2013 Most Valuable Motivator: Devin Alexander

Featured Article, News and Advice, Success Stories, Weight Loss
on April 2, 2013
Interview with cookbook author Devin Alexander.

Name: Devin Alexander

Claim to fame: She may have shed over 70 pounds, but you will never hear Devin Alexander utter the word “diet.” That’s because the media personality, celebrity chef, best-selling author and weight loss expert is all about adopting a sane, well-balanced approach to nutrition—no crash diets or semi-starvation necessary. Firmly believing that you don’t have to deprive yourself to be fit, Devin’s eight best-selling cookbooks, including Fast Food Fix and The Biggest Loser Cookbook series, reveal her secrets for figure-friendly food that tastes deceptively decadent (healthy brownies and burgers? Yes, please!). In addition to hosting PBS’s “America’s Chefs on Tour,” Devin has made frequent appearances on a number of TV shows, including The Today Show, Dr Oz, Good Morning America and others. She has also graced the pages of over numerous magazines including Prevention, Women’s Health, Men’s Health and Shape. When she’s not traveling the country lecturing and consulting for major U.S. food and cookware companies, Devin can be found in her kitchen at home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., whipping up a new culinary concoction.

Favorite healthy meal: “Sushi when I’m eating out. And when I’m cooking…I have too many favorites. It’s impossible to choose just one!”

Favorite saying: “Just because it tastes great, doesn’t mean it can’t be good for you.”

Health philosophy: “Don’t diet!” Devin believes that healthy food can be tasty and that you don’t have to deprive yourself to fit into your jeans.

Motivational trick: “Plan ahead. If your pantry and refrigerator are stocked with healthy options, you’re less likely to impulsively eat junk food.”

Favorite workout: “Street Striding by the beach (www.streetstrider.com) or Hoopnotica when I’m with a group.”

Five Minutes with Devin Alexander

Spry: You lost 70 pounds and have maintained the transformation for nearly 20 years. What inspired you to lose the weight?

Devin: To be honest, I was picked on as a kid. By the time I was 8, I started getting chubby, and by age 15 I weighed 200 pounds, in part because I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of sacrificing certain foods forever. As I said, I was picked on so much that I really wanted to make a change, but I just didn’t know how to go about doing it. And then one day I learned that if you cut just 100 calories from your diet per day, on average, you could lose 10 pounds in a year. This piece of advice really stuck with me. I knew so much about cooking—I had been cooking since I was practically four years old—and I knew so much about calories, too, because I had tried so many diets. So I put two and two together. I still ate the things I wanted to, just in moderation.

Spry: What’s your secret to keeping the weight off? For many individuals, long-term weight maintenance is the biggest challenge.

Devin: I never did some crazy fad diet—I follow more of a lifestyle diet. I truly changed my lifestyle and my mindset. You always hear the phrase “calories in, calories out,” and that’s the primary thing that worked for me. If I gain a few pounds, I cut back and avoid indulgent food for a few days. But I never, ever deprive myself. If you eliminate entire food groups that you love, it becomes impossible to stick with it in the long-term.

Before, I always focused on what I couldn’t have—I always told myself I shouldn’t eat this or I shouldn’t eat that. But, ironically, it made me want to eat it even more. I felt deprived. Now, I don’t restrict myself from eating anything. I focus on what I can eat, and when I do indulge, I do it sensibly. If I go to a party and there’s chocolate cake and it look delicious, I’ll take a bite of it. If it’s not delicious, well, I’ll figure it’s not worth the calories and that I’d rather just make it at home where I can make it healthier.

Spry: Tell me a little bit about your work as a weight loss coach. Since you’ve gone through a substantial weight loss yourself, is it inspiring to pay it forward and help others who are struggling with their weight?

