Bon Appétit Executive Chef David Rushing can’t throw his weight around in the kitchen anymore. No, he hasn’t been demoted — he’s just half the man he used to be, after participating in ABC’s Extreme Weight Loss.
With help from trainer Chris Powell, he lost 201 pounds from his all-time high of 436, but he gained a fiancée, proposing to his longtime girlfriend Kayla on the season finale. We talked to David, who’s our executive chef of the Danforth University Center at Washington University in St. Louis, about this life-changing experience.
David, how’d you get hooked up with Extreme Weight Loss?
Well, I tried out for Biggest Loser a few times, and I worked with the same producer. She told me to come to an audition in Chicago for this new show. I did a two-week boot camp with 40 people, they narrowed it down to 16, and I got picked.
What was motivating you to try out?
I just knew if I did it, I would finally lose the weight. I grew up in a family of chefs — my mom, dad, sister, and uncle — they all cook professionally. I started washing dishes at 13 and cooking soon after. Weight has always been an issue for me, especially after high school. I turned down offers to play football because I wanted to keep cooking, and there aren’t any culinary schools that have football programs.
Nothing else worked. About 8 years ago I met Kayla, my fiancée, when she was a server at the restaurant I used to work at. She was going to school to be a personal trainer. I started taking her to lunch. She was trying to motivate me, but it just didn’t take. She never did become a personal trainer, I guess I kind of ruined it for her.
So how did Extreme Weight Loss help you finally transform yourself?
It was not easy. My whole goal this year was to act like I wasn’t on a show. I was one of the only ones who came back to work after the first three months of taping. I was pulling long chef days and trying to fit in three to four hours of working out every day. I would start at 4 a.m.: get to the gym 5-7 a.m., go to work, get off around 6 or 7 p.m., and do another two hours of cardio with the equipment they provided me.
Wow. That sounds totally grueling. Did you change your diet too, presumably?
The food program was based on what Chris Powell, the trainer, set for us. We aimed for 2,000 to 2,200 calories per day, eating five times a day or around 300 to 400 calories every few hours. The first four meals, Monday to Thursday, were protein, a carbohydrate, and a vegetable; for dinner, swap a healthy fat for the carb. Saturday, all protein, healthy fat, and vegetables. Sunday we weighed in, and then we “reset,” we got to go up about 3,500 to 4,000 calories. I would go to our local Vietnamese restaurant for chicken pho, or Chipotle for a burrito bowl. We also really watched our salt — mainly because it makes you retain weight.
Also, initially I took a lot of gluten stuff out of my diet to help with the weight loss. When I reintroduced it, I had a lot of problems, and now I eat gluten free. My girlfriend is too. The experience has definitely changed the way I eat. I’m conscious of eating more balanced food, not eating on the go. I like to set myself up for success, by keeping grilled chicken breasts in the fridge, some fresh blanched vegetables I can grab if I’m in a hurry.
Has it also changed the way you cook at Wash U?
Definitely. Keeping the weight off is a lot more than just the eating; food is 80% of it. I have to stay active and stay balanced. It’s been a struggle. In some way or form, we’re all food addicts — I am having to figure out how to change that without losing my passion for cooking. In some ways it’s re-energized my career around healthier ways of cooking. I grew up on French cooking: butter, cream, lard. It’s challenging to be creative without all those things. I’m still known as the “pork guy” on campus. But now I try to take traditional comfort foods and make them healthy yet still tasty: I’ll do a smothered pork chop with a basic stock reduction of a veloute, with sides that have no butter.
Has the Wash U community been supportive?
Oh yeah. And so has Bon Appétit. [Former Executive Chef] Patrick McElroy was a huge support system for me. He and I started doing a weekly boot camp for our hourly associates, just for any who wanted to show up. Patrick would go to the park with me on Saturday mornings, he’d eat a really healthy lunch with me, even though he hates it.
What was the hardest thing about being on the show, and the best?
Being away from my girlfriend for three months in Colorado, no Facetime or anything allowed — that was hard.
The best has been getting my life back. Being 30 years old and over 400 pounds really scared me. I thought I had maybe five good years left; I could have a heart attack at any time. Now I feel free. I can do whatever I want.
Watch David’s final weigh-in:
Extreme Weight Loss clips on Hulu:
Heavy.com feature: David Rushing, ‘Extreme Weight Loss’ — 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know