TAMPA — Does this sound familiar? You know you need to eat better to lose weight. But you just can't stand to cook.
"People want an easy solution, a quick fix, when it comes to losing weight,'' says nutritionist Brett Markowitz, who opened the Rejuvenation & Wellness Center in January.
"If you've had poor eating habits for 10 or 15 years, you have to expect it will take about five years to get it all off. It won't happen overnight."
While there is no magic bullet, a chance meeting with Mike Beyruti at the Taste of New Tampa earlier this year is helping Markowitz's clients reach their goals.
Beyruti, head chef at Village Health Market on MacDill Avenue in South Tampa and a chef for more than 25 years, specializes in healthy approaches to cooking. He has owned restaurants in Tampa and New York in the past. He was seeking to expand his area contacts and told Markowitz he could prepare the meals for his clients.
"The food was a bigger hit then I ever expected and it met all the needs my clients required," Markowitz said.
Markowitz has worked for 15 years in the health and wellness industry, from managing gyms to personal training to coordinating wellness programs. His goal is to provide a complete weight loss and fitness system.
Most of his clients at the wellness center in North Tampa start with a food sensitivity test. A blood sample is taken to detect what foods do not work in concert with the body. They are then given a comprehensive exam and the center's trainer does an overall assessment to determine deficiencies in the body, along with their fitness level.
A registered dietitian starts working on a nutrition plan based upon a conversation with the client and a required health questionnaire. From this information, the dietitian forms a customized nutrition program based on lean muscle mass.
"We are not so concerned with calories as we are concerned with portions," Markowitz said. "Too many clients get lost if you start telling them to take in 2,000 calories. There is a big difference between 2,000 calories from McDonald's or 2,000 calories from plain chicken breast."
He teamed up with Beyruti after hearing many of his approximately 120 clients say they did not have time to cook, even after the dietitian established food programs for them.
Today 49-year-old Beyruti prepares about 400 meals a week for Markowitz's clients.
"Most of the knowledge I've acquired has been from trainers like Brett and talking to doctors to stay current on what's healthy for people to eat," Beyruti said. "Now people are more in tune with their body. They want to know what they're eating.
Beyruti learned much of his cooking growing up in his father's bakery in Lebanon. His mother and sister did the cooking at home, buying all natural ingredients daily from the town farmer such as pine nuts, hummus, fresh fish, ground lamb and vegetables.
He became more familiar with western diets when his family moved to New York. The seed for making food taste better and remaining healthy was planted while eating bland hospital cooking when his father was diagnosed with diabetes years ago.
"I was eating these meals in the hospital that were horrible, and I wanted to take those same meals and make them taste better," Beyruti said. "I changed the recipes, replacing the greasy part with the healthy part.
"There are so many ingredients to work with, but people don't look for them. They run to Publix or Wal-Mart and grab whatever is on the shelf. You can turn a lousy recipe into a healthy one if you look for ingredients in the natural food stories."
Beyruti cited his recipe for chicken parmigiana. The dish is usually deep-fried with bread crumbs. Beyruti strips away the fat by baking the dish with olive oil. He also uses ground almonds in place of bread crumbs and flavors them with herbs.
Clients such as Vicki Auger purchase the meals daily for her family at a cost of $8.99 per meal.
"Portion control is very important to us, particularly for my husband [who is 5 foot 10, 220 pounds]," Auger said. "That is the biggest factor in gaining muscle and losing weight.
"For most people it's hard to know about portion control, what's in the food, how it affects your body. You're in a hurry and you're hungry and you pull in to Burger King. But it's great how they came up with this arrangement."
Markowitz, 32, became familiar with the food sensitivity test through his own allergy about five years ago. He woke up every day with a headache and thought there was mold in his house. He eventually had a blood test and was diagnosed with Candida, a yeast infection in the stomach.
Food sensitivity can last eight hours or three days.
Markowitz said: "So for every person it could be different. You could eat corn and I could eat corn, but we would have different reactions in the body. It could be joint pain, bloating, gas, gout, snoring, weight gain, irritable bowl syndrome, any number of reactions."
Markowitz turned out to be allergic to chicken.
The test also indicates if people have allergies to gluten, a fiber contained in many foods. Part of the test includes a detox program to clean out a client's body and restart their metabolism.
"This doesn't mean you can never have those foods again," said Markowitz, who also works with tennis players at Saddlebrook Resort. "It just means you need to separate them from your body because you're having some type of reaction."
He charges $100 a month for membership and food allergy tests. Workouts are $35 per session. Members receive a 20 percent discount on Beyruti's meals.
The food sensitivity test without the membership is $100.
Markowitz also owns a nutrition and tanning salon in the same strip center called H.E.A.T. (Healthy Eating and Alternative Therapy). That's where he sells Beyruti's meals.
He cautions against using weight as the sole indicator of what to eat.
"Everything should be based off of lean body mass," he said. "If we both weigh 200 pounds, but you have 30 percent body fat and I have 8 percent body fat, we have different frames and shouldn't be eating the same foods.