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8 secrets to double-digit weight loss

Losing 20 pounds might take the rest of us a few months. Kae Whang, a contestant on “The Biggest Loser,” did it in one week — breaking the female record on the hit NBC reality show. Fellow contestants Hollie Self and Isabeau Miller both shed about half that amount in the same short time. If you watch the show, you see them test their physical and emotional limits during challenges. What you
/ Source: Prevention

Losing 20 pounds might take the rest of us a few months. Kae Whang, a contestant on “The Biggest Loser,” did it in one week — breaking the female record on the hit NBC reality show. Fellow contestants Hollie Self and Isabeau Miller both shed about half that amount in the same short time. If you watch the show, you see them test their physical and emotional limits during challenges. What you don’t see is what happens the rest of the week on campus — the meal planning and calorie monitoring, the training and strengthening, the advice and support from a team of experts, all working toward the same goal: to help these participants lose weight now, keep it off later, and restore hope that they can live happy and healthy lives. We asked three of this season’s stars, along with the show’s medical and nutrition advisor, Michael Dansinger, M.D., and its nutritionist, Cheryl Forberg, R.D., to share what it really takes to shed mega-pounds fast, and why the process is nothing short of life transforming. Here, eight “Biggest Loser” strategies that can inspire you to reach your own weight-loss goal.


For Hollie, the show is not only changing the way she looks but also the way she looks at life: “Nothing is impossible.” A little tough love from her team leader and trainer, Jillian Michaels, taught her that. “I needed someone to push me out of my comfort zone, to keep telling me, ‘You can do more,’” Hollie says. Now, she’s setting new goals. “I always hated running, and then one week I actually won the minitriathlon challenge. When I get home, I want to try a real one.”

Even the most confident, though, have their moments of doubt. Finding a mantra or meaningful phrase worked for Isabeau. “When I started questioning my determination, I would remember the last thing my parents said before I left for the show: ‘Never, ever give up.’” And she won’t until she reaches this milestone: to join her family in a 7-mile race they run every year.

Don’t forget to eat!

That means breakfast and lunch and dinner, plus two snacks — every single day. It’s not groundbreaking news, but according to Forberg, it’s worth repeating. “When I started working with the show, I was surprised how many contestants skipped meals,” she says. That can lead to out-of-control hunger and overeating. Stick to a regular eating schedule to keep your metabolism revved, hunger satiated, and energy up. Some basic “Biggest Loser” diet principles:

  • Find your ideal calorie budget. Each contestant’s individual calorie limit is determined by a complex formula that considers starting weight, body-fat percentage and goal weight, says Dansinger. Kae, for example, first weighed in at 225 pounds and follows a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet, while Isabeau, who started at almost 300 pounds, eats between 1,500 and 1,600 calories daily.
  • At home, use this simple formula to determine your limits: If you are obese and sedentary, multiply your goal weight by 10 as a starting point. So, for instance, if you want to get down to 135 pounds, eat about 1,350 calories a day. If you’re somewhat active, multiply by 13 per pound, or about a 1,755-calorie allowance. (Register — for free — to use My Health Trackers at to determine a good goal weight.)
  • Make healthy substitutions. “The quality of the calories is just as important as the quantity,” says Forberg. That means choosing natural foods (such as whole-grain bread) and passing up processed products (white bread). You can find a nutritious version of everything you like, says Isabeau. “At home, I had french fries with every meal. Now I have sweet potato fries — they’re tasty and so much healthier.” But her biggest surprise was how much she got to eat: “I’m never hungry.”
  • Understand “why.” Contestants learn about nutrition so they understand why whole-grain bread, for example, is better than white (it’s high in fiber, so you stay fuller longer). “It’s easier to stick to a plan that makes sense to you,” says Forberg.

Do cardio you enjoy every day 

“Before I got here, I imagined we’d start with 20 minutes one day, maybe 40 minutes the next,” laughs Isabeau. “Ha!” They jumped right in, with cardio training lasting hours at a time. Should you do the same? No. Contestants are pushed to work out harder than average, but only because they are under the close supervision of trainers and a medical staff. What you can do safely to reach your own fitness goal:

  • Shoot for 60 to 90 minutes a day and maintain a moderately intense level. (If you’re over age 50, have a chronic disease or are at risk of one, consult your doctor before starting any plan.)
  • Make sure you sweat. You need to challenge yourself to get the weight-loss results you want. If your routine feels comfortable, devote a few more minutes to each workout, or add hills and/or stairs to your regular walk.
  • Mix it up. Repeating the same activity day after day puts you at risk of overuse injuries and could stall weight loss. Try breaking up one cardio session with a few different workouts: 20 minutes walking, 20 on the bike, 20 climbing stairs or rowing.

