Bonus: Lisa Lillien – Hungry Girl 200 Under 200 Just Desserts

Jonathan : Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor here with another “bonus” Smarter Science of Slim podcast. I’m really, really excited about today’s show because I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. We have a wonderful author, entrepreneur, cook, and general food enthusiast; so you know I love her. We have none other then the author of the brand new Hungry Girl 200 under 200 Just Desserts. The star of The Hungry Girl television show on The Food Network and The Cooking Channel. The author of seven best-selling books and the proprietor of Lisa Lillen, welcome to the show.

Lisa : Hello, hello, Jonathan – thank you so much. Good to be here.

Jonathan : Thank you so much for being here. Exciting times with a brand new book coming out. Lisa, one thing I wanted to get started with right out the gate is – I can imagine some of my listeners might be a little surprised that you’re here on the show, because (for example) your new book Hungry Girl 200 under 200 Just Desserts, one of those 200’s refer to a calorie count. Here on the Smarter Science of Slim, we often focus on food quality. We talk about how when we eat high quality, nutrient dense, satiating foods – that those take care of calorie quantity for us and counting calories can become a bit irrelevant. However, if people look a little bit deeper in to your message, I think they will find that we share more similarities than we have differences.

Lisa : Yeah, I totally agree. I was just going to say – I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive by any stretch of the imagination. Hungry Girl (the brand itself) tries to help people seek out foods that are satiating, that are better choices for them, that make them feel fuller. I think, in my world, calorie counting is part of the equation though. Unfortunately, a lot of people (even when they’re satiated) if they don’t pay attention, they take in way too many calories – and that’s what causes them to ultimately gain weight. It doesn’t always have to be the only thing people are thinking about. It should (in my world) be part of what they think about – as part of the big picture

Jonathan : Lisa, I think you hit on two really, really important points there where you said: if we “pay attention” (that’s a very important point – pay attention to what we’re doing, eating consciously) and that we’re “full”. Your story (if I’m getting this correct here) is that you are not a scientist – you are just an individual who is constantly impressed by how much delicious food you can eat, and still stay slim and trim. In fact (back in the day) you had struggled with your weight for decades, but then simply eliminated inSANE starches and sweets and were able to drop a vast amount of weight. Your brand is called Hungry Girl. You’re not about hunger, but at the same time, we want to be conscious about what we’re doing – so how do we find that balance?

Lisa : I think it is all about paying attention to your body, what you’re craving, what foods make you feel certain ways when you eat them. I always say that people should try to identify their trigger foods – that is really what helped me, ultimately. Trigger foods are foods that cause you to eat more – cause you to eat uncontrollably. For everyone it’s a different type of food. For example, for me it is starches- it’s chips, potatoes, pasta, bread, and bagels. For a lot of other people it’s chocolate. I can have one M&M and be satisfied, but I can’t have one potato chip – I have to eat the entire bag of potato chips. Once you learn how to avoid the foods that you know are not great for you, the ones that are going to make you overeat to a crazy degree, that is definitely a major step in the right direction. Too often people are looking to other people to tell them exactly what to eat. Sure enough, anyone who follows a plan that’s very specific for a certain period of time is going to have success. I don’t really see how that helps you for the long haul. For the long haul, you have to figure out what works for you and make decisions every single day for the rest of your life that are going to affect you achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Jonathan : Lisa, I think you hit the nail on the head there when you said for each of us individually to find that which works for us. I also really like your point (you’ve talked about this on many, many media outlets) where so often individuals can think health and fitness is about deprivation. For example, “Oh my gosh, I can never taste anything sweet – for the rest of my life” or “I can never taste anything that’s some-what like a noodle – for the rest of my life.” A lot of your work focuses on how (again, we’re not trying to be perfect here) you have some shirataki noodles, or maybe you use a more SANE sweetener such as a xylitol or a stevia. But you don’t need to be hungry or be deprived to be healthy, correct?

Lisa : Exactly. First of all, I do swap it up. I’m like a swap master – I’m a mad scientist in the kitchen. I’m always looking for ways that I can satisfy whatever craving I have, and do it in a smarter way. At the same time, I also live by the 80/20 rule. Which means, sometimes I eat the real stuff. It depends on where I am. I like to take advantage of certain situations. I just was in Japan recently – did I have ramen? Of course, I’m in Japan, I’m gonna have ramen! It’s not going to not happen. I ate sushi, I ate rice. Typically I don’t eat those things, but every now and then, you do. It is about moderation. I strongly believe in exercising, moving more, just being very conscious and very, very aware of what is going in to your face at all times. I would say you would probably agree with that philosophy.

