Lisa Lillien, B.A.’87
By Carol Olechowski
I always loved food but had a weird relationship with it,” confesses Lisa Lillien. Growing up on Long Island, N.Y., “the child of a yo-yo dieter, I was always a little chubby and watching what I ate. In my teens and 20s, I went up and down about 15 pounds.” At UAlbany, where she majored in communications and minored in business administration, “I didn’t gain the ‘freshman 15,’ but I definitely wasn’t losing weight. I would eat Denny’s Grand Slam breakfasts after going out to The Lamp Post – or pizza at 3 a.m. Not ideal!
everal years ago, however, Lillien hit upon a unique way to conquer her “obsession” with food, maintain a healthy weight, follow a common-sense diet – and help other women to do the same. “I have a knack for finding products that taste great but are low in calories and fat, and also ways to make homemade food that tastes super-fattening but isn’t,” she says. “And I love to share my findings and ideas with people. One day, the idea to create sort of an umbrella diet brand from a regular person, as opposed to a doctor or a dietitian, popped into my brain. It needed to be fun and a little sassy, not boring. So Hungry Girl was born.”
Hungry Girl began in 2004 as a free e-mail that went out to fewer than 100 people each day under the heading “Tips and Tricks … for Hungry Chicks.” In the years since, Lillien has continued to “deliver the content in a very personal way,” serving up to subscribers such artfully titled entree, side-dish and snack options as “Hakuna Frittata!” “Los Tacos Locos” and “Lord of the Onion Rings” and suggesting low-calorie, low-fat substitutions for packaged foods. Currently, “the e-mail reaches 1.1 million people daily. And that list has grown 100-percent organically – via word of mouth,”
As an undergraduate, Lillien planned for a career in entertainment and media, despite having “no connections in the field at all. I always felt I was a little entrepreneurial, though, and would one day start a business.” She completed internships at an Albany television station and at Tutti Frutti, a Long Island “teen fanzine” that hired her as editor-in-chief right after graduation. Lillien later worked for Nickelodeon, then for Warner Bros., before assuming the Hungry Girl persona full time several years ago.
“The growth of the brand” has opened many doors for its creator. Lillien has written a New York Daily News column and five cookbooks (“all New York Times best sellers – and three No. 1s!”), including Hungry Girl 300 Under 300: 300 Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Dishes Under 300 Calories. She hosts the “Hungry Girl” television program, airing on both Food Network and the Cooking Channel, and produces “weekly content” for Yahoo!, WeightWatchers.com and Redbook magazine. In addition, the California-based Lillien makes personal appearances around the U.S.
Her greatest challenge, Lillien finds, is “juggling all the work. I do have a staff of about 12 people now who work with me on all things HG, but I work so many hours and don’t like to say no, and so I have very little free time these days.”
Still, Lillien, who admits to having “a really big appetite,” always has time to whip up her favorite recipe: “Lord of the Onion Rings.”