"I feel a million times better," the MasterChef judge tells PEOPLE

By Liza Hamm
August 05, 2013 08:00 AM
Courtesy Graham Elliot

Graham Elliot has some great news to share. The Chicago-based chef, who underwent surgery for a sleeve gastrectomy on July 16, has lost a dramatic amount of weight already.

“I started [weighing] 396 and I’m now at 340. That’s even better than expected,” the MasterChef judge, 36, tells PEOPLE.

“I feel amazing. I have a lot more energy,” he adds. “I’m able to play tag with my 6-year-old son, [Mylo]. He said, ‘You’re way faster than you were.’ He’s so excited.”

The chef, who stands 6’1″, admits that slimming down hasn’t come easy.

“The hardest part is relearning how to eat,” he admits. “And temptation is still hard for me. If friends are eating fast food or baking fresh chocolate chip cookies, it’s difficult not to grab even a tiny piece. Mentally, I’ve got to start thinking of that stuff as the enemy.”

So far, Elliot, the father of three sons, says he’s winning the battle.

“We did a party the other night at one of my restaurants that was soul food – fried chicken and all these great things – and I didn’t have one piece because I knew it wouldn’t be worth it,” he says.

“I keep thinking tomorrow I could plateau. I have to keep working. I can’t just sit all day on the couch and expect the weight to come off. My goals are my new focus instead of food.”

One new goal? He’d like to run the Chicago Marathon next fall.

“I’m going to lose the weight and start training,” he says. “MasterChef cojudge Joe Bastianich says he’ll join me. Maybe we’ll get Gordon [Ramsay] out here as well.”

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For now, Elliot has started to do some push-ups, hopes to begin jogging soon and is already rethinking his wardrobe. “My clothes are all too big so I’m a frequent shopper at Target now – especially for something with drawstrings,” he says.

Even his culinary repertoire appears to be changing a bit. So bands like Vampire Weekend and Mumford & Sons should be prepared when Elliot cooks for them backstage at Lollapalooza last weekend.

“Before I might have played up the whole fat guy thing. ‘How much butter and cheese can I add to stuff?’ ” he says. “Now I’m starting to think healthier. I look at it more philosophically. ‘How do I take care of people?’ I’m thinking of doing a very light and healthy [meal], almost vegetarian with some protein, like poached halibut.”

MasterChef airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on FOX.