How Matt Jennings Ditched His Unhealthy Habits

In honor of Food Republic's annual Healthy Living Month, we reached out to chefs about their diet and fitness routines and are featuring these interviews throughout January. Next up is Matt Jennings of Boston's Townsman. [Edit note: Jennings is doing an Instagram Takeover @foodrepublic today. Follow us and follow along!]

You'd be forgiven for not recognizing Matt Jennings on the street these days. The executive chef and owner of Boston's Townsman used to look like the type of guy who could down one of the New England brasserie's signature burgers without thinking twice about it. Now, however, Jennings is a leaner, meaner cooking machine. How did he transform himself from the stereotypical big chef into an exemplary father and husband with a more toned physique that's going in the opposite direction of a dad bod? Given his acclaimed restaurant's slogan, "For Vice and Virtue" (beyond the burger, there's a serious emphasis on New England seafood and seasonal vegetable dishes), he obviously gravitated toward the latter. Here's more on Jennings's virtuous routines.

What's the first thing you eat/drink in the morning?

Typically, it's a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal. Not a glamorous start, but it's about all I need to get my wheels turning. Once pro tip I have adopted: Soak oats overnight (I don't suggest quick oats, but true, steel-cut oats) so they are ready to go first thing in the a.m. You can quickly and easily add some dried fruit, a few nuts and a drizzle of honey and you are on your way out the door — which in our family is necessary, with two kids to get off to school before I get to work.

How do you manage to keep in shape and avoid grazing while always being in kitchens?

Avoiding "grazing" is the hardest part. I set an alarm on my phone for every four hours. At this time, I focus on getting my protein first. Sometimes it's an egg or two, maybe 3-4 ounces of chicken, fish or even tofu. Always protein first, everything else second. My diet is mostly plant driven, with protein. I avoid complex carbohydrates, all sugars, and I haven't drank any alcohol since May 15. Sticking to the alarms on my phone really helps, with lots of water in between.

What's your fitness routine, if any?

I exercise five or six days a week. Right now I'm big into cycling. I'm either cycling or doing weight training/CrossFit exercises. The goal right now is to continue to shed weight — that means lots of cardio, supplemented by free weights and cross-course.

If I go more than a couple days without working out, I get antsy!

Do you practice any wellness routines, such as meditation, acupuncture or massage?

Being that I appreciate and embrace Buddhism, I frequently find time for reflection. I meditate at least a few times per week. This is a really important time of my week — it helps me keep balance and maintain a clear head. Additionally, I have an incredible masseuse and get acupuncture when necessary. These old bones need a little TLC every now and then.  

Have you ever done a fad diet or a juice cleanse?

Fad diets don't work. Period. Cleanses are good for a temporary fix, but the best answer for me is an ongoing commitment to complete lifestyle change — smaller portions, plant-based and practicing mindful eating.

Any food or drinks you actively avoid?

All sugar. Breads and rice as well. I also try my best to avoid fast food at all costs.

Have you ever struggled with your weight?

My entire life.

Any recipes or go-to snacks that help you stay on track?

Eggs. I like keeping at least a dozen hard- or soft-boiled eggs in the fridge so that I can grab a bite and go — either at the restaurant or at the house.