4, and earlier this year served as a dedicated coach to contestants on the most recent installment of "Food Network Star." That means that everywhere he turns, there's food. But while Brown, 50, has kept his eating habits in check, he admits it's not easy.
"Yeah, I lost a lot of weight, I've kept most of it off, but it's still a constant, day-to-day battle for me," he tells omg!. And there are certain rules that Brown now lives by. "Never sit down to a meal really hungry, because if you sit down really hungry, by the time your brain even realizes you've eaten, you've cleared a plate twice the size of what you needed. I try to never let myself get that hungry," he shares. "You've got to learn that there's such a thing as a spoonful of ice cream. I wouldn't have believed that at one time. To me, a Ben and Jerry's carton was a single serving."
While the trained chef indulges in small portions of decadent items now and again, there are a couple of things he'll never allow himself. For one, Girl Scout cookies. "I can't have one," Brown confesses. "If you break the tube, you eat the tube." The second item? Milk. "I cook with milk, I use milk in a lot of ways, but I don't drink milk because it made me eat Girl Scout cookies."
The impetus to lose weight took place at the Food Network studios, where Brown was shooting an episode of "Good Eats." "One day I was looking at myself on the monitor and my head was out of frame, it was just my body. And for a split second I didn't know who that fat guy was," Brown recalls. "I was like 'Oh … that's me. Oh my God.' I had missed it. How do you miss something like that? How do you miss that you've let yourself go?"
He decided right then and there that it was time to get in shape since the big 5-0 was just a few years away. "I thought whatever shape I'm going to be in, I better be in by the time I hit 50, because they say when you turn 50, you're battling to just keep it," Brown says. "I turned 50 this year and I'm in better shape than I was when I was 20."
Nowadays, Brown has incorporated weight training at least three times a week, along with running and boxing into his fitness regime and only goes on a "diet" if his weight tops 175 pounds. He also says he gets satisfaction out of just simply cooking certain things for his wife and daughter, and not necessarily eating much of them.
"For instance, I am very good with red meat, it's a specialty of mine. I am very gifted with cow, so I might cook a bunch and as I'm slicing it, nibble a couple of pieces and then not serve myself any and serve it the rest of the family," he explains. "I will simply not put certain things on my plate."
On the upcoming season of "The Next Iron Chef," Brown oversees 10 chefs who are all already culinary superstars, but have another thing going for them: They've all been on the show before. The fifth season has been dubbed "The Next Iron Chef Redemption," and features chefs who've previously lost the competition and are now returning to try to claim the title.
"Everybody knows what it is to compete in these kinds of challenges on television and because of that everybody kind of hit the ground running," Brown explains. "And because of that, the food is way better because there was no learning curve. Everybody started at a much higher level and we knew that was going to happen, so we made the challenges harder."
When it comes to challenges in his own kitchen, namely, getting his 13-year-old daughter, Zoey, to eat healthy, Brown again has a couple of go-to rules. "You don't negotiate with terrorists. 'This is dinner. I am putting it on a plate. It is on the table. That is what you eat.' End of story," he says. "Now if I find something really healthy that my daughter likes to eat, I will make sure she gets more of it. My daughter happens to really like broccoli, so we eat more broccoli than the average family does and I have a lot of ways of cooking it."
With obesity on the rise in America, especially amongst the country's youth, Brown says he has sympathy for those in a tough situation who literally can't cook a healthy meal for their families.
"There are some people stuck in very, very difficult situations, working three jobs, single parents. It does exist and I feel for them because they're victims in a way and you get hungry and fast food is cheap and junk food is cheap and that's its own prison," Brown explains.
But, he says, most Americans don't fall into that category.
"For most people, being busy is an excuse. Yeah, cooking takes time, but very rarely do I see a life that there wasn't time that could have been freed up for that," Brown insists. "We still as a culture sit on our butts three hours a day watching television. We still play games on our computer. We read about food on the Internet, so how about cooking some?"