What Hungry Girl Really Eats, the Scoop on Her Next Book and More!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Back in 2004, Lisa Lillien was a woman with a dream--she wanted to share her love of better-for-you snack foods with the world. Having lost 30 pounds, she knew how hard it was to navigate the supermarket shelves, searching for treats that would scratch an itch but not blow her calorie budget.

After a frenzied trip to a food lab to test a too-good-to-be-true snack food, Lisa's passion for truth in food labeling and discerning palate merged. Her alter-ego, Hungry Girl, was born, and what started as a small website and e-newsletter sent to fewer than 100 people has become a much larger newsletter with almost 800,000 subscribers, product endorsements and two best-selling cookbooks. Her website is www.hungry-girl.com/.

Lisa, aka Hungry Girl, is honest about what she likes and dislikes, the former list being much longer than the latter: VitaTop muffins, Tofu Shirataki noodles, Fuji apples and broccoli cole slaw are just a few products that pop up repeatedly in her recipes. She's as gaga for popchips as we are, and she will coat just about anything in crushed Fiber One cereal as a way to "faux fry."

Her endorsements are so passionate--and so influential--that her animated likeness now appears on various products, including a new Fiber One 50-calorie yogurt that she raved about during our interview. (Our review will appear soon!) After seeing the commercial featuring Hungry Girl, Lisa said, "I got really excited. I think it's ridiculously cool and I'm thrilled every time I see it."

Before my interview, I asked you what you wanted me to ask Hungry Girl, and you had some great questions! Lisa chatted with me for about 20 minutes last week about topics ranging from her food philosophy and her retro breakfast that morning to how she stays on track while traveling and what she role she thinks her recipes play in a healthy diet.

She was kind, funny and, of course, hungry! (There's really just one food she says she doesn't like on its own: Ironically enough, it's celery--that iconic food that dieters everywhere have munched begrudgingly for decades!)

dailySpark: What did you have for breakfast today?

Hungry Girl: Today I had a breakfast that I never normally eat, and as I was eating, I said, 'Wow! It's like my mom in 1975!" I had half a cantaloupe with fat-free cottage cheese iced coffee. Very 1975, my mom. Normally I have egg whites or egg substitute with low-fat cheese.

dailySpark: How do you stay on track when away from home?

Hungry Girl: Luckily, when I travel, I don't think about food as much as I'm thinking about other things. So five hours go by and I'll grab an apple just to make sure I'm not ravenous the next time I have a meal. I'm not one of those people that tends to go crazy when I eat out. I think I've trained myself to order well off of menus so I don't freak when I show up and there's room service or I'm at a restaurant.… Plus I'm moving around a lot, carrying bags and staying on my feet, so I'm probably burning extra calories, too.

dailySpark: Where do you get inspiration for your recipes?

Hungry Girl: Different things inspire me and the rest of the Hungry Girl staff. I watch a lot of Food Network. I can get five new ideas from one show. I'm inspired when I go out to eat and I look at restaurant menus. I say I can make a guilt-free version of this. TV commercials--when I see the new quesadillas that are at Chili's--I want to make those over. The new wings at Wendy's--I want to make those over. And then we have meetings where we're all brainstorming. At any given time, there are six to 10 of us sitting around just trying to figure out what we need to make next.

dailySpark: So how long does it take for a recipe to get from idea to tested to the email newsletter?

Hungry Girl: In general it's several weeks because we try to stay on top of content and create recipes two to three weeks out. When something is life-changing and amazing, we can operate like a newsroom and get it out in a day or two. The first time I made the Fettuccine Hungry Girlfredo I put it up instantly. I said, "This is life-changing, and we have to get this up and out immediately!" And then if there's a new product find, we try to get it out sooner. That's why we do the news on Mondays. We try to really be timely.

dailySpark: How many products do you taste daily? Is it hard for you to stay on track with all the bites, licks and tastes?

