Tag Archives: David Osterweil

The Unlikely Vegetarian

By Pete Williams

I’m 36 hours away from making it through Lent without eating meat and consuming only trace amounts of dairy.

I’m by no means a by-the-book-Catholic, but in recent years I’ve used Lent as a challenge to make lifestyle changes. In 2010 and last year, I went without television. Not one minute. While I went back to watching TV on Easter Sunday both times, I found the experience cut down my television viewing considerably.

For years I’ve wanted to try a vegetarian or even a vegan diet. In January of 2011, I dealt with a kidney stone and even after cutting back on protein intake, tests last fall showed I still was consuming too much animal protein, which can lead to more stones. That’s incentive enough, but I also wanted to improve my performance in endurance sports and feel better overall.

A vegetarian diet can do all of those things and I figured Lent would offer a good 46-day challenge. I would drop meat altogether, but would eat fish and consume the occasional Mix1 protein recovery drink, which contains whey protein, a byproduct of cheese manufacturing. Other than that, no dairy, which wouldn’t be much of a stretch for someone who rarely consumes any. Jack LaLanne, who never consumed dairy and lived to 96, stressed that humans are the only animals to consume dairy after the suckling stage.

One of the salmon salads at Fitlife Foods

My Lenten experiment confirmed what I’ve long suspected. A vegan, vegetarian or “pescetarian” (vegetarian with fish) diet, like any other nutrition plan, is mostly about planning and habits. Most of us eat bad stuff not so much because we like to but because it’s ingrained in our lifestyles. In recent years I’ve cut out bread, pasta, and beer, realizing I consumed that stuff out of habit, not because I loved it. It’s easy to substitute things you prefer, especially when they’re better for you, such as additional veggies and the occasional glass of wine.

I figured the same thing would happen with giving up meat and that proved to be the case. I didn’t miss it at all and found it easy to resist, even last weekend at our neighbors’ annual pig roast. Of course, I had a few key weapons:

Vegan and vegetarian friendly

1. CHIPOTLE: I love eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which makes it easy to justify consuming meat since theirs comes from only farm-raised, grass-fed animals not injected with hormones and antibiotics. I typically get a burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, chicken or carnitas (pork), along with mild and corn salsas, a sprinkling of cheese, lettuce, and guacamole. The chicken version comes to 805 calories, including 57 grams of protein and 2,150 mg of sodium. That’s a lot of protein and salt for anyone, especially someone who has had a kidney stone.

Eliminating the chicken and cheese, however, brought the burrito bowl down to 515 calories with just 17 grams of protein and 1,600 mg of sodium. My bill with a cup of water also dropped from nearly $9 to $6.69. That’s an incredible value. People spend more than that at fast food restaurants for 1,000 empty calories. Chipotle CEO Steve Ells has said he’s cut down on his meat consumption lately and after eating veggie burrito bowls, I can see how it’s an easy transition to make.

2. FITLIFE FOODS: Fitlife Foods, which has three locations in the Tampa Bay area, provides nutritious, ready-made meals packed full of nutrients. They cater to busy professionals and recreational athletes – company founder David Osterweil is a marathoner – and the nutrient-dense meals chef Andrew Ruga creates are designed for the high-performance athlete and professional.

I had been enjoying Fitlife’s chicken and beef dishes before Lent, but found the large versions of Miso Salmon (650 calories, 47g of protein), Citrus Salmon Salad (360 calories, 21g), and Lemon Pepper Tilapia (430 calories, 57g) made me forget about the meat.

Fitlife Foods founder David Osterweil

The tilapia, which comes with a side of green beans, packs a lot of protein. But since I usually went with one fish meal and one vegan dish a day, I didn’t worry about that.

The rest of my diet stayed intact: breakfast of oatmeal and a smoothie consisting of fruit, almonds, and almond butter; a lunch or dinner of black beans, sliced tomatoes, and lots of asparagus; snacks of Clif or Lara bars, fruit/almond butter, and my cheat treat of anything chocolate.

The results have been dramatic. The weight dropped from 163 to as low as 156.6, a figure I haven’t seen since the late 1980s. (I’m at 158.8 today). I fared well at two obstacle races in the last five weeks and despite getting a late jump on triathlon training for next weekend’s Escape from Fort DeSoto race season kickoff, I’m biking and swimming almost in mid-season form – not like someone who virtually ignored both all winter.

Best of all, the mysterious migraines I had in January and February have disappeared.

Nutrition plans are most effective when you can link them to feeling and performing better, not just looking better.

That’s why I just might make this Lenten experiment a permanent thing.

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Fitlife Foods: Great Tasting, Great for You

By Pete Williams

Fitlife Foods founder David Osterweil

SAFETY HARBOR – David Osterweil calls the cuisine “indulgently healthy.” With names like Citrus Salmon Salad, Patong Chicken, Havana Pulled Pork, and Ab Tight Tenderloin, it’s clear Fitlife Foods has found the unlikely combination of tasty meals and food that’s actually good for you.

