Gary Mehigan has become renowned throughout the world for his passion for food and flavours. A successful restaurateur and TV personality, he’s appeared on everything from Ready Steady Cook to MasterChef Australia and his captivating new series Masters of Taste.
Leading a very busy life, Gary found that his wellness goals fell by the wayside as he hit his mid-30s. Regularly opting for food on-the-go to fuel his long working hours, he gave little thought to his portion sizes. And, although he regularly exercised and discovered a love of boxing, as he approached 50 he still felt sluggish. That’s when he had a wake-up call, as he describes it, and decided to join WW —an experience he says has revived his palate, guided him towards different ways of cooking and made him feel better than ever.
What was it that motivated you to go on this wellness journey?
I’ve been consistently overweight since my mid-30s. Being a chef at a busy restaurant, it just got on top of me. I had periods where I wasn’t eating as well as I could’ve. Since turning 50, I’ve started making some moves to live a healthier life. I’m more aware of the fact I’m getting older and things don’t bounce back as quickly.
At the end of last year, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been, at 105kg. I was eating out a lot. I was exercising, but my progress was slow. My dad’s health is not good, which also made me think about my own. That’s when I had a wake-up call—I was fed up with feeling overweight and I realised I was hindered by what I was eating.
I’ve been making an effort to think about food in a different way and it’s paid off. Now I’m running at the gym and I have more stamina when I do boxing. I definitely feel better. Putting on a suit and having it feel baggy is an amazing feeling.
What did you want to accomplish when you decided to get healthy?
I have a busy life so I don’t want to feel sluggish. I want to feel like I can take the dogs out for a run or kick a football around in the park.
Why did WW appeal to you?
I know I can go on a diet and lose weight but I can’t keep it up as a lifestyle. I’ve tried every rank of diet on the planet. A few years ago, I saw a dietitian who said I’d gotten confused and jammed parts of those diets together.
I want something that allows me to enjoy food in the way that I want to enjoy it. I hate being told I can’t have something. The idea of not being able to eat carbs doesn’t cut the mustard with me.
What has been the best outcome so far from your healthier lifestyle?
Number one is I feel better. I no longer feel bloated, heavy or sluggish. If you asked me a year ago if my diet was balanced, I would have said yes. In hindsight, I was probably not being completely honest. If I sit down and have an omelette now, and half of my plate is veg, I see I have a good balance.
What has surprised you most?
Eating simple, healthy food has revived my palate. Now I enjoy eating a lot of juicy, fresh food. Always on the go, I find I’m surrounded by chocolate, but instead I’m often choosing fruit. In India, where I often film, I know I can go and enjoy a bit of bread from the tandoor, as it’s all about balance. Now I know I have a whole lot of options.
You’re known for your connections to food and flavour—how would you sum up what it means to you?
Other than the obvious love for my wife and daughter, food is the centre-point of my life. It’s everything. It’s the window to enjoying and experiencing everything that’s good in life—whether it’s family, friends or travelling. For me, it’s a conduit to discovering new things, people, places and stories.
How has joining WW enhanced food and flavour for you?
I have learnt to love the simplicity of fresh food. There was always an extravagance to my cooking—and my portions. I used to add a glug of olive oil or wedge of butter and a crust of bread rubbed in garlic. Now I know that you can enjoy that, but there’s got to be a sense of balance in what you do.
I’ll still eat the crust of bread rubbed in garlic but later I’ll eat fresh vegetables and enjoy them equally.
How has the WW approach changed the way you cook at home?
In my chef life, I use every product on the planet. In my home life, I was using the same things every week. WW has encouraged me to buy new things and experiment. I’ve added fish into my diet once or twice a week. I’m buying prawns, mussels, seafood, crab and chicken breast. I’m also eating less red meat, too. But I still have a steak sometimes because I love it.
Now, when I’m buying fresh produce, I don’t just buy apples—I mix it up so I don’t get bored. I’m buying what’s ripe and in season. My shopping basket looks a lot more diverse. There’s a lot of stuff in there—pears, oranges, mandarins, snow peas, coriander, corn and mushrooms.
Is your WW journey having an unexpected positive impact on your family?
I think that my wife Mandy is probably a better driver of WW than I am. She’s cooking from all of the cookbooks and putting different meals together that we can both enjoy. Now I’m supporting Mandy on her journey rather than previously derailing her with my choices. She’s always eaten very well but now the content of our fridge has changed, and now when she’s cooking, her dishes are changing, too.
What surprised you about life on WW?
It’s easy! I can’t always be strict with tracking my food as I travel a lot. But the WW guidelines and ZeroPoint™ foods are so helpful. It’s not rocket science but it’s based on science. We hear the same messages about how to live a healthier lifestyle over and over—but it didn’t matter how many times I’d heard it, it just didn’t stick until now. Focusing on enjoying the simple changes we’ve made, rather than just celebrating their benefits, makes an enormous difference.
How do you feel now?
I’m more mindful, I’m enjoying food more and I feel more energised. In no way has my food philosophy been compromised. It is healthy. I don’t need to eat a protein bar. I can enjoy deep-fried bread knowing that I can balance it out later in the day or week with a chickpea masala. I don’t have to exclude anything.
What’s your new favourite dish?
Mandy made chicken with chickpeas and onions, which we’re enjoying. Most of the WW dishes are really easy, which I love. We enjoy meatballs—they’re easy to make and very tasty. And I’m enjoying seafood. I’ll buy seafood and make a curry sauce to go with it but the only difference is now I’m more conscious of how I’m making it.
Why did you decide to become a WW ambassador?
I like the idea that if I engage myself fully in WW I can contribute some interesting recipes that people want to cook. I want to influence people on my travels—people in the food industry who want to lose weight or feel better.
WW makes you feel like you’re a part of something. Being around other WW Members, who are all looking to live a healthier life, has made an enormous difference in mine. To me, doing it on your own is the worst thing. It’s important, especially getting older, for me to do these things with other people.