Our Workplace Wellness Program hosted a lecture by Ron Morelli from last season of The Biggest Loser - Season 7. Then after he spoke, I took a couple minutes of his time to chat and get a picture. I wrote four pages of notes during his talk and wanted to share a few of the important points he made.
My employer is outstanding. We've got this great Wellness Program that encourages the 4,000-or-so employees on the job, plus retirees and all our families to be healthier and take care of our overall wellness. One of the programs they offer is the "Lunch-n-Learn" lecture series (which is what today's lecture was). These lectures are held monthly and include topics on a wide variety of topics - next month is about laughter, for instance. I've also joined the competitive pedometer walking program that begins in a couple weeks - that should be fun!
So anyway... back to Ron...
This is going to be a long post, so I'm going to try and break it up as best I can. Somehow try to organize my thoughts and do my best not to ramble. Wish me luck! LOL I know we, as WLS'ers, are most interested in hearing about Ron's gastric bypass surgery - but honestly he didn't talk about it much. He did, however, have some very profound things to say about eating, exercise and getting your head screwed on straight.
UPDATES -- First a few updates that I'm sure others are wondering about. Since the show Ron has maintained his weight loss and hovers around 250 pounds (his highest weight ever was 527lbs). His son Michael, also on the show, has maintained his weight loss as well and is currently attending college at Michigan State University. His other son, Max, who we saw on the show during family visits, is doing well with his weight loss efforts and has lost over 100 pounds already.
DIETING HISTORY (and RNY) -- He's been obese his whole life. He weighed 200 pounds at age 9 and was up to 400 in high school. So he's well versed in dieting. He's done every diet you can think of, had his jaw wired shut, starved himself, did Weight Watchers and Atkins and even spent time at a weight loss hospital a couple times. Then 14 years ago he had gastric bypass surgery. He lose a lot of weight very quickly, as expected. But gained much of it back because he had not permanently changed his habits for the way he ate and the way he moved. He didn't gain ALL his weight back though. Remember, his highest weight was 527 before surgery - which was 13 years before he went on The Biggest Loser where he started out weighing 420 pounds. So yes, there was regain, but not 100% regain as you hear so often rumored around the message boards. Think about it. He maintained almost a 100lbs loss for 13 years -- as an average, of course, since he freely admits his weight fluctuated widely during that time period.
POUCH SIZE & STOMA -- His stomach pouch is still the "right" size - still pouch-sized. So we know that a mature RNY pouch is around 6oz to 9oz in size and can hold about 8-12oz of food, so we can assume this is the size of his pouch now, 14 years later. However, he said that his stoma has stretched (the opening between the pouch and intestines) - in essence allowing a portion of his small intestine to "act" like a stomach pouch. I didn't ask - and he didn't go into detail since this wasn't a WLS presentation and I think I was the only other WLS'er in the room - but I don't know if the stoma was fixed or revised at anytime or if he just adapts to that issue with how he eats now.
BEHIND THE SCENES ON THE SHOW -- So before contestants even begin doing the show, they see the doctor, right? We know that part already. But what was interesting to me is that the doctor is the one who sets the calorie intake limits for each contestant - not the trainers. The doctor alters that calorie limit as they lose weight, as needed. Ron was assigned 2025 calories/day. His son Michael ate 1850 calories/day. These numbers were based on their RMR (resting metabolic rate) and an estimate of what they would burn in the gym everyday as well as the show's goal for their weekly/daily weight loss numbers. Once their daily calorie intake limits were set, the trainers (Bob and Jillian) set the nutrition balance for those calories based on the expected workout loads. The cool thing about their calorie intake goals is that each contestant decided on their OWN menu - they would make a shopping list and someone would buy their food for them (they apparently didn't have time to go grocery shopping since they were working out or whatever). Then at meal times, they would cook their own stuff. Michael would have oatmeal for breakfast and Ron would have eggs, or instance. No personal chefs on the ranch. I'll cover some food and nutrition stuff later.
BOB & JILLIAN -- Bob is a vegan - not just vegetarian, but full blown vegan. Did you know that? I didn't. Ron laughed while telling about how often Bob eats. "He keeps fruit in his pockets, gym bag, jacket, everywhere - he needs to eat every couple hours." (I can see why he likes Yoga so much now.) Jillian eats more variety, but she's all about organic and whole foods. As for what kind of trainers they are? Bob's tougher than Jillian. And all that yelling Jillian does - apparently not a reflection of her personality. "She's sweet and shy and very quiet. And she's short but solid and is a double black belt in every martial art you can think of."
