Mac and cheese, lasagna, pizza, chocolate cake. Are these and other cravings threatening to destroy your diet? If so, tune in to the new Lifetime series Cook Yourself Thin, airing weekdays beginning May 4, and learn to create favorite meals that are totally satisfying but with half the calories.
Chefs Allison Fishman (Home Made Simple) and Candice Kumai (Top Chef) join British baker Harry Eastwood in a series based on the premise of Eastwood’s cookbook, Cook Yourself Thin: The Delicious Way to Drop a Dress Size.
In each episode, a woman who wants to lose weight submits recipes for what Fishman calls her “guiltiest, guiltiest pleasures.” The three hosts rework each recipe to make it lower in calories — but just as tasty — then invite the person who submitted them into their kitchen for some recipe makeover lessons.
The series, which will air weekdays with back-to-back episodes, will also be posting recipes, video blogs and cooking tips on mylifetime.com.
Allison Fishman hails from New York. She survived high school and college on Doritos and Chips Ahoy, yoyo dieting when she felt the need, and finally learning to cook when she went to culinary school. Los Angeles native Candice Kumai, a former surfer and model, had always followed the pressure to be ultra thin. Both now share a love of healthy cooking. Here are their thoughts on how to eat healthier, what made them join Cook Yourself Thin, and what their own guilty pleasures are.
Explain a bit about the program and what people will learn from watching it.
Allison Fishman: Whatever it is the guiltiest, guiltiest pleasures that they know aren’t really working for them but they love. We take these and retool them so by the time the women come to our kitchens we have [created] better-for-you versions of the foods that they love. … Six weeks later, we visit them to see how they’ve done and if they have dropped a dress size. … That’s our measure of success, but when we get to their homes, it’s typically been a lot more than that.”
Candice Kumai: We like to keep our meals quick, easy and budget-simple to make them as comfortable and easy as possible. If viewers need any more information on the recipes, they can find it at mylifetime.com. Every recipe we do is there.
How did you get involved with the project?
AF: I have been involved personally and professionally. When I went to culinary school in 2001, I [was] that woman who doesn’t know how to cook in her own kitchen, and putting on the weight and trying diets because it seemed like the easiest solution. … This program works for me, because it echoes for me what I’ve done.
CK: I started modeling at 14 or 15 and was pressured to stay very thin. And even though I thought I was thin, I felt like it was never good enough. For a young girl, it really affected me in the long term as far as body image. After college, I decided to go to culinary school and that’s when I fell in love with food and decided to leave the crazy world of modeling and turn to what I loved. … So my story would be I never thought I was good enough, and even though I was thin, I wasn’t thin enough. Now I am totally comfortable with my weight and I love my body because I take care of it. For anybody who doesn’t think they are good enough, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere and realize you are beautiful just the way you are. When you live a healthy lifestyle, you will find your own path.
There are three people involved. Do you each have specialties? How do you work together?
CK: The three of us are really different, but that’s what makes the show really useful. Harry is our beautiful, blonde British baker. Allison is your girl next door from Brooklyn, and a great culinary instructor. And I am the fun surfer girl who grew up in the restaurant industry. I’m very artsy with my food but I also have an Asian/Pacific Islander edge to my food. The three of us make a really unique team and support each other through the whole season. It’s a formula that totally works.
What are a few easy things people can do to make food healthier?
AF: When you are reaching for that oil, butter or cream to make a dish taste good, find some fresh herbs instead. It’s chives, it’s scallions, it’s those fresh delicious items that add no calories but a ton of flavor. Or a squeeze of lemon juice or sherry vinegar — those are the things to reach for. [A lot of our guests] have begun cooking for the week. Taking the thinking out of eating is really helpful.
CK: I love to tell people to be conscious of what you are doing when you are cooking. It’s fun trying new things, so explore the world of fresh herbs and spices. And make swaps, like a nonfat Greek yogurt for sour cream or creme fraiche or mayonnaise. Those little changes make a big difference.
What is your favorite comfort food?
AF: Cobblers or crisps because you can have them with apples and pears in the fall or with berries in the spring. It’s essentially fruit with a crispy topping. …. Also, what I do is have delicious, satisfying bites of the food I want, and enjoy it.
CK: Because I grew up in San Diego, I love burritos. They are part of your life here. Now I tend to fill mine with a lot of black beans for fiber and a filling protein such as lean chicken, and a salsa fresca. I incorporate greens even if it’s just fresh spinach or romaine so it’s full of healthy ingredients. There is no lard or fat and I actually skip the cheese because once you fill it with all those flavors you don’t need cheese in there.
What do you think of the success of the women you worked with on this series?
AF: With a lot of the homes we went to, I can think of three husbands who passively lost weight when their wives were cooking our recipes for the whole family. One guy had moved his belt over a notch, just by passive dieting.
I have such admiration for the guests that came on the show and the work they did. … Collectively, they have lost a few hundred pounds already.
CK: We’ve been bowled over when they walk down the stairs and into the room. They are beaming. They are bounding. They are happy. Their skin has cleared up, their eyes are bright. And 19 out of 20 of our guests did drop 8 to 16 pounds, simply by making swaps in the foods they are already cooking.