It’s not tofu-and-sprouts health food. Nor is it rich Outback Steakhouse fare, the type Osterweil once oversaw working in business development for the Tampa-based company.

“We take dishes that you might not initially think are great for you and make them healthy by getting creative with the ingredients,” says Osterweil, the founder of Fitlife Foods, which today opened its third location, on the border of Clearwater and Safety Harbor.

Since debuting a year ago in South Tampa and opening a second store recently in Carrollwood, Fitlife Foods has developed an avid following among busy professionals looking to eat healthy. The store offers fresh, pre-made meals in three sizes, produced by a staff headed by Andrew Ruga, who previously worked at the Canyon Ranch Spa in Arizona.

Meals come in three sizes: small (200 to 350 calories for around $6), medium (350-450 for about $8.50) and large (450-500 calories and up for around $10). There are options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with snacks. There’s also a 21-day weight-loss challenge that includes a meeting with a wellness coach who measures each client’s metabolic rate, body mass index, and other variables.

“Regardless of where you are, the idea is to offer people flexibility in their lives and really make it easy for them,” Osterweil says.

One of Fitlife’s more popular items is BBQ Beef with Mac ‘N Cheese. Chefs take carrots, onions, and grains to make the sauce and add a modest amount of cheddar. Salt and butter are used sparingly at Fitlife, added only for things like the “fitFudge brownie,” which is mostly plums.

Osterweil, a married father of two young children and an avid marathon runner, says he came up with the idea for Fitlife Foods after ripping recipes from magazines and never getting around to preparing them.

“You always mean to try them but after four months all you have is a stack of recipes,” Osterweil says. “Life tends to get in the way for most of us. I always wanted to start a company that meshed this interest I had in health and fitness with my passion for great-tasting food.”

Fitlife Foods, with its sleek green-and-black décor, looks like a cross between an upscale take-out restaurant and a modern health club. There are a few tables and microwave ovens for those who wish to eat in, though most grab and go from a well-stocked refrigerated display. There’s a room for wellness consultations and a display of bio sheets for local trainers affiliated with Fitlife Foods.

“I have a passion for what trainers do,” Osterweil says. “Their whole goal is to make people healthier, happy, successful, and more energetic and that’s similar to what our goals are.”

Meals are made at the South Tampa location and delivered daily to the other two stores. Osterweil plans to replicate the hub-and-spoke system in other cities and says he’s received interest from investors throughout the country, including the West Coast.

A Tampa native, Osterweil started with Outback Steakhouse as a waiter in Virginia as he worked on his MBA at America University. Back home, he climbed the Outback corporate ladder from intern to eventually become director of culinary strategy for Carrabba’s Italian Grill.

The newest Fitlife Foods location – on the southeast corner of McMullen-Booth and Enterprise Road, not far from Countryside Mall – has a rich Outback heritage. The second-oldest Bonefish Grill is located at the same intersection, along with the original Carmel Café and Wine Bar, a casual-dining Mediterranean restaurant Outback founder Chris Sullivan opened late in 2010.

“The biggest things I took away from the Outback experience were the notion of taking care of people and also the commitment to quality and having great flavors in food,” Osterweil said. “That was something I took to heart. The one thing that makes us a lot different is the notion of being indulgently healthy. There’s no reason you can’t eat things that are great tasting and great for you.”

Hear our Fitness Buff Show interview with David Osterweil HERE

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FitLife Foods Founder David Osterweil on Fitness Buff

By Pete Williams

Opening in Countryside Jan. 26

Since The Fitness Buff radio show debuted in 2005, we’ve provided some of the earliest media exposure to a number of businesses that now are household names: Perfect Pushup, TRX Suspension Training, the BlendTec Home Total Blender.

Here’s another one likely headed to prominence: FitLife Foods, the Tampa-based company that provides healthy, tasty, meals to go in three sizes. CEO David Osterweil, a former Outback Steakhouse executive, figured there was a market for busy professionals on the go, especially those involved in fitness and endurance sports. Osterweil, a married father of two young children and a marathoner himself, knows his demographic.

FitLife Foods chef Andrew Ruga, who previously worked at the world-famous Canyon Ranch resort in Arizona, prides himself on using alternative ingredients to make dishes healthier. That’s why FitLife’s barbecued beef with macaroni and cheese not only is among the store’s most popular dishes, it’s also one of its healthiest.

We’ll be covering FitLife more this month as it opens its third location and first in Pinellas County (on the southwest corner of McMullen-Booth and Enterprise Road in Safety Harbor/Countryside).

You can listen to our interview with David Osterweil HERE:

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