By Michelle Edelbaum, "Losing Big, Winning Bigger,"January/February 2011
You’ve likely never seen Cheryl Forberg, R.D., on NBC’s The Biggest Loser, but as the reality-TV show’s nutritionist she’s a key behind-the-scenes player on its team of medical experts and physical trainers. Forberg, a registered dietitian, James Beard Award winner and bestselling author of 11 books, has been with the show since it began in 2004. Here, she shares her weight-loss secrets.
What’s your weight-loss philosophy?
Focus on the quality of the calories and the quantity will take care of itself.
Is there a common trait among The Biggest Loser contestants who successfully lost weight?
They’ve put themselves first. Lisa Mosley from last season is a good example: she’s a single mom and prioritized her kids before her health. She realized she needed to change or she wouldn’t be around for her kids. In eight weeks at The Biggest Loser ranch she lost 54 pounds.
What’s your best weight-loss advice?
Start with small steps. After Anna Wright returned home last season, she couldn’t figure out how to fit in exercise. Anna started taking the stairs at work and organized co-workers to do it with her, creating her own support network.
What’s your advice for people just starting their weight-loss journey?
Get baseline measurements (weight and waist and hip circumference). Even if the scale doesn’t move you may see a change. Write yourself a note about where you want to be. When you get to your goal it’s fun to see the change inside and realize you can finish what you started.
What’s the most underrated weight-loss food?
Legumes, especially lentils. They’re an inexpensive good-quality protein, are high in fiber and take 30 minutes to cook. Protein is important to feed your muscles when you’re exercising and to help you feel full longer. The contestants like my Cumin-Spiced Bulgur & Lentils recipe.
What would you tell someone to recover from a slipup?
Whether you’re thinking about cheating or you already did, tell someone. Realize it was just one day and move on. People who don’t do that tend to get into binging episodes. Tomorrow, eat less, exercise more.
Do you have a favorite memory from the show?
On Season 5, Heba Salama and her husband Ed Brantley, who ultimately lost 277 pounds combined, were in the gym. Ed was tired and said he would do more tomorrow. Heba said, “Today is tomorrow.” I love that. It’s so simple but powerful. No more delays, today’s the day.
How does The Biggest Loser help or hinder people who are trying to lose weight on their own?
It can be incredibly inspirational, especially for people who have never tried losing weight. But people who watch the show can also get discouraged because they think they’re going to have incredible weight loss at home. On the ranch it’s the contestants’ full-time job. They have around-the-clock medical supervision, personal trainers, a nutritionist, fabulous food and state-of-the-art exercise equipment. It’s not realistic to expect the same dramatic results in the same time period at home.
What would you tell someone who’s hit a weight-loss plateau but hasn’t reached their goal weight?
Be patient if it’s only a few days. But if it takes a little longer, then mix things up. Re-address your food journal or your exercise. Is it a challenge? It shouldn’t be comfortable.
Cumin-Spiced Bulgur & Lentils
Recipe courtesy of Cheryl Forberg, RD
Grains and legumes team up to make a side dish that’s loaded with protein and fiber. Toss in shredded chicken and you have a meal.
Makes: 10 servings
3 cups fat-free vegetable broth (or chicken broth), divided
1 cup coarse bulgur
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dry brown lentils, rinsed
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
2 tablespoons chopped green olives
1. Heat 1 cup of the broth. Place the bulgur in a small mixing bowl. Pour the warm broth over the bulgur, cover, and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the garlic, thyme, cumin, mustard and salt and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute longer, but do not brown the garlic. Add the remaining 2 cups broth and bring to a boil. Add the lentils, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the bulgur and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes.
3. Garnish by stirring in the tomatoes, green onion, cilantro and olives. Serve hot or warm.
Bulgur Factoid: This form of whole wheat has been cleaned, ground and sifted into different sizes from fine to coarse. Unlike cracked wheat, bulgur has been precooked.
Nutrient Analysis Per Serving:
134 calories, 7 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 1 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 g monounsaturated fat, 30 mg omega-3s, 7 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 386 mg sodium