By peoplestaff225
March 07, 2014 01:27 PM

Courtesy Graham Elliot

Meet the incredible shrinking Graham Elliot!

Nine months after undergoing a sleeve gastrectomy at the University of Chicago Medical Center, the MasterChef judge and acclaimed chef has lost a whopping 147 lbs. “I thought it would take two or three years to do this,” admits Elliot, 37, who now weighs 253 lbs. after tipping the scales at nearly 400 lbs. at one point. “I thought I’d lose 60 or 70 pounds the first year.”

Elliot credits his success to thinking about the surgery as just a stepping stone to making serious healthy lifestyle changes. He works out at least every other day now, can run 5 miles and requests that his dressing room on the MasterChef set is filled with almonds, dried fruit and seaweed chips instead of the usual sweets.

“In the past I would get stressed and ask craft services for cookies and candy,” says Elliot, who is currently in Los Angeles filming the upcoming season of the hit cooking competition show. “But now I know my stomach is the size of a banana and I need to have food that just gives me energy. So I can either have a moment of sweetness but feel really bad or I can order something delicious and light like sashimi.”

The perks of his healthy transformation include wearing the same size jeans he did during his freshmen year in high school (that’s a size 36!), finally flying without wearing a seatbelt extender and losing the sleep apnea machine he’s had to use since 2005. “That’s life-changing,” he tells PEOPLE. “It was like being chained to the bed — not being able to lean over and hug [my wife] Allie or snuggle with my kids [Mylo, 7, Conrad, 3, and Jedidiah, 18 months] — because I have a huge mask on my face. Once my machine broke and I had to stay up for 48 hours because I physically couldn’t sleep for five minutes without gasping for air.”

Elliot believes his personality has changed too. “I’m more assertive but in a positive way,” explains the chef, who recently opened his newest restaurant Primary Food & Drink in Greenwich, Conn. “I’m still the comedian but in meetings I’m a little more in command and not afraid that if I say something wrong, someone is going to call me fat. And really that’s what has taken control of my life since high school.”

But no question, making his three boys proud is the absolute best benefit. “At my son Mylo’s birthday in January, we were all running around playing tag with his friends,” recalls Elliot. “He was telling them, ‘My Dad is the fastest one here. He can beat us in a race.’ That was awesome!”

— Liza Hamm

RELATED: Graham Elliot Runs His First Race Since Weight Loss Surgery

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