Jonathan : Oh, absolutely. I think you hit on another key point there when you mentioned you were in Japan – and because you were in Japan, you enjoyed some ramen. That’s much different than: I’m at Wal-mart and I’m going to buy some 19 cent ramen. You were in a situation where you had this amazing opportunity – and it was a celebration, you enjoyed it. It wasn’t – in the office there are some cookies sitting there, I’m just going to grab one every time I walk by. It was a very conscious action.

Lisa : Yeah, you’re so right. I think that’s the biggest problem. I had dinner with a friend a few weeks ago, we went to this beautiful seafood restaurant that had a lot of fresh grilled fish. The only thing on the menu that was a terrible choice was the fish and chips. Everything else was- you could get it grilled, there were all kinds of salsas, nice light sauces…and she just ordered the fish and chips. That’s the kind of person that’s going to reach for the 19 cent ramen and the cookies in the office. You have to be accountable for your actions – that’s the bottom line.

Jonathan : Lisa, the key thing to keep in mind here is that there are different kinds of people. One of the reasons I like your work and your message is that I too am a volume eater. Something that you talk about so well – there are some individuals who can just not eat very much, and that’s ok with them. Or they don’t need to eat a lot of food, they could eat something that is a little bit more dense just because they don’t crave volume. For me, I just need a lot of food – I need volume. It sounds like you’re the same.

Lisa : I am the same, that’s why I like to find things I can eat large amounts of. I don’t eat like a crazy person, I’m not like Joey Chestnut or anything. It’s important to eat big portions. I know we’re always told portion control. It’s a good message- but it’s not reality for a lot of people. A lot of people, if something seems too extreme for them, they tune it out. I don’t want people to tune out my message. That’s why I think of Hungry Girl as a stepping stone. If the world is eating fast food, bad food, and they’re extremely overweight (and 90, or whatever, percent of our country is acting that way) and only (I don’t know) .001% are the extreme eaters that are totally clean and doing everything by the book. The reality is most people can fit somewhere in the middle. I want Hungry Girl to help get people over to the other side and closer to being perfect. Most people (including myself) will never be perfect, but there’s a middle ground- it’s not one or the other. I think the new dessert book is a great example of that. I do use some packaged foods, I do use ingredients that some people might say are not “healthy”. It’s certainly better to have a 200 calorie, small, reasonable, low-calorie, low-fat dessert than to go to the Cheesecake Factory and eat a slice of cheesecake that has 1750 calories.

Jonathan : I think it gets back to your message of understanding what each of us individually needs. I can imagine sometimes what individuals (I would not agree that this is the right approach for them to take with you, which would be a criticism) say is that – if I even do this 200 calorie, smarter dessert, well, that’s going to be a trigger; that is going to force me to do something worse than that. I think your message is not that, your message is – if you are that individual then you need to take a different route. Don’t use this as the trigger food that’s going to make you go crazy. Use this as the swap that will prevent you from going crazy. I think there’s two different types of people there. There’s people who if you say, “just don’t do anything”, they’ll do it for a week and then they’ll go bananas and go completely off the ranch. If those people have something to tide them over, they can hang on to that sanity and not go bananas. That’s not everyone, right?

Lisa : Exactly. I couldn’t even have said it better myself – that’s exactly what it’s for. Even my own swaps, there are some of them that I eat a lot and all the time because they work for me. Some are like, eh…that’s a little too triggery for me, so I’m not going to eat those all the time. It’s about what works for you and people need to pay attention to their own bodies. I think that’s the number one thing people don’t do, they just want someone to hold their hand and tell them exactly what they must eat. At some point they are going to have to make decisions on their own.

Jonathan : The thing I think is so empowering, Lisa, about your message of these smarter swaps is (you hit the nail on the head when you said) there’s this .001% of the population that’s really, really dialed in. It’s like the 99 and 1 percent problem that we have in other areas of this country. But then there’s the 99%, where literally, if you were to take a cheesecake (this is me, I’m guessing)….Let’s say, you go to a restaurant and you eat a dish. Then you take that same dish and prepare it at home (the exact same dish). I can almost guarantee you that the dish you prepare at home will be better for you. Because, for example, the type of oil you would use is completely different than the type of oil they’d use in the restaurant. There’s almost always a way to swap and to do it smarter than you currently are, which has nothing to do with deprivation.

