Obese con­tes­tants de­nied posh spa on new ‘Ex­treme Makeover’ se­ries

The Daily Herald - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY KATE O’HARE

In the com­pet­i­tive re­al­ity show “The Big­gest Loser,” which airs on NBC, con­tes­tants are se­questered on a ranch in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where they strug­gle with diet and ex­er­cise to shed pounds, al­ways hop­ing they’ve lost enough to es­cape elim­i­na­tion at the next weigh-in.

The pro­ducer of that show is J.D. Roth, and he’s also be­hind the new ABC se­ries “Ex­treme Makeover: Weight Loss Edi­tion,” pre­mier­ing at 10 p.m. Mon­day on Chan­nel 4.

The fo­cus is still on tack­ling obe­sity, but this time, the stay in the lap of lux­ury is brief, and then the par­tic­i­pants fight the rest of their bat­tles at home.

Sitting in the high-tech gym at the Cal­i­for­nia Health & Longevity In­sti­tute, a well­ness and med­i­cal fa­cil­ity at­tached to a Four Sea­sons Ho­tel in West­lake Vil­lage, Calif., north of Los An­ge­les, Roth looks around and says, “This isn’t where they lost their weight. They spent one week here.

“The help that they got here al­lows them to use the nu­clear op­tion. If you’re go­ing to go on a show like this, it’s all in. It’s all or noth­ing, ev­ery sin­gle day.

“We have cam­eras in their houses. We check in on week­ends.”

Each of the eight episodes fo­cuses on one su­per­obese per­son (the high­est start­ing weight was 651, and the low­est was 369) over a year.

They start at the in­sti­tute for a “boot camp,” which in­cludes a com­plete med­i­cal work-up and nu­tri­tion ed­u­ca­tion. They then re­turn home, where trainer Chris Pow­ell (“The 650-Pound Vir­gin”) has turned a room in the house into a gym.

Pow­ell stays with each par­tic­i­pant for sev­eral weeks to get him or her started. Then they’re on their own, with pe­ri­odic check-ins, both at home and at the in­sti­tute. Some do in­cred­i­bly well; some strug­gle with them­selves; oth­ers, with their loved ones.

In a way, the show is an an­swer to those fans of “The Big­gest Loser” who grouse that any­one can lose weight if he’s tucked away at a fancy ranch with top-notch train­ers.

Roth ad­mits, “It’s tougher to mo­ti­vate with­out the weigh-in ev­ery week, and that’s pre­sented some chal­lenges. ... This show proves you can do it on your own, too.”

While those who don’t weigh well north of pleas­antly plump may think these peo­ple suf­fer from some ex­otic mal­ady that put them in this sit­u­a­tion, Pow­ell begs to dif­fer.

“What (these peo­ple) have in com­mon is no dif­fer­ent than what we all have in com­mon,” he says. “For them, they deal with their emo­tions with food. That’s it. I deal with my emo­tions, right now, I’m a worka­holic. If you asked me three years ago, it was caf­feine. I had way too much of it.

“What they en­counter in ev­ery­day life is the same thing that we all en­counter. ... They have is­sues that so many of us deal with. Food is the drug of choice. It could be sex; it could be work; it could be gam­bling.”

Pow­ell be­lieves that these peo­ple are deal­ing with a true ad­dic­tion.

“Ab­so­lutely,” he says. “They mea­sured the chem­i­cal re­lease in the brain when a food ad­dict smells food. Sure enough, there’s a sim­i­lar kind of chem­i­cal re­lease in the brain at the same time.

“Also, the amount of sugar we get nowa­days in one pop — our food has changed. That sugar elic­its such a strong chem­i­cal re­sponse in the body. It is a chem­i­cal ad­dic­tion.”

In­spired by a seven-minute video in which one con­tes­tant, 651-pound James, strug­gles to just put on his socks, Roth doesn’t just want to change bod­ies.

He says, “I thought, ‘This is sad. This is a guy who’s go­ing to die, and he doesn’t have to.’ I went to ABC, and I said, ‘What if we could give that guy his life back?’

“As much as this is a show about weight loss, it’s re­ally not. It’s a show about peo­ple chang­ing their lives.”

Chris Pow­ell hosts “Ex­treme Makeover: Weight Loss Edi­tion,” pre­mier­ing Mon­day.

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