The Pound a Day Diet might be his fourth health-conscious cookbook (and tenth total), but Rocco DiSpirito, who used to be 30 pounds overweight himself, didn’t always tread so lightly in the kitchen.
“My food was as rich, lush, and indulgent as it gets. Everything was carefully considered with one exception: Was it healthy?” he told PEOPLE.
The moment he calls “the impetus for the whole thing” happened six years ago, when a doctor told him he’d need medication to treat his cholesterol and high blood pressure. “Then he said ‘these drugs will also affect libido, so when you need a prescription for Viagra, just call me,’ and I was like, whoa,” he says.
But DiSpirito overcame both issues through diet and exercise and has kept the weight off by eating his own healthful, high-flavor meals. “I was training for a triathlon and realized that there was no way I could just eat bars and goos, they don’t taste good, so I started experimenting, and now this way of cooking is hard-wired into my brain and not a question anymore.”
The meal plans in The Pound a Day Diet are modeled after the way Dispirito ate to lose weight, and the initial promise is a tempting one: Lose five pounds in the first five days, and see a significant transformation within three months, depending on how much you have to lose.
Of course, during the first month you’ll be expected to eat just 850 calories on weekdays and 1,200 on weekends, but DiSpirito swears that if you make his recipes, you won’t be depressed or starving. “If you don’t cook you’re not in control, you’ve completely given up your power, because most of what’s available is really bad for you and we’ve become blind to it,” he says. However, for those who really don’t want to get behind the stove (or need a break), he does suggest a store-bought meal, drink, or snack that can swapped in for every recipe.
Once you reach your goal weight, Dispirito suggests maintaining it by following the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil as its foundation. He also suggests savoring your meals the way they do in Europe to stay on track. “People sit and talk a lot, like when you eat in Italy you have fun, it’s a magical exchange of energy. That’s a big part of not filling the void with unhealthy junk food,” he says.
Dispirito also works as a nutrition coach to celebs like Sherri Shepherd, Joy Behar and Jes Gordon. Shepherd, who’s lost more than 30 pounds since October and has written a book called Plan D about Type II diabetes, has raved about her success on both The View and social media. “Went to another level in healthy eating w @RoccoDiSpirito,” she recently posted on Instagram.
Dispirito describes Shepherd as “a good sport who complains very little” and says she loves his recipes that feel “snacky and junk food-y,” such as the sweet potato chips and the super popcorn-kale crumble, which he shared with PEOPLE. Both can be made in the microwave in just a few simple steps and have about 40 calories per serving!
Above all, the Restaurant Divided host believes that any weight loss plan must be enjoyable (seriously!). “A diet that deprives someone of pleasure is not sustainable for the long term, and I can safely say that people will swoon when they try these dishes. That’s the thing that inspires my work and makes me want to share it,” he says.
Sweet Potato Chips
Makes 4 servings
Olive oil cooking spray
½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
6 oz. sweet potato, peeled and sliced ⅛ inch thick on a mandoline
1. Spray a large microwave-safe plate with one second of cooking spray and sprinkle a little Old Bay seasoning on the bottom of the plate. Place some of the sweet potato slices on the plate in a single layer. Spray with one second of the cooking spray and then sprinkle each slice with some Old Bay. Microwave on high heat for 1 minute. Flip over each chip and microwave until the chips are lightly browned and crisp, about another minute.
2. Repeat the first step until all the remaining potato slices are cooked. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for later use.
Tip: Try some other flavors and spices, like your favorite BBQ spice rub, or curry, or you can find some really fine flavors online, like sour cream and onion!
Nutritional information per serving: 37 calories, 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 103.5mg sodium, 8.5g carbohydrate,1.5g fiber, 1g protein
Super Popcorn-Kale Crumble
Makes 4 servings
1 bunch Tuscan kale (about 18 leaves), leaves only
Olive oil cooking spray (such as Pam)
4 cups air-popped popcorn
Salt and crushed red pepper flakes
1. Lay the kale out on a microwave-safe plate, spray with one second of cooking spray, and cook on high for one minute. Flip the leaves and cook on high until the leaves are dried and crisp, about another minute.
2. Toss the kale crisps with the popcorn, season with salt and crushed red pepper flakes, and serve in a bowl.
Tip: Add some ripped nori paper for a nice flavor and a good boost of nutrition from the seaweed’s high fiber, protein, and vitamin C content.
Nutritional information per serving: 40 calories, 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 8mg sodium, 8g carbohydrate, 1.5g fiber, 1.5g protein