Read an Excerpt
How Sweet It Is
Each season on The Biggest Loser, we watch the contestants sweat their way to a sleeker body and a brand-new lease on life. Under the expert guidance of a team of medical and nutritional experts, not to mention the watchful eyes of trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, the contestants say goodbye to the unhealthy habits of their past--overeating, not exercising, taking the easy way out--and create a road map for their future that includes nourishing their bodies with wholesome foods and becoming more physically fit than they ever imagined possible.
But the dramatic, transformative changes we see unfold on our television screens are only a part of the story. In order for the contestants to continue their weight-loss journeys at home, they must learn how to develop healthy, sustainable habits they can adopt for the long haul. And that includes cultivating one key concept: balance.
After leaving The Biggest Loser Ranch, cast members learn how to enjoy the things they love--in moderation. Some contestants, like Season 5's Bernie Salazar, choose to enjoy favorite foods in smaller portions; others, like Season 8 Winner Danny Cahill, plan for limited splurges; still others, such as Season 7's Tara Costa, limit access to treats such as ice cream to special occasions. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn't about deprivation, just making smarter choices.
Another strategy the Biggest Losers employ when it comes to finding balance is learning how to transform their favorite "sinful" foods into guilt-free treats. Most of the contestants come to the Ranch with a serious sweet tooth, and desserts and sweet snacks are some of the hardest foods for them to part with. But they soon learn how to satisfy their cravings with healthier, lower-calorie versions of their favorite guilty pleasures. And when they choose a healthy indulgence over a high-calorie treat, they don't have to contend with the inevitable guilt that follows.
In this book, you'll find more than 80 recipes for desserts, snacks, sweet sips, and more that allow you to indulge in the flavors you love without undermining your weight-loss efforts. And even better, these delicious recipes were created with absolutely no fake stuff--you won't find any artificial food in these pages--just wholesome, natural ingredients that create the flavor you crave with a fraction of the calories you'd probably expect.
So how do you incorporate moderation and indulgence into a healthy lifestyle? We caught up with some Biggest Loser alumni to find out how sweet their lives are today and how they keep it that way.
Curtis Stone's Sweet Tips
Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone is no stranger to The Biggest Loser campus, making frequent guest appearances on the show and teaching the contestants how to cook healthy foods that are big on flavor and low in calories.
Here are some of Curtis's top tips for healthy eating without sacrifice.
. To avoid satisfying your sweet cravings with unhealthy foods, keep your kitchen stocked with fruit. When you don't keep snacks that are packed with fat and sugar in the house, then you eliminate the temptation to abandon your eating plan. . A healthy dessert can be something as simple as fresh, seedless watermelon pulp pureed in a blender and frozen in ice-pop molds. You get all of the nutrients and flavor of watermelon in a frozen dessert. . Smoothies are always a hit, and you can get really creative with them. Try blending a banana with a small dollop of unsweetened all-natural creamy peanut butter, some fatfree milk or yogurt, and plenty of ice. You can even add a little protein powder for a balanced in-between-meal snack. . Spices add a punch of flavor to almost any dish, including desserts. If you're baking with fruit or nuts, don't be afraid to experiment with cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and star anise. They create even more flavor without adding fat or sugar.
ASHLEY JOHNSTON Season 9 Runner-Up
Starting Weight: 374 Finale Weight: 191 Today's Weight: mid-180s
Ashley may not have won the competition, but she did set a new Biggest Loser record by losing 49 percent of her body weight by the Season 9 finale- -more than any female contestant in history!
Ashley says the struggle with her weight took on momentum when she was a teenager, and she went on to gain more than 100 £ds. "I felt stuck in a body that did not allow me to live life, to be myself, to dress in the kind of clothes I like," she remembers.
When she lost her father to cancer, she hit rock bottom. "When he was sick, I ran from it," she admits. "I couldn't be around it. And I just let my weight get out of control."
