Do you love potato skins but hate carbs? Are you powerless in the face of a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato? Do you feel that a life without waffles would not be worth living? Then Lisa Lillien has a recipe for you.
Lillien is living the food writer's dream. Ten years ago, the self-proclaimed "foodologist" started a daily email service called Hungry Girl. In it, she helps people make healthy diet swaps so they can still enjoy the foods they love. Popular recipes include the De-Pudged Pigs in a Blanket (134 calories) using fat-free franks and reduced fat Crescent Rolls, and Banana Split Bits (182 calories), with strawberry yogurt instead of ice cream.
When she started, she had just 75 subscribers. Ten years later, that number has grown to 1.2 million. In the meantime, Lillien has become the head of a multimillion-dollar food empire. She has written nine New York Times bestselling books; she has her own show on Food Network; and she pens regular columns for Weightwatchers.com and People.com.
Lillien has a Memphis connection. She's married to Memphian Dan Schneider, producer of such Nickelodeon shows as iCarly and Victorious.
This Sunday, she'll be at Temple Israel to offer food tips and discuss her rise to fame. She will also sign copies of her new book, The Hungry Girl Diet.
The Flyer caught up with Lillien to talk about yo-yo dieting, pasta blindness, and the barbecue pizza at Pete and Sam's.
So, you're married to a Memphian. How'd that happen?
Well, Dan and I were both working for Nickelodeon at the time, and we met through a mutual friend. He was living in L.A., and I was living in New York at the time, so we had a long-distance relationship. I had the opportunity to visit Memphis a bunch of times while we were dating. I love Memphis!
What do you like to eat when in town?
Have you ever been to Pete and Sam's? It is literally the best pizza in the universe. I was on The Best Thing I Ever Ate — the show on Food Network — and I took them to Pete and Sam's and showed them the barbecue pizza.
Growing up, you had a difficult relationship with food. What was that like?
I grew up with a yo-yo dieting mom; she literally was on every fad diet you can think of. So, I grew up with this mentality that you're either on a diet or off a diet. When you were on your diet, you couldn't have one bite of anything that would be considered a non-diet food. And when you were off your diet, you were just gobbling up everything under the sun. It was a very old-fashioned way of thinking, and unfortunately, I think a lot of people still feel that way.
So what's the right answer?
I try to live by the 80-20 rule, which means 80 percent of the time, I'm making the right choices and eating what I should be eating. The other 20 percent of the time, I have a little more fun and go a little crazier. What I finally learned is that it's about changing your lifestyle and making choices that you can live with every day.
When did you know it was time to start Hungry Girl?
I remember, I had gotten these pastries from a local low-fat bakery, and I didn't trust the calorie counts. I was eating them, and I was like, these taste way too good to have 150 calories. I think I'll take them to a lab. And I actually did! It was a very Seinfeld moment. I drove an hour, I took them to a lab, and I spent something like $600 to have them tested. And it dawned on me that, you know, I think a lot of people want this information, but not a lot of people would actually take the time to get it. That's what pushed me over the edge to launch Hungry Girl.
How do you order at a restaurant without loading up on starches and fats?
In Memphis? It's not easy (laughs). But, when I go out to dinner and look at the menu, I've trained myself not to see certain things. I don't see the cream sauces, and I don't see the pastas. Instead, I'll look at the soups — are they broth-based? And I'll look for things like shrimp cocktail or mussels, things that I know would be smarter choices.
Think fast. There's a box of donuts in the break room. What do you do?
I guess first I would say, "Why the hell is there a box of donuts at Hungry Girl?" (laughs) No, I think people should really try not to eat donuts at work. I feel like you always feel like you made the wrong decision if you eat a donut at work. You should always have something in your desk that's a smarter choice.
Keep a VitaTop muffin in your desk. They have 100 calories; they're all-natural; and they're loaded with fiber. Or keep a Quest Bar in your purse. I love Quest Bars. They come in great, sweet flavors like chocolate-chip cookie dough and apple pie. And they're loaded with protein and fiber. I'll have one of those, and it'll keep me full for four hours.
What's one tasty, healthy change that people can make today?
Invite no-fat Greek yogurt into your life. Seriously, it will change your life! My favorite brand is Fage. It's loaded with protein, and it's an ingredient that you can do so many different things with — whether you're making salad dressings or sauces, or just eating it for breakfast with fruit.