Diet Advice From the Hungry Girl

Lisa Lillien tells me how she deals with hunger and shares some favorite cooking secrets.

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It's refreshing to hear a successful dieter admit that she still feels hungry all the time. That's what "Hungry Girl" Lisa Lillien has done so winningly, with her popular website filled with low-cal simple recipes and reviews of the latest dieter-friendly products and a new bestselling book, Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World. (Fast-food makeover tip: Make onion rings using crushed Fiber One bran cereal and egg substitute for a coating.) Lillien spoke with me last week about her lifelong weight struggles and how she lost 30 pounds and has kept if off for seven years. Excerpts:

Author of Hungry Girl, Lisa Lillien
Book cover of Hungry Girl, by Lisa Lillien

How do you manage to curb that hunger?

I have a big appetite and am always looking for foods I can eat more of, a lot of volume in fewer calories. I'd rather find things that fill me up like salads, soups, and fruit. Having one tiny bite of cheesecake just isn't satisfying to me. How did you lose the 30 pounds in the first place?

I'd always been about 10 to 20 pounds overweight, but when my weight shot up another 10 pounds, I knew I had to do something. I woke up one day and decided to give up all the foods I craved most: bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, anything with flour. I knew these foods triggered my appetite and made me eat more—to the point that I could easily consume an entire bag of pretzels. So, instead, I ate mainly vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and lean protein like skinless chicken breast and fish. The weight fell off in a matter of months. But you couldn't keep following all those eating restrictions forever, could you?

No, I knew I needed to find tools that I could incorporate into my permanent lifestyle to keep the pounds off. So I joined Weight Watchers, learning its point system for various foods. To this day, I still count points and eyeball portions. And I don't finish a whole plate of food if I'm feeling satisfied. Do you ever cheat and eat the high-fat greasy stuff?

Of course! I basically live by the 80-20 rule—80 percent of the time I'm eating the foods I should be eating, and 20 percent of the time I'm not. I think it's about balance and not depriving yourself. I can't say, "I'm never going to eat those McDonald's french fries again." People who do that cave at some point and then figure they might as well go ahead and have a binge. What are some of your favorite cooking tips?

Ground up Fiber One cereal to use as a substitute bread-crumb coating. It's my favorite cereal—no sugar and high in fiber, so it's filling. I also recently found these Tofu Shirataki noodles, and they're a great substitute for pasta, only 40 calories for two servings. I also love Laughing Cow light cheese, 35 calories a wedge, to use as a spread or in cheese sauces. And canned pumpkin is an amazing baking substitute for eggs and oil. Just make sure it's the real deal and not "pumpkin pie filling," which is loaded with sugar and calories. What about exercise?

I try to walk on the treadmill every day for about 40 to 60 minutes, watching whatever I've TiVo-ed—usually the Food Network or American Idol. I also do weight training two to three times a week. I hate running, though. I don't think I could run a mile.