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Hungry Girl is trading the computer screen for the TV screen

January 7, 2011 | 11:38 am

“Hungry Girl” is making the leap to the TV screen. The TV show debuts Saturday on Cooking Channel, starring Lisa Lillien of Encino, a.k.a. the real-life person behind the wildly popular Hungry Girl franchise that started as a daily e-mail blast for about 75 friends and relatives, offering up humorous tips for slashing calories, shopping and restaurant “survival” guides, and plenty of guilt-free recipes. Today, she has a series of bestselling cookbooks as well as a daily e-mail alert that reaches more than 1 million subscribers.

"It's surreal," she said. Lillien is no stranger to the camera. For years, she worked behind the scenes in TV, and since launching “Hungry Girl” she has made frequent TV appearances, such as on “The View” and “The Rachael Ray Show.” But suddenly being the star of her own show has taken some getting used to, especially because so much of “Hungry Girl” revolves about a sassy cartoon character that is the spitting image of Lillien herself.

“It was an adjustment. It was a lot of work and more challenging than I thought it would be,” Lillien said recently. “It’s just you and the camera. It’s all on you. I’m glad that I had done a lot of TV leading up to this so I was able to get all of that behind me.”

The first episode is a seamless transition from the daily e-mail alerts, including the sherbet color schemes, the chuckle-inducing wordplay, casting a spotlight on foods with jaw-dropping calorie counts (like a 900-calorie slice of pizza) –- and how to D.I.Y. in your own kitchen. It’s called “You Wanna Pizza Me?” and is a sort of comedy skit meets cooking show: It opens with Lillien playing the part of a judge overseeing a court battle to determine whether pizza should be banned from the diet.

You know where this one goes, right? After eating some of the evidence, the judge heads into the kitchen to prove that pizza can be a part of any diet -– when done “Hungry Girl” style. (That means a recipe that doesn’t make you feel like you’re on a diet.)

She ditches carb-laden dough for a variety of creative options, including: A low-carb tortilla, an open faced egg-white omelet, a thick slab of eggplant, a green bell pepper that has been pared open to lay flat and even a chicken breast that has been pounded thin. Then, she piles on toppings such as veggies, cheese, turkey pepperoni, soy chorizo –- and still manages to keep the calorie count at less than 300 calories.

There are plenty of clever tips too. Such as: Use a small food processor to pulverize a piece of string cheese. The end result is a portion-controlled cheese topping for your pizza that piles high –- so you feel like you’re eating more than you actually are -- and melts easily.

“I think the content really works well for TV,” Lillien said.

One thing that doesn't make the leap: brands and labels. They're not allowed on the channel. (Pay attention during the supermarket sequence and you'll see all the labels covered up or carefully turned away from the camera.) That's either bad news for those who rely on Lillien to do the supermarket footwork for them or welcome news for those who criticize her for overdoing it with name brands.    

Next up: Her latest cookbook debuts in March, offering 300 recipes under 300 calories, followed by a supermarket guide due out in the fall. “And hopefully 13 more episodes,” she said. “Fingers crossed.”

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch


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Photo credit: Cooking Channel