3 Mindsets That Can Beat Emotional Eating, According to ‘The Biggest Loser’

Reality-TV producer J.D. Roth has seen the most unlikely folks achieve the most incredible goals. Here’s what sets them apart.

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The night before the first winner of The Biggest Loser was announced, the guy in the lead—his name was Gary—went out for a healthy dinner with his family, shared some laughs, talked about what he’d accomplished, and went to sleep. Gary’s closest competitor worked out, pushing hard to the bitter end. He beat Gary by one pound. That one pound cost Gary $250,000.

When I saw Gary many years later, he was still thin and healthy—but the winner had put all his weight back on. Competition is the premise behind The Biggest Loser, so people motivated by beating others often get the cash. But the real winners are those whose reasons for losing weight evolve into something deeper. Gary was very upset about losing, but then he realized that he wanted to get his life back, and he did. The other guy was in it mostly just to win it. That got him only so far.

As the man who created the weight-loss TV shows The Biggest Loser, Extreme Weight Loss, Fat Chance, and The Revolution, I’ve seen our participants shed weight, get off serious medications, and do things they had never done or had been avoiding for years. (Click here for the most motivating weight-loss stories and tips you’ll ever read).

They get their lives back by resolving the issues that made them fat. Addressing your mental and emotional blocks is the secret to sustained weight loss or any other significant life change. By tweaking your mind-set, you have the potential to change your inner dialogue—and your life. Here’s how.

1. Say “I Can”

The power of an “I can” mentality is amazing. A guy named Danny who tried out for The Biggest Loser weighed more than anyone I’d ever seen at his age—19 years old and 450 pounds. He couldn’t even close his hands to make a fist. I usually think anyone can do anything, but I had my doubts about him. “You scare me,” I said to him. “I don’t think we can have you on the show. Honestly, I don’t think you can do it. And by the way, where are your shoes?”

“It’s too hard to get them on,” he replied. “Name it. I’ll do anything to be on this show. How do you want me to prove that I can do it?”

I couldn’t tell if the desperation in his voice was genuine. “OK,” I said, figuring I’d scare him off. “Go out of this room, and take the first door on your right. It’s the stairs. Take them down to the bottom”—we were on the 20th floor—“then climb back up.” Without hesitation, he walked out of the room, still shoeless.

After about 15 minutes, I got worried and went to locate him.

I finally found him on the ninth floor on his way up, huffing and puffing, spitting and coughing, soaked in sweat. When he finally made it back to the room, he burst through the door, barely able to speak. The place erupted with applause. Standing ovation. He did it. Barefoot. The kid went on to appear on the show and lost almost 250 pounds over two seasons.

When you say “I can” to resisting a cookie and “I can” to running a 5K race, it’s a small leap to saying “I can” quit this lousy job and “I can” tell my spouse that I want to be treated better. When you become an “I can” person, a world of possibility opens.

Take Moses, a Biggest Loser contestant who blew out his knee within the first week. He couldn’t run, walk, or do anything else that required being on his feet. That was a big problem because, to stay on the show, you have to drop pounds each week.

[pullquote] When you become an “I can” person, a world of possibility opens. [/pullquote]

So what does this guy do? Fold? A few weeks earlier, he might have played the victim card. But he came up with the idea of shadowboxing from the edge of his bed for 12 hours a day. Sweat poured off him in rivers. The bed was soaking wet. Desperation is the greatest motivator.

These are ordinary people with ordinary families and ordinary jobs. What sets them apart is: They believed that they could do something extraordinary. (By the way, have you ever tried to shadowbox in bed for even 12 minutes? It’s exhausting—and he did it for 12 hours!) The power of the mind still amazes me each day.

april 2016 aol service ft biggest loserTrae Patton/NBC/Getty Images
Gary, center, lost 71 pounds and says he “won a new life.”

2. Pretend No One Is Looking

We ask cast members to write down their small victories. One of the best I ever heard was this: “I tried today even when my trainer wasn’t looking.” Most people would gloss over that, but I read it to the whole group.

“Here’s what this guy is really saying,” I said. “When no one was looking before, he wasn’t his best as a father, his best as a worker, his best as a husband, his best as a human being. That’s what he meant. But today, he said that even when no one was looking, he gave his best. Is he now going to try harder as a father, a worker, a husband, a human being? That will be a much greater victory than whatever his numbers on the scale end up being.”

Little achievements snowball into bigger accomplishments. Suddenly, you’re not just turning down candy from colleagues; you’re turning down their efforts to foist their work on you. Small acts of willpower generate confidence.

3. Do Something Impossible

Nothing is as demanding for our cast members as the 7,000-Calorie-Burn Challenge—when we ask them to burn 7,000 calories in one day. (Running a marathon, by comparison, burns approximately 3,500 calories.)

I don’t recommend burning 7,000 calories in one day for physiological reasons. But it delivers an incredible psychological payoff. Many people on our shows think everything is impossible. “I’m not a runner; I can’t run.” “I can’t get a job.” To achieve something so ridiculous becomes a badge of honor.

Jen, a cast member on The Revolution, was a single mom who’d recently recovered from a rare form of cancer. When I announced that the first person to burn 7,000 calories in one day would win an iPad, Jen chimed in right away. “I wanted to win for my son,” she says. “I couldn’t afford one.”

Jen—and her ten-year-old Ryan, who stayed with her the whole day—hit the gym first thing in the morning. I mean at dawn. She took spin classes and worked out on the treadmill, the rowing machine, and the stair-climber, moving from machine to machine, hour after hour. When Jen had about 500 calories to go, after nearly 20 straight hours of exercise, the gym was closing. It was 10 p.m.

So Jen went outside and ran around the building by the light of the moon. “Every time we’d pass this one corner, we could see bats,” says Jen. “I don’t know what came over me. I didn’t want to let my son down. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it too.”

Needless to say, Jen won the iPad. But that was the least of what she gave her son. She showed him that she was a superhero. That kid (who’s now a high school football player with offers for a full college scholarship) will never forget the night his mom did the impossible. “Every day on my way to work, I drive by that corner where we saw the bats and smile,” she says. “That day, I realized that your mind is in control of your body. You can convince yourself to do anything.”

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Get more inspirational tips in J.D. Roth’s new book, The Big Fat Truth (Reader’s Digest, $24.99).


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