When Cheryl Forberg, registered dietitian, James Beard award-winning chef and creator of The Biggest Loser meal plan signed on to the show for its first season, she was shocked at the contestant’s state of health. “Most of what I did was not on camera; at the beginning of every season the applicant pool was huge. Season 5 alone had 220,000 applicants. Once we weeded applicants out down to about 75, we could start doing physical tests while I met with them to talk about eating habits and their weight loss and weight gain tendencies,” she said. “The first season was shocking to hear their eating habits, but after a few seasons I realized I was hearing the same thing over and over again.”
Read below as Forberg shares her experiences with The Biggest Loser, the nutrition factors she used to make the meal plan and a healthy spread you can make easily at home.
What were you most surprised to discover about with the diets of the past contestants on The Biggest Loser?
I found all the contestants had things in common, like the belief that skipping meals promotes weight loss, drinking too many calories, having too much processed fast food, not eating very many fruits and vegetables, little to no water consumption, not eating enough whole grains and forgetting to plan ahead. Everybody had a different combination of one these things, but what they all had in common was prioritizing their family, work or something else over themselves. They needed to put their head in the game and get healthy so that they could be around to take care of the people and things they loved. They needed to start taking care of themselves.
For someone looking to make their own meal plan for weight loss, what foods should be on their list?
To start, steer clear from the white stuff. That includes flour, rice, sugar and pasta. Try to focus on whole grains instead. Also be careful of how many carbs you are eating, since they are often the biggest culprit for people who are looking to shed major weight. People feel like they need them at every meal and snack, but that’s just not true. Kick up the amount of fruits and veggies you normally eat, with a majority of that being on the vegetable side. They have high water content and little starch. Things like tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant and bell peppers are great to stock up on and low in calories, so it is OK to munch away. Make sure you are eating some lean protein such as egg whites, beans, edamame and vegetables (are you sensing a theme here?). Lean beef and pork work great for dinner, along with chicken, turkey and plenty of fish. And don’t assume fat is bad, we all need good fats which you can find in things like avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
What other tips do you have for someone trying to lose weight?
I used to teach everyone at the beginning of the season to learn their calorie budget and break that down into the right number of calories per meal. You should be eating three meals and two snacks a day. If your calorie budget is 1200 calories a day, divide that into three 300-calorie meals and two 150-calorie snacks. Keep a food journal for a few weeks until it sets in and eating like this becomes second nature. By doing this you see what a 300-calorie meal looks and feels like. Then when you go out to eat you can see right away that the portion size is twice the amount you should be eating. Ask for a doggy bag before you start to eat, take half the food off your plate and wrap it up to resist temptation.
Also, as soon as you start to feel hungry is when you should start planning what to eat, not when your stomach is growling. Have a snack with you so you don’t eat too fast or choose the wrong thing. It’s when we get hunger pangs that we gravitate toward something fattening because we know it is going to fill us up.
Are there any flat belly sabotaging foods to steer clear from?
Beware of condiments and sauces, they can hurt you. If you get veggies and ranch dip as an appetizer, you think you’re choosing something healthy. However, there are 1200 calories in one cup of ranch dressing! Opt for a hummus spread, or put avocado on a sandwich instead of mayo to slash your calorie intake and fill you up with good fats instead of the bad stuff. Simple swaps like this are key.
Try this recipe from Forberg’s latest book, Flavor First: Cut Calories and Boost Flavors with 75 Delicious, All-Natural Recipes. “The biggest problem with weight loss is that people get overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin,” Forberg says. “That’s why I wrote this book. There is a stigma attached to healthy food, people think it won’t taste good. But you don’t have to be stuck with grilled chicken and steamed broccoli every day for weight loss success.” This spread is perfect for tortilla soup, sandwiches or just as a dip.
Asian Avocado Mayo
Makes 3/4 cup
- 1 ripe Hass avocado, coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons warm water
- 2 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons chopped pickled sushi ginger
- 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a small jar and refrigerate. Keeps refrigerated for 2 days.
Nutrition info per tablespoon: 25 calories, 2 g total fat (0 g saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium, 1 g total carbohydrates (0 g sugars), 0 g fiber, 0 g protein
Freebie alert! Fans of The Amazing Avocado on Facebook can enter the “Pantry Pointers and Prep with Cheryl and Suvir” sweepstakes from February 17 through May 7 for a chance to win a nutrition consultation, cooking lesson and food shopping instruction with Cheryl Forberg in the winners’ home.