Russ Lane is a cook and author focused on expanding the boundaries of “healthy eating” and weight maintenance. His mission: to make sure health living has some actual life, combating the some of the grimmest life experiences with depth, irreverence and one hell of mostarda recipe.
Originally a 350-pound music critic graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Russ lost 200 pounds while thrown into the world of high-end dining food writing full-time. He hit his weight goal despite being in eight restaurants a day and the gym all night, while also blindsided by three deaths, leaving his past behind to start from scratch, all while contending with all the aftershocks of lifelong obesity, bullying and abuse. There were many times the world had written him off. Through it all, his spirit and belief in working for a better life for all of us wasn’t quelled, not only beating the odds, but doing so spectacularly.
In speaking on the experience, Russ is unflinchingly candid about the realities and attitudes surrounding obesity — and just as irreverently defiant of them. Ambivalent about how people lost weight — usually the dominating topic in obesity — Russ instead looks at the nuances of what makes life after obesity so challenging and hard for most dieters to sustain, and develop creative, practical ways to fight back against them.
He draws equally from food history, neuroscience, the latest scientific evidence available in nutrition and obesity, and with a dash of the no-nonsense Southern wisdom of his upbringing in the Carolinas, and then New Orleans. Both high-end research and low-spun folk wisdom combined to support those who might have won the battle of weight loss only to discover another battle in front of them: moving forward after it.
“When first losing weight, I remember the sensation of drowning in specialists and target marketers that weren’t all that ‘on-target.’ For all the very clear information, no one ever seemed to answer the questions I needed answers to. It’s one of the many ways I consider the worlds of obesity and cooking similar: how many people pour over very clear recipes, but just can’t make sense of them enough to apply them to their life? I say if that’s the case, there’s something missing in what we’re teaching everyone — about weight, cooking and life.
“And even when I hit goal in spite of all that, I was initially disillusioned. Years of bullying an obesity and now I’m a “normal” person, and is this is all there is to it? I wasn’t too impressed with how thin people relate to food and health, but I also wasn’t interested in returning to the days of 60-inch waist, either. If I was to keep my weight off, I’d have to find another alternative, a new point of view. I’d never imagined I would I create it, myself, in the kitchen.”
A dish at a time, the principles many chefs and dietitians take for granted helped him address and answer the questions no one provided insight into: why is “healthy eating” thought of as something separate of high-end cuisine? And why doesn’t “healthy eating” feel any more freeing than eating two pizzas a night? And after years of bullying — it not his size, then any other number of reasons — why does he still feel so pushed around and used by the so-called experts, in theory, supposed to help him? And finally — after all this work to lose weight, how come it’s not very helpful in learning to keep it off?
Russ’ cooking style is designed to break all those vicious cycles with punchy flavor combinations, ample color and mish-mash of cuisines and dietary techniques that feel less like "fusion" than a new language for food born of the ashes of the past.
His style creates dishes that owe to plethora of different cultures and points of view — and even different dietary practices. Solid nutrient ratios that also disrupt the long-ingrained psychological or neurological patterns attached with food. That can include low-sugar takes on Italian condiments, quirky deserts, typical diet cooking techniques given a fine-dining sheen, or gourmand techniques given a dash of sweet tea wisdom. It all sounds like fun to him, and learning new takes on food opens up possibilities into even the most mundane, last-minute weeknight meals.
The North Carolinian in him gives this high-minded cuisine a dash of whimsical practicality and tongue-in-cheek sense of fun. Because the best diet in the world makes no difference if it doesn’t change your thinking about food, or doesn’t scramble years of lifelong eating habits.
Besides, Russ didn’t lose 200 pounds just to be healthy for its own sake. The whole point was not the same-old in a new body. His experiences gifted him with a taste for adventure and discovery — and while diligently keeping his weight off. His food’s dedicated to reimagining or bursting through limits and horizons.
As he began writing, cooking and lecturing on weight-loss issues, and as others began asking Russ to teach what he learned, he found his skillset was the missing ingredient in many's obesity management strategy. His student's own creativity blossomed while also stopping suicides, helped break decades-long bouts of celibacy, and improved medical conditions and weight measurements by working in tandem with existing professionals, research scientists, and the diet industry. That his students lost and/or kept off 100s of pounds even after three years of working with him (the sweet spot in keeping-of-weight statistics) was just a bonus.
Russ or his food has appeared on the Today Show, People Magazine and been one of the few guest lecturers at long-running diet facility The Structure House, and the only without a formal scientific or culinary degree. He trained with some of the most creative chefs in New Orleans and has cooked for the Broadway community in New York and those wanting to beat the odds and break vicious cycles as he did.
He now lives, writes, cooks, kayaks and boxes in New York.