Chili peppers, hot sauce, vinegar, grapefruit and lots of water. That’s the recipe “Access Hollywood” reporter and NBC News entertainment correspondent Maria Menounos used to go from a size 14 college student to the size 4 television personality she is today.
Menounos had never talked publicly about her formerly plump self until agreeing to tell her story to Fitness magazine, which features her on its current cover. She and the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Betty Wong, talked with TODAY’s Ann Curry Monday about how Menounos took the weight off and keeps it off.
Curry’s first question was why Menounos decided to go public with a story that many woman may want to keep to themselves.
“It’s something that I think a lot of women obviously battle with,” Menounos replied. “And it doesn’t have to be that hard. Oprah coined the phrase ‘the aha moment,’ and I had that aha moment where I realized, ‘OK, I’m done with this. I need to make a change.’ ”
Beware the dorm diet
In the Fitness magazine article, Menounos, a former Miss Massachusetts Teen USA, said she started gaining weight when she went away to Emerson College in Boston. Highly competitive, she challenged boys to eating contests and fell into a high-carb “dorm diet” built around popular college food groups: pizza and French fries.
Within two years, Menounos had gained 40 pounds. Pictures of her from that time show a young woman with a full figure, but hardly what anyone would call fat. Still, the weight felt uncomfortable on Menounos’ 5-foot-8 frame. She also knew that she wanted to go into television.
“All it really took was a dedication to making better choices,” she told Curry. “I didn’t consider myself to be on a diet. I never thought about a diet. I never weighed myself. I just started to cut back on everything that I was eating that was bad.”
Menounos, Wong and Curry all agreed that size 14 doesn’t qualify as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “For most people, that’s normal,” Curry observed.
Wong agreed, but added that what mattered was how Menounos felt about herself.
“She wasn’t happy at that weight,” Wong said. “She wasn’t comfortable in that body.”
Menounos lost the first 20 pounds in about five months all by herself.
“I worked on everything I ate for a week – every single thing,” she explained. “I realized, ‘OK, my problem is carbs.’ So I started to cut back on my carbs and started replacing [them] with better food. I ate a grapefruit in the morning. I had heard that grapefruit burns fat, so it was the first thing I would eat. I ate a lot of spicy peppers and jalapenos and a lot of vinegar, which I already loved anyhow, because I also heard that burns fat.”
Wong said Menounos’ intuition was spot on.
The other smart thing Menounos did was to keep a gallon of drinking water with slices of fresh lemon in it in the refrigerator. Often, when people think they’re hungry, they’re really just thirsty. And if they are hungry, drinking plenty of water will fill the stomach, Wong said.
There’s also another factor at work, she added. If you drink water, “you don’t get used to drinking diet soda and soft drinks, because then you actually get used to that sugary taste and then your body starts craving those sugary calories.”
After losing the first 20 pounds, Menounos realized she needed help to get the next 20 off. A college student, she didn’t have a lot of money. But she paid $55 for one session with a personal trainer, who gave her a thrice-weekly workout routine that included both strength and cardiovascular exercises.
Menounos asked the trainer to write down the workout. Nearly a decade later, the 30-year-old star still has the workout sheet.
But she’s also moved on to other exercises, including the Israeli martial art Krav Maga. At her photo shoot for the Fitness cover, Menounos reportedly invited members of the crew to slug her rock-hard stomach.
“Additionally, she runs on the treadmill, plays basketball with the Access Hollywood crew and works out with a trainer when she's home and does squats when she's on the phone,” the magazine reports.
Menounos said she doesn’t deny herself treats. But when she indulges, she makes up for it.
“I think it’s a balance,” she told Curry. “I definitely don’t deprive myself. I eat whatever I want, but in smaller portions. Then if I have a bad weekend, like I did this weekend, I’m going to make sure that the rest of this week I have fresh salads with fresh chicken on it — very healthy choices.
“So I get to eat what I want, but when I have what I want and it’s not good, I make sure I make some better choices for the next couple days.”
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