‘Biggest Loser’ can offer inspiration to dieters

The Biggest Loser,” the hit reality television show about weight loss, recently launched its fourth season on NBC by introducing 18 new — and very obese — contestants ready to shed pounds and perhaps win $250,000.

If you’ve never watched the show, it’s worth a look. Just prepare for moments — the weigh-ins, for example, which sometimes border on public humiliation — that may make you cringe.

Like all reality shows, “The Biggest Loser” seems unscripted, but that doesn’t mean it’s unplanned. This is prime-time entertainment, so there are open casting calls for contestants in more than a dozen cities, including Las Vegas. About 300,000 people applied to be on the show this season alone, says executive producer David Broome.

Contestants must pass a rigorous physical exam — not easy to do when you weigh 200, 300 or even 400 pounds. “We’ve had some people who broke my heart because we couldn’t get them to pass the medical exam,” Broome says. “It was most sad because they looked upon us as their last-ditch effort.”

To keep the show moving, the producers plan creative story lines and edit carefully to build suspense and drama.

Take that enormous scale featured on each show. “It’s just a prop,” Broome says.

To be sure, contestants stand on it for “weigh-ins,” but the numbers flashed on the plasma screen come from measurements taken before the show is taped. Those weigh-ins are videotaped for the Federal Communications Commission, which monitors all broadcast contests to assure there is no fraud. Contestants learn their weight during the broadcast.

Knowing the score ahead of time enables the producers “to script the drama about when people are weighed (on air),” Broome says, thus adding more suspense.

Get past these entertainment elements, however, and there are some inspiring stories and worthwhile lessons in “The Biggest Loser.”

Last season, Erik Chopin, 37, a deli owner from West Islip, N.Y., proved that it doesn’t take surgery to reverse morbid obesity. At 407 pounds, Chopin was weeks away from having weight loss surgery when the show began. He lost 124 pounds over four months and then, like other finalists, he went home to shed more weight, losing 90 pounds during another four months. His total loss — 214 pounds — earned him the $250,000 prize.

Chopin also reversed his Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea and brought his high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides to healthy levels.

His secret? Nothing exotic. Men on the show consume 1,700 to 2,000 calories daily; women, about 1,100 to 1,500. They keep food records to share with their trainers and with physician Robert Huizenga, the show’s medical consultant, who monitors them regularly.

Another lesson: Don’t skip meals. “We found if we deprived ourselves too much that we didn’t have as good results,” Chopin says. “It was better to eat smaller meals than not at all.”

This old-fashioned approach to weight loss is one of the show’s key messages. “We are trying to talk about lifestyle changes,” Broome says. “We are trying to change people from the inside out.”

Then there are the workouts. Like other contestants, Kelly Minner, 31, a teacher from Bethlehem, Pa., and finalist on season one, was shocked by doing four to six hours of exercise daily. “That was our job,” says Minner, who lost 79 pounds on the show and has now lost 102 pounds.

Poppi Kramer, 35, a 5-foot-2 actress and comedian from New Jersey, weighed 232 pounds when her manager urged her to audition for last season’s show. “I was not even interested,” says Kramer, who had shed 50 pounds on the Atkins diet then regained that weight plus 70 pounds more. “The mortification! I didn’t need it.”

But then Kramer says she realized that “there are not a lot of roles for someone with a lot of rolls.”

She went on the show, but as a new twist was sent home to lose weight by herself. Huizenga and a registered dietitian monitored her. “Anybody can go to a fat camp, where they are secluded, and lose weight,” Kramer says. “It’s like rehab for overweight people. But how many people fall off the wagon when they get back home?”

So Kramer ate 1,100 calories a day — about 20 percent of what she had been consuming — and spent at least four hours a day working out. She also set aside time to walk to appointments rather than taking taxis.

Eight months after becoming a contestant, Kramer had lost 125 pounds and earned a spot on “The Biggest Loser” reunion show. “It will be a year in December since I lost the weight,” she says, “but it will be a big deal when it becomes five years.”

Join Sally Squires online from 10 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays at www.leanplateclub.com, where you also can subscribe to the free Lean Plate Club weekly e-mail newsletter.

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