Hungry Girl: You have to exercise a lot, and some weeks are harder than others, but I taste pretty much every single thing that people have sent me, unless they have completely misfired--like when people send big, giant bars of chocolate, I don’t feel the need to open those and eat those. But anything that is guilt-free or pretending to be guilt-free, I try it, but I try not to eat too much of it. If it's anything that's too tempting, I tend to give it away.

dailySpark: When you like something, you're really happy to work with that brand, but you also do negative reviews as well, right?

Hungry Girl: I do, but I feel like we don't just slam products just for the sake of slamming them. A couple of products come to mind as products that I reviewed negatively, and I think they were products that really deserved it either because they were talking about how fantastic the product was and spending a lot of money to advertise it and it's an expensive product and then it was so bad that I then felt the need to tell the world that it's bad and don't waste your money.

But I feel like you have to talk about the stuff that's not so good as well as the good stuff so people A. know that you're not just saying everything is fantastic, and B. so they can trust your taste buds. If you say something's good, they'll know it' good, and if you say something's not so good, they'll agree with you and know it's not so good. It keeps the (Hungry Girl) brand credible.

dailySpark: Have you had any disasters in the Hungry Girl kitchen or in your personal kitchen?

Hungry Girl: There haven't been any disasters, but there have been a few recipes that we'd had to give up on. The one that comes to mind was a cookies and cream pie that we just couldn't get right after seven to 10 versions of it. It just never turned out the way we wanted.

For awhile it was crème brûlée--crème brûlée was a tough one to do. But then somehow, I met the crème brûlée queen, Debbie Puente. She has this crème brûlée book, and we worked with her to develop a guilt-free crème brûlée.
If we mastered crème brûlée, I feel like there's no stopping us.

Lisa Lillien, aka Hungry Girl

dailySpark: What is your latest favorite snack?

Hungry Girl: I love the Fiber One yogurts, and they've been filling the fridge--anytime someone sees them, they buy them for me. They're like "I saw yogurt with your picture on it," so I've got a lot of them and I've been eating those a lot lately.

I just really love Fuji apples. I know that's not the most exciting snack, and it's not new and different, but I eat an apple a day.

I like light string cheese, too. It's satisfying and it's protein, and it's good!

dailySpark: There are some people who complain that a lot of your recipes are made with really processed foods, and you’ve said that's what people crave. How do consider these recipes? Are these meant to replace three meals a day and two snacks? Or are these for when you feel a craving?

Hungry Girl: Well, I feel like a lot of the Hungry Girl recipes are made with foods that are natural. So I feel like the people that want to call out the processed food are not really paying attention to the Hungry Girl philosophy in general, which is eat a lot of fresh foods, a lot of whole foods, a lot of vegetables, a lot of lean meats, and a lot of fruit. And a lot of recipes are made with those things.

Now the recipes that call for processed and packaged foods, some of them are more "craving foods" and some of them are staples. I'd have to think about each recipe individually to say "that's a once a week food, that's a once a month food…" They're meant to just fit into people's lifestyles, and you can eat as much of that as you want or as little.

I feel like the majority of people eat packaged foods at least sometimes.

dailySpark: You just said that you really like Fuji apples, you like string cheese and yogurt. What are some other staples in your daily diet?

Hungry Girl: I love Vita-Tops. It's all the stuff you named (earlier). I love the Tofu Shirataki noodles, Yoplait light and Fiber One yogurts, I love Laughing Cow cheese, I love egg substitutes or egg whites, high-fiber, low-calorie tortillas--those are all my staples, and broccoli cole slaw is something I eat nonstop. I just do so many different things with it, and that's just shredded broccoli, cabbage and carrots.

I eat a lot of vegetables and a lot of fruit.

