By Josie Alexander
Devin Alexander is a media personality, weight loss expert, New York Times Bestselling author, healthy comfort food chef, chef of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser”, and the host of “America’s Chefs on Tour” (a great show on PBS).
Not only has she kept her 70-pound weight loss for almost 20 years, she is sharing her secrets (and her bubbly personality) with the world. In addition to TV appearances, her eight cookbooks, and various columns in Men’s Fitness and Women’s Health, she also tours the world lecturing and consulting for companies in order to spread the word of both healthy and delicious food.
Recently, I got a chance to pick at her brain in order to find out about how she lost all that weight and keeps it off, how she can stay so bubbly, and what tips she has for other female entrepreneurs out there. Here is her story and advice through her own words.
The Dieting Death Sentence
Devin is no stranger to weight issues but through her life and struggles she’s learned how to conquer that and keep her weight in check. Not only does she do this for herself but she also helps others achieve this goal with the motto “Dieting isn’t a death sentence.” When you put dieting in the right perspective, your weight loss goals are much easier to tackle.
Devin: Well, when I was 15 I weighed, like, 200 pounds. I keep saying that I basically had two Italian grandmothers that taught me how to cook and get fat. I really did love cooking but I knew that being in the kitchen was a part of why I was 200 pounds and why I kept getting made fun of.
I also knew that I never wanted to give up my Italian family favorites. But then I heard somewhere that if you cut just a 100-calories a day, you can lose about 10 pounds a year and I thought, “Oh my god, that’s nothing!”
So instead of eating, like, chicken and broccoli all day, I could still eat my favorite foods, just not as much of them. It makes sense, you know? 365 days and 100 calories a day, that’s 36,500 calories a year and 3600 calories is a pound. So one year is 10 pounds.
We need to stop looking at dieting as a death sentence. You can still eat what you love, no matter what it is. If you love buffalo wings, by all means, eat buffalo wings. You just need to make sure you know what you really enjoy about eating and focus on that.
For example with potato chips. I never sit in front of the TV with a big bag of potato chips anymore. Instead, when I get the bag home, I put the bag into little single serving bags and then put those bags in the big one. Then when I want some, I just grab a serving bag instead of the big one.
“As a society, we don’t really grasp whole dieting thing. It’s not meant to be torture.”
That’s what started my journey. I had lost all that weight by the end of the college. Also in college, I had written a sitcom (I wanted to be a screenwriter). So I had written this sitcom which got me recruited to California. Then, when I got there I didn’t know anybody so I ended up doing a lot of volunteer work. I volunteered at a lot of celebrity charities.
From Script to Screen
When you’re trying to make it big in California, the whole world may appear like it’s against you. New girl in a new town who doesn’t know anyone – what’s a girl to do? In true Devin fashion, she stayed positive and upbeat and worked her magic on the charity circuit. Always with a big heart, she opened her mind, heart, and kitchen to volunteering. After meeting and hobnobbing with some big names in California, she finally found her true calling.
Devin: Writing scripts is really hard. It’s so competitive. That’s why I thought that I would turn to cooking as my day job. Then I figured that, “Well, no one is going to take me seriously if I don’t have a degree in it” so I went to culinary school – just until my screenwriting career took off.
I started cooking healthier meals so it wouldn’t be a total gorge food-fest all the time. Because I knew that if I was in the kitchen around food all of the time I would get fat again. I just knew it. Then, I ended up owning a catering business for 9 years.
So no more screenwriting. It was just too much and part of it was that I always loved being that person that can show people that they can change their lives and have fun doing it. So I figured that making and selling healthy comfort foods would be great. Of course I was laughed at and not taken seriously for it because I look so young and because no one liked “healthy” foods. It was something that everyone stayed away from.
Making Sure Everyone Was a “Loser”
One of Devin’s achievements is her stint as a healthy cook on The Biggest Loser. By the time that she got the role, she had already been on TV. However, this opportunity almost seemed like fate, because she had walked away from a job that didn’t respect her as the female health chef that she was.
The Biggest Loser actually approached me. I had talked with them before so when it was time for them to hire a new chef, some of the associates were like, “Remember that Devon girl? She had great food and was all about being healthy?” “Oh, she’s perfect! We have to have her!” And that was great because I had just walked away from this opportunity who just didn’t get who I was.
I do healthy food and they didn’t respect that. They were like, “No don’t do healthy. Healthy’s not ‘in’ right now.” I walked away because I was staying true to who I was. I knew that I wanted to make a positive difference in people’s lives and this is how I knew I could make a difference.
“Healthy” is the New Black
When people picture healthy, they just imagine rabbit food and boiled chicken. But healthy is much more than that. Everyone was all “healthy is boring” but I was over there going “No! Healthy is exciting!” Some people say that I sound childish when I talk about food because I’m so excited about it.
I’m just so passionate about it. If you’re so passionate about something it is going to work out. Money comes when you do something that you believe in. I believe in healthy food and I believe that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. Also, I love helping people. It’s so fun to figure out what people’s obstacles are and find a way around it. I helped a guy lose 140 pounds once.
That’s why I love my job so much. My life looks really glamorous but I would not trade my life for anybody and I also wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I get to be pampered. But I woke up at 6:30 in the morning to fit everything in that I have to do in NY. I didn’t get to LA by 2.
