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October Cover Model: Padma Lakshmi

Padma Lakshmi is living proof that you can stay super fit—even when chowing down is part of your job description.

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Photo by James Farrell

When Padma Lakshmi tells people it’s never too late in life to get fit, she’s speaking from experience. As a young girl, Lakshmi ran on her school’s track team. But a serious car accident at age 14 left her with a fractured hip and a shattered arm that required surgery. (The scar from this procedure has become her unofficial trademark).

The upside to the incident for a young Lakshmi was getting “a free pass out of PE and all other athletics,” she says. She happily took the out and didn’t see a need to get physically active again until her metabolism started slowing down in her late 20s.

“I am the least athletic person you’ll meet,” says Lakshmi, now 44, host of Bravo’s “Top Chef.” “I’m proof that you don’t have to grow up playing sports to be active as an adult. Just because you’ve never done something before doesn’t mean you can’t start now.”

At 30, Lakshmi took up boxing and fell in love with the sport. Nine years later, her doctor advised her to stop boxing while she was pregnant with her daughter, Krishna. Lakshmi started walking up flights of stairs for exercise, working her way up to 70 flights of stairs in a single session.

These workouts now come in handy in her role hosting “Top Chef,” when Lakshmi faces the challenge of losing the roughly 15 pounds of extra weight she puts on each season.

“Even if you’re only taking one or two bites of each dish, in the beginning of the season, you’re still trying dishes from 15 or 16 chefs every week,” Lakshmi says.

The host has worked with her doctor to ensure that she’s losing weight gradually, in a healthy manner.

“What takes me six weeks to gain takes me 10 to 12 weeks to lose,” she says, laughing. But Lakshmi says she’s learned not to stress about dropping weight. Accepting herself at any size is perhaps her healthiest habit of all.

“Personally, I think I look good even when I’m 15 pounds heavier,” Lakshmi says. “I was raised very much in an Indian cultural mindset to believe that a rounder woman actually looks sexier.”

Padma’s Top Fit Tips

  • “Before a dinner party, I’ll drink a protein shake with low-fat milk, vanilla protein powder and half a banana. When you’re starving and holding a glass of Champagne, it’s hard to say, ‘No, I don’t want that mini grilled cheese.’ If you’ve got something in your stomach, you’ve got willpower. I like to give myself every chance of success.”
  • “I like walking briskly up stairs when I’m traveling. No matter where you are, you can always find an emergency staircase—in any building, any hotel, anywhere in the world.”
  • “Left to my own preferences, I would pretty much eat a plant-based diet. I make sure our dinners are 50 percent vegetables. But I don’t believe in Spartan eating. I’m pro-starch and pro-dairy. I’m pro-everything, in moderation.”

A Day in the Life

When Lakshmi’s not filming, she keeps her meals nourishing and straightforward.

Breakfast: I start every morning with a cup of tea with milk and honey. Then I have a cup of cantaloupe or berries. I may have a piece of sourdough toast with two egg whites and one yolk, with hot sauce on top.

Lunch: Today I had a big bowl of zucchini, fennel and broccoli, sautéed as dry curry. I made it with a cup of basmati rice and a cup of lentils.

Snack: At 4 or 5 p.m., I’ll have an apple and a piece of cheese, or a yogurt and a piece of fruit.

Dinner: We start dinner with a plate of crudités around 6:30 p.m. I’ll eat a bell pepper cut up or a whole carrot. Then, I’ll make a ragout with veal or turkey and tomato sauce, with a bit of pasta or rice.

Dessert: If I want dessert, I’ll make homemade jello. You just buy Knox unflavored gelatin, then use fruit juice instead of artificial colors or flavors. I’ll use cran-apple juice or reduced-sugar grape juice. It’s delicious and so easy.

Watch Padma on Season 12 of Top Chef, every Wednesday at 10pm EST on Bravo.