For many of us, losing weight is hard. We go on diets, carefully count calories and our daily steps and do our best to avoid dipping into the candy dish at work.
Even then, we may struggle to drop the excess pounds — and keep them off.
Cheryl Forberg has worked on the front lines of the fat fight for years, first as a James Beard Award-winning author whose clients included filmmaker George Lucas and then as nutritionist for the hit reality TV show “The Biggest Loser.”
Over 15 seasons, she counseled overweight contestants on which foods to eat and taught them how to prepare nutritious meals to transform their bodies from flabby to fit.
A St. Paul native, Forberg has written a book — “A Small Guide to Losing Big” ($14.99, Amazon) — with nutrition advice and recipes gleaned from her experience on the show.
We caught up with her during a visit home and got a chance to discuss what she’s learned from coaching contestants on the show — a program that has earned both praise and criticism for its competitive approach to weight loss.
Q: What makes this book different from other weight-loss advice books?
A: I’m a professionally trained chef who became a registered dietitian. It made me uniquely qualified to show [contestants] all the nutrition guidelines that they needed to have, explain them to them, as well as take it into the kitchen and show them how to implement this.
I’ve heard time and time again from contestants after the show that one of the reasons this works is because I broke it down and explained it to them, instead of saying “Eat this and not that.”
Q: You recommend not skipping meals. In fact, you say we should eat often — five to six times a day. Given how busy our lives are, is that realistic?
A: When you show people what a simple snack is, then yes, it is.
I think a lot of people believe that skipping breakfast or maybe even lunch, as well, promotes weight loss. And it’s just exactly the other way around. Because when you wait too long, you lose sense of your body’s hunger cues. And then you tend to eat too much, too fast and you choose the wrong things.
It’s really hard in the beginning. A lot of people have absolutely no idea what 300 calories looks like on a plate or what it feels like.
I always say, you should never have to unzip or unbutton anything after a meal. In addition to the fact that you lose sight of hunger cues when you skip meals and it promotes weight gain, it’s also really awful for your blood sugar levels.
Q: Talk about satiety. What is it, and why is it important?
A: With this crazy lifestyle we all have, a lot of us eat too fast, and that causes us to overeat. If you can take time and be more mindful, you’ll probably find that not only will you enjoy your meal more, but you’ll feel more comfortable when you’re full — and not stuffed.
Q: What do you do when you hit a weight loss plateau?
A: It’s really hard. It happens to almost everybody. It may be somewhat reflective of the speed at which you lose weight.
On our show, we have very big people and in the beginning, they drop really large amounts. The more you have to lose, the quicker it tends to come off in the beginning. Plus they’ve been eating a lot of processed food with salt and holding in a lot of water.
If you’re following a healthy eating plan and doing exercise, losing a couple pounds a week is great. That’s very admirable. We usually tell people to mix it up every week [if you’ve hit a wall]. But don’t mix it up too much. Maybe just change your exercise — increase the intensity. Or maybe you weren’t eating enough protein or maybe you skipped your snack.
Q: There was a study that checked later with contestants and found that many of them had regained the weight they’d lost on the show. What do you say to people who question whether the “Biggest Loser” approach is safe and if it helps people achieve lasting results?
A: Our show doctor wrote a letter to the editor pointing out some significant flaws in the study.
And what I like to remind people is: Don’t try this at home. [Contestants] have complete medical supervision. They have a psychologist. There are a lot of things that you don’t see [on TV] — like me and the psychologist. There’s a lot of science that is going on behind the camera. It’s not realistic to think you can do this at home.
We really want to be sure everyone does this the safe way. What I teach is totally science-based.
Q: There was a contestant, Rachel Frederickson, from Minnesota, whose dramatic weight loss at the end was enough to win her the $250,000 prize. But she looked alarmingly thin at the final weigh-in. To what do you attribute her arguably extreme weight loss?
A: I remember Rachel very well. She did everything to a “T.” She was so diligent. She stayed on the Ranch for a long time. When she went home, there are pretty big stakes there when you’re up against two men — and we know that men tend to lose weight easier. If you started out really big, your percentage might be higher than a smaller person.
Going into it, she perhaps got really focused on the prize and winning and maybe lost a little more weight than she should have. I was in the audience and I was a little bit surprised to see that. But when they go home, we don’t see that. We have conference calls with them. That was a situation where we didn’t see her for two weeks.