Experts and contestants from 'The Biggest Loser' TV show offer weight-loss advice.
By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
From almost the very first day the contestants gathered, it was clear the The Biggest Loser was destined to be a hit TV show.
In this popular NBC reality series, two teams of overweight contestants compete to transform not only their bodies, but their lives. One lucky "loser" -- the contestant who makes the biggest strides toward that transformation -- comes away with $250,000.
"It is a life-altering experience," says Kim Lyons, personal trainer and fitness advisor for The Biggest Loser's Red Team. "Changing your body changes the way you feel about yourself and even how you feel about life itself. It takes work, but in the end all the contestants realized that it is so worth it."
But what if you don't have all America cheering you on, and don't have a quarter of a million dollars as motivation? How do you go about making those major life changes?
"It all comes down to making the decision that 'thin is definitely better,'" says chef Devin Alexander, author of The Biggest Loser Cookbook.
Once you commit to wanting to lose the weight and believe that you can, then the rest is a "piece of cake," says Alexander, whose cooking show, Healthy Decadence, is shown on the Discovery Channel.
That's true even when it comes to lusting after a real-life piece of cake, she says.
"Well, you can't lose weight eating cake all the time, but I think the biggest lesson many of the contestants discovered was that you don't have to eat boring, bland, tasteless food in order to lose weight," says Alexander, who battled her own weight problems for over two decades.
If you can just get over the idea that diet food is bad food, you're halfway there, she says.
Something else the contestants learned: You don't need drill-sergeant-level workouts to drop those pounds.
"The food was great, so we made the exercise fun. And each group of contestants was also continually surprised to discover that exercise doesn't have be miserable, or take place in a gym wearing sweat clothes," says Lyons.
As long as you're moving, she says, you're exercising some part of your body. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.
10 More Tips From The Biggest Loser
To help keep you moving toward your weight loss goals, Lyons, Alexander and several of the "Biggest Losers" offer these additional tips and tricks:
1. "Eat often -- snack often," says Alexander. While this may seem contrary to traditional dieting advice, the chef says that as long as you keep an eye on calories and portions, eating often will stave off hunger attacks that ultimately sabotage your diet. "When you're starving, you grab whatever is available -- and that's the quickest way to get off your eating plan," says Alexander.
2. "Eat your carbs in the morning," says Biggest Loser contestant Brian Starkey. "It gets your day off to an energetic start." Lyons adds that carbs are quickly burned with activity, so eating them may help motivate you for that morning walk or bike ride.
3. "Post a picture of yourself on the refrigerator -- at your worst," says Biggest Loser contestant Dana Desilvio. "The next time you're thinking of grabbing something you shouldn't from the fridge, you'll be reminded of what you don't want to look like!"
4. "Instead of watching the clock during workouts, listen to music," to make the time go faster, says Erik Chopin, The Biggest Loser's season-three winner. Lyons reminds us that everyday activities, like bike riding, tossing a Frisbee, or walking your dog, count as physical activity, too.
5. "When eating out, always ask for a 'to-go' box -- at the start of your meal," says Biggest Loser contestant Bobby Moore. Then, when your food arrives, immediately put half of it in the box, he suggests. This way, you'll not only get used to eating smaller portions, but you'll have a snack for later.
6. Learn to cook healthfully. "Cooking healthy doesn't have to be hard -- or take more time," says Alexander. While many "Biggest Loser" contestants said they thought cooking healthy would be complicated or time-consuming, Alexander says, most found that cooking healthy is actually easier, less expensive, and faster.
7. "Never overlook the power of seasoning," says Alexander. One way she made even the blandest diet foods grab the contestants' attention was by using low-sodium seasonings. "People never realize what a major difference spices can make on even simple dishes like grilled chicken or salmon," she says
8. "When it comes to cooking in flavor, it's never about the oil," says Alexander. Many dieters believe that unless food is fried in oil, you don't get much flavor. But, she says, the real secret is pan-browning, which can happen without oil. The trick to getting restaurant-quality taste, she says, is to never overload your pan with food. "If you put too much in the pan, the moisture content causes the foods to steam and not pan-fry," she says. "By reducing the amount of food in the pan you get that tasty pan-seared browning, without the use of any oils."
9. Don't try to do too much exercise, too soon. You not only run the risk of injury, but you'll also get quickly discouraged. "Don't try to stare down 45 minutes of exercise," says Lyons. "Tell yourself it will be OK to quit after 10 minutes, because most of the time once you get going, you'll keep going."
10. Remember: Self-esteem feeds on self-esteem. Accomplishing a little something toward your weight loss goal every day will not only get you on the road to success, but help keep you there. "You are not just losing weight, you are changing your life and your lifestyle," says Alexander. "If you keep that in mind, you come to see that every change, no matter how small, comes together to make a huge difference in not only your weight, but your life," says Alexander.
Recipes From The Biggest Loser Cookbook
Here are some recipes from Alexander's The Biggest Loser Cookbook.
