Since The Biggest Loser's debut on NBC in 2004, the hit show’s nutritionist, Cheryl Forberg, R.D., has individually counseled each contestant on the show, helping them change their bodies and their lives. And if you’ve ever watched, you know that achieving those transformations is no easy feat.
Now, the James Beard award-winning chef is sharing her health and culinary expertise as the brand nutritionist for Omni Hotels and in her cookbook, Flavor First. We recently caught up with Forberg to find out what takeaways you can learn from the show, how to stay healthy on the go, and the number one mistake she's seen in her years of experience.
Shape: How did you become the nutritionist on The Biggest Loser?
Cheryl Forberg (CF): I trained as a professional chef and worked in restaurants in San Francisco. Then, I started to moonlight as a private chef for private clients, many of whom had dietary restrictions. I realized I could go a lot further if I understood the physiology of why they were eating this way, so I decided to go back to school and get my nutrition degree. I moved to LA and got a job at Cedars-Sinai, where I met a doctor who was working on a brand-new reality show—and that was 16 seasons ago.
Shape: What have you learned over the years about America’s eating habits?
CF: What I’ve found over 10 years is that our contestants personify overweight America. They don’t get enough exercise, they’re not drinking enough water, they skip meals, and they eat too much fast food and not enough whole grains or vegetables. But the number one thing they all have in common: They prioritize their job, their home, their spouse, their kids—everything—above themselves. By the time they get to the show, their days are literally numbered if they don’t turn things around.
Shape: What are they eating too much of?
CF: They’re getting way too many calories from drinks. Sometimes they’re meeting their daily caloric needs before they have a bite of food. And in general, they eat too much unhealthy proteins, saturated fat, cholesterol, salt, and processed foods—the antithesis of what you would hope for.
Shape: What’s the first food group you advise people to remove from their diets immediately?
CF: White stuff. Stop eating white flour, white sugar, white rice, and white pasta.
Shape: What’s the biggest mistake you've seen contestants and clients make?
CF: Skipping breakfast. A lot of people think that skipping meals promote weight loss, but it’s actually the opposite—it promotes weight gain. You lose sight of your body’s hunger cues, and you eat too much and too fast at your next meal. Most people don’t know that fat, gram for gram, has twice as many calories as carbs or protein, but your body knows—so that’s why you reach for cheese or fatty meats when you’re starving, because they will fill you up quickly.
Shape: You’re working with Omni Hotels to help guests eat healthier when traveling. What are some easy, portable snacks to take with you on the road?
CF: I learned the hard way that Greek yogurt does not go through security. You can mix granola with dried soynuts or dried berries for something crunchy, and fruit is always good, so you could pair an apple with protein, like a low-fat cheese stick or almonds.
Shape: What’s the most inspiring success story you’ve seen on the show?
CF: Every season there’s one. Ali Vincent was in season five, and when I heard what she ate, how much coffee and cigarettes she consumed, I thought, 'This girl would never be able to turn it around.' But she won. If I ever feel like I’m going to wimp out in a workout, I think about all of them—if they could do it carrying an extra 100 or 200 pounds, then I can do it. They inspire me.