By 2005, Rocco DiSpirito had starred in a hit TV show, won a James Beard Award and nabbed a mention as one of People Magazine's sexiest men alive.
Figuratively speaking, DiSpirito had an impressive number of notches in his belt. The problem was that the holes in his actual belt were increasing as well. The effects of a busy schedule full of great food had left the chef tipping the scales at over 210 pounds.
DiSpirito's life changed at a routine visit to his chiropractor. The specialist asked Rocco if he would assist with a charity event, and the chef immediately agreed. DiSpirito explains he didn't realize what he was in for.
"When he told me it was a triathlon, I said, 'A what?'" After initially toying with the idea of volunteering at the event, Rocco chose to take the challenge head on and compete in the race. "It was one of the best decisions I ever made," he says.
Five years later, DiSpirito has transformed into a fit and trim triathlete. Rocco has completed a number of races, including two half Ironman triathlons. He now relies on a smart diet to keep him in top form. "I use delicious, healthy food both for enjoyment and for fuel to have the energy to train," he says.
While the chef credits his weight loss to monitoring carbs and calories and lowering sugar and alcohol consumption, he doesn't believe in self-deprivation.
The idea behind his book Now Eat This! is that no food is off-limits—the recipe just might need some tweaking. "I realized I could eat just about anything I wanted to if I re-imagined it in a healthier version."
In the book, Rocco has worked culinary miracles, making over brownies, Buffalo wings, fettuccine alfredo and even General Tso's chicken into healthful, low-calorie meal items.
Dispirito has his sights set on completing both a half Ironman and half marathon. He believes that if he can do it, anyone can. "Many will say that they don't have the time to work out or eat healthy. I understand that completely. But I promise once you make the choice you will figure it all out."
Fudgy Brownie Bars
Rocco says, "Calling all chocoholics. This richly flavored treat is a cross between a brownie and fudge. What could be better? And by the way, you read the recipe correctly. I use black beans. Does that conjure up memories of last night's burrito? Don't worry. The beans add texture and moisture. And unlike a burrito, they're even better the next day.
Also, the brownies will seem underdone when you take them out of the oven, but they will firm up once they cool. The result is a very moist and fudge-like brownie.