Better Blueberry Pancakes
Says Alexander: "If you're as big a fan of these pancakes as my brunching buddies and I are, rest assured that you can double, triple, and even quadruple this recipe with great success. In addition, the batter will keep in your refrigerator for up to three days. I personally like to mix the batter fresh and enjoy the pancakes with a friend. ... Otherwise, I find myself tempted to eat more than one serving."
1/2 cup reduced-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup whole-grain oat flour
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! spray
1/2 cup fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries
Sugar-free, low-calorie pancake syrup (optional)
100%-fruit orange marmalade spread (optional)
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, flour, egg white, baking soda, vanilla, and salt. Whisk just until blended. Stir in the blueberries. Let stand for 10 minutes.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until it is hot enough for a spritz of water to sizzle on it. With an oven mitt, briefly remove the pan from the heat to mist lightly with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! cooking spray. Return the pan to the heat. Pour the batter in 1/8-cup dollops onto the skillet to form 3 or 4 pancakes. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until bubbles appear on the tops and the bottoms are golden brown. Flip. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until browned on the bottom. Transfer to an oven-proof plate. Cover with aluminum foil. Place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with cooking spray and the remaining batter to make 8 pancakes total.
- Place 4 pancakes on each of 2 serving plates. Serve immediately with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! spray, syrup, and/or fruit spread, if desired.
Yield: 2 (4-pancake) servings
Sweet-and-Spicy Pork Tenderloin
Says Alexander: "When people hear that I'm a 'healthy chef,' they often assume I'm a vegetarian, which, to anyone who knows me, is a ridiculous notion. I love meat ... all kinds, really, but this pork roast is of my favorites. In fact, my friend Marjorie and I made this roast one night and we loved it so much we wanted to eat the whole thing. When cooked right, this is as tender as can be."
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper
1 pork tenderloin (11/4 pounds), trimmed of visible fat
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon minced garlic
11/2 teaspoons hot-pepper sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Lightly mist a small roasting pan or ovenproof skillet with olive oil spray. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the cumin, cinnamon, salt, black pepper, allspice, garlic powder, and chipotle pepper.
- Rub the pork evenly with the olive oil. Then rub evenly with the spice mixture until coated. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the honey, garlic, and hot-pepper sauce. Whisk to mix. Set aside.
- Set a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it is hot enough for a spritz of water to sizzle on it. With an oven mitt, briefly remove the pan from the heat to lightly mist with olive oil spray. Place the pork in the pan. Cook for 1 minute per side, or until browned on all sides.
- Transfer to the prepared pan. With a basting brush, evenly coat the pork with the reserved honey mixture. Roast the tenderloin in the oven for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the center reaches 160 degrees F and the juices run clear.
- Remove from the oven. Cover the pork loosely with aluminum foil. Let stand for 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to a cutting board. Holding a knife at a 45-degree angle, cut into thin slices. Serve immediately.
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Yield: 4 servings
Per serving: 221 calories, 30 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat (2 g saturated), 92 mg cholesterol, less than 1 g fiber, 375 mg sodium
Thin and Crispy BBQ Chicken Pizza Snack Wedges
Says Alexander: "Yes! You can have pizza and eat healthy. And you don't have to feel guilty about it. I always serve this pizza at my Super Bowl parties and when I invite girlfriends over for TV nights. My friends always rave and swear there's no way it's low in fat. This recipe is particularly great for kids, too!"
1 whole-wheat flour, 96% fat-free tortilla (8-inch diameter)
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce (7 grams carbs or less per 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely shredded Cabot 75% Light Cheddar Cheese
2/3 cup (3 ounces) chopped grilled chicken breast
1/4 cup slivered red onion
11/2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place the tortilla on a small nonstick baking sheet. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until crisp. If air bubbles form, poke them with a fork, then press out the air with a spatula or oven mitt.
- Remove the sheet from the oven. Top the tortilla evenly in layers with the sauce, cheese, chicken, onion, and cilantro.
- Bake for 2 to 4 minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted. Slice into 8 wedges. Serve immediately.
Note from Alexander: "It is critical that you do not attempt to make a pizza 'crust' from a low-carb tortilla. It will smoke and burn, without becoming crisp. Most barbecue sauce is high in sugar and carbohydrates. I always look for one with 7 grams or less of carbs per serving. Although you can use 'low-carb' barbecue sauce, I have not found one that I enjoy, so I opt for one that contains less carbohydrates rather than one that's called 'low-carb.'"
Yield: 1 serving
Per serving: 381 calories, 45 g protein, 32 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat (3 g saturated), 78 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 861 mg sodium
Recipes from The Biggest Loser Cookbook (Rodale Books, 2006). Republished with permission.
Published June 22, 2007.
SOURCES: Devin Alexander, chef; author, The Biggest Loser Cookbook; host, Healthy Decadence on the Discovery Channel. Kim Lyons, personal trainer of the Red Team on The Biggest Loser. Biggest Loser participant quotes courtesy of NBC's The Biggest Loser show.
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