(NEW YORK) — In many respects, pastry chef Michael Mignano’s job was killing him. Constantly surrounded by sugar and carbs, the owner of the Main Street Bakery in Port Washington, N.Y., said years of late nights in restaurant kitchens, followed by fast food dinners on the way home, caused his once 34-inch waistline to balloon. By the time he was 36 years old, he weighed 500 pounds and had been diagnosed with diabetes.
“I allowed the stresses of work and life to just compound and just literally eat me alive,” Mignano said. “In 2009, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. And I went in the doctor’s office that day. I didn’t feel well. He checked my sugar and it was to the roof.”
Though he says he doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth himself, Mignano’s signature recipe is an almost two-inch-thick gooey, cashew, caramel, macadamia nut, and chocolate candy bar concoction that has to be eaten with a knife and fork — it has even been praised by Oprah.
It’s his pastry prowess that earned him an audition for Food Network’s competitive baking show Sweet Genius last year, but seeing himself on camera became an eye opener for the chef to start seriously addressing his weight problem.
“My concern was not what I’m going to prepare or what is going to be thrown at me in the competition, it’s if my jacket is going to fit me. It was kind of ridiculous,” Mignano said. “You ask yourself, how can I let myself just get this big?”
It was then that Food Network asked Mignano if he would be interested in a different kind of show, Fat Chef, which he later signed up for.
The TV network’s new show comes on the heels of one of its biggest stars, Southern cooking legend Paula Deen, came clean about suffering from Type II diabetes and endorsing Victoza — a diabetic drug that Deen revealed she takes.
Fat Chef, which premieres Thursday night on Food Network, features a dozen participants who spend 16 weeks losing weight and learning to change their lifestyle with the help of trainers, nutritionists and therapists — something that’s especially hard for people who make a living being surrounded by savory food temptations.
But after undergoing the diet and exercise program the show tailored for him, Mignano said he has now cured his diabetes and lost 100 pounds over the course of just four months — shrinking from a size 6X chef jacket to 2X.
“No pills in three months,” he said proudly. “Medicine is great, but it gives you this false sense of healing, but it’s not really doing what it’s supposed to do. Eliminating it, that’s what it’s supposed to do.”
One of his weight loss secrets, he said, was eating lean proteins and fiber every four hours.
“I say this is it’s all about self-control,” Mignano said. “With doing the show, Fat Chef, I’ve actually learned to rethink the way I look at food, that, you know, it’s not just mindless eating.”
When it came to exercise, this one-time track star said he had to take it slow, beginning with long walks.
“My mind wanted to work and wanted to run, but the legs weren’t moving,” Mignano said. “We did half a lap. Then I went to three-quarters of a lap. Then I went to one lap, to a lap and-a-half. And in December, at the gym, you know, I was — I did a 5K.”
Diet guru Dr. Mike Dow, author of the weight loss plan Diet Rehab, said, aside from regular exercise, the key to losing weight and breaking food addictions is to eat healthy food that gives the same “feel good” sensation in the brain as junk food does.
“When you’re working around food, which I talk about in Diet Rehab, it is actually neuro-chemically addictive,” Dow said. “You’re actually teaching yourself to be rewarded sometimes with food and that affects the brain in a powerful way.”
Since he has finished taping the show, Mignano has lost 15 more pounds and said it hasn’t just changed his life, but also made life better for his wife and kids. His goal is to get down to 250 pounds, literally half the man he once was, he said, and create a new recipe for a healthier life.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio