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Need-to-Know Nutrition Advice from The Biggest Loser's RD

Forberg meets with the contestants every week during filming to make sure they are on the right diet track. (Photo courtesy of Subway)

FITNESS staffers are generally pretty active people, but come Monday nights you find us glued to our couch getting our weekly dose of Bob, Jillian, Dolvett and January cover girl Alison Sweeney on The Biggest Loser. So when we got the chance to chat with the show's nutritionist, Cheryl Forberg, RD, on behalf of Subway, we jumped at the chance to steal her healthy eating tips that she gives to the contestants. Get some of them below, including ways to live healthy all year long, not just during resolution season.

What are some of the top tips you tell The Biggest Loser contestants when they get to the ranch?

For most of the contestants we are pretty drastically increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption (especially the vegetables), so that’s the first order of business. Next is having a budget of calories that is appropriate to what their body needs and getting quality calories, which is where the exercise part comes in as well. Aside from that I focus on eating their calories and ditching the caloric beverages, drinking more water, not skipping any meals and adding snacks to their diet.

What are some guidelines to keep in mind to keep a healthy diet past the resolution craze of January?

It’s all about planning ahead, because we are all so busy. When you’re not prepared you wind up pulling through a drive-thru or going to a vending machine. Exercise should be written in your date book just like a conference call would be. As for your diet, whether you do weekly menu planning, or get into a routine of what you’ll eat on the way to work, it’s all key. If you’re trying to lose weight, keeping a food journal is really important and something that is mandatory on the ranch. You don’t see it on the show every week but the contestants share their food journals with me every single day. This helps me see the number of calories they are getting and that they are getting enough calcium, protein and healthy fats and carbohydrates. The first week is hard, but we’re creatures of habit so we typically eat the same things every day. Once you look up something once, you won’t have to do it again.

There are some experts that say eating the same thing every day is good for weight control and others who disagree. What's your stance?

I think it's perfectly fine to eat the same thing a few times a week. If you are counting calories, you want something safe and predictable, which is why we always eat the same stuff. At the ranch, the contestants get most of the same foods, so when it’s time to go home they are afraid of eating something they don’t know the calorie count of at a relatives dinner party, or out at a restaurant because they have no idea what is going on in the kitchen. That’s why we send the contestants to Subway post-ranch life, because the calorie counts are on the menu and you can order it the way you are used to without fear of packing on calories.

Sandwiches are a lunch staple, but so many of them end up being calorie bombs. What should a healthy sandwich include?

You want a sandwich with whole grain bread, a lean protein like turkey or ham and tons of veggies. Most Americans don’t get enough vegetables and fiber so if you load up with them you can easily add 5g of fiber right there. And then you want the healthy fats such as sliced avocado instead of mayo. Three slices of avocado is about an ounce, 50 calories, and a good fat.

What are some easy swaps you tell the contestants to make when they are cooking at home?

If you’re making pasta, buy whole grain and use more vegetables and tomato sauce and less pasta, we get too many carbs in our daily diets.

Nonstick pans will help minimize the use of oil, because on the ranch it's the fat calories that we’re watching. Gram for gram it has twice as many calories than protein and carbohydrates, so just swapping your pans can help. And be creative with seasonings and spices! Fat is a flavor carrier so when you cut back on fat food doesn't taste as robust. Spices can make up for this will keeping your weight in line.

Subway is now the first quick service restaurant to receive the American Heart Association's Heart-Check Restaurant Meal Certification on a variety of heart-healthy meals. For a list of heart-healthy options, check out this menu.

More from FITNESS: Try Cheryl Forberg's Asian Avocado Mayo Recipe