THESE DAYS, DEVIN ALEXANDER LOVES telling people she is what she eats. Having lost more than 55 pounds from her days as an overweight teenager growing up in California, Alexander is excited to bring her “healthful eating can be fun” message to this year's Healthy Foods International Exposition and Conference.
“I'm really excited about the show, because it's needed,” she said. “People are so much more open to healthful food than they used to be, and getting the food industry and supermarkets involved is another step in the right direction.”
Alexander will be the featured guest at HFI's opening night reception, where she'll cook up and serve appetizers from her new book, “The Most Decadent Diet Ever.” On the second day of the show, she'll be leading cooking demos on the show floor and signing copies of her book.
“It sounds like a fad diet book, but it's actually the opposite. It's a plan for healthy living that allows you to enjoy everything you love to eat,” she said.
Alexander comes to HFI with a strong resume and an infectious spirit sure to leave a positive impression on all attendees. She is the author of three books. Besides her most recent, she also wrote “Fast Food Fix: 75+ Amazing Recipe Makeovers of Your Fast Food Restaurant Favorites” and “The Biggest Loser Cookbook,” inspired by her numerous appearances on the hit NBC television series. She currently has her own program on the Discovery Health Channel; “Health Decadence with Devin Alexander” can be seen Thursdays at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. (ET). She is also the spokeswoman for the Weight Watchers Smart Ones brand, having helped to develop four meals that are part of the new Fruit Inspirations line, with colorful names like Cranberry Turkey Medallions and Pineapple Beef Teriyaki. Alexander points out the idea behind the new products is to make health as exciting as possible, starting with the food.
“We know what we're supposed to be eating,” said Alexander. “But we tend to take it to extremes, so that people go from eating fast food every day to plain chicken and steamed broccoli, and they fall off the wagon.”
Alexander's goal as founding spokes-chef of HFI is to bring her enthusiasm and practical ideas about healthful living to food retailers, so that they, in turn, can bring them to their customers. Her approach to healthful living and diet is based on moderation and exercise, rather than deprivation. Too many dieters fail, she points out, because they feel as if they're constantly giving up foods they love. This approach is usually doomed to fail as the person's willpower weakens and their resentment grows.
“My philosophy is that you compromise to the point where you're comfortable dieting, and able to do it long term,” Alexander said. “And, you'll see results; and those results, in turn, create more results. You're more willing to do more, because you're feeling better and looking better.”
The celebrity chef and diet expert is an avid supermarket shopper, and has come to see the food store as an untapped resource for those struggling with their weight.
“There's so much people don't know about grocery stores, and there's so many products that are available,” she said. “People don't use the resources available there. For instance, a lot of stores don't carry ground chicken, yet people don't know you can ask the butcher to grind it at most stores for free.”
To be sure, dieting and maintaining a healthy weight is not easy, especially if a person is going it alone. One of the misconceptions Alexander fights is that too much of even a good food like olive oil can cause more harm than good.
“People don't realize that cutting just one tablespoon of olive oil from their diet, every day, will yield an average 14-pound weight loss a year,” she said.
The chef gets her ideas while shopping for food. Alexander loves supermarket shopping, and even prefers it to restaurant dining or room service while she's traveling around the country.
“I'm always asking for a refrigerator for my hotel room, because I go to supermarkets to buy my food,” she noted.
As a shopper, Alexander has high praise for supermarkets. As a healthful lifestyle chef, however, she thinks the food industry could take an even bigger leading role in guiding people to a more healthful diet. For example, people know they should eat broccoli, but what can be done to make such meals more exciting?
“If broccoli's on sale, what about putting a recipe up with the other ingredients next to it?” Alexander asked. “I love the video monitors they have in stores nowadays. What if they could feature more on healthful products? And put those items on sale more often?”
Adding dietitians to the staff of the supermarket has been another proactive development, she added. But Alexander feels stores should make sure such experts are also familiar with creating nutritious meals, as chefs are. While she doesn't pretend to be a nutritionist, Alexander notes many nutritionists act as chefs, but have little experience to back it up.
“Supermarkets kind of need both. Dietitians can tell you to put the broccoli with tomatoes to consume more antioxidants. But that doesn't mean it's going to taste good,” she said.
Through her books, her own television series and appearances on reality programs like “The Biggest Loser,” Alexander says she hopes to inspire overweight, inactive people everywhere that it is possible to change without making it an exercise in depravation and pain. Anyone who is overweight or in ill health has options.“The bottom line is there are a lot of people sitting on their sofa, saying, ‘This is genetic.’ But when you watch the contestants on shows like ‘The Biggest Loser,’ you have to at least question if it's genetic. Of course, there are exceptions,” she said.
“But just because your father and mother were heavy doesn't mean you're doomed to the same size. You might have to work harder and be more willing to change, but it can be done. And when you watch the contestants lose hundreds of pounds of body weight, it gets pretty hard to sit there and still say, ‘I'm always going to be fat.’”