After having four babies in less than five years, Tracy Mahler was not happy with the shape of her body. She tried a high-protein, low-carb diet, but soon realized diets didn’t work for her. What did work for her was being a guest on Lifetime's Cook Yourself Thin television show.
Each week on the popular television program, a guest is shown how to cut calories - but not flavor - from his or her favorite foods.
"The hosts inspired me to make small lifestyle changes that added up to huge results," says Mahler, who now uses low-fat mayonnaise and a single slice of whole-grain bread for sandwiches, keeps her refrigerator stocked with healthy snacks, and makes water her beverage of choice.
"I lost 8 pounds in six weeks, and dropped from a size 12 to a slimmed-down size 10."
Secrets of Cook Yourself Thin
Cook Yourself Thin, which has spawned a popular cookbook of the same name, promotes a non-diet approach to healthy eating. The show's motto is that by learning how to use healthier cooking techniques and ingredients, "you can still indulge while losing the bulge."
“We slash the calories in the foods that don’t contribute to the taste, but keep the ones that make the difference," says Allison Fishman, one of three hosts of the program.
“All of our recipes are meant to fill you up by using ingredients that are low in calories, high in fiber, water, and lean protein -- such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, herbs, and small amounts of healthy fats -- so you feel full and satisfied on fewer calories."
But when it comes to ingredients that affect the taste and mouth feel of the dish, they use the real thing, like whipped cream, assorted cheeses (Parmesan, Gruyere, and blue) and bacon -- just less of them.
For example, "instead of a three-egg ham and cheese omelet, home fries, toast and butter for 890 calories, we make a frittata with real eggs and lots of veggies and just a little strong-flavored cheese and bacon for only 209 calories -- but just as tasty and satisfying," Fishman says.
Here are some of the tricks that the Cook Yourself Thin experts use to allow guests to enjoy favorite dishes while eating more healthfully:
1. Stuff your recipes with vegetables. This trick powers up the nutrition and satisfaction without adding many calories. Vegetables are used to replace fat in cakes, stretch starchy dishes, and add volume to entrees.
2. Read labels. "Understanding food labels [and] normal portion sizes, and some low-fat, low- calorie cooking skills is all you need to slim down," says Fishman.
3. Stock up on healthy ingredients. “Most women say they are too busy to cook, but if you plan ahead, make grocery-shopping lists, stock the kitchen with good ingredients and cookware, cooking can be faster than going to pick up take-out," says Fishman.
4. Roast vegetables to bring out their flavor. Whenever you can, roast or caramelize your veggies before adding to recipes for a delicious, naturally sweet flavor.
5. Replace fat in baked goods. The hosts replace part of the fat in baked goods with shredded zucchini, carrots, and applesauce -- and swear no one can tell the difference.
6. Use a pastry brush to dab oil on food instead of pouring it into the pan.
7. Use egg-white meringue for icing. This trick slashes the fat but still tastes indulgent.
8. Use healthier substitutes in recipes. Reduced-fat peanut butter, mayonnaise, and coconut milk; fat-free Greek yogurt; low-fat buttermilk; skim milk; low-fat cheeses and skim evaporated milk can stand in for higher-fat counterparts in recipes, says Fishman.
9. Enhance foods with richly flavored rubs and marinades. "Instead of barbecue sauces, use herbs to flavor meats, fish and chicken," says Fishman. She recommends making your own herb salt by combining salt and your favorite herbs to increase flavor and reduce sodium intake.
10. Decrease your reliance on meat. Buy family-style cuts of meat like flank or London broil and slice them thin. Butterfly boneless chicken breasts to make the portion look larger.
11. Stock your kitchen with ice cream scoops in assorted sizes for portion control.
12. Lightly dress salads with vinaigrettes before serving to avoid over-dressing at the table.
Cook Yourself Thin Success Story
The approach worked for Mahler, who before appearing on the show was doing what many moms do -- eating the leftovers off the kids' plates, snacking on the cookies she bought for them, and drinking too much soda.
Not only have the skills she learned on the show helped her lose weight, she says, they've helped her entire family eat more healthfully. (Her husband has also dropped 40 pounds since she was a guest on Cook Yourself Thin.)
“I feel fantastic, I have tons of energy, and am so motivated by my children because they are developing healthy eating habits," Mahler says.
Cook Yourself Thin Recipes
Here are a couple of recipes from Cook Yourself Thin, a cookbook based on the television show.
Frosted Vanilla Cupcakes
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1. Combine egg whites, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract in a heatproof bowl.
2. Set over (not in) a pan of simmering water.
3. Stir continuously over heat until mixture is warm and sugar is completely dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Remove bowl from heat.
5. Using handheld electric or standing mixer, set on high beat until mixture is entirely cooled, glossy and stiff, about 7 minutes.
6. Beat in the lemon zest, and add butter cubes, a few at a time, beating until butter is almost fully incorporated after each addition.
7. Beat until smooth. Once smooth, take care not to overbeat, or the mixture will get lumpy.
8. Let frosting set and cool in the refrigerator (at least 30 minutes) while making the cupcakes.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups coarsely shredded, peeled zucchini (about 2 small)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Arrange a rack in the center of the oven. Line a 12-muffin pan with cupcake liners.
3. In a bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder; set aside.
4. In another bowl, beat eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla with a handheld electric or standing mixer until thick and light colored, about 4 minutes.
5. Beat in zucchini on medium speed until fully incorporated.
6. Add dry ingredients and beat on low speed until fully incorporated, scraping down the bowl once with a spatula during beating.
7. Use a 1/3 cup measure to spoon into the muffin cups.
8. Bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes, turning the pans midway through baking.
9. Transfer cupcakes onto a wire rack, and cool completely before icing with the chilled frosting.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
104 calories per cupcake without frosting; Frosting adds 61 calories per serving.
Better-for-You Breakfast Sandwich
2 Tbsp white vinegar
4 whole-wheat English muffins
4 slices low-fat cheese
4 thin slices low-sodium ham
4 slices tomato
Spritz of olive oil
1/2 Tbsp dried oregano
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill large, deep skillet with water to a depth of 4 inches. Add vinegar and bring to a steady simmer.
2. Arrange muffin halves on a baking sheet, and, using a round biscuit cutter, cut each slice into a round. Cut cheese slices into 3-inch rounds using a round biscuit cutter. Place a slice of cheese on each of the bottom halves. Cut slice of ham into shreds or ribbons and place on top of the cheese. Transfer to oven and bake until cheese melts and top halves are toasted, about 4 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cut 4 slices from the tomato and spritz each with some olive oil. In a separate nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat, sauté tomato slices for 1 minute on each side. Then season with salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Set aside.
4. Break one egg into small bowl. Hold edge of the bowl close to the simmering water and gently tilt to pour egg into the water. Repeat with remaining three eggs. Cook until whites are solid and the yolk is still runny, about 3 minutes. Carefully remove eggs, one at a time, with slotted spoon. Transfer to a plate with paper towels to drain.
5. Remove toasted muffin halves with cheese and ham from the oven and transfer to a plate. Place a slice of sautéed tomato on top of the ribbons of ham and top with a poached egg. Season with salt and pepper and top with the other half of each muffin. Serve immediately.
Calories per serving: 306
Recipes © 2009 Lifetime Entertainment Services. Reprinted with permission from Cook Yourself Thin.