Not all of us can be professional nutritionists or dieticians, but most of us want to know how to make our diets a little more healthful, without giving up the good stuff. As fad diets come and go, how do you tell the difference between what’s the real deal and what’s not?
Lisa Lillien, a.k.a. Hungry Girl, would be the first to tell you she’s not a professional nutritionist; she’s just a woman who’s obsessed with food and helping other normal food-eaters like herself learn how to maintain a diet that is both delicious and good for the body.
“I’ve always been a bit food-obsessed, and even though I don’t have any kind of a degree relating to health or food, I wanted to find a way to share all my food finds, ideas, and recipes with the world,” Lillien said. “Back in 2004 when I started Hungry Girl, this was not a common thing. Blogs barely existed, and there was no such thing as social media. So when I started my daily emails, there was really no one else doing what I was doing. I love that people were drawn to the content and have found it so relatable and helpful.”
So, as a go-to expert layman, what does Lillien suggest for others who want to start improving their nutrition?
Change how you stock your fridge, invent healthier versions of unhealthy foods, start taking daily walks, and revamp your breakfast game.
“I think it’s difficult to just flip a switch and make that change, and a lot of times, people beat themselves up if they’re not successful right out of the gate,” Lillien said. “People shouldn’t feel the need to strive for perfection. Make a commitment to move more by taking daily walks. Fill your fridge and pantry with a lot of smart staples so it’s easier to grab something healthy when you’re hungry.”
A healthy start
Science tells us that breakfast is an important way to jumpstart a healthy day, but finding delicious and nutritious breakfasts can be a challenge. Lillien said she loves breakfast, and offered a few staples.
“I love hard-boiled egg whites and scrambled egg whites,” she said. “I typically avoid the yolks, but that’s just because I prefer to get my healthy fats in other ways, like snacking on nuts.”
She also recommends fruit, “That’s a favorite of mine. I especially love watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, and apples;” and Greek yogurt, “I tend to stick with low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt. I love it because it tastes great and is packed with protein.”
Lillien also noted that she loves smoked salmon, which she uses in unconventional ways as she’s not a big bread eater. “I stuff it into egg whites, make lettuce wraps with it, and use it in egg scrambles,” she said.
She also noted that oats are a big part of her breakfast routine. “When I do eat oatmeal, I usually make what I refer to as “Growing Oatmeal” — a normal serving of oats with twice as much liquid as standard oatmeal that cooks for twice as long. After it cooks, let your oatmeal thicken for 15–20 minutes, and you’re left with a bowl of oatmeal that’s grown to about twice the size of regular oatmeal. It’s so satisfying!”
It can be hard to start a lifestyle change right away, and many people think that transforming their daily routine might be too time consuming or challenging. But Lillien pushes back: “I say it really doesn’t have to be time consuming. I think when people say that, it could just be an excuse,” she explained. “It’s more about planning and setting yourself up for success. It doesn’t take a lot of time to make healthier choices, but you have to make it something that’s important in your life. If it’s prioritized, it’s easy.”
There are also plenty of readily available products that can help make this change a little simpler. “Bagged salads, vegetable medleys, riced and spiralized veggies, precooked proteins,” Lillien said, “these things are all readily available.”
It’s also not uncommon to worry that you’ll have to give up things like donuts and hamburgers altogether, but Lillien says it’s all about balance.
“I live by the 80/20 rule, so I don’t resist them altogether. I indulge every now and then,” she said. “But the main way I deal with guilty pleasure foods is by making smarter and healthier versions that are satisfying and delicious. I’m a little bit of a mad scientist in that way. It’s fun — I love a challenge.”