Score a Healthy Body with Maria Menounos

Maria Menounos, host of Extra, shares the no-deprivation eating plan that helped her lose 40 pounds.
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When I was a kid we never had processed sugar in the house: There were no chips, ice cream, or sugary cereals anywhere at home. Both of my parents were immigrants from Greece and raised on a Mediterranean diet, plus my father was a Type 1 diabetic. I didn't even know what bagels or waffles were until late in high school. For dinner we ate a variety of dishes made with lentils, vegetables, and beans from the garden. Our dessert? Fruit.

Then when I was 13 I got a job at a doughnut shop. Surrounded by sugar for the first time in my life, I couldn't resist. In my freshman year of high school I was a size 3, and I grew a size every year. Things got worse in college: I didn't gain the Freshman 15—I gained the Freshman 40. Off my parents' proverbial leash, I could keep candy and chips in my room and eat all the late-night pizza I could afford. I grew to a size 14 and kept growing. I felt sick and lethargic. I wanted to nap all the time.

Finally, when I was in my early 20s, I had had enough. I was tired of feeling tired. Since I couldn't find a plan that worked for me, I decided to create my own. Within a year I lost 40 pounds.

The newly thin me moved to California, where my career took off fairly quickly [Menounos started as a correspondent on Channel One News before eventually becoming host of Extra]. But my eating habits took a nosedive: The only thing I had time for, or thought I had time for, was fast food. I'd eat it at least twice a day. My weight didn't fluctuate—I knew enough to keep my portions small. But there were consequences to eating so much junk. I was in and out of the hospital multiple times for exhaustion, malnutrition, and dehydration.

I realized my whole quest to have an amazing body needed to be seriously reevaluated. Just because you're thinner doesn't mean you're healthier. I made it my mission to figure out the very best ways to control my weight and be healthy at the same time. My job as a reporter gave me the opportunity to interview the world's leading diet, fitness, and health experts. By combining their advice with the healthy eating lessons I learned as a child, I found my way to a strong and fit body. And so can you.

MY EVERYGIRL WEIGHT-LOSS JOURNEY

The steps that helped me drop 40 pounds—and keep them off for good.

Step 1: Set a Deadline

You can't just say, "I want to lose weight...someday." It's that kind of loose talk, without a guideline, that discourages you from getting started and undermines success. My goal was to stop overeating, make healthier choices, and lose weight slowly over the course of one year. Trying to rush or do crazy crash diets does not give you sustainable results. And I never focused on losing a specific number of pounds. I just knew by the end of a year I wanted to look and feel great, whatever my weight was.

Step 2: Keep It to Yourself

When you tell others you're trying to lose weight, you're just putting pressure on yourself. Weight loss is tough enough—why make it any harder?

Step 3: Tie It to an Event

If you have a specific event in mind, it gives you extra motivation. Maybe you want to get in shape for an upcoming class or family reunion. Maybe you're going on vacation or just want to look good on the beach in the summer. My event was the Miss Massachusetts USA Beauty Pageant. I knew there was a swimsuit portion of the show and if I was going to be in a bathing suit in front of thousands of people, I wanted to be in the best possible shape.

Step 4: Write Down All That You Eat in a Week

Before you change your diet, spend a week recording everything that you eat—and when you ate it—in a weight-loss journal. And I mean everything. If you snag a few spoonfuls of your husband's ice cream, write it down. You don't realize how much you're eating until you actually see it all on paper. Carry your journal with you and fill it out right after you eat. Don't wait until the end of the day when you might (conveniently) forget. Looking back at your journal can help you spot patterns. This may seem like a big pain but studies show that women who keep food journals lose six pounds more than women who don't.

At the end of the week, take a closer look at your diet. What are your problem areas? Are you eating too much sugar? Are you eating late at night? I didn't have to be a dietitian to know my biggest issue was carbs. So cutting them became my focus.