A longtime fan of The Biggest Loser, Ashley knew the show could help her make the changes she needed to get healthy. "I figured if I could expose myself in front of America, there would be no turning back for me," she says. She convinced her mother, Sherry--who was also struggling with her weight after the loss of her husband--to try out for the show with her. They both made the cut.
Today, she says she's more confident than ever. "I've never lost weight before, only gained. To be able to get rid of old clothes because they're too large is an amazing feeling. I definitely feel more confident, secure, and sexy. My health is so much better, and my goals seem achievable and reachable."
Ashley says that she maintains balance in her life by working out with a trainer several days a week and training for her first half-triathlon. She's also learning to cook. She still enjoys her social life but puts more planning into her evenings, sometimes eating a healthy meal at home before going out, so that she's not tempted to overindulge. She says she still enjoys a glass or two of wine once a week, but not every other night.
"I sit here today having accomplished so much. That is what my dad wanted from me. That's all he really wanted was for me to be healthy and happy. And I've done it."
MICHAEL VENTRELLA Season 9 Winner
Starting Weight: 526 Finale Weight: 262 Today's Weight: 252
Michael has come a long way since his pre-Biggest Loser days, when he was happier asleep than awake. "It was so sad," he now admits. "I got to a point where my dreams were so much better than my reality. I didn't want to wake up in the morning because I was miserable."
Tipping the scales at 526 £ds--the show's heaviest contestant ever-- Michael knew that at the young age of 31, his life was in the balance. He says at the time he thought, "I'm not married, I don't have kids. I'm not even close to it. The only thing I'm close to is probably dying."
But less than 5 months later, the former Chicago DJ broke another record when it was revealed that he had lost 264 £ds (beating Season 8 contestant Danny Cahill's record of 239 £ds) and took home the $250,000 grand prize!
Today, Michael is still working out every day to reach a healthier weight. "Figuring out the right amount of eating and exercising to keep losing and get to my ideal weight is an ongoing process," he says.
One thing is for sure: His eating habits have undergone a radical transformation, and he's learned how to embrace the concept of moderation. "I used to have an enormous sweet tooth. Now my cravings are less intense. I'll still enjoy a dessert every now and again, but I like to eat it with small spoon so I get more bites out of it and can savor it."
Michael says if he could go back and say something to his former overweight, sedentary, lost self--and anyone struggling with weight loss-- it would be that there's hope. "Wake up," he says. "This is real. All it takes is really hard work. It's so worth it. Open yourself up to the process."
ERIK CHOPIN Season 3 Winner
Starting Weight: 407 £ds Finale Weight: 193 Today's Weight: 245
As Bob Harper put it, Erik's transformation at his Season 3 finale was "absolutely jaw-dropping." But almost three years later, Bob showed up at Erik's house to confront a man who had regained more than 175 £ds.
"When I returned from the Ranch," says Erik, "I looked great on the outside, but internally I was still struggling. I wasn't sure that everything I learned was sticking. I maintained the weight loss for about a year and a half. There were things in my life that were keeping me accountable. But then I went back to my regular job, and I started putting the weight back on and soon was back up to 368 £ds."
Fearing disapproval from his former trainer, Erik was reassured by Bob. "I understand this," says Bob. "I understand how hard it is. It's my job. I see people every single day, and it's a struggle. I just wanted to come and see Erik and say, 'It's going to be okay.'"
Erik admits that the weight just crept back on as he allowed himself to go over his calorie budget more and more. Part of his struggle, he now realizes, is that he tried to maintain too strict of a lifestyle when he first returned home from the Ranch. But Bob encouraged him to find balance. "You've got to find a way that you can do this today to live the rest of your life," Bob told him. "You can't do the extreme. You've done the extreme."
Erik began working out at a boxing gym and slowly began losing again. He also went to The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge for several weeks and says he "got into a groove" there. "Being at the resort rearranged my thinking. Eating healthy doesn't have to seem like deprivation," he admits.