Lisa : Yeah, I totally agree. There are certain foods that I just don’t order in restaurants, and certain things that I would always just have at home. I think that that’s a great way for people to approach this because, again, it’s not about depriving themselves forever – it’s just about changing (altering) how they approach certain foods.

Jonathan : I think that is a key message, Lisa, that should resonate with all of us. If we look back even 50-60 years, people still ate…. It’s not as if an emotional connection to food is a recent development. All throughout human history, people had treats and celebrations. The one thing that they didn’t have was this chronic consumption of edible products, rather than food. I see what you’re getting to is: you can get back to eating and enjoying food, as long as you focus on doing it more intelligently, rather than the (sort-of) default diet we have today. Just this chemical storm, which is not at all conscious, we just unwrap and eat.

Lisa : That’s just lazy. We are lazy. I hate to say it, but we are lazy and getting lazier. Maybe it has to do with busyness, maybe it just has to do with sloppiness, laziness, carelessness. In general, people are lazy and they don’t want to think too much. They want everything to be easy – they’d rather just grab something and not think about it. Couple that with being hit with all the messages in the media – the commercials, the very enticing products and foods that you see. The restaurants like Chili’s, McDonald’s, and all the other fast food places – it’s very hard to resist. It is an easy place to go, to just grab something that’s right in front of you. That’s not always the best option. We’re just getting back to the same messages – just being conscious, being accountable, not making excuses. People have to own up, ya know?

Jonathan : Absolutely. Lisa, the message you’re describing here is you’ve got an individual who’s (let’s say) completely off the ranch -this would describe the vast majority of individuals alive in western countries today- and they start making these smarter swaps. Do you see individuals then wanting to take it a little bit further or do you find a lot of individuals just find a happy ground in this – “I’m not perfect but that’s ok, as long as I don’t become obese and diabetic – that’s good enough for me”?

Lisa : I see both, actually, and both impress me and make me happy. There are plenty of people that say to me, “I started using your recipes and I love what you do, but I took it a little further and now I won’t use any artificial sweeteners.” And, “I’m totally eating clean now and I don’t eat anything from a package.” I love that, I love that so much. I actually even with Hungry Girl recipes, whenever possible, try to focus on using fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and lean dairy. I know if I use some of the packaged stuff for some of the recipes, it’s going to help a lot of people. They might end up using that forever and ever, and some people might just move on and never use it again. Personally in my life, I don’t eat a ton of packaged foods. I eat kind of boring. I eat a lot of fish, lean meats, tons of fruit – I love vegetables in salads. I don’t eat tons of the other stuff, but I eat some of it. I eat a bar every now and then, I’ll obviously have Hungry Girl recipes. But wherever people go with the knowledge that they learn, as long as it’s a better place than they started from – I’m happy.

Jonathan : Oh exactly and as long as it’s making them happy. I think so often we (and when I say ‘we’ – I mean individuals out there spreading any message of health and wellness) sometimes get trapped in focusing on the means rather than the ends. The ends is an individual who is able to give back to society all the gifts they’ve been given, are happy and feel emotionally fulfilled, and are contributing wonders to the world as we are all intended to do. There’s different ways for people to achieve that. For some people (actually, statistics show that for 4.6% of the population) portion control works really, really well. They can just eat whatever they want, as long as they eat 1200 calories of it. That works for them. I’m sure there’s another 5% of the population that might work doing something else, and another 5% that works doing something else. What matters is that it works, right?

Lisa : Right. Wow, 4.6%? I didn’t realize it was even that low. That does not surprise me. That’s amazing. Yeah, I have friends -we all have friends- they have one bite of cheesecake and they’re happy. I’m like, Oh God! I’m not even a sweets person but it’s very hard for me. The only thing I can do that with is an M&M, I’m not a chocoholic. Even desserts, it’s hard to take one bite of anything and be satisfied. I totally hear what you’re saying – and you are correct.

Jonathan : Lisa, what are your thoughts on: we see today there’s this trump that food manufacturers have up their sleeve, which is – serving sizes. As we’ve seen from these 100 calorie snack packs, you can literally take anything and call it a low-calorie treat if you just shrink the serving size to be small enough. How do we defend ourselves against that?

