Five years ago, Audrey Johns was facing some daunting life challenges.
She and her husband, Chris, both lost their jobs in the Orange County housing industry after the real estate bubble burst. They had an infant daughter to care for. And Audrey Johns was obese, having ballooned to 275 pounds.
But since moving to Atascadero in 2011 and embarking on a food writing career, she has transformed her life.
The book, “Lose Weight by Eating: 130 Amazing Clean Eating Recipe Makeovers for Guilt-Free Comfort Food,” tells how Johns learned to eat a healthy diet and shed pounds, offering readers 130 recipes as well as insights into her personal success story and weight loss tips.
Those recipes include plenty of dishes that one wouldn’t normally associate with healthy eating — bacon jalapeño mac and cheese, giant breakfast cookies and sausage pizza, to name a few.
Johns has steadily built a reputation as a food writer through blogging and social media posts; she has appeared on television shows such as the ABC reality competition “The Taste” and CBS’s “The Rachael Ray Show.” In 2013, she self-published the book “Fruit Infusion: A Collection of Day Spa Inspired, Fruit Infused Waters,” which tells readers how to break their addictions to soda and sugary drinks.
Johns currently has more than 186,000 likes on her Facebook page.
At her heaviest, Johns had been drinking up to five diet sodas a day. Later she determined that they contributed to her retaining weight, even with dieting.
“I tried every diet I could think of and none of them worked for me, or I’d lose 15 pounds but then gain the weight right back,” Johns said. “With a lot of research, I found a way to eat clean meals on a budget that I like and that make me feel satisfied, and that helped me to lose weight.”
Johns, 36, now weighs about 130 pounds, and her clothing has dropped from size 24 to size 4. Her medical bills also have decreased substantially, she said.
In her book her four main goals to a healthy, low-budget weight loss plan are:
▪ Skip processed food and drinks and go all natural.
▪ Plan for and keep a log of all foods and drinks you consume.
▪ Get your body moving. (Diet makes up 70 percent of weight loss and exercise is 30 percent, she says.)
▪ Drink a gallon of water every day.
Johns calls herself “a girl with a big appetite” who loves food. She wasn’t eager to reduce portion sizes to a bare minimum — noting that, at one point, she was consuming less than 1,000 calories per day but still gaining weight because of what she was eating.
Instead of eating convenience foods that came out of a box, drive-through takeout and quick microwaved meals, she said, she began studying how to shop for natural ingredients and cook in a way that satisfied her appetite.
“If your stomach is telling your brain that you’re satisfied, then you won’t have the urge to eat more,” Johns said. “But with processed foods, your body is telling your brain it’s still hungry shortly after you eat.”
She looked up nutrition information online and poured through books such as “Pretty Delicious: Lean and Lovely Recipes for a Healthy, Happy New You” by Candice Kumai and “How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking” by Nigella Lawson. (The latter was a gift from Johns’ late mother.)
Johns’ conclusion was to craft a diet consisting of about 50 percent vegetables, with additional emphasis on lean protein and whole grains.
One of her healthy eating tricks is to hide vegetables in flavors that drown out the veggie taste.
“My husband detests carrots, but he loves sloppy joes,” Johns said. “I have a recipe that includes the carrots in the sloppy joes, and he has no idea he’s eating carrots. I haven’t told him. He’s making his way through the book, and he’ll find out soon.”
Her 323-calorie veggie-packed lasagne dish consists of about 50 percent veggies and offers the option of incorporating chicken or turkey sausage into the mix of mushrooms, zucchini and garlic.
“My neighbors just loved it,” Johns said. “I grind up the sausage, and the mushroom sucks up all of the flavor. It’s really not that much meat, but it gives it that illusion.”
For her 262-calorie blue cheese buffalo burger, Johns recommends using ground buffalo meat instead of beef, with a chunky blue cheese dip that features onions, Greek yogurt and crumbled blue cheese and ground black pepper veggie sticks.
“The dip takes the place of mayonnaise,” Johns said.
Johns’ “Jelly Doughnut” French toast and strawberry sauce uses all-natural strawberry jam and 10 strawberries, four egg whites and whole wheat bread, among other ingredients.
Johns estimates that she has saved more than $200 a month by shopping for all-natural foods and GMO-free products whenever possible, and drinking water instead of buying soda, kicking her habit of diet beverages.
The benefits of slimming down have boosted her self-confidence.
“I was always the biggest girl in the room, and people used to tell me, ‘Oh, but you have such a pretty face,’” Johns said.
Now, she’s proud of her “curvacious” looks. She’s even willing to go up a dress size before really paying attention to her diet and cracking down if she’s hovering on going up two sizes — her recommended goal for others.
“I fluctuate, but nobody wants to eat themselves out of their clothes,” Johns said. “Set some goals and parameters for yourself, but don’t beat yourself up if you go up a size.”
She suggests adding a zero to your ideal weight to determine the number of calories you should consume in a day. (For instance, to stay at 130 pounds, she’ll strive to eat 1,300 calories per day.)
Johns has thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram, but her biggest fans remain her husband, who works in search engine optimization for the e-commerce company Kibo, formerly Shopatron, and her 6-year-old daughter, Sophia.
Sophia has even tried cooking some of the recipes.
“She’s wants to have a cooking party for her birthday,” Johns said. “Some of the photos include her in the book. She thinks she’s famous.”
For more information
See Audrey Johns’ blogs, recipes, weight-loss planning and more at www.loseweightbyeating.com.