Food was only one culprit in Michael Lachowicz’s journey to ballooning up to 432 lbs.
“My addiction is food, booze and narcotics,” says the classically trained chef, 46, who was inspired to go to culinary school after living above his grandparents’ restaurant as a child. “Everything worked in tandem. Drugs and alcohol reduced my inhibitions, so I didn’t have a lot of remorse about eating ridiculous amounts of food.”
Although his specialties include venison and foie gras, the owner and executive chef of Restaurant Michael and George Trois in Winnetka, Ill. was never tempted by French cuisine. “For me it was about garbage food,” he says in PEOPLE’s Half Their Size issue. At his heaviest, he was consuming 12,000 calories a day of hot dogs and French fries dipped in beef juice.
The turning point came in 2011, when “I was lying on the carpet looking for pills underneath the couch,” he recalls. He checked into 28 days of rehab in Chicago to kick all his habits at once. “I’m alive today because of all that,” he says.
Lachowicz relied on anonymous fellowships for support throughout his journey — and continues to work with them today. “I was able to listen to these people and hear the experiences and hear the similarities and what they did,” he says. “It was about not being alone anymore, not feeling like I’m the only fool who was doing this.”
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He reached his current weight of 238 lbs. two years later by working out six days a week and structuring his diet to 1,800-1,900 calories per day of meals like egg salad and his go-to dinner: roasted cauliflower with lean turkey (get the recipe below). But maintenance remains a constant struggle. “I’m a chef,” he says, “and we have to eat.”
Although in 2015 he opened a new restaurant with a nine-course $180-per-person tasting menu, he still is not enticed by fancy food. Instead he allows himself a weekly cheat day where he indulges in a cheese omelet, bacon, hash browns and toast.
Sober for six years and a newlywed, Lachowicz says he is in the best shape of his life: “I’m really lucky.”
For more incredible weight loss stories, watch the full episode of People Features: Half Their Size, available now on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) and at People.com/halftheirsize. Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, Xfinity, iOS and Android devices.
Chef Michael Lachowicz’s Protein Power Dinner
½ medium Spanish onion, roughly chopped
¼ head raw cauliflower, divided into large florets
8 whole garlic cloves, split into halves
12 small cremini mushrooms, cut into halves
Nonstick pan spray
12 oz. lean ground turkey breast
½ cup of your favorite marinara sauce
1 whole, flame roasted jalapeño pepper, roughly chopped
¼ cup whole, fresh basil leaves, roughly sliced or torn
1. Combine raw cauliflower, onion, garlic and mushrooms in a bowl and lightly coat vegetables with pan spray, sprinkle with kosher salt and roast in one even layer at 400 degrees until caramelized and soft.
2. In a large skillet, brown lean turkey meat dry, no fat, lightly seasoned with kosher salt. Add roasted vegetables, marinara and jalapeño to the turkey in the skillet. Mix thoroughly, remove from heat and stir in basil off heat.
Tip! “This yields 18 ounces of final product and the calorie count for the entire amount above is roughly 400 calories,” says Lachowicz. “It can be eaten with 1 cup of brown rice or 3 ounces of pasta as a dinner of less than 750 calories or 50% of the above can become 2 lunches with half the amount of brown rice or pasta for less than 400 calories each.”