Lisa : I know, I find that annoying because I think early on, they really took care and they tried so hard to find things that they could give decent serving sizes of. Then they just got lazy and said, “Oh, here’s a 100 calorie brownie,” and it’s the size of your pinky. I don’t love that, so (again) people have to pay attention to what they are getting. I always talk about foods being good bang for your calorie buck. My favorite 100 calorie pack is broccoli coleslaw because it’s a tremendous package of vegetables that you can make a huge entree with – and it’s 100 calories. A hundred calories looks very different depending on what the food is. People need to just pay attention and see if it seems like a good deal.

Jonathan : Again, that’s such a key thing for us to focus on: is it working for you? I know there’s gonna be listeners out there that are going to listen to this podcast and say, “Well, what about bacon? We love bacon. We love enjoying whole food, natural fats.” That’s absolutely true. Let’s be very clear here, there are some individuals out there that really like the taste of fats. We’re going to have a different strategy for those people than for people who may really prefer the taste of sweets. How do you address (in your world) those two distinct types of people, Lisa?

Lisa : I don’t often tell people exactly what to eat when I give them ideas, but I tell them to be aware of what they should and shouldn’t be eating based on what works for them. I think you’re right – some people are bacon lovers, or avocado lovers, or they love nuts. They’re fat cravers. I happen to be one of those people. But, if I have the avocado, if I have the bacon – I’m not having it with mayo, I’m not having it with fatty dressing. It’s about giving and taking. People used to make fun of people who ordered french fries and a diet coke, or I’ll have a club soda and a giant hamburger. I feel, you save where you can. You’re not going to deprive yourself of everything that you want for the rest of your life. So you have to find a way to work it in – in a smart way that works for you.

Jonathan : Lisa, you’re certainly not alone there. My father works in addictions counseling. Of course, if someone has a problem with drugs, where we want to get them (in an ideal world) is to not use drugs anymore. We’re even talking about drugs such as nicotine and alcohol. But there’s also another world where – if you have an individual that smokes three packs of cigarettes a day and you can get them down to smoking a few cigarettes per day, anyone who says that isn’t a win – I will go on record as saying – Is a fool.

Lisa : Exactly.

Jonathan : Because you have clearly reduced the damage – it’s damage minimization. Right?

Lisa : It’s true but the thing about addiction to alcohol, nicotine, and things of that nature is you can definitely live without having those things at all. You, obviously, can’t live without having food at all, so it’s much harder for food addicts than it is for people who are addicted to drugs. I do think it’s a win! Three cigarettes are better than thirty or forty.

Jonathan : Even when we have food addicts, if you can find, for example – I am a chocoholic, so that’s an area where we differ. I order un-dutched, completely natural, unsweetened cocoa in ten pound bags. I’ve found all sorts of ways to use xylitol or stevia to make wonderful, chocolaty desserts. What I find is if you are a food addict, if you can just focus on food – rather than (for me) a Hershey’s bar, which is an edible product – that in and of itself will take you so far.

Lisa : Yeah, I agree and look what you’ve done. If you help people think like that, think creatively, and help them find solutions – it will also make them feel like they’ve accomplished something. They’re more likely to follow a better plan, or be more conscious and more aware of what they’re eating. I think that’s great, that’s a really great message to send.

Jonathan : Thanks, Lisa. I think we all somehow acknowledge that but we lose sight of it when it comes to eating. For example, with exercise, most of us all agree that let’s just be more active – let’s walk, let’s take the stairs rather than the elevator. If someone is taking the stairs rather than the elevator, we don’t say, “Oh you fool, why don’t you go run a triathlon.” We say, “That’s great that you’re taking the stairs!” That’s a good step in the right direction. In fact, if you take the stairs enough, chances are you might want to do more. So, how do we help people to focus on improvement rather than perfection?

