The Biggest Loser season 14 is off to a roaring start with Jillian Michael’s team already down to two contestants. But what everyone seems to be buzzing most about are the show’s three teens, and specifically, what they’re doing to improve their diets safely. That’s where Joanna Dolgoff, M.D. Pediatrician steps in.
Dolgoff is the show’s official pediatrician and child obesity specialist and the brains behind the diet program the Biggest Loser teens are following. Dolgoff’s prescription for a healthy diet is defined in her book “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right,” which aims to teach kids how to make healthy choices based on the principles of the traffic light.
Green light foods – such as lean proteins, fruits and vegetables – are the most nutritious; yellow light foods – such as popcorn – are moderately nutritious; and red light foods are the least nutritious and limited to twice weekly indulgences. In addition to offering basic diet advice, the book also includes sample menus, recipes, and an index of more than 1,000 color-coded foods.
While Dolgoff’s message is primarily aimed at the teens on this season of The Biggest Loser, it’s applicable to people of all ages who are trying to eat well. We recently spoke with Dolgoff about what exactly junk food is and how we can eliminate if from our diets for good. Here’s what she had to say.
How do you define junk food? Are all processed foods bad?
The foods you want to stick to are lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you can’t easily pronounce everything on the ingredients list, it’s probably not the healthiest thing to be eating. In my book I describe these items as red light foods. You can have two red light foods a week. Green light foods are the lowest in calories, and yellow light foods are moderately healthy. But mainly, stick to healthy greens. It’s a very simple system.
What do you say to people who think eating healthy is too expensive?
I’ve written a lot of articles about how to eat healthy on a budget. It takes a little bit more planning, cutting coupons, waiting until things go on sale, etc. But that’s why I advise people to take three lists when going to the grocery store: One list with the items you need, one with things you need soon, and one with things you don’t need. It takes a little bit of forethought, but it’s not impossible.
In your opinion, how important is it to eat organic?
Organic doesn’t really have to do with weight. Most organic foods have the same calories as non-organic foods. Certain foods are more important to eat organic if you can afford it, but if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it and it’s not that big of a deal.
It is critical. I can’t tell you how many parents have come to me with overweight and obese children and say to me, “If I could just get a chicken nugget into him I would be happy.” Then all of the sudden you’re changing the rules of the game and saying, “Don’t eat those food I’ve been feeding you all your life.” Our typical toddler diet is horrible, which is something we address on the show tonight. Open up the kids menu at any restaurant and everything is horrible. Don’t even get the kids menus. Instead, share the adult portions; do anything.
Another thing, taste is a learned process. Some people think you like foods like vegetables or you don’t. But as you expose your taste buds to something you start to learn how to accept it. If you start your toddler on veggies you are tuning his or her taste buds to expect those foods later in life.
How do we keep junk out of our kids’ diets? When are indulgences appropriate?
Do it in moderation. When we talk to the kids on the show, we let them choose when and what their two red light foods will be, as well as the 100 calorie or less treat they’re allowed daily. The key is to give kids control. Tell them they can decide when to eat certain foods. I practice this in my own life. My son is 10 now, but when he was in preschool parents would take their kids to the cafe and allow them a chocolate bar every day. I wasn’t going to not go to the cafe, but I also wasn’t going to let him have chocolate every day. A chocolate bar is fine for some days but not every day. Twice a week you can have something like that. Part of parenting is dealing with those types of issues.
If someone wants to clean up their diet, what should be their first step? How do they persevere when motivation is fleeting?
The first step they should take is getting information. NBC and I have decided to give a free 60 day trial of my online program to anyone who wants to sign up (details below). You don’t have to put a credit card in or anything and you get the same plans the kids on the show are following.
Cutting out sugary drinks is an easy first step. They don’t make you feel full and are loaded with calories. As far as how to stay motivated, there are going to be times when there are plateaus, but they always end if you continue doing the right thing.
Is it emotionally safe for the teens on Biggest Loser to be losing weight publicly?
I feel really strongly about this. Overweight children know they’re overweight. Even if you’re not talking about it to your kids, they know. They’re being teased about it and their parents won’t mention it so it must be shameful. Oftentimes kids start to starve themselves and that doesn’t work so they binge and then purge. This puts them at the highest risk for disordered eating.
The first thing you have to do is acknowledge it with your child. Sit down at an emotionally stable time (not during meal time) and try to use two words. Those words are “health” and “we.” Say things like “We haven’t been eating as healthy as we can. I’d like us to get to a healthy weight. Let’s get together and learn healthy eating habits.” The key word is health.
For those interested, Dolgoff is now offering a free 60 day trial of her nutrition program in partnership with The Biggest Loser. Find the details at her website, RedLightGreenLightEatRight.com. Also, be sure to tune in to The Biggest Loser tonight at 8/7 CST, and join our Twitter party by following @DietsInReview and the hashtag #BL14.