Just to get back to the processed food thing: Anybody that would say Hungry Girl onion rings are bad--they use Fiber One breakfast cereal, onions and egg substitute and you bake them. So anyone who could pull that apart--what are you saying? You're better off going to fast food place and getting onion rings? It's not like people are choosing between our onion rings or an apple. People are choosing between our onion rings or diner onion rings.

dailySpark: I signed up for your newsletter years ago, long before I started at SparkPeople. I remember I had just moved back from overseas, and I was trying to keep a healthy lifestyle here in the States. I remember thinking these recipes were a great way to dip my toe into healthy eating. Do you get a lot of people who tend to see your recipes as a bridge to carry them into healthy eating?

Hungry Girl: I do. That's a great way to put it. I feel like there's a lot of information out there and people saying you only have to eat only whole foods, shop the perimeter of the store. For a lot of people, the reality here in this country is that they're eating a lot of fast food and a lot of junk food. Hungry Girl is a perfect bridge to marry the two, and it's a great solution. It's helping hundreds of thousands of people, and it's definitely doing a lot for people who didn't even know how to go about making changes (to be healthy) and being satisfied.

dailySpark: You've written two cookbooks: Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World and 200 Under 200: 200 Recipes Under 200 Calories. Do you have any plans for other books?

Hungry Girl: Yes! In fact, there will be another book coming out March 30, with another fun hook. There will probably between 165 and 200 recipes in that book. And there's a recipe card set of some of the Hungry Girl classics that will be out in November.

dailySpark: Before I let you go, I do want to touch on exercise, because I know that's an important part of your healthy lifestyle and certainly that's a big part of the SparkPeople plan. So how do you stay in shape, in addition to your bodybugg?

Hungry Girl: The good thing about the bodybugg is that it shows you that even running around the house or playing Rock Band helps you burn calories. I used to hate exercise. I was a person who was afraid of the gym, and I didn't want to be seen at the gym. I didn't want to lift a weight or go on a treadmill. I didn't want to drink water.

I realized that exercise doesn't have to be painful. The key to anyone succeeding in exercising is to find something they like to do. For me, it's treadmilling for the most part. I do some weight training a couple of times a week, but I'm on the treadmill walking almost daily. I try to be on that treadmill at least five times a week, and I have a Tivo right there in the treadmill room. So I'm watching my favorite TV shows and not even realizing that I'm walking. So whether it's finding a friend to go walking with or going hiking or finding something you like to do, I think it's really important. I think people who don't exercise are going to have a lot harder time losing weight or just being healthy in general.

dailySpark: How do you stay motivated? Do you ever have off days?

Hungry Girl: I do have off days, like anybody. I live by the 80/20 rule, so 80% of the time I'm eating the foods I should be eating--and it could be Saturday night and I'm sticking my spoon into the brownie sundae when I'm out to dinner. I think that's the best way--to not be so extreme that you just deprive yourself completely of something. It makes me feel like I'm completely in control, and I love it. I feel like the people who have the most trouble are the people that are too extreme, who won't even let a bite of anything pass their lips. Once you get past that stage and you can really master it, it's easier to stay motivated and stay on track.

Are you a fan of Hungry Girl? What is your favorite HG recipe? Does Lisa inspire you?