Weight-train at least twice a week

Strength-training helps boost your metabolism, and — as many of the contestants discovered — provides a mental lift, too. “I came here wanting to pull my own weight, and I’ve done that — both literally and figuratively,” says Isabeau. “I’ve noticed changes in my body so much more quickly since I started training, and now I can lift as much as the boys can!”

Work each muscle group at least twice a week, with 2 days off in between. For many women, that translates to 20 minutes, 4 days a week — 2 days for the upper body, and 2 days for the lower body. After 2 or 3 months, you’ll experience a 20 to 40% increase in muscular strength —the same as most men, reports the American Council on Exercise. You don’t need a trainer to get started; visit for exercises and other motivational tips.

Take advantage of the early momentum

Losing 20 pounds in the first week started Kae on a high note: “It inspired me to keep going and going,” she says. Getting good results at first is common; use your initial enthusiasm to create healthy new habits that will see you through when your “high” wears off.

  • Expand your pantry. Explore the local farmers market for something exotic (bok choy, anyone?) or sprinkle new spices on your staple meals (chili powder is a favorite in “The Biggest Loser” kitchen). The more adventurous you are now, the more new low-fat choices you’ll have later so you don’t get bored.
  • Learn new light-cooking techniques. Thumb through a cookbook or browse recipes online for some healthy tricks and then modify a favorite high-fat dish.
  • Find fun ways to burn calories. Take a tough yoga class, tackle a rock wall, or even sign up for a local 5-K fun run — anything you’ve wanted to try. You’ll likely discover a new favorite workout.

EXPECT—and push through—plateaus

Hollie shed 11 pounds at her first weigh-in, and she was thrilled. But the week after, she dropped only 2 pounds, and 3 the next. “It was discouraging to work so hard and get such limited results,” she says. But she kept going, reminding herself that numbers don’t always reflect progress. Be patient, says Dansinger. Stick to your plan, and the scale will move again. It did for Hollie, whose weekly losses eventually crept up. If the scale stays stuck for more than 3 weeks, however, you may need to step up your exercise efforts or reevaluate your calorie intake.

Build a support team

One big reason contestants drop pounds so fast, says Dansinger, is the enormous team of trainers, doctors and dietitians — not to mention the other contestants — who are there all day, every day to offer guidance and moral support. When Kae gets home, her first step will be to hook up with a weight-training buddy who’s just as motivating as her on-set trainer, Bob Harper. “He got to know each of us personally, but in the gym, he’s dead serious,” she says.

To find an exercise partner who fits your style, sign up for an online weight-loss program that matches you with someone in your area, check the bulletin board at your church for walking groups, or join a running or hiking club.

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At the time of the Prevention photo shoot, Isabeau Miller had already lost over 50 pounds, going from 298 to 246.

1PfalsefalseFace emotional eating head-on

All the contestants had to explore their relationship with food and learn how to take control of their eating. “Some weeks are harder than others,” admits Isabeau, “and when we go back home, we’ll have tough weeks, too. We had to learn to work though it.” Favorite take-home strategies from our stars:

  • Write down everything you eat “It keeps you honest,” says Isabeau. “Plus, I realize I don’t have to cut everything I love out of my diet, like ice cream. I can have a small scoop, as long as I stay within my daily calorie allowance.”
  • Ask yourself: Is it worth it? “I look at a piece of cake and think, ‘Is it worth an extra hour on the treadmill?’ If the answer is yes, I go for it,” says Kae.
  • Put your health first. Hollie, a teacher, found that her weight issue was an indirect result of her devotion to her students. “I focused so much on them that ‘me’ time was often takeout and TV. I now make my well-being a priority.”
  • Let your success inspire you. “When contestants take control and get their health back, they often find a new person, inside and out,” says Forberg. The show’s not over yet, but Kae knows that she’s already changed so much: “I’m much stronger,” she says —strong enough to visit her homeland of Korea, something she hasn’t had the courage to do in more than 20 years. “I was too ashamed of how I looked to go see my family,” she says. Even though she still hasn’t reached her 110-pound goal weight, she is determined to get on that plane anyway. “I feel like I can do anything now.”