The Pizza Diet

By Chef Pasquale Cozzolino

The true story of how an Italian chef came to NYC and shed nearly 100 pounds by eating pizza

I woke up one day and I noticed I couldn't see my feet. My stomach was in the way. I knew I was big, but I didn't realize how heavy I was until I went for a physical examination. I tipped the weight scale at 370 pounds. My doctor told me to stop eating so much. "If you keep this up," she warned me, "you'll be dead of a heart attack soon."

When I came to New York from Naples in 2011, I had no job and only 50 Euros in my pocket. I had a dream of opening my own restaurant, but I needed investors, and investors had to be convinced I could run it myself. I rushed around New York City tasting every new experience, visiting two or three restaurants a day. One day, I'd visit a restaurant posing as a reporter from Italy and ask all the questions I could think of. The next, I'd just eat my way through the menu. When you eat and eat, your stomach stretches, and mine did. To feel satisfied, you have to eat more. I ate a lot more.

It began with an occasional soda. And then something tasty and fast to go with it. Fast food made me feel good—for a moment. When you're trying to build a career and raise a family, you're hustling; everything else isn't so important—like what you're eating. You grab whatever's easy and fast, and go. It never occurred to me, but I'd stopped paying attention to food, and I ignored what poor eating habits I was developing and what they were doing to my body. My doctor made me realize I was eating myself to death with junk food. And I had to change for the sake of my wife and son.

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I had tried diets before, of course, but I found that I could never stick to them. I would drop a few pounds and then lose the discipline to continue and, ultimately, gain all the weight back. You've heard the statistics: Between 80 and 95 percent of people who diet end up putting weight back on—and then some. That was me. At the doctor's office, in that moment, I resolved to find a way to lose weight and keep it off. But I needed a strategy that was different.

During the summer I went home to Naples and met with a well-known Italian nutritionist, Giuseppe Moscarella, who told me: "Pasquale, a diet you don't like, you're never going to follow. You have to eat something that tastes good to you."

That evening, I walked through Quartieri Spagnoli, the neighborhood in Naples where I grew up. It's the poorest part of town. We lived in a tiny apartment where I shared a bedroom with my two sisters. There was never extra money for luxuries, but every Saturday night my parents would take us out to try a different pizzeria. In the historic center of Naples, there are more than 600 pizzerias. I longed for Saturdays. Neapolitan families got together over pizza; there was no food in the Quartieri I loved more. In fact, as a boy, I'd already made a decision: "One day I will be a pizza maker so I can eat pizza every day."

As I walked, the smoky scent of cooking pizza brought back wonderful childhood memories. Then it hit me: Pizza! Pizza, the most important food in my life. Pizza, the reason I became a chef. If I cannot have pizza, I reasoned, I cannot follow a diet. But what if I could make a healthier style? Knowing there's a pizza waiting for me in the middle of each day, I could follow any diet.

The next day, I began to develop my Pizza Diet.

I experimented with ways to make pizza healthier and lower in calories. My pizza would be made with high-quality ingredients, and the dough would be fermented so it was lighter and more healthful. Using special Italian dough and fermenting it for 36 hours, much of the natural sugars are eliminated, leaving healthier complex carbohydrates. I formulated a meal plan based on the Mediterranean diet, eating fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and whole grains and using healthy fats like olive oil and avocado instead of saturated fats. It's the way I used to eat in Italy, and I'd replaced it with fast food and sugary processed foods when I came to New York. Along with my beloved pizza, which I would eat every day, this dietary change would become my savior. I followed the Mediterranean-style of eating religiously for breakfast, snacks, and light dinners.

In the first two weeks alone, I lost 20 pounds. When you see that kind of progress, it gives you motivation. It gives you confidence in your conviction and makes you want to do more. After nine months, I had shed 114 pounds and completely turned my life around.

I understand how it is for people with extra pounds. They feel so frustrated, so hopeless. They feel terrible because they can't do everything they might like. I was that way, too. It's emotionally discouraging and exhausting. And I never want to go back to that place.

When people see me now, they ask how I lost so much weight and how I did it. When I tell them about the Pizza Diet, I can tell they are a little skeptical. "Are you sure?" they'll ask with a puzzled look on their faces.

I'm sure.

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My weight-loss story has gone around the globe. I was on the front page of the New York Post and featured in magazines and newspapers in South America, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Russia. People are fascinated by my example. They are amazed and encouraged when they see my before-and-after pictures. It proves to them that if I can do it, they can do it. I am living proof that you really can heal your body with food and you do not need to cut pizza out of your life. When the dough is prepared the right way, it can be good for you and part of a well-rounded diet. My book will show you how.

How to Make a Weight Loss Pizza

The Secret "Sauce" Is Actually the Dough

Long ago, bread was different. Simpler. It wasn't made from highly processed flour, and it didn't roll out of giant factories, pre-sliced. It was made more carefully, often with a sourdough starter, and allowed to rise for many hours, if not days. Only in the 20th century have new industrial baking techniques made it possible to churn out a loaf ready to eat in about three hours.

Bread—which is what pizza crust is—wasn't meant to be produced this way. We've sacrificed speed for nutrition, and we're doing our bodies harm in the process of making baking more profitable. Celiac disease—intolerance of gluten—is now about four times more prevalent than it was 50 years ago, and doctors aren't quite sure why. One theory suggests it may have to do with the quickie, industrialized bread-making techniques and the way that gluten is not sufficiently broken down before it's eaten.