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For me it's not a big deal that so many of her recipes use processed foods, since I usually only use her recipes for the occasional treat. I haven't been terribly successful with her entres- We tried the fettuccine alfredo, and it was so horrible it makes me skeptical about the other foods she loves so much. The texture of the noodles was so rubbery and chewy that I couldn't hold down 2 bites. And I am NOT a picky eater, either. Tofu Shirataki noodles are awful, I can't believe they are a staple for her. Oh well, to each their own, right? At least her desserts are delicious! Best of My Lava Chocolate Cake is my favorite! Mmmm... Report
I love HG! I found her website through a blog on Spark and have been mildly obsessed with her since! Her philosophy is similar to my own - I want to be able to have good tasting treats that are not going to throw my entire week of hard work off! I'm busy, like most people, and her recipes are typically quick and easy, which works for me! I can understand why some people don't approve, but for me she's tops! Report
I love Hungry Girl! By implementing a lot of her recipes in my diet, I have lost 55 pounds, so I am a believer that this type of cooking works!! I hate that so many have been bashing her! Her tips and tricks are wonderful, even if they are processed foods... like others have been saying... who has the time to cook completely whole food-y meals 3 times a day, 7 days a week. Not this girl! Love it hungry girl, and keep the recipes and now TV SHOWS coming!! Report
I've made some of the HG recipes, but when I've submitted questions regarding them, I've never seen a response. My problem is that I'm HIGHLY sensitive to artificial sweeteners. I've repeatedly requested info regarding products asking whether they contain Stevia, NutraSweet or other artificial sweeteners. I can adjust recipes and do, but do Vitatops have fake sugar? Or that orange drink she promotes? Even on the product websites, it's so hard to read the list of ingredients and I'd really like to know before I purchase. Report
You can't take her seriously because she's an adult who uses the word 'yummy?'

Are you serious? Might want to get the knot of your panties before you make another post. You must not be able to take the SP site seriously then, since MANY people here use the word 'yummy' myself included.

And to each their own. Who cares if you hate what she loves? Maybe others hate what you like. Does it honestly matter that much that you have to make such nasty comments? Report
Oh, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa....how you do annoy me. Your processed foods. Your use of fake(fat-free) cheese. Your high sodium counts. Your over-reliance on artificial sweetners. Your twee "humor", bad puns and your cute-sy pink 'lil e-mails.

Did you see her video review of Lean Cuisine's new meals(sponsored by Lean Cusine)? They were all "super yummy," naturally. She's a shill, she's a shill, she's a shill. They could have tasted like poop and she wouldn't have said a word.

The tofu shirataki alfredo was the most god-awful thing I ever ate....her beloved Vita Tops taste like sawdust, AND are really expensive. $5.99 for 4 Vita-Tops. Food only the well-off can afford.

I think that 99% of the people here know how to reduce the calories in a recipe, and they don't need Lisa to tell them how to do it. I can't take seriously anyone who uses the word "yummy" and is over 10 years old. Sorry, Lisa.

PS. Egg substitutes ARE real eggs. They are egg whites. They have a plant dye added to them to make them yellow. Report
this is really helpful for a constantly hungry person like me. Wouldn't mind having her email address. am sure to benefit a lot from her recipes. Report
If I want to make a HG recipe, I just use whole foods in place of things like egg substitute and cooking spray and use the sparkrecipes calculator to readjust the nutrition. The ideas are so good that it would be a shame to knock them just because you don't like some of the ingredients... My favorite to adapt is the black bean veggie burger, which I make using brown rice and real eggs. Report
I love Hungry Girl and get her e-mails daily. I have her cookbooks as well and have really fallen in love with lots of her favorites. Report
I love Hungry Girl! I laugh at the comments that you guys make of not making the recipes but when your life is pact full on being a college student, a wife, and a full time worker. As well as trying to keep the house clean...her recipes are wonderful. Sure I have tried some and didn't like them but you know what I have liked her other ones. Report
I think HG is wonderful! Her sense of humor is topped only by her innovative recipes! I only have one of her cookbooks, 200 under 200, so far and plan to get the other soon as I can find it. Also subscribe to her newsletter. Report
I love the 80/20 rule! Report
This is the firtst time I read about Hungry Girl, and I would definitely view it online Report
Nice to hear that someone is coming up with new ideas and food recipes for a healthy turn. Thanks for putting this article out there to read. Report
I think she has some good ideas, and eating like this every once in a while can't be any worse for you than fast food. I look at it as an alternative, not necessarily a part of my daily diet. Report
Like anything else, we have to be discerning. Hungrg girl has lots of good ideas. I generally prefer less processed foods than she recommends. I love products by Vitalicious...So filling and nutritious. One of my focuses is increasing fiber in my diet. Helpful for that! Report
I am also a Hungry Girl fan and I love her daily e-mails. She provides a lot of good information and turned me on to a lot of healthy and yummy products that I never would have tried. Report
I do think that hungry girl is a great concept, but a lot of her recipes are a bunch of un natural diet stuff. You will lose weight, but also lose a lot of nutrition, too. she doesnt suggest whole grains or fruits and vegetables very often. The books only focus on getting the lowest calories possible, and that doesnt always mean its good for you. Report
This sounds like an awesome site. I loved the few ideas that I read. Thanks Report
I have visited the HG site and have one of the cookbooks. The recipes are fun but for me they aren't giving me much in the way of guidance to really improve my bad eating habits to include whole, natural foods, as a lot of the food in the books are based on processed supermarket type concepts.

