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Iron Maiden

Photo by Food Network

How do you stay healthy when it’s your job to eat? Acclaimed epicurean and Food Network star Amanda Freitag proves you can trust a thin chef.

Amanda Freitag is no stranger to spending time on her feet. As a professional chef at high-end New York City restaurants such as Cesca, Gusto and The Harrison, she is accustomed to working hectic 12-hour days full of whisking and dicing. But up until recently, when it came to fitness Freitag was clueless.

In 2011, a friend mentioned that a magazine was looking for busy, successful women to profile for a get-fit feature. Freitag, a judge on the Food Network’s Chopped and a former contestant on The Next Iron Chef, jumped at the chance. The experiment led to an 11-pound weight loss and a slew of new healthy habits.

“I had been trying to get fitness into my life for a long, long time without getting anything to stick,” Freitag says. “As a chef, it was hard to find one form of exercise that really fit into my life.”

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The New Jersey native grew up as a latchkey kid whose mom showed her love through food. Freitag says she went to school with lunches so large, she carried a grocery sack rather than a regular paper lunch bag.

As a teenager, Freitag started busing tables at a local banquet hall, and her love of food turned into a passion for cooking. “I was just really excited about what was going on behind closed doors in the kitchen, and I was lucky enough to have one of the chefs let me in,” says Freitag, who started cooking professionally in high school.

After graduation, Freitag enrolled in culinary school where “the ratio of men to women was five to one.” The young chef soon worked her way into the kitchen of famous New York City restaurants such as Vong and Verbena. “It was really difficult and really intense,” she says, “but I really enjoyed pushing myself harder to get the respect I deserved.”

But as Freitag was busy building her resume as a chef, her health ended up on the back burner. New opportunities with the Food Network meant more travel and food critique, so meals became increasingly sporadic. “I could be filming, or I could be in Nashville eating at restaurants so I can talk about them later on TV,” she explains. “It’s hard to develop a consistent strategy.”

When Freitag started working with dietitians and trainers for the get-fit feature, she knew that her unpredictable on-the-road diet would need an overhaul. A nutritionist explained that eating healthy didn’t have to interfere with her job, as long as Freitag reined in portion sizes. It was only necessary to eat a bite or two of the foods she was reviewing, instead of cleaning her plate.

“Becoming aware of how much food goes into my body in a day was a huge learning experience for me,” Freitag says. “After the third bite of something, you’re not tasting anymore – now you’re just eating.” The chef supplemented small portions of rich dishes with unlimited fruits and vegetables to stay satis ed.

Freitag’s trainer also helped her devise a system to work out while on the road—a prospect that made Freitag “really scared.”

“I never used to exercise when I traveled,” she says. “I would just put it on hold and begin exercising again when I got home, which meant I was constantly burned out from always having to start from the beginning.”

The changes were small—learning to use the equipment in hotel gyms, performing sit-ups or burpees in her room and jumping rope outdoors—but the revelations were huge. Freitag lost more than 10 pounds, and more importantly, learned how to stay healthy without compromising her career.

“Going outside to jump rope seems awkward at first, but you just do it,” she says. “You just go for a big, long walk in the city you’re in. Do something, anything, and you’ll stay on track.” ■