I joined The Biggest Loser in season one, when we created the eating plan and a template of what and how we would teach the contestants in terms of food and nutrition. Though I have been off-camera for 14 seasons, my contributions to the contestants and to the show are significant. Because there isn't always enough time to share nutrition information on each show, I write a weekly blog for NBC, to disseminate some of this key information to our viewers.
What you don't see: Every season, I meet with prospective contestants when they are flown out to Los Angeles for preliminary physicals. I meet with each one to discuss their weight gain/weight loss history, the "diet" plans they've tried, what their typical eating (and cooking) habits are, and to learn more about their support systems (if they have one). This information is referred to throughout the season so that we can tailor a sustainable plan for each contestant on the ranch and going forward. I don't use the word "diet." Diets are temporary. I focus on creating and teaching a sustainable lifestyle plan.
Other members of the medical team (physician, certified athletic trainer, psychologist) and myself are continually in contact with each other to cross reference our data to ensure we provide the most comprehensive care/plan possible for each contestant.
Once the contestants are selected, I meet with them to share the individually-tailored calorie budgets generated for them by Dr. Huizenga. The budgets are based on a variety of testing protocols, including metabolic rate, body mass, etc. Each contestant is told that this budget is a starting point -- should they be hungry or tired, let us know and we will adjust your calorie budget as needed. The eating plan is loaded with healthy whole foods, including lots of fiber and high water vegetables. It's very satiating.
Budgets in hand, I instruct the new contestants how to divide those calories between three meals and two snacks. I teach them a sustainable eating plan and guide them to choose from a variety of lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and good fats. I teach them how to grocery shop and share basic cooking techniques. I teach them how to journal their food.
From day one on the ranch, each cast member is asked to journal their food. I look at the cast food journals everyday to track their calories, their ratio of carbohydrate, protein and good fats, as well as micronutrients such as calcium. I prepare a spreadsheet for the medical team and producers to highlight the cast's progress in nutrition.*
Most of this instruction occurs at the beginning of the season, because we want all contestants to benefit. We never know who will be going home after one week, and we want that person to have as many tools as possible.
Once the first contestant is eliminated, the medical team initiates weekly conference calls that continue throughout the season until one week before the finale. (This season, that meant approximately seven months of weekly conference calls.) These calls are a forum not only for emotional support, but a venue for the contestants to ask us cooking, nutrition, exercise, and health questions. If we don't have the answers on the call, we find the answers and report back to the contestants as needed.
Since season one, I have given every single contestant my cell phone number and availed myself to them 24/7. I have never regretted that (and I still have the same cell number). Sometimes contestants call or text me a picture while they're grocery shopping to be sure they're buying the right product. Sometimes they call while they're making dinner or planning a menu to be sure they're on track. And sometimes they just call (or text) for support. Every season, I try to call each current season contestant on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, because I know those are difficult times to navigate their food choices. I am always available to support all contestants from the day they arrive at the Ranch to the night before the finale, and after their season is over. And yes, I still receive calls and notes from former contestants who need a boost, refresher course or a jumpstart.
I am always asked if I've had favorite contestants over the years. Naturally I do, but I haven't singled anyone out. Rachel Frederickson would definitely be high on this list. From the beginning of the season, she has been positive, inquisitive and focused, in terms of learning and living the eating plan I teach.
When Rachel returned home in late October (after becoming a finalist) she couldn't have been more motivated to continue on her successful trajectory. She sent me photos of her cooking creations and always posed great questions about continuing to improve her food choices and nutrition.
I'm extremely proud of Rachel. I am confident she will continue on her path to find her ideal weight and I am excited about her future.
*Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that spreadsheets were prepared each week/in conjunction with each weigh-in to highlight the cast's nutrition progress.
Cheryl Forberg RD is a James Beard award-winning chef and nutritionist for NBC's "The Biggest Loser." For more nutrition and cooking tips, visit Cheryl's website www.cherylforberg.com or follow her on TWITTER GOOGLE PLUS FACEBOOK and Pinterest.