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Are overweight chefs the restaurant world’s dirty little secret?

Chefs have the best excuse for overeating. But many are no longer swallowing it.

Lots of jobs make it hard to be healthy. But lately, attention has been building around one group of professionals in particular: chefs.

First, Paula Deen announced she had diabetes, creating a media firestorm. Then, last week, The Food Network premiered “Fat Chef,” its new show about seriously overweight chefs looking to lose pounds.

The premise is simple: Chefs face unique challenges to weight control because they’re surrounded by food 24-7 and are constantly tasting.

Not to mention the long, irregular hours that make it difficult to fit in regular workouts, and an industry culture of shift drinks and smoke breaks.

But lots of high-profile kitchen pros are pushing back, creating a new image of the successful chef with a healthy glow and a slim-and-trim waistline.

Daniel Humm
Eleven Madison Park's Daniel Humm (Photo Credit: Mimi Ritzen Crawford for The Wall Street Journal)

Sam Talbot, a former “Top Chef” contestant and the executive chef at the Surf Lodge in Montauk, is one of them. His new cookbook, The Sweet Life, is a recipe-stocked guidebook for healthy living, with chapters like “Staying Energized,” featuring high-energy foods and Talbot’s detailed workout schedule of cardio, strength-training, and yoga.

And The Wall Street Journal recently profiled executive chef of Eleven Madison Park Daniel Humm’s intense pre-and-post-kitchen regimen of biking, running, and swimming.

Allison Adato, an editor at People who previously covered celebrity chefs, investigates this trend in her new book, Smart Chefs Stay Slim. (Look for it in April.)

“Some things you’d think would be a liability turn out to actually help chefs,” says Adato. For instance, if a chef can make peace with the constant presence of food, it’ll have less of an allure. Like coming to see delicious temptations as tools of the trade.

Adato noticed that many chefs had mastered this and other techniques for avoiding weight gain. “These are people who’ve really had to think about how they’re going to eat and live,” she says. So Adato spent hours asking them about their strategies and organized the information into a series of lessons, presented in the book.

The point is—while chefs may face special challenges to healthy living, the rest of us may be able to learn something from the ways they’ve overcome them—from choosing big flavors over big portions, to keeping home cooking clean and simple. –Lisa Elaine Held