Lisa : That is the exact reason why I think Hungry Girl is popular – it’s about making smarter choices and every little thing counts. There are so many messages that come at us from the media that make you feel bad about yourself. If you’re not a gym rat, if you’re not doing all kinds of intense exercises, if you’re not only eating organically, perfectly, clean, raw, or whatever – you have to feel bad about yourself. But that’s just not the case – every small change you make, makes a big difference. If you park further from the door at the mall, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk with a friend
instead of just sitting on your butt and gossiping (you can walk for an hour and gossip, it’s the same thing) – every little thing counts. I used to be deathly afraid of exercise and now I exercise every single day. You can do it – anyone can do it. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

Jonathan : I think, Lisa, there is a lot of really deep psychology taking place there. I often use the example of vegetarians, not necessarily because I think vegetarianism is an optimal way to eat, but because vegetarians demonstrate just how powerful the mind is. For most people who aren’t vegetarians, being a vegetarian seems like it would be the most challenging thing they could ever imagine. But vegetarians don’t wake up in the morning and struggle at every meal to avoid animal products. It’s not a struggle. They define their self as a vegetarian and because they see themselves in a way, everything becomes easier. I think what we’re talking about here is – once you start taking these small steps and making these smarter swaps, you start to see yourself as a healthier person and create this self-fulfilling cycle where you now want to make healthier choices. What do you think?

Lisa : I could not agree more. I think you said that so eloquently and it is so true. That’s a place we need to get people. It’s a place where most people are not, but it’s super important.

Jonathan : The key thing, we’re hitting on with all of this is – the easiest way to do that (I actually really, really like this message – I’m getting goose bumps from our conversation here because I think we’re hitting on so many good truth nuggets) is – all through out the day, let’s just not use this for food and exercise. I think it was Socrates or Aristotle that said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Let’s make sure that everything we do is something we do intentionally. It’s something we think about and say, “What are the consequences of this going to be?” The more we can do that, the more we can live consciously, eat consciously, and move consciously. It seems like that’s going to be nothing but goodness for ourselves and all of those around us.

Lisa : Jonathan, you are so right and really, really, very smart. Wish us luck with that because how do people do all of those things while texting incessantly? That’s the real question.

Jonathan : Come back to the real world! Live consciously in the real world, rather than in the digital world!

Lisa : It’s so true, it’s so true. We’re all of guilty of it, too. It’s important to be able to live in both worlds.

Jonathan : Lisa, here’s an idea (I’m spitballing now) – I’ve seen a lot of people use Instagram or Facebook to do “food journaling”. If you are going to text or tweet all day, maybe every time you make a food or exercise choice- tweet that. Have a group of people following you that help keep you accountable.

Lisa : Absolutely, I’ve seen that and I used to joke about it. It helps, it definitely helps. I always just say, if you write things down (you don’t need a fancy food journal – that could be by tweeting it, texting it, or scribbling it on a piece of paper) you’re more accountable. People are in denial about what they’re eating and they don’t pay attention to it. But, if you have to document it somehow, there’s a really good chance you’re not going to eat everything you would have eaten otherwise.

Jonathan : I think, Lisa, that’s a reason we need to be conscious. People might go back and say, “Well, 60 years ago people just ate food and they didn’t tweet and journal everything and how did they stay so slim?” Here’s the difference – those people were living in a different food environment. Not only did they not have all of these edible product garbage, chemical engineered, addictive things we have today – but wheat and apples, for example, were completely different crops. That’s not debatable – they were just different things. Apples had much less fructose in them, wheat wasn’t this hybridized nightmare – and those are just two of a few examples. Being in the risky food environment we are today, we do need to be conscious – but that doesn’t mean we need to be perfect. To me, that is a message of hope and that is a message that can help the 99% rather than the .001 (who probably don’t need any more help to begin with).

Lisa : Yep, you said it. I don’t even need to add anything to that.

Jonathan : Well, Lisa, I love it. Thank you so much for all that you do to help keep this light and fun – because health should be light and health should be fun. Folks, if you want to learn more about Lisa, certainly there’s no shortage of information out there. She’s been doing this for quite some time on quite a national scale. Her brand new book is Hungry Girl 200 Under 200 Just Desserts. A great resource for those looking to do better but not necessarily too concerned about being perfect. Of course, check out her wonderful website, Lisa, did I miss anything and what’s next for you?

Lisa : No, just that people can sign up for the daily e-mails which I’ve been sending out – now they go out to over 1.2 million people every single day. That’s the heart and soul of what Hungry Girl is, so it’s a daily reminder that people can (and should be) making smart choices. More books on the way – just more fun Hungry Girl stuff.

Jonathan : I love it, I love it. Stay hungry, Lisa!

Lisa : I will. Really, really good talking to you. Thank you so much, Jonathan.

Jonathan : Thank you, Lisa. Listeners, I hope you enjoyed our conversation today as much as I did. Remember, this week and every week after: eat more, exercise less – but do that smarter. Talk with you soon.