Back when NBC’s The Biggest Loser was on the air, we often saw season-14 champ Danni Allen working out and weighing in. We’d sometimes even see her break down — like the day she shared memories of an obesity-triggered heart crisis that left her dad on life support. But here’s what we didn’t see: Allen’s intense behind-the-scenes diet strategizing with trainer Jillian Michaels and show nutritionist Cheryl Forberg, R.D. These sessions helped Allen tweak the basic plan all Biggest Loser contestants use, creating a version so powerful she routinely blitzed her competition. “Nutrition was 80 percent of my success,” insists Allen, who shed nine, 10, even 19 pounds per week. Is that great news for the rest of us? Does it mean we can copy Allen’s menus, skip her brutal workouts, and still melt flab almost as fast as she did? To find out, we had readers eat like Allen for a week. Charlene Girardi, 53, dropped 10 pounds in seven days — without a single crunch or jumping jack. “I lost so quickly, I thought my scale was broken,” laughs the New York mom. Connecticut jewelry designer Dawn Hill, 48, lost 8.5 pounds and 11 inches in seven days. “The inches blew me away. I lost a whole size in a week.”
What is Michaels’ assessment of all this? While she does encourage you to add at least a little activity to your day for overall fitness, she admits Allen’s plan is hard to beat for accelerated weight loss. “Allen is a regular girl who has achieved remarkable things,” says the pro. “Follow her lead, and anything is possible.”
At first glance, the diet Allen used might seems standard, as it’s essentially a balanced 1,300-calorie higher-protein plan. But there’s a twist: Allen started each day with a gigantic 600-calorie breakfast. She enjoyed lean protein, good fat, and greens, plus all her fruit and starchy carbs for the entire day. “It’s such a satisfying meal, I swear it keeps my appetite low until I go to bed,” she raved. How did Allen hit on this unusual approach? Turns out, cutting carbs after 3 p.m. is a technique commonly recommended to contestants, since it helps improve levels of weight-loss hormones. Allen simply experimented with the concept and found that cutting carbs after breakfast got the best results of all.
She’s definitely on to something. In a recent Israeli study, folks partkaing of a diet almost identical to Allen’s — including a 600-calorie carb-heavy breakfast followed by smaller lower-carb meals — blasted 300 percent more weight than dieters getting the exact same carbs and calories spread out more evenly over the day. Researchers explain that a hearty morning meal “triggers” beneficial shifts in body chemistry, causing hunger hormones to plummet and metabolism-boosting hormones to surge.
More Ultra-Fast Fat Blasters
Get an even bigger boost by stealing these smart strategies, too.
The “veggie 500” trick. Allen aims to eat over 500 calories from vegetables each day. That means she might sip a chocolate-flavored “super green” drink, scramble egg whites with asparagus, lunch on a big salad, snack on cucumber “chips” with salsa and then have roasted kale with dinner. “Veggie loading” can help anyone get slim in a hurry. According to breakthrough Penn State studies, adding veggies — which are low in calories, are packed with fat-fighting antioxidants, and are loaded with hunger-killing fiber and water — in place of more fattening ingredients helps dieters cut up to 800 calories a day without noticing. Participants also lost about 170 percent more weight.
Meal and snack times that accelerate results. “I try to eat three meals and one snack on a set schedule. That’s what my body responds to,” Allen revealed. Smart move, say researchers, who found that irregular eating patterns led to both slower metabolism and higher levels of fat-storage hormones.
The best kind of journal. A food log is key to staying within your calorie budget; in fact, studies show dieters who keep a log double their weight loss. Allen took hers to the next level. “I’d write down my feelings, my thoughts about food. It helped me so much,” she said. Michael agrees. The technique "makes you aware of times when you use food as a coping mechanism,” notes the pro, “so you can figure how to deal with hurt feelings and stress in a healthier way.” Now, when Allen gets tense, she skips Ben & Jerry’s in favor of a manicure or movie with pals.
Yes, you can do it.
If Allen could go back in time, what would she tell her old size-20 self? “I would say: ‘Just start. Don’t put it off until tomorrow. Anyone can do what I did. Sometimes it feels hard, but most of the time it feels great. Don’t wait one more day to start getting healthy.”
Eat like Danni Allen did.
Our nutrition team worked with Allen to pinpoint her most fat-melting meals — and then turn them into a powerful little plan anyone can try. When using these menus, drink as much water as you like. Add extra veggies and ultra-low-cal extras (herbs, spices, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, Splenda) as desired. As always, make sure to get a doctor’s OK before trying any new plan.
1 serving “super green” drink, such as Amazing Grass Chocolate Green Superfood
Breakfast (enjoy all food items listed daily)
- 1 to 2 cups coffee with a splash of milk
- 1 cup cooked steel-cut oats, or 2 slices Ezekiel bread with 2 tsp. fat-free cream cheese, pinch of cinnamon
- 1/2 cup berries
- 1 small apple or medium orange
- 100-calorie cup fat-free Greek yogurt
- 2 egg whites scrambled with 1/2 cup sliced asparagus or any vegetable in olive oil spray
Lunch (enjoy one daily)
Option 1: 5 oz. lean grilled steak or any lean protein, 1 oz. crumbled feta or any cheese, 1/4 cup sliced onion, 2 to 3 cups mixed salad, 2 Tbsp. lite vinaigrette
Option 2: 6 oz. cooked chicken or turkey breast with 1 tsp. barbecue sauce or 1 tsp. Thai peanut sauce, 2 to 3 cups nonstarchy veggies, 1 tsp. olive oil, seasoning to taste
Dinner (enjoy one daily)
Option 1: 4 oz. lean protein, 1 tsp. olive oil, seasoning with 2 to 3 cups steamed nonstarchy veggies, lemon juice
Option 2: 4 oz. shrimp, garlic, and red bell pepper to taste, sautéed in 1 tsp. olive oil with 2 to 3 cups green beans spritzed with cooking spray and roasted; sprinkle with 1 tsp. grated Parmesan; bake to melt cheese
Option 3: 4 oz. salmon baked with 1/2 tsp. olive oil, herbs, and lemon juice
Allen's Favorite Kale: Sauté 1/4 cup chopped onion and 1/2 cup chopped sliced turkey bacon in pan misted with olive oil. Add 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth; let it cook down a bit. Add 3 cups kale and simmer until leaves are wilted.
Snacks (enjoy daily)
- 8 nuts
- 1 stick string cheese
- 1 cup sliced cucumbers or any veggie, 1/4 cup pico de gallo or salsa
Make your own menus.
Start with a “supergreen” drink. Brands like Amazing Grass or Garden of Life (both at Amazon) are equal to two servings of veggies per glass.
Enjoy a big, carb-rich breakfast. Include 2 servings whole-grain carbs (up to 300 calories); 2 servings fruit; 1 serving fat-free dairy; 1 oz. lean protein or 1 tsp. good fat; unlimited vegetables.
Go lean and green at lunch and dinner. Serve 6 oz. lean protein at lunch and 4 oz. at dinner. Add about 1 tsp. olive oil per meal. Pile on the veggies, at least 2 cups per sitting. At snack time, have more veggies, plus good fat or dairy.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.