Step 5: Cut Back Slowly

Now that you know what you're eating, it's time to deal with some of those problem areas. I used to be able to eat seven slices of pizza in one sitting. I decided to make this one of the first things I cut back on. So instead of seven slices I would eat six. A week later I cut back to five slices. When I was finally down to three slices, I incorporated a healthy salad. By cutting back slowly, it was easier!

Step 6: Start Recording Your Exercise, Too

This can include little things like parking far away from your destination and walking across a big parking lot. When you see three days go by with nothing in the exercise department, it's time to move it! And when you see the four days that you did work out, you'll be inspired. I recommend getting a device that records all the steps you take in a day. If you don't work out, you can at least write down how many steps you took. Aim for 10,000 steps per day.

Step 7: Avoid the Scale

Though you may have a targeted number of pounds in mind, weight loss isn't always mathematical. There's no way to be sure you'll lose exactly how much you want per week. Some weeks you might only lose a pound instead of two or nothing at all. You'll just get discouraged if you weigh yourself a lot. Plus I don't want you obsessing about scales or numbers. First and foremost, this is about gaining long-term health. After a few months, if your clothes feel a bit looser and you can't resist, hop on the scale. But no matter what it says, stick with the program.

Step 8: Eat Your Calories; Be Sure Not to Drink Them

A lot of drinks are full of sugar. Soda is the most obvious one, but sports drinks, bottled ice tea and flavored coffee drinks are usually packed with sugar, too. You can opt for artificially sweetened diet versions but they aren't the healthiest alternatives. When I lost weight I chopped up lemons, pushed them into jugs of spring water and drank that instead of juice or anything else. I still drink lemon water and plain hot water.

Alcohol by itself has calories, and you only add more when you drink it with fruit juice or other mixers that contain sugar. Vodka, in moderation, is the one form of alcohol that's lower in carbs. I recommend a quality vodka mixed with water or soda water and limes. This is a lighter, cleaner drink, plus the added water is hydrating.

Step 9: If You Like Dessert, Have It

Dessert is not forbidden. I didn't cut it out when I was losing weight and I still have it occasionally. However, that doesn't mean you have to eat the most-decadent options. You'll find that as you get used to eating better, heavy treats with lots of sugar will leave you feeling blah and you won't crave them as much. To keep dessert in your life, try lower-fat frozen yogurts. Or serve plain Greek yogurt with a little honey or fresh fruit. When you're out to dinner, order dessert for the table and let everyone share. You'll be surprised how much a little bit satisfies you. You can also pair a small portion of something sweet with fruit. For instance, have a thin slice of cake topped with a cup of berries.

Step 10: Rejoice and Reward!

It took me about a year to lose 40 pounds but I did it! And I had tons more energy as a result. Because my clothes no longer fit, I had to buy a new wardrobe. It was a great yet practical reward and something I recommend you do, too. If you can't buy all new clothes, do something else to reward yourself for your amazing efforts.

MARIA'S FAVES

Watermelon
It's my go-to snack. Besides its sweet taste, watermelon is also a water-rich fruit, meaning it fills you up so you won't gorge later. Just don't eat too much as it's high in sugar.

Eggs
I start almost every morning with eggs. They're low in calories but include both protein and fat, so they help keep your hunger in check.

Greek Yogurt
It has more protein than other yogurts. It's also good in smoothies because it provides a creamy thickness that makes you feel like you're drinking a milkshake.

Kale
It's packed with vitamin C, calcium and lots of other nutrients. You can use it as a salad base, add it to a wrap or saute it with garlic and serve it as a side dish.

Chocolate
Do not deny yourself chocolate. Especially chocolate-covered almonds—they have both fiber and protein.

Excerpted from The EveryGirl's Guide to Diet and Fitness: How I lost 40 lbs and Kept It Off—and How You Can Too! by Maria Menounos. Reprinted by arrangement with Zinc Ink, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House, LLC. Copyright Maria Menounos, 2014. The EveryGirl's Guide is a trademark of The EveryGirl's Guide, LLC.

 

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