That said, I do think she is a great resource and I enjoyed the cookbook. I made a few of the items and they were good. Report
Ok I havnt tried any of her recipies YET. But after reading some of the comments I was thinking.. People seem to complain they use processed foods.. Ok this may be the case and I understand people questioning this. I think she has good ideas there about how to lower the calories/fat. If you dont care for non fat products, how difficult would it be to substitute cheese your LIKE for the cheese in her recipies? This way the whole food lovers can adapt to their tastes.
I personally am not quite at the totally whole foods stage yet.. Im also not a fan of alot of fat free stuff.. I like the lite or 2%. From what I have read its a step in the right direction for those trying to make the jump between major junk food to a healthier lifestyle. If Hungry Girl can substitute things in a recipie, why cant those who think she is too processed do the same to suit their own tastes.
Just a thought =) Report
The point of Hungry Girl isn't to give you whole food recipes, it's to make it easier to eat healthy, yummy things. If you're a raw food or whole food or anti-processed food crazed person, HG isn't for you. If you're normal, and don't have the time or energy to make your bread starting with stalks of wheat, HG is awesome. Report
This lady only eats 1200 calories a day and doesn't need to lose weight. I wouldn't trust any of her advice.

She doesn't need to lose weight because she already did by following the program she's now passing on to us. And there's nothing wrong with eating 1200 calories, as long as they're the correct ones - it looks to me like she has a tiny frame, and she probably doesn't need any more than that. Eating more calories than we need is what got all of us on this website in the first place, isn't it? Love Hungry Girl and I will continue to buy her cookbooks and make her recipes! Report
I've not heard of Hungry Girl before. After reading this, I'm interested in checking out her cookbooks and website. thanks! Report
The brownies made with pumpkin were great. I am still looking for the tofu noodles. Hope to find them soon Report
Oooh creme brulee! Can't wait to try it. Report
I love her recipes! I have a folder in my email labeled recipes just for when I get the recipes. I found the website about 2 years ago and I have shared it with all my friends!! Report
this i the first time i've heard of hungry girl. think i'll visit her site Report
I love getting the hungrygirl emails and recipes. Report
I like the 80/20 rule as it would be difficult for me to be good about food and drink for 100% of the time. I like to be good Monday to Friday and relax a little on Saturday and Sunday. Report
I totally agree about the ingredients in that "yogurt". HG also endorses Yoplait light yogurt, and that has high fructose corn syrup in it! HG sort of has the right idea. With tons of people in this country eating tons of high calorie processed food, at least she provides lower calorie alternatives. I prefer real food myself, though! Report
I hate the product endorsements. Has anyone read the ingredients of that "yogurt"? Red dye #40? Hello, is anyone else concerned that it is banned everywhere but the States? And the artificial sweetener and additives? Yuck! I am not a fan at all. I guess some people may find it helpful, but it (HG) is useless to me. Report
Hungry Girl Rocks or maybe I should say Sparks!!! No matter what you think about her or what she looks like or does, you really should check the information she provides! Report
This lady only eats 1200 calories a day and doesn't need to lose weight. I wouldn't trust any of her advice.