Devin: Absolutely. I would have to say that weight loss coaching is my favorite part about what I do. I don’t do as much one-on-one weight loss coaching anymore, but in the past I have coached as many as 225 pounds off of one person. Basically, I help people transform their thinking about food and teach them that healthy food really can taste good. I also help my clients ignite their passion in life. A lot of times, people feel “stuck” in their lives and take it out on food, especially if they’re wired to love food as much as I do. People continually write to me and say, “I’m bored. What do you do for bored eating?” It’s natural for people to eat out of boredom and other emotional triggers. When life gets complicated—if your mother is dying of cancer, for example—people turn to food. I help people identify those emotional triggers and find healthier ways to cope rather than using food. So I would have to say that weight loss coaching is my favorite part of my job. I work way too much—I’m a total workaholic—but I am driven to do it because it feels so good to help others improve themselves. I get so many nice messages from people thanking me for changing their lives. It’s amazingly rewarding.

Spry: Between regular TV appearances, book signings, etc, you must have a crazy busy schedule. How do you sneak in exercise into your everyday routine?

Devin: Personally, I find it much easier to eat healthy than to exercise. But exercise is necessary, so I make it a priority. I try to make working out a part of my social life. So, let’ s say some girlfriends want to go out for drinks…I’ll try to encourage them to take a walk on the beach instead. Sometimes, I’ll even use business meetings as an opportunity to get out there and move. For example, if somebody wants me to mentor them or give them advice on a book, I suggest we go for an hour-long hike to discuss it. At first, people think it’s a little odd, but they usually end up really enjoying the change of pace. I’m also in airports a lot, and I try to squeeze in a little movement while I’m waiting for flights. At airports, you see lots of people grabbing a Cinnabon and going to sit next to their gate. While I’m waiting for my flight, I figure I can either walk around for an hour and burn calories, or I can sit and do nothing for an hour. So I’m always walking the airport, half the time in search of healthy food, but also because I want to take advantage of the idle time to sneak in some exercise. Additionally, I find ways to use exercise as a team-building opportunity for my whole staff. We’ll go out and do fun outdoor activities. It gives us a fun way to bond outside the office and chit-chat, but at the same time everybody is being active and burning calories. It’s a win-win!

Spry: A lot of your cookbooks focus on taking traditional comfort foods and giving them “makeovers” so to make them more waist-friendly. Do you have a favorite healthy dish to make at home?

Devin: That’s a tricky question—I have so many! Growing up, my two Italian grandmothers taught me how to cook. I practically grew up in the kitchen with them, watching them prepare food, and that’s where I fell in love with cooking. Because of my Italian upbringing, I guess I would say I’m mildly obsessed with meatballs. A lot of nights I’ll simply have meatballs and a salad. I also do a lot of Mexican favorites—healthy tacos and chicken enchiladas, things like that. My Big Mac makeover is also one of my most popular dishes.

A lot of people are under the misconception that healthy food tastes bad, and I think this is because people try to make healthy substitutions in recipes without understanding the science behind it. Cooking is a science. You can’t simply swap one ingredient for another and expect the recipe to turn out the same. For example, when I’m making my grandma’s meatballs, I don’t substitute ground turkey for ground meat—it wouldn’t taste good or have any flavor. Instead, I’ll take a really lean meat, season it well, and texturize it with oatmeal. Or, if I’m making brownies and subbing applesauce for oil, I’ll make sure to add extra peanut butter to give it a richer flavor.

Spry: So what’s coming up for you? Anything new in the works?

Devin: Yes! I have a new food line that’s going to launch soon, called “Devinly Delites.” It’s a line of muffins and baked goods. I’m really excited about it. The muffins are super healthy—they’re low in calories and fat and made with whole grains. But more importantly, they actually taste good too. I’m also partnering with BiggestLoser.com to challenge Americans to get healthier. I’ll be appearing in over 20 videos on their website sharing tips and strategies for eating healthier. Finally, I’m also starting a new “Question of the Day” feature on my website where each day I answer a fan’s health-related question.