Plant Chat: Bob Harper, The Biggest Loser

Sharon Palmer

It is such a pleasure to have Bob Harper from The Biggest Loser on my Plant Chat today! Bob has worked as a personal trainer for celebrity clients, and as a trainer on the U.S. version of The Biggest Loser reality television series since 2004. In addition to his appearances, speaking dates, and writing, Harper teaches regular classes in Los Angeles and works as a yoga instructor. In early 2010, he launched, a website where subscribers can discuss weight loss and receive coaching. The success of his site led to the release of his first workout DVD series in May, titled “Bob Harper: Inside Out Method.” He is also the author of the new book, The Super Carb Diet. Continue reading to learn more about Bob’s nutrition philosophy and his frightening heart attack experience.

We all thought you were so healthy. How did you have a heart attack?

This has been the million-dollar question ever since I suffered a heart attack in February 2017. The truth is, even healthy people get heart attacks. It’s an unfortunate truth. You can be the healthiest person on the planet, but there are still some unknown factors when it comes to heart attacks. What we do know is that there is genetic predisposition— meaning, you could carry a gene that makes you high-risk for a heart attack. My mother and grandfather both died of one, so it was something I was aware of, but many people are   not. Nowadays, doctors can test for your genetic predisposition so you can be aware of your risk. Like I said before, it’s also important to have these conversations with your living relatives while you can. I know everyone doesn’t always have the best relationship with their parents or grandparents, but getting the information you need regarding their health history is important. It’s also vital that you share that information with your primary care physician. Most doctors will ask when you go in for a physical. Be sure to let them know your family history so they can monitor what is needed. And for all the skeptics out there, know that you can work out and eat right, but still be at risk of a heart attack. What I want people to understand from my story is that practicing a healthy lifestyle will reduce your chances of heart disease AND give you a greater chance at full recovery if you do have heart issues. If you don’t take care of yourself, you might not come out of that heart attack alive, let alone recover from it. Let’s stack the deck in our favor as much as possible.

Is it common for women to suffer from heart attacks or is it mostly men?

YES! I think because movies and television always show men getting heart attacks that people tend to think women are immune. It’s everyone. Male and female. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. In 2013, 289,758 women died of heart disease, or about 1   in every 4 female deaths. And according to the American Heart Association, a heart attack strikes someone, male or female, about every 43 seconds.

For those that are gluten-free; what advise do you have about eating healthy carbs?

First, I want to stress that if you THINK you   have a gluten allergy, you need to go to an allergist to get confirmation. Get checked and find out if it’s for real. If it is, fine. Just because you are gluten-free does not mean you can’t eat carbs. Fruit is gluten-free, but we know that there are also quite a bit of carbs in fruit. You can also have things like rice and quinoa, which are certainly not carb-free, but they are gluten-free. Don’t let a gluten allergy dissuade you from carbs, because there are TONS of food options that remain.

For those that are vegan; can they eat healthy carbs?

Yes. I was vegan for a long time, and I see lots of benefits in the lifestyle, particularly as it relates to heart health. I want you using your body weight to calculate the amount of protein per meal. The protein source you eat is up to you. However, a lot of the protein options for vegans are also very high in carbs. If you’re eating a protein like quinoa, you are getting some protein, but it’s incredibly high in carbs. To reach both the balance in the numbers, you would need to have something like a pea protein supplement. It’s doable. To make it easier, I’ve included some vegetarian recipes in the back of this book.

What if people don’t have time to work out?  

First of all, you should be able to find thirty minutes to work out three to five times a week. If you absolutely cannot do that, then you need to be even more strict with your carb, protein, and fat numbers. Carbs are fuel, but you won’t need AS MUCH fuel if you aren’t physically active. If that’s the case, you need to lower your numbers to find what works for you to lose weight. Remember, I gave you a cap for your meals. Falling under those numbers is okay, particularly if you aren’t actively working out. I prefer that you go to the gym, but we all go through times in our life when it isn’t possible. If that happens during your ninety days, just cut back on your numbers.

What are your thoughts on high-fat diets?