BODYBUGG & GO WEAR FIT -- Someone today asked about the BodyBugg each contestant wears (similar to my GoWearFit / BodyMedia device) -- Ron loves it and will be renewing his subscription so he can continue to wear it. Ron would burn about 6,000 calories a day and Michael would burn about 10,500 calories/day. Holy Cow! Now, off the ranch, Ron maintains a calorie deficit of about 500 calories (rather than 4,000 like when on the show). Ron's quote about the device: "It is an invaluable tool for weight loss and can be very useful for everyone."
FINDING "IT" -- As an expert dieter who has tried them all - I believe him when he said: "Any diet or surgery or jaw wiring trick will work." But the problem we haven't learned anything from it. If you get your jaw wired shut, don't eat for 2 months and when the wires come off you go back to eating like you used to - you didn't learn anything. Whatever method you use to lose weight you have to CHANGE the way you eat forever, CHANGE the way you move forever, CHANGE the way your maintain your habits forever. Those changes, those habits, those realizations that you've been doing it wrong up until now -- those he refers to as "IT". When IT finally settles in your head and becomes part of your being, the weight will stay off. If you don't have IT, the weight will return.
THE PAC-MAN EFFECT -- We've heard this before, but I liked the name he gave it. (Actually he'd heard it from a doctor at an in-patient weight loss hospital he'd been in years ago.) The fat cells we have when we're about 21 years old are the fat cells we'll always have. We don't grow more, we don't lose them as we lose weight - fat cells will always be there in our bodies, they expand with more fat or they shrink when we lose fat. But those fat cells are like the little PacMan guy in the video game... always chomping his mouth open and closed looking too be fed. Fat cells, when they get too skinny, will send signals to our brain demanding more food. Ron's comment was that the wished he'd never been told that because he used it as an excuse to eat more after losing weight ("I need to eat, my fat cells are too skinny."). But personally, I like knowing this information because it makes me aware that after I lose weight and my fat cells are screaming for food -- that I can safely ignore those screams. I can be secure in the knowledge that the screams for food I'm hearing is my fat cells bitching and moaning that they want fat. But you know what? I worked too freaking hard to make them skinny to just feed them more food, so I'm going to ignore them and be happy about letting them starve!
IT'S HARD -- "All those diets of my past were my attempt at finding the easy way to lose weight." Even if they were hard to do at the time, he was looking for "easy" but never found it. Losing weight is HARD. It's a STRUGGLE. There is no easy way. It's all hard and you have to work to get what you strive for. Ron admits: "I hate working out. I hate exercise. It's hard. But I do it everyday anyway." The sooner we realize this is hard, the faster we'll learn to face the challenges and plow through it.
FACING FEAR -- "When you've always been fat, the fear of being thin is enormous."
After he said that, I wish I'd had a moment of silence to just take it in. But he kept talking and I kept scribbling notes. When we're heavy we blame everything that's wrong in our lives on the fat. I can't play tennis because I'm fat. I can't find a soul mate because I'm fat. I can't keep friends because I'm fat. I can't find a job because I'm fat. So what happens when you're suddenly not fat any longer and all those things are still wrong? Fat can't fix everything. When you're thin you're still going to suck at tennis. So instead of blaming fat for all the things wrong in your life, you need to realize that you are letting FEAR hold you back from being thin -- because somewhere in our subconscious, we realize that it's not the fat that makes all those things bad in our lives, it's just us. So when we realize we can't blame the fat anymore, and start fixing the things we want to fix - independent of the fat issue - then we'll finally be allowed to let thin be what it really is. Just thin.
EXCUSES -- "So what?" That's the response you need to have when you hear excuses. Ron admits that all his life he was the king of excuses... but at some point you need to change your mindset about excuses and start facing them with "so what!". My knees hurt so I can't exercise. So what! Exercise anyway. I'm too tired to cook a healthy dinner. So what! Cook healthy anyway. It's raining out, I can't do my run today. So what. Run anyway. Don't let excuses stand in the way of your goals.
