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Hunger Dame

Is your tummy rumbling? Lisa Lillien knows just what to do. The savvy-eating expert behind the Hungry Girl brand dishes tips and whips up dishes to satisfy the healthiest of appetites.

At 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the following post pops up on Hungry Girl’s Facebook page:

Hungry Girl

Enjoying a pre-workout banana. Wish I was enjoying a pre-workout NAP. Zzzzzzzz… HELLLPPPP!!!

It’s this honest, self-deprecating, hey-girlfriend brand of humor that makes Hungry Girl—a.k.a. Lisa Lillien—so popular with the 1.2 million fans who receive her daily emails, which list diet-friendly food finds and offer “survival tips” for weekend eating.

They are tips Lillien, 46, of Encino, Calif., learned from experience when she worked her way down to a healthy weight after a lifetime of yo-yo dieting. Lillien credits her success to listening to her body. During her transformation, she discovered she felt most energetic when eating lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and that she was a “volume eater” who didn’t feel satisfied unless she had large portions on her plate.

“Some people say, ‘I’d rather have three bites of the real thing than some substitute.’ If that works for you, that’s great,” Lillien says. “I personally love eating big portions. The key is being really self-aware and finding a lifestyle you can live with forever.” To ensure she didn’t miss indulgent treats, Lillien also focused on finding or creating low calorie versions of sweets, sauces and high-calorie snacks.

And in 2004, she dreamed up a platform to share her secrets with women everywhere. Lillien, then a Warner Bros. executive, set out to create a brand that provided information about food in a fun and relatable way—with the disclaimer that she’s not a doctor or dietitian. She’s “just hungry.” Lillien conjured up a character meant to be a cartoon version of herself and sent the first Hungry Girl emails to about 100 subscribers—mostly friends, family and colleagues.

Six years later, more than 1 million readers receive her daily emails, and she has published six cookbooks, with her seventh, Hungry Girl to the Max!, debuting this fall.

Lillien occasionally catches flak for her use of packaged products such as Splenda and Fat Free Cool Whip in recipes. But Lillien says her critics are missing the point: to provide healthy eaters with lightened-up alternatives that satisfy inevitable cravings.

“I think Hungry Girl is popular because it’s realistic. It’s okay now and then to have a 100-calorie pack of Oreos,” Lillien says. “Is that as healthful as eating an apple? No. Is it healthier than a 650-calorie cupcake? Yes. I’m just trying to help people make informed choices.”

Hungry Girl Tips for Healthy Chicks

Plan. Make food choices ahead of time. Lillien packs snacks when she knows she’ll have a long day and decides before entering a restaurant whether to order dessert.

Snack. Eat several small meals throughout the day. Lillien likes snacking on portion-controlled packs of almonds, jerky and fruit like Fuji apples, oranges and bananas.

Follow the 80-20 rule. Aim to make healthy choices at least 80 percent of the time and don’t sweat the other 20 percent. Lillien says if she shares a plate of French fries at dinner, “I don’t beat myself up about it.”

Love your workout. Get fit at your own speed. Lillien doesn’t run, but walks briskly for 40 to 60 minutes daily and works out with a personal trainer a few times per week.

Find more than 600 recipes and other great tips in Hungry Girl To The Max!