So Much Fun You’ll Lose Track of Time
Talking with Devin has been an eye-opening experience because it is so apparent that she loves what she is doing. If you hear her speak, it almost seems like she’s never had a rough day in her life but her life is filled with struggles, just like everyone elses’.
The other morning, I had to be on the set for this product demo right? But then we got stuck in traffic. We were late. The whole thing with this product is that it can ground up this entire steak and we were supposed to show that on camera but when I finally got there, it was already ground.
I was like, “Well, what am I supposed to do now?” Then my assistant didn’t know what she was supposed to do. There was miscommunication about getting all of the food ready. It was one thing after another. But at the end of the day, they said that it was the best product demo they had ever had. More people had shown up to this, than any other demo.
When bad things happen, you just can’t panic. It’s a conscious choice about being happy. If one bad thing happens, we automatically think, “This day has just gone down the toilet”, and then 40 other bad things will go wrong and we’ll scream, “See! See what just happened?” But we have to stop doing that. Sure that first thing may go wrong.
But every minute is a new minute. We have to make the best of it and we can’t give up. When we keep putting forth our best effort, good things will happen.
The same thing goes for your work. People call me an overnight success. I keep saying that I was an overnight success after 14 years. I’m still fighting the fight. You’re always trying to improve and trying to do more.
Entrepreneurial Advice from the Stars
3AM work days. Cross-country red-eye flights. 23- hour work days. Unscheduled chaos. These days aren’t unique to Devin. Some of you may have just experienced this. You may be reading this magazine on a plane right now. So how does Devin handle these situations?
Do something that it’s the only thing that you are drawn to do because that’s what’s going to make the 6AM to 5AM the next morning work days worth it. Also, try to do as much charity work as you possibly can. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have any funding. Then I turned to some volunteering opportunities. Try to work with people who are disabled. Try walking some dogs. You find what you love by trying things. You’ll also come up with some great networking opportunities by volunteering.
And spend the money to have a great team. Our retention rate is fantastic. These people that we hire are contributing to my dream so I always want to make sure that they are taken care of. I hire the people who I think will do a great job and I treat them well. I don’t even allow them to buy me birthday presents or Christmas presents. I tell them, “If you buy one for me, I’ll fire you.” And, I do this because they are giving me the biggest gift of all – they’re helping me with my dream.
I have them tell me all of their ideas. Every idea that they have. The best ideas start as a seed and it can come from anywhere. So you may have this idea that won’t work now but it might be able to work for this other thing or this other project. And, if I do have to reject an idea, I always tell them why. It helps let them know that I was listening and that I didn’t just reject their idea for the sake of rejection.
Girls Just Want to Have “Funding”
One of the hardest issues that new business owners have to tackle when it comes to start-ups is funding. Where do we get that start-up funding? For some of us, we seem to have no options to turn to. For others, it seems like there are so many options but it is unclear which option is the best for us.
I always made sure that I had some form of money rolling in, whether it was from the catering business or whatever. Like, [the catering business] kind of fell in my lap while I was volunteering. They noticed how great my food was and so that business opportunity came out of nowhere.
But, also I go after people but I’m also selective. I, like, minor-ly stalk the owner. I mean, I’m joking of course but I make it clear that I love their product. That’s an investment to invite them over to taste my food. I make sure that it is perfect: taste, presentation, everything. Then, if I work hard at it, it will come back to me.
Yeah, I know that I have a unique talent to make food healthy. I believe in myself. That was the believe that (1) know that I can help other people (2) I was just so sure that it was going to work out. There have been times where it was hard but I just kept telling myself that this is what I can do to help the world so I’m going to do it.
Looking Into the Crystal Ball
All work and no play makes Devin a determined woman. She is a fast-rising star in the food industry and she has done this without compromising her values. When “healthy” was viewed as boring and not “the current fad” she pushed onward with her vision. While her future may be bright with stardom and shiny kitchen utensils and gadgets, she is also looking for something else.
In ten years, I would love to have a family and to do what I’m doing but not in a crazy way. I hope that I can still be doing Royal Caribbean but I hope to take that to land too. My goal has always been to be that girl that makes amazing food. I want people to say, “Oh my gosh, you have to try her stuff” and “Devinly is the new healthy.” I just want us to live in a “devinly” world. I think people struggle but they don’t need to and the same in business. We make mistakes because we haven’t met the right people or done the right things.
Has Success Gone to Her Head?
Despite her success, Devin is down to earth. She is excitable, bubbly, and is a great inspiration for women who are looking for success with benevolent intentions.
I’m the lowest maintenance woman, haha. I don’t even own a hairbrush. That might seem crazy because I’ve got long hair but if you even come near it with a brush, it will turn into a giant afro of frizz. After a shower, I just grab a comb and give it a once over then I leave it alone. Sure, there are make-up artists on sets and stuff but I won’t let them near my hair with a hairbrush. I’m just like, “I don’t think you understand what that will do to my head.”
Look out for her line of healthy treats (Devinly Delites), her latest book, and her line of food served on Royal Caribbean. If you’re looking to see more of Devin, you’ll probably find her on the beach playing her favorite, new sport (beach tennis) or on the set of a Ninja Blender Demo.