How one family lost over 400 pounds!
Last May, when sisters Hannah Curlee and Olivia Ward became the first all-female team to win the TV weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser,” viewers cheered their amazing transformation. Olivia, 35, shed 129 pounds to take first place, while Hannah, 32, dropped 120 pounds—almost half her starting weight. What viewers didn’t see was how profoundly the sisters’ experience transformed their entire family.
Offscreen their father, Keith, has lost 70 pounds since autumn 2010; mom Betsy has shed 40 pounds; and younger sister Nora has dropped 87 pounds. At 172 pounds, their 6-foot-4-inch brother, Seth, doesn’t need to lose weight, but he’s learning now how to make better lifestyle and diet choices for the future. More important, the already close-knit family has forged new bonds as they con- fronted and changed their attitudes about food.
“It has been a sovereign spiritual experience, a household salvation, for all of us,” says Keith, 62, a minister who lives in Nashville, Tenn.
The first leg of the journey
No one would have predicted this outcome when Olivia and Hannah went to a casting call for “The Biggest Loser” last year. In fact, when Olivia phoned Hannah at home in Nashville in mid-2010 to urge her to audition for the show, Hannah initially turned her down. Then Olivia sweetened the pot, tossing in an expense-paid weekend in Chicago, where auditions were being held, and a chance to eat Chicago-style pizza.
Hannah’s Go-To Foods
“Of course, the pizza got me,” says Hannah with a laugh.
What started out as a fun-filled girl’s weekend in the Windy City eventually led Hannah and Olivia to spend 21 grueling weeks on “The Biggest Loser” Ranch, where the sisters, who were considered underdogs, surprised everyone by beating 400-pound men, including one of the show’s largest contestants ever.
But in order to shed her excess weight, Hannah admits she first had to get rid of the mental baggage that had accumulated from years of being so heavy.
“When I first got to the ranch, I had no confidence, no self-esteem. I literally hated who I was,” Hannah says. “But Olivia told me, ‘We need this. We want better lives for our families, for the children that we want to have, for our mom and dad.’ So it was all about family.”
A shattering revelation
Meanwhile, away from the ranch, their mother, Betsy, had reservations about the show. The 60-year-old substitute schoolteacher worried the producers would portray her daughters in negative or unflattering ways. However, after watching episodes of the previous season, Betsy realized the producers genuinely wanted to change people’s lives.
“They really care about nutrition and exercise,” she says. “They give the contestants free medical testing and educate them about their bodies.”
The producers also believe many people have a hard time losing weight and keeping it off because their families don’t understand the process and don’t give dieters enough support. So contestants are encouraged to invite one family member to the “The Biggest Loser” Ranch for tests and lifestyle advice.
Together, the family decided that Keith needed the most help. The 6-foot- 3-inch former college basketball player had battled weight gain most of his life. His sedentary lifestyle, combined with lots of travel and food-centered fellowship at home and at church, had pushed his weight to 362 pounds. And every diet he’d tried had ultimately failed.
At “The Biggest Loser” Ranch, Keith underwent a battery of tests under the supervision of the show’s doctor, including one test that computed his “internal body age” compared with his chronological age.
“Afterward, Dr. Rob Huizenga said he wasn’t going to tell me my internal age. He said he was going to give me a projected funeral date if I didn’t change my life—March 2012,” recalls Keith.
“To see my family getting healthy keeps me motivated.” Hannah Curlee
The announcement shocked the family. Keith began examining his attitudes toward food—“We didn’t always have a lot to eat when I was a kid, and food was a reward”—and why he kept ducking his weight problem—“As a minister you are used to thinking about others, but I was using that as a cop out.”
He and Betsy decided to follow their daughters’ lead and get serious about losing weight for good.
Making a commitment
The Curlees started cutting calories by reducing portions, though they continued to eat the same kinds of foods. When Hannah came home at Christmas and found Keith making biscuits and gravy, she confronted him.
‘Why are you still eating garbage? Why aren’t you obeying your commitment to lose weight?’” Keith recalls Hannah saying.
They had a long family discussion about lifestyle choices that proved a true turning point. The Curlees replaced meat and processed foods with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, organic poultry and fish. A typical day now includes a 300-calorie breakfast, lunch and supper, a 150-calorie snack at mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and a 60-calorie snack before bed.
The Curlee parents also cut back sharply on eating out. When they go to restaurants now, they choose salads, vegetables and lean protein, like fish or poultry, over enchiladas and pizza. They also log everything they eat.
At the local YMCA, Keith and Betsy have become regulars on the treadmills, exercise bikes and weight machines. “If we take in 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day, then we strive to burn at least twice that,” says Keith.
These new habits should help the couple reach their weight goals. Betsy wants to lose another 40 pounds, while Keith plans to shed 50. In the mean- time, the entire family is happy with how far they have come, individually and together. In fact, Nora has already reached her target weight.
“To see my family getting healthy keeps me motivated,” Hannah says. “I know it’s going to lengthen their lives and make them better … and we’re all a lot less grumpy now that we are healthier.”
Click here to see a few Stay Slim Tips from Hannah Curlee.