Also, tofu shirataki is gross! I'm sure she has some better recipes, I just haven't seen any that use only whole foods. Report
This is the 1st time I've heard of Hungry Girl but the interview was very interesting and I'm going to check out her site and her cook books. Report
Hungry Girl ROCKS!!! Report
First time I've heard of her. I will check it out. Report
I absolutely LOVE Hungry Girl & I have both of her cookbooks. It's kind of irritating that people say she's the "Queen of Processed Food"!!! Have you NEVER gone to a McDonald's or eaten a store bought cookie? I eat fresh fruits, veggies & lean meats every day. In the summer I stick to salads - sometimes for lunch and dinner. So if I make a Hungry Girl recipe a couple times a week, I don't think that's such a bad thing! Regardless, she's my favorite b/c her recipes fit in my calorie range and they TASTE good!! Way to go Lisa - Keep up the awesome work!! Report
I am glad that Hungry Girl is helping people to lose weight and feel good about their diets, but can we stop talking about food in terms of "guilt" and "guilt-free"? Can't we just eat food that we enjoy without the moral judgment? If I choose to eat an order of onion rings instead of an apple, I may be making a less-good food choice, but it doesn't make me a bad person.

Also I would never try to pass off fat-free cream cheese and shirataki noodles as Fettucine Alfredo. That is just ridiculous. Report
I love Hungry Girl's recipes and food reviews. There are so many new products on the shelf that it is great to hear what she recommends. My husband and my favorite recipe is definitely the chicken pot pie. I make this 2-3x a month. It's easy (important for me who is a terrible cook) and delicious. Report
I love Hungry Girl. I have both her books and look forward to purchasing anything else she publishes. I agree 100% with her 80/20 rule. Deprivation is not the way to go. I allow myself something sweet everyday in order to keep a binge from coming on. Hope to see more stuff about Hungry Girl on Sparkpeople.

x Report
I love Hungry Girl! Aside from the good recipes and product reviews, I really appreciate her humor. Report
Love Hungry Girl!!! Thanks for all the great suggestions! Report
I just love HungryGirl and all of the wonderful recipes she's developed. I love her very down to earth attitude!

My very favorite...eat it almost everyday, recipe is the Egg Mug. So easy and tasty and versatile too. I add broccoli or spinach to give my veggies a boost.

A very practical approach to healthy living. :) make your day Sparkle....kath Report
I found Hungry Girl and SparkPeople abotu the same time and BOTH have changed the way I eat forever. My absolute favorite HG recipe is the Cookie Crisp Pudding Shake. I eat Fiber One and Boca Burgers and Laughing Cow cheese and have been inspired to make over several of my own recipes using HG's techniques. I love that I can feel like I'm indulging while staying healthy. Report
Thanks for information and other resources like these. Most of us don't have time to scour the internet to find out about new websites/people, so thank you! I signed up for her newsletter after reading this, but had never heard of her before. Thanks to SparkPeople for not thinking that they're the only resource, and continually trying to "feed" us as much information as possible from wherever they can find it! Keep up the good work! Report
I discovered Hungry Girl a couple of years ago and now receive and read her posts faithfully. Great interview!

I wasn't familiar with Hungry Girl; I bookmarked the website yesterday and looked at it last evening. A great addition to my growing sources of helpful information! Report
i love her. i have both books get her e mail she is great Report
I have heard of Hungry Girl before but have never checked it out. I think I should do so, though, because I like the way she thinks. I know that we are better off to eat all fresh foods and not use processed foods, but in reality when you spend 10 hours a day away from home between the work day and the commute time, processed foods sure come in handy sometimes and I am not ashamed to admit that I use them. I also agree with the 80/20 rule. Depriving oneself just leads to binges. I do not consider any food off limits, but some things should only be eaten on special occasions and/or in small quantities. Report
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