October 31, 2012 —
The decision that Matthew Brown would have to undergo bariatric surgery to deal with his weight problem had been made. At about 500 pounds, it was decided this was necessary for his health.
But first he and his wife, Donna Reid Brown, decided to go on a anniversary vacation to the British Virgin Islands.
But Donna had come up with a different plan. She said, “I was afraid that something would happen to Matthew” if they went ahead with the surgery. She decided, instead of the British Virgin Islands, to book a trip to a health spa in South Carolina. After all the arrangements were made, she informed Matthew, and he was not a happy camper. But it turned out to be a turning point in both their lives.
They traveled to the spa last December and found it had a fairly rigorous regime. Matthew said he could not walk up stairs because of a problem with his knees. The spa placed him in a room where he would not have to climb any steps, but he would have to walk a mile to the place where breakfast was served. Or, he could skip breakfast.
By the end of the stay, with cooking classes, personal coaching and counseling, Mathew had lost 18 pounds and Donna had lost eight. It was just enough progress, she said, “so that we felt motivated to continue the healthy style when we returned,” to their house in Woodridge.
As it happens, Matthew, executive chef at Sullivan County Community College and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has been cooking since he was 16 years old. As a result of his trip to the health spa, he was able to “relearn” some of the lessons he learned about how to make food taste good without using a lot of fat and salt.
He said, “I’ve gone back to not eating processed food; the easiest thing is not always the best thing for me. Now, I’m roasting bones and making my own stocks from scratch. I’m not cooking with oils and fat. I’m cooking in stock and dry sautés and very lean proteins. I’m following the guide that they gave us when we were kids, how many portions of protein you should eat each day, and dairy and carbohydrates.
“The portion sizes are exactly what they taught me in grammar school: a portion of meat is supposed to be four ounces. A year and a half ago, it was a 32-ounce steak that I wanted for dinner. Now, it’s four ounces, six ounces if I’m eating fish.”
And the new regime has had an impact at the college. In the
summer, when the students were gone, Matthew had a station where he was “cooking to order” and preparing food for the staff the way he would prepare it for Donna and himself. He said, “Students came back and that got pushed aside because they are 95% of my customer base. But we’re starting to push back on healthy food.”
But perhaps the most important change is better health and more energy for both Donna and Matthew. In an email about this story, Donna wrote, “Since December 23, 2011, Matthew and I have lost 192 (not a typo!) and 57 pounds, respectively. Matthew is on track to pass the 200-pound weight-loss mark in the next few weeks, in less than a year.”
On the day of the interview, Matthew had reached that goal. The couple plans to return to the spa in December.