Chef Brendan Meeker happily held up the size 7X chef’s jacket he was wearing two years ago when he embarked on a journey to shrink his 521-pound frame. His arms stretched open to accommodate its width, which hid his now 247-pound body.
Meeker is marking the second anniversary of the start of his diet, in which he lost 274 pounds, and he delights in showing off the giant clothes that barely fit him two years ago, but now swallow his lanky frame.
Meeker, 41, of Akron, is executive chef at Glenmoor Country Club in Jackson Township.
From February 2010 to February 2011, the Beacon Journal followed his progress monthly, and since then has checked in with him every six months to see how he has maintained his weight loss on a program dubbed the Glenmoor Life Challenge at the fitness center in his club.
These days, he is proudly wearing a suit he didn’t have to buy at the big man’s store, and a regular shirt with a 17½-inch neck, down from the 26-inch neck he used to wear, and could barely button.
He’s lost just two pounds since August, but the past six months have been filled with important developments, both positive and negative, on his journey to a fit life.
The first came just weeks after Meeker hit his 18-month anniversary. He had been putting off surgery for a hernia that had troubled him for years. Trying to repair it at his heavy weight would have been difficult, so he put it off as he was losing the pounds.
In September, however, the hernia became twisted, strangling it and resulting in emergency surgery. Initially, doctors were concerned the damage might require a colostomy. He lost 10 inches of his colon, or large bowel, in the surgery, but otherwise has been able to make a full recovery.
Doctors told Meeker that if the incident had happened when he was over 400 pounds, he probably would not have survived. The surgery required some recovery time, keeping Meeker from his workout schedule while he allowed the large incision on his abdomen to heal.
“It was a rough time,” Meeker said.
The setback, however, didn’t put a damper on his attitude. Despite the stall in his weight loss, Meeker has begun to reach out to others to share his story in ways big and small. Since his diet began, he has been receiving a steady flow of calls and letters from folks looking for inspiration, motivation and the chance to talk to someone who understands their situation.
Meeker has joined the speaker’s circuit, talking to groups and individuals about his journey. He has even gone to private homes. A few times, when he’s arrived for a meeting, he’s found out he was called to surprise someone. “They’ll be like, ‘No, you’re not here to talk to me, you’re here to talk to him,’ ” with an obese family member caught off guard by his visit.
He was invited by Shearer’s, the Brewster-based potato chip maker, to speak to a group of more than 700 of the company’s employees, and he has a website, www.chef meeker.com, where he shares his story and offers himself as a motivational speaker on a healthy lifestyle.
His cooking, both at home and on the job, continues to evolve, as he finds new foods to try and new ways to prepare them by adding flavor, not fat. His latest fixation is buckwheat flour, which he’s using in pancakes as a savory side for roasted and grilled meat.
“I really didn’t have a cooking style before. It was just fat and more fat,” Meeker said.
He’s also figured out a recipe for a mostly fat-free cake, using a boxed mix and diet soda, so that he can enjoy traditional birthday cake at family occasions, minus the buttercream frosting.
Meeker is also now willing to name the therapist who helped him gain perspective on his overeating: Janice Swecker, who practices in Copley. Swecker, he said, has made him see that the root cause of his weight problem was that somewhere along the way, he stopped believing in himself and simply gave up. “You gotta come first,” he said.
Meeker is amused by the new Food Network show Fat Chef, which follows chefs as they lose weight. It is as if the show was scripted from his own experience and he suggests that he could be a consultant for the chefs on the show.
Despite his success, the fat demon is always with him. Similar to a cancer survivor, Meeker said he always worries that he’ll gain the weight again, that it will come back.
His goal weight is 220 pounds, and doctors have told him eventually he’ll need to consider surgery to remove what they estimate to be 20 to 30 pounds of excess skin from his belly. The surgery alone would get him to his weight-loss goal, but because it is considered cosmetic, elective surgery not covered by insurance, Meeker said it probably will be a while before he has saved up the $10,000 or more he’ll need to pay for the procedure.
In the meantime, he works out about four times a week, and has set a goal of participating in at least 10 races this year. He’s already completed his first, a 10K race through Canton in January that had him breezing past the very medical office where he once got weighed. “I used to have to go there because they had a special scale that was big enough to weigh me,” he said.
BRENDAN’S BIRTHDAY CAKE
1 box yellow cake mix
12 oz. (1 can) diet ginger ale
1 (8 oz.) tub fat-free non-dairy whipped topping
2 heaping tbsp. Nutella
Beat cake mix and ginger ale together well, either by hand or using an electric mixer, until it is very light and fluffy (at least 300 strokes by hand).
Pour into 9-by-13-inch cake pan that has been prepared with non-stick cooking spray.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Combine half of the whipped topping with the Nutella and mix well. Use this to frost cooled cake.
Top cake slices with dollop of remaining whipped topping.
Makes 15 servings.
GRILLED CHICKEN AND MUSHROOMS
½ cup cooked whole-wheat penne pasta
½ tsp. olive oil
¼ cup mushroom quarters
½ tsp. fresh chopped garlic
¼ white onion, julienne sliced
1 (4 oz.) chicken breast, grilled and sliced
¼ cup diced tomatoes
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup low-sodium tomato juice
¼ cup frozen peas, thawed
Fresh basil, oregano and parsley to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a saute pan over medium heat. Add oil, garlic, onion and mushrooms and saute until vegetables begin to brown.
Add chicken and tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add white wine and then tomato juice and cook for 1 minute.
Add the fresh herbs and peas and cook for 1 more minute over high heat.
Then add pasta and cook for 2 minutes. If sauce is thick, add a little water.
Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.
Makes 1 serving.
ROASTED RADISH SALAD
1 cup fresh radishes, quartered
2 fresh basil leaves, torn
¼ clove minced fresh garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 cups fresh salad greens of your choice
1 tbsp. walnut pieces, chopped (about 4 halves)
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the radishes and saute. When the radishes begin to brown, add fresh garlic and basil and toss until garlic browns. Remove from heat.
In a mixing bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with radishes and then toss with salad greens, walnuts and feta.
Salad will be slightly warm.
Makes 1 serving.
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup buckwheat flour
½ cup quick-cooking oats
3 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
Pinch of pepper
½ tsp. thyme
1 cup skim milk
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. honey
4 oz. egg substitute
Blend all dry ingredients together.
Whip all liquid ingredients together and then combine with dry.
If mixture is thick, add more milk; if it is too thin, add more oatmeal. It should be the consistency of pancake batter.
Preheat a skillet to medium-high heat. Prepare with olive oil-based nonstick cooking spray. Pour about ¼ cup batter to form small pancakes. Cook on one side until tops appear dry, flip and cook other side.
If pancakes turn out too thick and aren’t getting done in centers, place on a baking sheet in an oven heated to 350 degrees to finish.
Serve as a side dish with a savory entree such as roast chicken, pork, turkey or beef short ribs, or alone as meal.
Makes 12 to 15 pancakes.
Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at email@example.com.