I’ve done the high-fat diets. You know, the ones where you can have unlimited bacon, but no bread. They tell you that you can eat all the red meat you want. No.   That’s not balanced. And it’s also not realistic for a sustainable future. You may lose some quick weight and think it’s working perfectly, but eventually, you’re going to have carbs again. As soon as you do, the weight will start to come back quicker than ever. Don’t try to trick your body into thinking a fat is a carb. It’s not. A carb is a carb, and “carb” is not a dirty word. Carbs are not bad. They are fuel for our body. There’s good carbs, and there’s carbage. Stay away from the carbage and you’ll be doing great.

Does is matter if people work out in the morning or at night?

No. You can work out anytime you can fit it into your schedule. I prefer my workout in the morning because I get it out of the way and can enjoy the rest of my day without it lingering in the back of my mind. If you only have time after work or at nighttime, go for it. What I don’t want you to do is put it off until it’s too late. You know what I’m talking about. You say you’re going to work out at night or after work, but then seven o’clock rolls around, you slowly put on your gym clothes while watching an episode of Rachael Ray that you DVR’ed with me as the co-host. Soon, it’s eight o’clock and you haven’t filled your water bottle. The clock strikes 8:45 and you decide it’s best to just skip your workout for the day and go to bed early. We’ve all done it. That’s why I want you to do the workout whenever you can, but try to schedule it every day accordingly. Put it in your calendar if that helps you remember. If you say you’re going to work out at eight o’clock, then make sure you are walking in the gym doors at eight o’clock.

What advise do you have for families with children who need to lose weight?

I always tell parents to start by making their kids lunches. It makes all the difference. Even though many schools around the country have moved toward a well-balanced plate, they still aren’t perfect. Far from it. The only way to ensure that your kids are eating healthy at school is to pack lunch for them. Of course, you can’t always be sure what your kids do with it once they’re in school, but at least you have a start. Follow through by making well-rounded dinners and encouraging some form of exercise. Just get them moving. I know not all kids are into sports, but you must find something for them to do that will get them active. If your kids are gamers, buy them a game that will get them off their butts and moving while they play. (VR games are very interactive nowadays, and Nintendo has always made great games that encourage a lot of movement.) If your kid is into art and design, find a theater for him or her to join. Acting and stage management require a lot of movement. Do whatever you need to do to get kids moving and keep them active.

The contestants on The Biggest Loser lose weight so quickly. How is that possible?

I get this all the time! People think that they should be able to lose weight as quickly as the contestants on The Biggest Loser. It’s not realistic. Contestants are working on their weight loss twenty-four hours a day when they come on the show. It becomes their full-time job. They have the very best trainers, nutritionists, and doctors at their disposal. If you are expecting to lose weight as rapidly as they are, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

What do you think about a bunch of small meals vs. three big ones?

In all my experience, I’ve found that when people are told they can eat a bunch of small meals, they aren’t aware of how much food they are eating. Everything is spread out over such a long period that people lose track of what they’ve already had throughout the day. Keeping the bulk of your calories to three square meals will give you a better sense of   the calories you are ingesting. It will also ensure that you are filling up during those three main meals so you don’t have to keep snacking throughout the day. We don’t want snacking.

What should people look for in a trainer?

If you are hiring a trainer, remember that trainers are working for you. Don’t just throw your money at anyone. That means you can interview them and ask as many questions as you need to before hiring them. If they have a problem with that, move on to someone who doesn’t.

The first thing I recommend asking them is what training certifications they have. I always see printed signs for personal trainers posted on telephone poles and subways. Occasionally, it will just be some muscly guy or girl looking to make a few extra bucks on the side without doing any schooling. You will likely have to spend lots of money on personal training, so make sure you are getting a trainer that’s worth   it. You should also ask if they are CPR certified. It’s great to know you have someone around who could save your life if you need it, AND it shows that they care about their work.

Once you sign up, be clear with what your goals are. Tell the trainer if you want to lose weight or just put on muscle. They can program the workouts accordingly. These criteria can be applied to finding a gym, too. If you are signing up for any sort of group fitness classes, make sure coaches are athletes who are able to live up to these requirements.

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