For 30-year-old Judson Allen, college graduation was bittersweet. On one hand he was poised to take the culinary world by storm -- following four years as a food science and nutrition major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- on the other hand, he'd put on more than 70 pounds during those undergraduate years, weight that would undoubtedly overshadow cooking skills in the TV arena he planned to pursue.
How he gained it:
"I struggled with weight my entire life," Allen, the "Food Network Star" hopeful, told The Huffington Post. "I was that heavy kid, that heavy adolescent, that heavy teenager and when I got to college I gained over 70 pounds my freshman year alone."
The culprit: Easy access to food, Allen says. "I would go to the dining hall and eat, then go and relax. Every weekend we would go to eat and then go to the movies -- so you eat, you sit and you go home and go to bed. Me and physical activity? There was not much of it," he says. Compound that with the stress of pledging a fraternity (and the midnight meals he consumed while doing it) and the pounds just added up over the rest of his college years.
By graduation, Allen was the heaviest he'd ever been, at which point he says he made a promise to himself to not go any higher than the number he was seeing on his scale.
"I looked at my graduation photo and I remember weighing myself. I was 350 pounds," Allen says. "I knew I wanted to do something in television, something in business, I knew I had a higher calling and purpose in my life and the weight was going to hinder me."
PHOTOS: Judson before and after.
How he lost it:
"I had to change the way I thought and felt about what healthy food was. When you lead with healthy, it becomes daunting," Allen says.
It would take him more than two years to lose 100 pounds, a goal he reached by changing his diet and, more importantly, the way he felt about food.
Allen and his affection for food go way back to his childhood, he explained. "As a kid I used to dream about flavors. I used to design food in my dreams and I still do that to this day," he recalls, describing a particular chocolate-infused pound cake he dreamt up around age seven, winning him second prize in a local baking contest.
And when he wasn't dreaming about food, Allen says you'd find him sitting and watching his grandparents cook it.
"My grandfather is from New Orleans, a Creole background, and I used to see him playing around with all these different flavors and spices. My grandmother, I call her the most fearless woman when it comes to cooking because she's so innovative. She would take what we ate for Sunday dinner and transform it into a soup on Monday. I think I got that love for flavor and spices from my grandfather and that ability to think creatively from my grandmother," Allen says.
With his kitchen savvy came an unhealthy obsession with food, however, one that would continue to be a struggle well into his adult life.
"Losing the weight, a lot of people think is the hardest thing. It's not. Keeping the weight off is the hardest thing. It's just like any other addiction to drugs. You can keep the habit, but sometimes you go back to those habits," he says. "My struggle is certainly not over. When it comes to being overweight and dealing with food as an addiction, it's something we have to be cognizant of for our entire life. I'm committed to that."
Since his turning point in 2003, Allen has shed more than 130 pounds. Now, 17 pounds shy of his 200-pound goal, he's also committed to helping others along the way.
"I'm here to transform the way people feel about food," the self-professed "Architect of Flavor" says. "People now still believe healthy food is bland and lifeless, and it doesn't have to be. You can bring out these powerhouse of bold flavors and still consume healthier food," he says.
Here, Allen shares his healthy variation of some Sunday dinner favorites, while others share their secrets to weight-loss success.