We were thrilled to have Cheryl Forberg, consulting dietitian for The Biggest Loser and author of Positively Ageless, visit our office last week to talk about the show and even answer some of your questions. She even brought along some avocado pesto rotini and avocado and orange salad with tahini yogurt sauce. Cheryl prepared two delicious dishes that I couldn’t believe were incredibly good for me. Like millions of other Americans, anything considered “healthy” scares me a little just because I start to think bland and blah when it comes to healthy foods… but, you just have to give it a chance and you may just love it, like I did.
I mean, how else did the Biggest Losers shed the pounds, if they didn’t have delicious food? As a dietitian for the show, Cheryl watched what the contestants ate and made food recommendations for them. Check out our behind-the-scenes look at how the Biggest Losers lost the weight… by eating. Plus, you don’t want to miss the actual recipes that Cheryl created for the contestants in her new book.
NSD: How big was your role in the contestants’ lives while they were living on the ranch?
Cheryl: I’ve been a consulting dietitian on the show for [what will be] eight seasons. The eating plan in my book is the same eating plan on the show. It consists of whole foods and unprocessed foods. Quality calories and quantity are just as important. I focus mainly on lean proteins like chicken and turkey breast, occasional red meat, legumes and veggies, as well as low-fat and fat-free dairy. There’s no processed stuff, no white stuff, like white flour, white pasta and rice—only whole grains and complex carbohydrates. This book is for people that want to lose weight or maintain an optimal weight.
NSD: Why do you think healthy foods get such a bad rap?
Cheryl: People have become fat-phobic. There are such things as good fats. I want to address fat because it has sort of been the neglected nutrient. There’s saturated fat, the kind you want to avoid (oil that turns solid at room temp, skin on chicken and steak and butter). There’s trans fat, or what I call the healthy paradox. We tried to create a healthy product by solidifying vegetable oil to make a substitute for butter, but in the process we created a trans fat that takes longer to clear from our bloodstream and increases cholesterol. There are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats that promote cardiac health and are good fats. Some examples of good fats are avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish. Good fats promote satiety and fullness.
NSD: What types of snacks would you recommend to our readers?
Cheryl: People that are trying to lose weight might consider a piece of fruit a great snack, but we also need a little good fat and a little protein with that. Protein helps speed up your muscles and fats help you have a feeling of fullness. Highly-pigmented fruits and veggies are also great. For example, tomatoes contain lycopene that benefits the heart. And, avocados help with vision and decreases macular degeneration.
NSD: How will Positively Ageless benefit our readers?
Cheryl: The book contains an eating plan to help people achieve a healthy weight—it’s a way to begin at home. It consists of shopping tips, shopping lists and 28 days of menus. The ingredients are all accessible and affordable—really easy to pull together.
Questions from Readers
NSD: What types of foods are kept in the house on The Biggest Loser? –NeverSayDiet reader
Cheryl: There is only junk food around on temptation challenge days and we hope they will avoid them. The kitchen is full of foods like I mentioned earlier [unprocessed and whole foods]. They are taught different things before filming, like learning healthy food combinations, different food comparisons, different cooking tricks and menu recipes.
NSD: What is a normal day of food like for one of the contestants? –Ltye
Cheryl: I was just down there last week because we just began filming and calorie budgets were being determined for each contestant—they all have different calorie budgets. And, this happens at the beginning of every season. They all get very personalized body composition tests. We instruct them on how to keep food journals, how to break up their calories—45 percent complex carbs, 30 percent lean proteins and 25 percent good fats—into three meals and two snacks. I give them descriptions because some don’t know which foods belong in which food groups. They complete their journals every single day and I analyze them all. Then, I share the results every week at the weigh-in period. If someone didn’t get enough veggies, then I tell the trainers and medical experts. In the beginning, it was a very steep learning curve but it really doesn’t take them too long to catch on because there’s so much education. The reason this really works is because they start understanding what they were doing wrong.
NSD: I just don’t like the taste of most fruits and veggies. What can I do to “train” myself to start liking healthier foods? –findingmyzengarden
Cheryl: I get that [question] so often. When I interviewed the contestants coming into the show [the first few seasons], I was surprised by how few fruits and vegetables they were eating. But, they all turn around on the show. You should aim for four cups [of fruits and veggies] a day and 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Find ways to sneak them in unsuspecting places, even salsa is a vegetable. Try avocado in a breakfast burrito with eggs and black beans or an omelet with spinach. Include fruits and veggies in snacks and sandwiches—it all adds up.
NSD: So, is it true what they say that you do have to “retrain” your taste buds?
Cheryl: I think it is a training method. So many contestants were eating so much processed stuff. It’s like literally going through detox (no sugar and no white stuff). They really start seeing changes in their bodies, skin and energy level. When the numbers go down on scale, it makes it a lot easier to like [fruits and veggies]. They find that it tastes better than they think. Their palates develop a heightened awareness.
NSD: I suffer from emotional eating. How do I control this? –NeverSayDiet Reader
Cheryl: We learned on the show and in my practice that you can follow a perfect eating plan and have a wonderful exercise routine, but if your emotional eating is out of hand, your weight will come back. You need to address that, acknowledge it and overcome the stress in our lives. In the workplace, if you feel yourself getting stressed out, try talking to a coworker, or call a friend, or try deep breathing, as opposed to going to the vending machine. Get up and move to distract yourself—It helps the feeling pass. In terms of food, keep healthy snacks on hand. An apple and orange is what people think is a healthy snack, but you’ve got to have some fats and protein, too. If you have something to choose from, at least the alternative would be a better one.
NSD: Bob said you have to eat to lose weight. Is this true and how do I make sure that I’m eating enough for how much I’m exercising? –Paula Healey
Cheryl: It’s counter intuitive. Some people think that the fewer calories they eat, the faster the weight will come off. But, if you’re working out a lot, you need to feed your body and your muscles. If you don’t, it can slow down or stop the weight loss. The inclusion of good fats and the right balance makes meals so satisfying [on the show] that we rarely have anyone say, “I’m not getting enough calories.” If [a contestant] is hungry, we’ll increase the calories because we want them to be satisfied and not be starving and binging. Luckily, we’ve never changed the calorie budget mid-season because someone was hungry. In fact, we have trouble getting them to eat all their calories. Just make sure you're eating good fats and you're finding balance [45 percent complex carbs, 30 percent lean proteins, 25 percent good fats].
For more information on Positively Ageless and to purchase the book, visit Amazon.com.
For more on The Biggest Loser, visit NBC.com.