Dietitian offers winning ways to turn into losers

Spring rolls are a favorite for “The Biggest Loser” contestants. Cheryl Forberg added a twist by using pistachios in the dipping sauce.
Spring rolls are a favorite for “The Biggest Loser” contestants. Cheryl Forberg added a twist by using pistachios in the dipping sauce.

Award-winning cookbook author, chef and registered dietitian Cheryl Forberg creates recipes for losers. And her clients love the results.

As seen on national TV, Forberg comes up with tasty mealtime ideas that are big on flavor and low on calories. Now those recipes are available for anyone who wants to slim down on dinner and keep the weight off.

Forberg, who lives on a farm in Napa, serves as the nutritionist and chef for NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Now casting for its 17th season, the long-running reality show has helped its 300-plus contestants literally lose tons.

“The contestants have lost more than 35,000 pounds and counting,” Forberg said during a recent interview in Sacramento.

America’s weight problem is no secret, and the potential pool of “Loser” contestants is exceptionally deep, noted Forberg, who has worked with thousands of Northern Californians. More than a third of Americans – almost 77 million people – are considered obese, according to the Journal of American Medicine.

Playing to people’s competitive spirit, “The Biggest Loser” offers contestants the possibility of losing 80 pounds or more – plus a chance to win $250,000. In previous casting calls, the show’s producers have received as many as 225,000 applications.

While the show tends to focus on the on-camera physical endeavors and exercise regimens adopted by contestants, the real “Losers” know this weight game is won through nutrition and mealtime behavior, not pumping iron.

At the request of the contestants as well as fans, Forberg compiled her advice and favorite low-calorie recipes into a handy pocket guide/cookbook, “A Small Guide to Losing Big” (Flavor First, $12.99, 168 pages).

“It’s everything I tell the contestants every season,” Forberg said. “People are always asking, ‘What are you cooking on the show?’ ‘What do they eat?’ ... Most people who need this information really can’t afford me (as a personal chef and nutritionist), so this is the next best thing.

“Our cast mirrors most of America,” she added. “They want it quick and easy. So, that’s also the format of my book and the theme of my recipes.”

“A Small Guide” contains two weeks of meal plans, 25 recipes and lots of step-by-step advice. But don’t call it a “diet” book.

“I don’t ever use the word ‘diet,’ because diets don’t work,” Forberg said. “This is an eating plan.”

Sonya Jones, Season 16’s runner-up on “The Biggest Loser,” swears by Forberg’s advice and recipes. The Illinois track coach and physical education teacher lost 144 pounds in six months, slimming down from 283 to 139. She lost her season’s grand prize by less than one pound.

“I was a mindless snacker and an overeater,” Jones said. “It wasn’t uncommon for me to consume 5,000 or 6,000 calories per day. Cheryl helped me change my life, teaching me to eat well while eating right. ... I don’t mind that I didn’t win. I won a happier, new life and probably a longer one, too.”

I was a mindless snacker and an overeater. It wasn’t uncommon for me to consume 5,000 or 6,000 calories per day. Cheryl (Forberg) helped me change my life, teaching me to eat well while eating right.

Sonya Jones, Season 16 contestant on “The Biggest Loser” who lost 144 pounds

Like most people who have lost significant weight, Jones knows that she can’t revert to past bad habits such as drinking sugary sodas by the liter or munching on deep-fried fast food.

“It’s a daily fight to keep it off,” Jones said. “It’s something you need to learn – healthy ways to eat. That’s why the book is so helpful to us; it’s a reminder what we should be doing.”

During her stint at “The Biggest Loser” ranch near Calabasas in Southern California, Jones exercised vigorously; she ran 8 to 22 miles a day, either on a track, treadmill or cross country. Each day, Jones ate three 300-calorie meals plus two 150-calorie snacks; that adds up to 1,200 calories, an ideal daily dietary budget for women trying to lose weight, according to Forberg. During her “Loser” experience, Jones averaged almost 7 pounds of weight loss each week.

“I surrendered to the process,” Jones said. “Where else can you press the ‘pause’ button on your life and start over?”

