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Chef Carlo Miguel – A Bigger Man

It was a couple of hours away before the restaurant opened. As I ran a bit late, the chef who just guested in Biggest Loser Pinoy Edition and has made a name for himself was already by the bar standing. I came in very anxious and excited at the same time while he talked to the restaurant’s marketing officer. They wrapped up their conversation, and we introduced ourselves to each other. For a moment, there was an awkward silence. I just couldn’t utter a thing when in the back of my head all I could think of was how much he’d changed—very far from the pictures I saw online. It wasn’t just the weight loss. There was something else I could hardly point a finger to. But whatever it was, I liked what I saw and I liked the fact more that I was there to hear his story firsthand.

In a cruel society where many strive for size zero, anyone who’s overweight is most likely to get “the look.” It’s that sometimes-shy-sometimes-piercing-kind-of-look people give whenever they come across someone with bulging manboobs and love handles. They’d stare you up and down feeling sorry, if not judgmental and wondering, “What on earth have you done to get that big?”

That wasn’t the case though for Chef Carlo Miguel. At 360 lbs. he didn’t feel anything was wrong. “Interestingly enough, I thought I was the normal one and the people who weren’t overweight were the ones who were strange. I thought maybe, they didn’t know how to eat good food. Food is good. It’s a big part of my life being a chef and all of that. But I thought all these people just don’t know good food and I’m the normal one…” He also shared how growing up, he became everyone’s friend. Nobody had the guts to pick on him and he also didn’t let anybody bully him. “That’s why I never self-loathed because I was always happy with myself as I was. I was always a jolly guy. I was always friends with everybody.”

Chef Carlo went to Sydney, Australia where he graduated from Northern Sydney Culinary Institute of Technical and Further Education and worked for over a decade as a chef in Luke Mangan’s Salt, David Rayner’s Vault and several other restaurants. What he didn’t know was that this period in his career was the time when he most risked his health. “I’d be eating my way around the kitchen. I mean, I thought, I was working, but then I was just really eating. You gotta be 360 lbs. because you eat a lot. I used to eat a lot. I never knew the difference between tasting and eating.”

He was diagnosed with hypertension when he was 24 and high cholesterol when he was 27. He has also been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. With diabetes running in the family, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out a worse case forhis condition. But doubtful as he was, he went on thinking he could just take meds when and if ever diabetes knocked on his door.

The game changer
Cliché though it may be, prevention is indeed always better than cure. What took Chef Carlo to realize that or ‘who’ rather, is no one else but a special woman close to her heart. “My now-wife whowas basically my girlfriend back then gave me an ultimatum and said, ‘We’re getting kinda serious and if you don’t look after your health then I don’t wanna continue our relationship…’ I was like, wait, all these things that I’m doing to myself can actually kill me. And that’s when I decided to try and do it on my own.” It must be true love that got him started to frequent the gym, get a personal trainer and nutritionist which made him lose about 50 lbs. before his wedding. “I was around 300 lbs. and I was locked on… it didn’t go any lower than that. I was like ‘okay, that’s it.’ And then, I saw the commercial ad for Biggest Loser Asia.”

A chance to shine and do something about weight loss for good—this is primarily the reason why Chef Carlo lined up with all the other thousands of hopefuls at SM Megamall came auditions day. “We were there at 6 a.m. and it was about after five hours after that I got my chance to audition. And turns out, I got chosen.”

The experience was not at all peaches and cream. Difficult, challenging and other words synonymous to those would be an understatement. It was “hell” as Chef Carlo, who lost a total of 108 lbs throughout the show, described it. “It was the hardest I’ve ever done. I was very competitive and I was very determined and the giving up thing… it never crossed my mind until a week before the end. I look in the mirror and thought, ‘I’m actually good now. I don’t have to lose any more weight. I’m ok where I am.’ And that’s when I decided I just wanna go home. Then, I ended up being a finalist, and ended up staying just longer. ”

He also shared an experience where he lost 20 lbs in six days straight. It has been his proof since, together with the fact that he placed second in the contest, that he could take control over his weight and not let it control him. “For so many years in my life, I was living like a passenger of my own life. I was thinking, ‘oh why am I always gaining weight, why can’t I control this’ and you know, I have been asking the wrong questions. It just all fell in place that day. It was just like an ‘a-ha’ moment.”

The daily Difference
Back in Sydney about 10 years ago, Chef Carlo led a very bad lifestyle where his daily routine included coming to work, gorging on food from high-end restaurants all day and drinking sessions after work. It did not include exercise and he had only about four hours of sleep till he woke the next morning to work again. These days though are very far from that scenario. “Nowadays, I just don’t have to work as much anymore. I’m part owner of two restaurants (Opus Restaurant and Lounge, and Draft Gastropub), and another one on the way.”

Unlike before, he now has ample time to spend with his family and still be able to go to the gym every day and he doesn’t drink recre-ationally anymore, too. He doesn’t count every single calorie that goes into his mouth as he enrolls himself in a body building program. “I’m actually trying to eat more… gain a lot of muscles. I’m bulking up. I eat 3000 good calories.” He also admits to getting a little crabby whenever he fails to go to the gym, not like before when he got short-tempered being away from the kitchen. “It’s the endorphins. I need to run. So, instead of the kitchen, replace it with being in the gym.”

At work, he focuses more on re-search and training, being the mad scientist in Opus. “The Opus menu is a molecular gastronomy. So there’s some science in the kitchen. A lot of lab techniques… the chemicals that we use, I research those and play around with before I teach them to my guys.” He also added that by next year, he should have about four restaurants a new concept that’s still in the works, and another Draft Gastropub.

Chef Carlo has long been out of the camp. I’m betting it wasn’t just about the contest’s prize or the addictive weight loss. He could have stopped but he chose to finish what he started. Makes you realize that it’s a lifelong conscious effort to stay fit and healthy.

He got rid of all his previous medical problems. To this day, he embodies the lesson he learned inside—balancing your life. He might have gone through hell and back, but with the piece of heaven he now shares with his baby girl and wife, everything was definitely all worth it.

It’s true that he got slimmer. Everyone can attest to that. But with this entire endeavor, he has also managed to make a bigger man out of himself.

By Verniece Zamora

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