And no, it's not just because I plant myself on the couch, munch snacks and watch television; it's because I plant myself on the couch, eat snacks and watch people on television swear off snacks and a sedentary life in favor of a grueling diet and exercise program intended to launch them on a lifetime path to health and fitness.
Yup, The Biggest Loser has become a bit of an addiction for me and why not? It features the most classic redemptive story arc of our time: everyman (or woman) whose obesity is a symbol of their inability to cope with emotional pain and stress are introduced to kick-ass trainers who put them through their paces physically and emotionally until they emerge transformed, in control of their lives and their bodies.
It makes for powerful viewing, especially since there is no doubt that these are real people, whose real lives are being changed. Just ask Julia Hadden.
Julie Hadden was the runner up on Season Four of the show losing 97 pounds which amounted to a staggering 44% of her body weight.I watched this 35-year-old stay-at-home mom from Jacksonville, Florida remake her life from my living room so it was pretty cool to have her answer some e-mailed questions this week about how we can all try and meet our goals for healthier living.
Q: Losing weight on The Biggest Loser is one thing - I mean, they kick people's butts - but isn't it impossible for a normal person to dedicate that much time to exercise upon returning to their lives and their families?
When we were on the set of The Biggest Loser, we were in the gym for about six hours a day. So yes, it is impossible to dedicate that much time to exercise when you are trying to live life and balance all of the demands on your time. But I don’t want to send a message that it can’t (and shouldn’t) still be a major priority.
The Biggest Loser was an incredible, life-changing experience. And I am so grateful for it. But I don’t want people to think it’s the only way to lose weight and get healthy. It might take a little longer without Jillian Michaels’ beatings; but hard work, determination and consistency produce results whether you are at home or in the gym of a reality TV Show.
Q. A lot of former contestants have gained back weight. Why do you think this is? How have you kept the weight off?
I think there are multiple reasons that Biggest Loser contestants – and people in general – gain weight back after losing it.
The Biggest Loser literally saves people’s lives. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but when you think of the health conditions that most of the contestants have when starting the show – versus the improved health we have at the conclusion you have to admit that it’s incredible. But when you stop with the dramatic measures, it’s normal to gain a certain amount of weight back.
But beyond that, I think people gain weight back for the same reasons they gained it in the first place. Life is stressful. We all are too busy. It’s easy to be lazy. And it’s easy to get side-tracked and lose focus. When I got home from the Finale, I actually thought – wow – I’ve lost nearly 100 pounds, maintenance will be a piece of cake (no pun intended). I thought I could exercise a few times a week and eat what I wanted and be just fine. That wasn’t true at all.
I had changed, but nothing else in my life had. So I had to set my self up for success. I needed accountability. So now I am part of an incredible women’s “fit camp” workout group. We meet for 90 minute work outs three times a week. My trainer, Margie, is passionate about fitness and is an incredible motivator. The group workout is great accountability. The other two days I run or do some type of cardio. I actually like exercise now. But if I lose focus and get off track even for a day or two I can really tell a difference in my body, my energy level and my weight. It’s hard, but it’s a decision I have to make every day.
Q. Why do you think so many Americans are so obsessed with skinny celebrities and the like and yet at the same time are getting collectively heavier?
I believe that we, as Americans, are obsessed with skinny celebrities and that image because it is unattainable. I also believe that as a nation we are growing collectively heavier for the same reason…that image is unattainable. I think people get bogged down with the stress of life and it’s nice to retreat to a fantasy once in a while. We don’t want to see people who look like we do and have the same struggles and insecurities that we do. We want to watch a fairy tale. It can be entertaining and fun. But it can also be dangerous. It’s a horrible message to send to people, especially our children.
Q. Do you think that sometimes The Biggest Loser is exploitative of people with emotional issues that have lead to obesity or is it simply honest? Why?
No, I don’t think the show exploits people’s emotional issues. Having been a morbidly obese person myself, I can say that most people don’t get that way without some sort of emotional root to it. TBL doesn’t exploit the emotional issues, but gives the contestants a platform to air them, to process them and to work through them.
More than anything else, I’ve heard viewers say they appreciate seeing the emotional battles the contestants face because it makes them feel they aren’t alone. It takes courage to be on the show and to be vulnerable and open. I never felt exploited but I also didn’t know all of the feelings that were lying deep within me, repressed. The show really helped me in that respect. Once I was broken down physically, emotionally and spiritually I could begin to rebuild myself and achieve the quality of life I always wanted.
I think a lot of people are like I was – an “all or nothing” type. I would wake up in the morning with very good intentions to eat right, exercise and be conscious of getting healthy – but early in the day I’d fall of the wagon and eat something that I shouldn’t. So instead of getting right back on track, I would justify my actions; figure I’d already blown it for the day and say “I’ll get back to it tomorrow.”
Then tomorrow became the next week and then the next month and then my excuses kept me from ever making a change in my life.
So I would simply say you’ve got to stop making excuses. Find your motivation whatever it is and let that fuel your desire to make a change in your life. It may seem overwhelming, but when you start seeing your hard work and effort paying off you will be energized to keep going. It’s an old cliché but it’s so true: Anything worth having is worth working for. And consistency is the key.
Q. What are your top three tips for losing weight and maintaining your weight loss?
It’s tough to narrow it down to just three, but here it goes:
Start today! Stop putting it off. It will never get any easier than it is today.
Move more and eat less. I know it stinks, but you just can’t do it the right way without exercise. There is no substitute for being physically active. Start slow, but get moving and keep moving. And then choose low-fat, low-calorie foods. Eat smaller portions. Drink water instead of sugary drinks. These are all little things but they pay off with consistency.
Believe you are WORTH IT!!!! I think this is the most important thing to actually starting a weight loss regime and then finding the motivation to keep it off. You have to believe you are worth the effort – because you are!
Q.A few years back, was it within your imagination to picture yourself as you are now?
Yes, I am more satisfied with the way I look now than before. But I will always carry the fat girl inside of me. It’s hard to get away from that. I was “her” for so many years. But I don’t really want to forget about her completely. Because she represents how far I’ve come and I don’t ever want to go back there again.
Q. What's the best thing about being who you are now?
I think the best thing about being me now is that I feel like I am finally the “me” I was always created to be. Before, I was always uncomfortable in my own skin. I never knew all the things that my fat was preventing me from accomplishing or even trying. Now I am actually happy with myself and feel so blessed to have the life I have. What I wanted from my Biggest Loser experience was to come back to the life I already had, only thinner and healthier. But actually, I got those things and so much more.
Q. What's the worst thing? Is there a worst thing?
Oh, there’s always room for improvement. I clearly see the areas I need to continue to work on physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I do regret that I wasted 34 years of my life living below the level that God intended me to live. I can never get those years back. But you can’t live life with regret. I am thankful for the body I have now and thankful for the strength I possess.