A key to weight-loss success is eating food that’s enjoyable and tastes good. Forberg’s recipes focus on fresh and easy ingredients that are filling but not fattening. Among the main entrees featured in her new book: bison burgers; baked ham and eggs; salmon with caramelized onions and wild rice; and roast pork tenderloin with rosemary and garlic.

Weight loss hinges on behavior, Forberg noted, especially when it comes to snacking. When you need a late afternoon pick-me-up, think before snacking and choose wisely. Grab a piece of fresh fruit, not a candy bar. Get the most bang – and enjoyment – for your calories.

“Mindful snacking is an important tool in weight loss and management,” Forberg said.

One of the “secret” ingredients in Forberg’s cookbook and her weight-loss recommendations is a California favorite: pistachios. Forberg sees them as a smart choice for weight management. She likes their nutritional profile; with less than 4 calories apiece, pistachios are considered “the skinniest nut” (by contrast, each almond has 7 calories, mostly from fat). Pistachios also are high in vitamins and antioxidants.

“Plus they make you work,” she said.

It’s called the “Pistachio Principle,” Forberg explained. First studied by behavioral eating expert James Painter, pistachios offer natural benefits and reinforcement to losing weight. Removing the shells takes time and effort; that slows eaters down. Snackers can’t gobble pistachios mindlessly by the handful. In addition, the empty shells are reminders of how many nuts were consumed, and that visual evidence helps regulate the desire to overeat. A 150-calorie snack pack of pistachios contains almost 50 nuts.

Jones swears by pistachios, too. “They satisfy me longer,” she said. “I love the flavor, love the fact that they’re the lowest fat nut. And I love that it takes me a while to eat them. A handful of almonds; they’re gone, just like that. Pistachios slow you down; you shell and eat them one by one.”

Pistachios also show up in salads, muffins and main dishes in her cookbook.

“My two favorite recipes in the book are the confetti quinoa salad with pistachios and currants and the spinach salad with smoked turkey and pistachios,” Forberg said. “Both are very easy to make and very satisfying.”

“And they’re so good!” Jones added. “That’s what makes them work for you. They’re delicious.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington


▪ For more on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” including past episodes, casting information, fitness tips, recipes and more, go to

▪ For a copy of Cheryl Forberg’s “A Small Guide to Losing Big” ($12.99) plus more recipes and healthy eating tips, click on

Spinach salad with smoked turkey and pistachios

This is one of Cheryl Forberg’s go-to salads for “Losing Big.” Chewy, crunchy, sweet, tangy, peppery – it’s all here. Everything can be prepped ahead for a quick last-minute meal.

Adapted with permission from “A Small Guide to Losing Big” by Cheryl Forberg, R.D. (Flavor First Publishing, $12.99, 168 pages)

2 cups baby spinach leaves

1 cup arugula

8 ounces shredded or chopped smoked turkey breast

3 tablespoons chopped dried cranberries

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons chopped pistachios, toasted

1 large navel orange

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon agave nectar

1 teaspoon horseradish

1/4 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1⁄4 cup grapeseed or olive oil

Salt and ground black pepper

Garnish: 1/2 cup chopped pistachios, toasted (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, place the spinach, arugula, turkey, cranberries, mint and 2 tablespoons pistachios.

Scrub the orange lightly with an abrasive sponge to remove any surface impurities. Rinse thoroughly and dry well. Remove the peel from the orange with a zester or citrus grater. Peel the orange. Cut the orange in half vertically, then slice the halves horizontally into 1⁄4-inch-thick pieces. Set aside in small bowl to catch any juices.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, agave, horseradish, salt, pepper and oil. Add 3 tablespoons of dressing to the salad and toss well.

To assemble: Arrange the reserved orange slices around the outer edge of chilled plates. Mound the salad in the center. Garnish with extra pistachios if desired. Pass the remaining vinaigrette.

Per serving: 190 calories; 8 g fat; 1 g sat fat; 25 mg chol; 220 mg sodium, 15 g carb; 3 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 12 g protein.