A healthier pizza dough is simpler pizza dough. If you take the time to make the dough the right way, you can enjoy pizza without worrying about blood sugar problems, gluten intolerance, and cravings that lead you to overeat. Combined with following a Mediterranean-inspired diet, my special pizza dough is the secret to your success on The Pizza Diet.

Let's get our fingers in the flour.

When we add yeast to dough, the yeast begins eating the sugar in the flour, releasing carbon dioxide as a by-product (which makes your dough puff up). The fermentation process also breaks down the gluten protein into smaller pieces, making it easier for our bodies to digest and increasing its nutritional value. Think of it this way: Fermentation does part of the job of your digestive system; the gluten is being broken down before it even enters your stomach, so all you have to do is take in its nutrition once it arrives. Fermentation also lowers bread's glycemic index number, meaning it will be less likely to raise your blood sugar. This is critical because frequent blood sugar spikes can cause cravings and extreme hunger when blood sugar dips. Over time, blood sugar spikes can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. That's why using less-processed flour and fermenting the dough longer is so the key to The Pizza Diet strategy.

Flour Power

In Italy, flour is classified into four main types—2, 1, 0, and 00—according to the way it's produced and how finely it's milled. Type 2 is the coarsest, and Type 00 the most highly refined, and least nutritious. The milling process strips it of nearly all of its bran, as well as its vitamins and minerals. It's very similar to the American white flour most pizzerias in the U.S. use, which is so nutritionally deficient, the government requires it to be enriched with iron, vitamin B, and other nutrients.

For the pizza at my restaurant, Ribalta, I use Type 1 stone-ground flour from an Italian maker called Le 5 Stagioni. It's a beautiful product, but unfortunately, is not widely available at the retail level in the U.S.; however, you can sometimes find it on Amazon. (Look for the bag labeled "Tipo 1" to know it's the right one.) A good alternative, also available online, is Molino Rossetto's "Grano Duro Cappelli— Farina Macinata a Pietra."

Stone-ground flour, which is literally made by pulverizing the grain between two heavy stones, is more expensive to produce, and that's one reason many restaurants don't use it. The flour I recommend is better for your body. The biggest difference between my dough and regular pizza dough is the rising time. I allow my dough to rise for at least 36 hours; that allows time for the yeast to go to work and the gluten to be adequately broken down. Generally, other pizzerias might let their dough rise for less than five hours. It ends up heavy, like a rock in your stomach. No wonder you fall into a food coma after you eat a slice.

How to Make The Pizza Diet Dough

Because it takes so much time, you'll want to make enough all at once for many pies, at least a week's worth. Keep the dough refrigerated until ready to use. Or you can double the recipes and freeze half of the dough for another week.

Makes eleven 12-inch pizzas

What you'll need:
35 oz cold water
1 tsp dry yeast
3.65 lb Italian stone-ground Type 1 flour (Le 5 Stagioni Tipo 1)
3 Tbsp sea salt

Instructions:

The Pizza Diet At a Glance

My plan reduces stubborn belly fat by filling you up with nutritious, fat-burning foods and eliminating the hardest part about dieting—sacrificing your favorite foods—which causes most people to fail.

Ingredients:
Three meals a day, plus snacks
Mediterranean Diet foods, such as fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, and lean proteins
Zero-calorie drinks every day and a glass of red wine on occasion
Moderate exercise—move (walk, swim, bike, etc.) for 30 to 60 minutes a day.
One special pizza like any of these here

5 Delicious Special Pizza Recipes from Chef Cozzolino

Prosciutto&Mushroom

Before baking the pizza, add:
3 Tbsp tomato sauce
2 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed
4 oz cremini or portobello mushrooms, sliced
6 slices prosciutto
1 tsp fresh parsley
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Pinch of salt&pepper to taste

Pizza Margherita

The Neapolitan classic is simple:
3 Tbsp tomato sauce
2 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed
4 large basil leaves
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Grilled Vegetable

Before baking, grill vegetables and arrange on top:
2 Tbsp tomato sauce
2 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed bell pepper
Eggplant chips
Radicchio
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Basil leaves

Margherita Bufala

Before baking the pizza, add:
3 Tbsp tomato sauce
2 oz fresh mozzarella
1 cup cherry tomatoes
4 large basil leaves
After baking, top with:
4 slices fresh buffalo mozzarella
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Broccoli Rabe&Italian Sausage

Before baking the basic pizza, add:
2 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed
1 bunch broccoli rabe
Italian sausage crumbled


The Pizza Diet will be available in March 2017. Visit chefcozzolino.com for news and updates from Chef Cozzolino.


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  1. Pour the water into a large mixing bowl and add the yeast. Mix with your hands, breaking up the clumps of yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes until all the yeast has dissolved. This step activates the yeast.
  2. Add 20 percent of the flour (about ½ cup) and mix with your hands until a creamy slurry forms.
  3. Add the salt and the remaining flour and mix by hand (or using a stand mixer) until a soft, elastic dough has formed.
  4. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead and fold with your hands for 5 minutes. If the dough is too wet, add a bit more flour.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  6. Cut the dough into balls of 250 grams each, about 9 ounces, for a 12-inch pizza. Seal in an airtight container and let rest for 4 or 5 hours at room temperature. Move the dough into the refrigerator and let rise for another 20 hours. You can let it rise for longer, but no more than 48 hours, as it will begin to sour.
  7. Dough can be frozen for up to six months.