If you feel like you’re too busy to work out, if you feel like you don’t have enough time in your day to dedicate to eating well, if you can’t seem to work up the motivation to reach your goals, George Mendes gets you.
Mendes opened Aldea, a modern Portuguese restaurant in Manhattan more than 10 years ago—which is a testament of strength in a city that chews up and spits out restaurants at a ruthless pace. During those 10 years, Aldea collected sterling reviews and a coveted Michelin star. He opened other ventures. He did a ton of press.
Tetra Images – Jetta Productions/Dana Neely
Professionally, Mendes was a success. Personally?
“I was feeling like crap,” he said. “I was starting my day early, working the entire day, closing late, and then staying out late. I went though periods of exhaustion and a lack of focus where I would be forcing my body to stay in it and get through the hours.”
Mendes’ sense of release came from having a beer or two (or more) with friends after the restaurant closed, often staying out until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.
“There were mornings where I’d ask myself, ‘How can I operate this way?”
But thinking something’s wrong is different than hearing something is wrong. Mendes’ says his turning point came during a call with his mother: “She said, ‘You can’t keep doing this.’”
Between the customers flooding Aldea, trying to balance a social life, a divorce, a girlfriend, and the constant pressure to stay on top in a brutal industry—Mendes realized he had to take charge of his life again.
In high school, Mendes had played soccer and basketball. He’d run before, but nothing major. But when he went out for his first real runs he knew he was hooked.
“Every time I finished a run, I had a sense of accomplishment—and that was addictive,” Mendes says. The feeling was different that the accomplishment he felt working in restaurants, he says. “Running is automatic. I’m physically exerting myself, I feel a rush of endorphins, and there’s self-satisfaction.” After years of serving others, Mendes had found a way to serve himself.
His diet also fell into step. “The more I exercised, the more aware I became of what I was feeding myself. I used to eat a lot of late-night pizza and burgers, followed by a breakfast sandwich in the morning.” Now he’s eating more omelets, and more fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
Mendes says he’s “trimmed up,” but that the real benefit has been his newfound sense of mental health.
“I have more clarity, more mental strength,” he says. “I get better rest. I’m a lot more present and aware. I feel, overall, happier.”
And that greater inward peace has brought about a kinder, gentler outward approach to others.
“I’m able to respect myself a lot more, so I’m able to respect others a lot more. I was living in this very George world,” he says.
Mendes has run five marathons, three of which were consecutive New York City marathons. A foot injury sidelined him for a year, but he’s healed and cleared to run again.
And his mom?
“She’s noticed that I am a happier person.”
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