Working out with Mike Isabella, getting ‘Fit for Hope’

WASHINGTON – It can be tough for anyone to lose weight — especially someone who works with food for a living. But a group of big names on the local restaurant scene say they are up for the challenge.

Sixteen Washington-area chefs, including Bryan Voltaggio, Todd Thrasher, Art Smith, Frederik de Pue, Victor Albisu and Derek Brown, among others, have signed on with Fit for Hope, a weight loss competition designed to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Think of the challenge as the intersection of “Top Chef” and “The Biggest Loser.”

“Everyone wants to win the challenge,” says Mike Isabella, a former “Top Chef” and “Top Chef All-Stars” contestant and owner of Graffiato, Kapnos and G restaurants.

These days, Isabella is spending as much time as he can out of the kitchen and in the gym.

He’s drenched with sweat as he finishes a workout with trainer Christina Vasquez at Vida Fitness at the Verizon Center.

“Tons of fun,” Isabella jokes. “I wish I could do this every day.”

Isabella says time may be the biggest obstacle facing all of the Fit for Hope contestants as they prepare for their grand finale on Sept. 24 at the Carnegie Library.

“It is hard to get the time in, it is hard to eat right, it is hard to do a lot of things,” Isabella says.

Working in the food industry is a stressful life, with long hours and constant pressure. When the work day is over — sometimes in the early hours of the morning — there is the temptation just to let loose.

“In our world we drink a lot from the stress,” says Isabella, who adds that the pounds started to drop for many of the challenge’s contestants when they cut back on the bourbon and beer.

Then, the trainers stepped in.

“The trainers have been harassing us and kicking our butts, emailing us and calling us,” says Isabella, adding that camaraderie has taken hold among the contestants, who constantly tweet back and forth, urging each other on.

But Isabella says they are all serious about the competition — and they all intend to win.

And so the 16 chefs are counting reps at the gym and counting calories on their plates. Summer’s bounty of produce is making the food part of the equation easier, with an abundance of tomatoes and sweet watermelon in season. If these dieters can’t make a feast out of ripe fruit and vegetables, then nobody can.

“It’s a life change,” says Isabella. His ultimate goal is not a number on the scale, but “to keep on going until I am in great shape.”

The winner will be announced at Taste of Hope, celebrating the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday, where Isabella is the co-host.

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