We didn't become the most obese nation in the world overnight and the damage won't be undone quickly either. However, while there may be larger cultural and economic factors that led us here as a nation, the road back to health is made up of a plethora of personal journeys, each filled with small steps individuals take each and every day.
As the nutritionist for "The Biggest Loser," I've had the opportunity to play a part in some remarkable transformations. And while not everyone faces the extreme challenges the "Biggest Loser" contestants do, the mistakes they make are the same that many of us fall into.
When I'm asked, as I often am, "What can I do to help me lose weight and/or improve my health?" I definitely make my recommendations based on a list of common denominators that have helped hundreds of overweight contestants win a place on "The Biggest Loser." Over the course of 12 seasons, I've identified the key factors that have led America to earn its top ranking among obese nations of the world.
I found that most of our contestants:
1. Had absolutely no idea how many calories their body really needs (and how many more they are actually taking in)
2. Skipped breakfast and, often, many other meals
3. Didn't eat enough fruit or vegetables
4. Didn't eat enough protein (specifically lean protein)
5. Didn't eat enough whole grains
6. Ate too much white stuff: white flour, white pasta, white sugar, white rice and simple carbs
7. Didn't feel they had time to plan ahead, so they found themselves grabbing something quick for a meal -- often consumed standing up, at their desks or in their cars.
8. Often had enough calories in beverages alone to meet their daily caloric needs -- but didn't drink enough water
9. Didn't exercise enough (if at all)
10. Prioritized their spouse, partner, children and/or their jobs over their own health and well-being
Does any of this sound familiar?
These 10 factors helped me to co-write an eating plan -- the same plan I've shared with contestants (and my own clients) since the show premiered in 2004.
I believe that this weight loss plan works -- and it's based on an ambitious exercise regimen and the following basic recommendations:
1. Learn your body's calorie needs -- you must burn off more calories than you are taking in.
2. Don't skip meals; you must develop a regular eating schedule of three meals and two or three snacks per day.
3. Eat plenty fruit and vegetables.
4. Eat plenty of lean protein.
5. Eliminate the white stuff.
6. Choose whole grains.
7. Plan everything ahead: your meals, your snacks and your exercise. As Jillian Michaels once said, "If you don't plan ahead, you plan to fail."
8. EAT (don't drink) your calories, with the exception of milk.
9. Include exercise as part of your weight loss plan.
10. Prioritize your health and well-being. If you don't have your health, you can't take care of your loved ones.
And even on the show, it's not just the biggest losers who win.
Some of you may remember Jerry from season 6 of "The Biggest Loser." Jerry may have been voted off in week three of that season, but he was on the ranch long enough to learn exactly how to keep the scale moving down once he got home. Since that season Jerry has lost 70 pounds to date!
Jerry's calorie budget was determined to be about 2,000 calories. The way for him to divide those calories up throughout the day was to divide 2,000 by four -- 500 calories.
Breakfast = 500 calories
Lunch = 500 calories
Dinner = 500 calories
Two snacks = 500 calories (meaning 250 calories per snack)
He can choose to have his two 250-calorie snacks in the morning, afternoon or evening -- whatever works best for his schedule and his energy levels.
This is just one example of how, over time, the choices we make every day add up. Jerry's choices added up to healthy weight loss -- the wrong choices can easily add up to the needle on the scale going in the other direction.
I hope for this to be my first of many blogs here at The Huffington Post. I look forward to reading your comments and answering as many of your questions as I can!
Cheryl Forberg, RD is a James Beard award-winning chef, nutritionist for NBC's "The Biggest Loser" and NYT bestselling author. Her latest book is "Flavor First" (Rodale). She lives on a farm in Napa, California