Erik knows his story is different than some of the other contestants, and that's okay. It's his story. And now that he's finally found some balance, his story is headed toward a happy ending.
HOLLIE SELF Season 4
Starting Weight: 255 Finale Weight: 150 Today's Weight: 160
Hollie Self was one of those contestants who was always more interested in what went on behind the camera than in front. In fact, today she works for the production company that produces The Biggest Loser!
Three years after her time on the show, she's learned a thing or two about maintenance. "I think that all of the contestants expect that after the finale, life's going to be easy," she explains. "And it's not. It's been a few years of learning and trying to figure out how to make this work, how to make permanent changes.
"We know how to gain weight," she says. "We know how to lose weight, but maintaining? That's a whole different animal. That's a whole new set of skills you have to learn, and that's what I've been doing the last three years."
Her must-have tool? "You have to keep a food journal," she advises. "When things go a little awry, it's because I'm not writing it down." Plus she has found that there's no getting around working out several days a week. "I don't exercise every day, but I do exercise at least 5 days a week. That's nonnegotiable for me now."
She mixes things up by taking different classes at the gym, and she trains for triathlons and the occasional marathon. She was particularly thrilled to run in last year's New York City Marathon. "Crossing that finish line came right after my Biggest Loser finale in terms of excitement."
Hollie says long-term weight loss "is about finding balance. You will eat a cheeseburger again. There will be a day you can't make it to the gym. That's okay. You can eat out once in a while and have a cocktail every so often. But you have to get back on track the next day."
Does she offer advice when she's interviewing each season's new crop of Biggest Loser contestants? "I leave it up to them," she says. "It's their journey, and I'm very committed to each person having his or her own experience."
MATT HOOVER Season 2 Winner
Starting Weight: 339 Finale Weight: 182 Today's Weight: 245
SUZY PRESTON Season 2 Finalist
Starting Weight: 227 Finale Weight: 132 Today's Weight: 175
Matt's whole world changed after his time on The Biggest Loser. Not only was he the Season 2 winner, but he also met his future wife on the Ranch, fellow contestant Suzy Preston. Sparks began to fly when Matt, who arrived at the Ranch a messy mop of hair, invited Suzy, a hairdresser, to cut it all off. Matt and Suzy both remember it today as a special moment that bonded the two of them.
Matt is now a motivational speaker and life coach, and Suzy continues to work as a hairdresser. They live with their two sons, Rex and Jax, in Seattle.
"When we became parents, our number-one goal was to have them not struggle like we have with our weights," says Matt. "So we're really focused on eating healthy and being active as a family. It's not like 'Daddy's exercising.' We do things together as a family. My son Rex has done two 5- Ks."
Suzy, who admits she is still battling baby weight, is training for a triathlon to keep her focused. But the kind of workouts they used to put in on the Ranch? No way. These days, it's all about creating a sustainable lifestyle. "I don't have time to work out 8 hours a day," says Matt. "I have two little boys and my wife and a career. In the real world, you have to learn how to adapt and create a sustainable, healthy lifestyle."
TARA COSTA Season 7 Finalist
Starting Weight: 294 Finale Weight: 139 Today's Weight: 160
Tara Costa says she's discovered a whole new side of herself since she left the ranch. Living as a fast-paced city girl, she admits, "The smallest thing used to provoke me." But now, she says, "I've learned how to stop and breathe." As she became healthier and happier in her own life, she's developed a new sense of patience and a desire to help other people. Today, she's pursuing a master's degree in community health administration as well as a certification in life coaching.
"I definitely think patience is a learned thing," she reflects. "And now, because I know what it feels like to be overweight, I don't want anyone else to feel like I felt."
Tara won a record eight challenges during Season 7 and was known as one of the fiercest competitors in the house. The resolve she demonstrated on campus has continued in her life at home. Tara ran the New York City Marathon in 2009 and now participates in health fairs and community races across the country.