4 appetizer or 2 main-course servings

Crunchy spring rolls with Asian pistachio dipping sauce

Dietitian Cheryl Forberg believes healthy low-cal food can be fun as well as easy. These spring rolls offer loads of versatility as well as great taste. Feel free to mix and match your favorite veggies in this scrumptious appetizer that can double as a main course, Forberg said. For a more substantial meal, add some shredded roast chicken, BBQ pork or chopped (cooked) shrimp.

Recipe courtesy Cheryl Forberg (

One 12-ounce package spring roll skins (available in Asian markets)

1 cup finely julienned jicama

1 cup finely julienned red and/or yellow bell peppers

1 cup finely julienned radishes

1 cup finely julienned celery

1 cup grated or finely julienned carrot

1 cup finely shredded red cabbage

1 cup finely shredded green cabbage

1 cup finely julienned red or yellow onion

Small basil leaves (optional)

Small mint leaves (optional)

Red chili flakes (optional)

Place each vegetable in separate small bowls or on small plates. Fill a pie pan or small cake pin with 1/2 inch of lukewarm water.

Dip a spring roll skin in water for about 30 seconds to soften and transfer to a clean dry towel. Place about 1/2 cup of mixed vegetables on the wrapper, leaving 1 inch border clean to the edges.

Using a squeeze bottle (or a tablespoon), drizzle a tablespoon of the dipping sauce over the veggies. Fold the sides inward and then carefully roll the wrapper away from you, as you would roll a burrito. Repeat with remaining ingredients. You will have approximately 16 spring rolls.

To serve, halve rolls on the diagonal with a sharp knife and place the rolls upright on your serving platter.

Serve with Asian pistachio dipping sauce (recipe below).

Note: Spring rolls can be made a day ahead. Cover them with a damp paper towel, wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before halving and serving. For an appetizer, serve two halves per person. As a main course, serve at least six halves per person.

Per one spring roll: 70 calories ; 1.5 g fat (0 sat fat); no chol; 160 mg sodium ; 13 g carb; 2 g fiber; 4 g sugars; 3 g protein.

Makes about 16 spring rolls

Asian pistachio dipping sauce

This big flavor, low-cal sauce is also delicious on a piece of grilled chicken or fish. It can be used as a condiment on your favorite sandwich.

Recipe courtesy Cheryl Forberg (

1 bunch well-rinsed cilantro (trim stem ends to 1 inch)

1/2 cup roasted unsalted pistachio kernels

1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 to 4 tablespoon water (optional)

Place all ingredients in jar of a blender or bowl of a food processor. Blend or process for one minute or until very smooth. The sauce should be the consistency of thick cream. Add water, tablespoon by tablespoon, if necessary to thin sauce. Transfer to a squeeze bottle for easy serving.

Keeps refrigerated for about four days.

Per 2-tablespoons serving: 35 calories; 2.5 g total fat (0 sat fat); no chol; 260 mg sodium; 3 g carb; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar.

Confetti quinoa salad with pistachios and currants

Cheryl Forberg loves this pretty salad as a side dish to grilled chicken or fish. It also makes a great potluck dish because it can be made in advance.

Adapted with permission from “A Small Guide to Losing Big” by Cheryl Forberg, R.D. (Flavor First Publishing, 168 pages, $12.99)

For quinoa:

1 teaspoon grapeseed or olive oil

1/4 cup minced yellow onion

1 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth or fat-free low-sodium chicken broth

3/4 cup dry quinoa

For dressing:

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil

Fro salad:

1/2 cup dried currants

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Prepare quinoa: In a one-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute about 3 minutes or until softened. Add broth or water and bring to a boil. Add quinoa, stir, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes and remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.

Prepare dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, lemon juice and mustard. Whisk in oil until emulsified. Set aside.

Assemble: Add dressing and remaining ingredients to quinoa and mix well. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 140 calories; 6 g fat (0 sat fat); no chol; 100 mg sodium; 20 g carb; 2 g fiber; 7 g, sugar; 3 g protein.

Serves 8