Plant-Based Chef Living His Best Life

The Phytogenic Chef™, Marco Knox, is a plant-based chef, athlete, and coach, but he wasn’t always such a shining example of health. At 40, he was facing hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Then something changed…

I have been cooking since I was 12 years old. I got my start at my big brother’s restaurant, The Bridge, in beautiful Ft. Myers Beach, Florida. I would come down from the State of Michigan and spend a month or so there during summer break. I earned my stripes by cleaning the parking lot, touching up the paint, and other odd jobs around the property. But my curiosity and awe of what was happening in the kitchen always drew me away from the task at hand. My brother, a very successful restaurateur and chef, saw the same passion in me that he had, and gave me my first chance to work in the kitchen.

chef in training

I began washing dishes and scrubbing everything in the kitchen, and I had that place shining! Eventually, he allowed me to do some food prep and I was instantly hooked. I knew then that being a chef was my calling and I couldn’t wait to turn sixteen so I could get a real job in the industry. In the meantime, I read every book I could find about running restaurants, famous chefs, and food prep while spending as much time as I could shadowing my big brother and learning the fundamentals of cooking

Between the age of sixteen and my late twenties, I worked as a chef in a variety of restaurants. Everything from ‘fill ‘em and bill ‘em’ concepts, to 5-star dining and world-class resorts. I won’t say I learned it all as we are all constantly learning and growing, but I certainly learned a lot—from the “Five Mother Sauces” to growing all of your own produce and creating menus from the harvest. 

Like a lot of people that work in the restaurant industry, I eventually burned out and felt like I needed a change, so I jumped into the fitness industry. I had always been athletic and took pretty good care of myself, so it seemed like a natural fit. And it was!

From chef to athlete to salesman

I loved it so much that I started my own personal training business and eventually worked my way to the Strength and Conditioning Coach position with my local Arena Football team. Life was good, but as I neared my thirties, I felt I needed to start focusing on a more long-term occupation.

I don’t regret any of the paths that I’ve chosen to follow but, for a long time, I didn’t understand what had made me leave the fitness industry. But that’s what I did. I became a multi-line road sales rep with my big brother, who had since retired from the restaurant industry. We traveled the U.S. selling our lines to big-box retailers and made a great living doing so. Life was great!

Then came the gut-punch

Fall of 2016 will always be a pivotal, life-changing time for me. During my annual doctor visit, I received a diagnosis that frightened me to my core.

My father died at an early age from heart disease and diabetes, and I had always sworn that I wouldn’t go out like my old man. But here I was at age 40: pre-diabetic and suffering with hypertension, high cholesterol, and a diagnosis of overall poor health.

Where did I go wrong? I mean, I thought I ate healthily. I worked out regularly and felt pretty good… didn’t I?

In truth, I wasn’t practicing a healthy lifestyle at all. Without really noticing, I had gotten pretty out of shape. It’s a strange thing that we humans do; this denial behavior—but I was leading the pack when it came to denial. I had been chalking it up to my age, and telling myself: “I’m 40 now. This is just what happens at my age, right?”

Wrong! I was denying my dharma; my flow, my purpose; and I was doing it by making extremely poor food choices. Me—a chef and fitness professional; a person who should, in theory, have known better. I couldn’t walk up or down the stairs without feeling completely winded, and I had severe back pain: the laying-on-the-ground-staring-at-the-ceiling-begging-for-relief type of back pain.

The time for change was now! 

The solution didn’t come to me right away. I did the whole ‘ride my bike and get a gym membership’ thing for a few months, but the results were inconsistent at best. I would lose 10 lbs. here, gain 5 lbs. back there. It wasn’t a real change, and I needed a real change or else I was repeating my father’s mistakes.

That’s when I discovered the plant-based lifestyle.

As a chef, I had always prided myself on the wide variety of meat, poultry, and seafood dishes that I could prepare. How could I cook without those ‘staples’? Where would I get my protein? How would I get enough B12?

Learning comes to us in all sorts of forms, and my initial awakening came through watching documentaries, which spawned into extensive reading, studying, and ultimately a new way of living.

I started my plant-based journey by eliminating dairy and red meat. The positive impact that had on my health was noticeable within a couple of weeks. Inflammation that I didn’t even realize was negatively impacting me went away, so I decided to then go all-in and eliminate all types of meat and animal-derived foods.

After just a few months, it was working—I mean really working! I hadn’t consumed any animal products, I felt amazing. I was riding my mountain bike through trails with some of the best local riders, and keeping up. My back pain was completely gone and my clothes… well, they were all too big!

One question still remained

Was what I was doing from a food perspective actually healthy, or was I robbing my body of some essential nutrients?  I knew from my own research and how great I was feeling that what I was doing was indeed very beneficial, but the numbers don’t lie. They alone could determine whether or not I was truly in good health.

After one year, I went back to my doctor for my annual physical and had my blood work done —a full lab; cholesterol, glucose, everything.

Unsurprisingly, everything checked out. Not only did it check out, but it had drastically improved. I went from having all of the aforementioned health issues, to being told that I no longer had any cause for concern. My cholesterol was “perfect”, and hypertension and signs of diabetes were all gone!

I walked out of the doctor’s office smiling from ear to ear and with what felt like a green glow (you know, plants) surrounding me. That day, The Phytogenic Chef™ was born! It is my calling, my purpose, my dharma—to share this story and to help others that are in the same place I once was.

I wasn’t living a bad life, I just wasn’t living my best life. Now I am, and so can you!

Marco – The Phytogenic Chef™

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