Georgia chef without stomach learns powerful lesson about food

- At the Woodbridge Inn, which has been part of Jasper, Georgia, since the 1880's, owner Hans Rueffert works the lunchtime crowd, both chef and survivor.

"Three times, they've told my wife and I that I would be dead by morning, three times," Rueffert says. "Three times, I just keep going.  Just keep on keeping on.  Even if I'm falling, I'm falling forward."

It's been 12 years since cancer shook up Rueffert's life. 

"I've lost about 90 pounds," he says. "But it's a better version (of me).  The Hans 2.0."

Back in 2005, Hans had been in NYC, competing on the first season of the Next Food Network Star TV show.  

He came back home feeling exhausted. 

Then, he ended up in the ER, thinking he was having a heart attack.  

Instead, doctors found tumor.

"It's naive to think that lightning doesn't strike twice," Rueffert says. "But we had just lost my sister to breast cancer and she had a seven-year battle."

Now, doctors were telling him he had stomach cancer.

"And they said they might have to remove my entire stomach," Rueffert remembers. "At that point, we didn't know that it was in my esophagus, too."

He beat gastric cancer, but it took 7 years and nearly a dozen surgeries.

The married father of 3, found himself a chef without a stomach, or an esophagus, for that matter.

"If you look at my anatomy now, I swallow and it goes straight into my intestines," he says. "All of a sudden, I am getting the effects of that food almost immediately."

Without a stomach to slow down his digestion,  Hans says he began to see, with laser sharp focus, the powerful connection between what we eat and how we feel.

"If I eat overprocessed, heavy, fatty foods, I feel heavy, fatty and overprocessed," he says. " And, if I eat these alive, raw fruits and vegetables, and healthy vibrant foods, guess what? I feel alive and healthy and vibrant. It gives me energy. It gives me focus and clarity."

Hans now teaches cooking classes for cancer survivors, and he's added "wellness bowls" to the inn's menu.

On the day we visited, the bowl was full of vegetables.

"Roasted red pepper, artichoke hearts, capers, olives," Rueffert says. "And there is also a spinach and rocket pesto."

He encourages people buy fresh, to choose locally-grown, in-season fruits and vegetables whenever possible.

Think of food as your fuel, he says. 

He thinks of food as his fuel.

 "Every day, I have a choice," Rueffert says. "I get to decide, do I want to feel great? Or do I want to feel sluggish and tired and lethargic? And the great part about it is that we all have that choice every single day. It's not a magic pill, it's not a subscription. It's not a membership."

Instead, Hans Rueffert believes, we can all live better, and feel better -- if we understand we are -- what we eat.  



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