Rocco Whalen is a star chef in Cleveland, Ohio, owning six restaurants and a food truck, specializing in comfort food.
But his profession almost killed him.
At his heaviest, Whalen weighed 407 pounds. His goal is to get down to 240 pounds, and while he has made a lot of progress, he still has a ways to go.
Whalen's journey is a familiar one. Millions of Americans struggle with obesity. According to MarketData, a market research firm that tracks the U.S. weight loss market, there were an estimated 108 million American adults on a diet in 2012, and they were making four to five dieting attempts each year.
Whalen's turning point came after seeing vacation photos of himself after a trip to Italy.
"Frankly, I was unhealthy, unhappy, unsavory to look at," he said. "Size 54 pants. A fit adult is about half that. ... I would have to ask for extenders on the plane coming home. Do you know how embarrassing that is?"
But three years ago, Whalen made his weight battle public, when The Food Network cast him out of 3,000 contestants in 2012 for the TV show, "Fat Chef," and he said it changed his life.
The pressure was on to lose the weight as America watched. Whalen said the most difficult part of being on the show was walking into a gym for the first time.
"It was a humbling moment to take my shirt off in front of a million people and get on the scale," he said.
For four months, Whalen kept his daily food intake under 1,600 calories and exercised two hours a day, six days a week, with trainers watching his every move. At the end of the four months, Whalen had lost a staggering 85 pounds. But the real challenge came when the cameras were off.
"When you don't have a motivating goal of stepping on the scale in front of all your friends, and 70, 80 people that are all cheering ... it's more difficult to maintain or continue to lose after a show airs than it is to lose the weight," he said.
Determined to keep the weight off, Whalen has since transformed his lifestyle, planning his day around workouts and meals. But for him, working out is just half the battle. Working as a chef, each day is full of fighting off temptations to taste his food, which adds back calories. So Whalen has his employees taste the dishes instead.
"I just don't equip myself with a spoon and I'll just say, 'Bryan taste this, Matt taste this, TJ taste this. What's this taste like? Does it have enough salt, does it have enough butter?'" he said.
Another contestant on "Fat Chef," Michael Mignano said he too faced a similar battle to keep losing weight after the show ended.
"When I started 'Fat Chef,' I was just at 500 pounds and in that 4 months I lost 100 pounds," he said.
Mignano lost an additional 60 pounds after the show, but when his bakery business went under, the stress took over.
"The hardest thing for my diet when I had to close my business was the stress," he said. "The stress was overwhelming and when I have that, that's when you make bad choices. ... I'm an emotional eater but I recognized it and stopped it quick and erased it."
Today, Mignono works as an executive pastry chef at the Pierre Hotel in New York City and says he has his diet back on track.
"I'm 360 [pounds] and I'd like to get down to 260, so I need to lose another 100 pounds if I want to be where I was in high school by the end of next year," he said. "I'll be where I want to be."