Hungry Girl: the recipe for food blogging success

Lisa Lillien loves pizza – but hates getting fat. Now her tips for guilt-free eating have made her one of the world's most influential food bloggers. By Rob Sharp
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Blood-red and saffron, an after-work mai tai can soothe anxieties, kick-start confidence – and pour hundreds of calories into your system. So what's the secret to enjoying this elixir without mainlining sugar? Hungry Girl, a US blog started in 2003 as one woman's quest to enjoy food healthily and without guilt, suggests you "pace yourself and cool it on the calories once you've thrown back a boozy drink". The thinking being, once you're drunk, your ability to prioritise healthy eating dematerialises with your inhibitions; try a low-calorie alternative instead. Sensible eh? Lisa Lillien, the former TV marketing manager behind the site, has a habit of scattering knowledge as one would dispense tips to pals. Women have duly responded in droves with their mouse-clicks. Now, Lillien is one of the most powerful food bloggers in the world, has a staff of 12, and has just secured a $10m book deal for eight forthcoming recipe annuals, the "Hungry Girl" series, books full of sermon-free ways to enjoy food while avoiding putting on weight.

"I'm just an average female, struggling with the food issues most females struggle with every day," says Lillien. "I try the latest fad diets. I consider myself a foodologist, not because I have some kind of fancy degree, but because I am obsessed with food, how wonderful it is, and how much of it will make it impossible for me to fit into my pants."

So where did the idea come from? Lillien worked in digital marketing at the TV channel Nickelodeon, a career that taught her how to sell products to a target audience: women of a similar age to her (44), looking to shed pounds. She claims she was always obsessed with taste, has struggled with her weight (she subscribes to a WeightWatchers diet) and began her online adventuring after several months of focused strategising and branding. "Hungry Girl was never a housewife sitting around blogging in her bathrobe," she says.

Now, the website – with its 1960s-inspired, folksy avatars and flourescent garnish – offers sections on new products and delicious recipes, as well as an idiot's guide on how to slalom through the dietary perils of eating out. Around a million people subscribe to the blog's free daily email, a mash-up of advice and opinion on how to consume as few calories as possible while filling up on tastier, traditionally calorific foods (such as pizza or Buffalo wings).

Lillien has also attracted criticism, however. Her opponents claim it is unethical to advocate a route to weight loss via Cool Whip Lite, a US brand of whipped cream, or onion soup mix – does this also not promote yo-yoing waistlines? But the blogger is predictably unrepentant, claiming her ideas articulate what American women really eat. "Losing and maintaining weight is not a temporary change, it's a lifestyle, but it doesn't mean that life gets less fun. I live in the middle of a supermarket," she says. "But I live in the real world and my people don't need me to tell them they should be eating steamed halibut."

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