FOOD & NUTRITION -- On the Biggest Loser ranch all processed food was banned. Well, unless you were a sponsor of the show and had contestants eating your processed food on camera (think Subway) ... but as soon as the camera were turned off, the trainers would yell: "Ok, spit it out!" Yeah... no processed foods allowed, which includes processed deli meats. Remember, Bob's a vegan (and received a jovial phone call from Ron when the "double meat" ads ran) and Jillian eats organic whole foods. So that's what the contestants eat too. They focus their meals on nutrient dense foods rather than calorie dense (for instance a salad gives you a large volume of food, but very few calories). They also focused on whole foods that were lean and healthy. They learned how to eat properly through regular training in the kitchen (it wasn't clear if Bob and Jillian were the only ones doing these trainings or if there were others in the kitchen teaching about how to cook). Contestants at 3 meals and 2 snacks per day - every 4 hours. So their daily calorie intake was divided accordingly --- so 2000 calories divided by 4 is 500 which meant 3 meals were 500 calories each and the 2 snacks each got 250 calories. Along with their normal calorie intake they were also drinking 5 quarts of water each day and eliminated all added salt from their diet. Ron also mentioned that to boost flavor on lean meats and fish, they used a lot of Mrs. Dash and other herbs and spices as long as they had no added salt.
THE WORKOUTS -- There were "taping days" and "dark days" on the show. On taping days we see the teams working together with the trainer in the gym, many times all doing the same workout routine and all being coached (and screamed at) step by step by Bob or Jillian. That was not the norm. Most days were "dark days" - meaning the cameras were not on in the gym and the contestants were just there doing their own thing. They could wear whatever workout clothes they wanted to on dark days and they chose to do the exercises they enjoyed the best (or worked best for their own personal goals). So Ron walked and swam a lot... Michael loved boxing.
WEAKNESSES -- Since we're talking about food, I thought this was worth sharing. We all have certain food weaknesses, right? For me it's fresh deli salsa -- not the salsa specifically but the fact that when I buy salsa, tortilla chips mysteriously appear in my shopping cart and I have no control over their appearance. So I don't buy fresh deli salsa - ever. For Ron, it's peanut butter. It's simply not allowed in his house. He used to love peanut butter by the spoonful dipped in whipped cream. He said it calls to him if it's in the house: "Ron, I'm over here!" So we need to recognize if we have trigger foods like that and simply eliminate them from our lives. If you don't have control, then don't put yourself in the position of battling that trigger.
IF YOU EVER GET THE CHANCE -- Ron told us that if we ever get the chance to go grocery shopping with a nutritionist, do it! He learned so much about understanding food from his shopping trip while on the store (I didn't watch that whole season, so must have missed that episode). One big thing he learned is that the nutrition label doesn't tell the whole story -- the ingredient list is just as important as the nutrition label. For instance, a diet soda might have zeros all down the nutrition label... 0 calories, 0 fat, 0 carbs, etc ... but what are those 30 ingredients doing in the ingredient list? The body knows it's getting those ingredients and depending on what those ingredients are, might freak out and do crazy stuff that scientists haven't figure out yet. So keep the ingredient list in mind when shopping. Fewer ingredients is better.
JILLIAN'S FOOD ADVICE -- He said this one a couple times, so I'll repeat it. Jillian says: "If it doesn't come off a tree or out of the ground... or if it didn't have a mother - don't eat it."
HANDLING HOLIDAYS -- How many holiday or special occasion meals are there in a year? (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Birthday, weddings, etc.) Maybe 15? How many meals are there that are just normal everyday meals? If we eat 3 meals a day and subtract the 15 special meals in a year -- that means we eat 1050 other meals in a year. 15 special days. 350 normal days. We didn't get morbidly obese from 15 meals a year when we indulge in a special holiday meal. We grew our way to morbid obesity from the 1050 meals where we didn't make healthy choices and eat only until we were satisfied. So now... if we handle the 1050 normal meals in a healthy way, we don't have to worry about the 15 special meals. When Easter dinner comes around next weekend, go ahead and eat. But Easter dinner is just dinner. That doesn't mean Easter breakfast and lunch and snacks and snitches, it means just dinner. And when Monday morning arrives we're not still indulging in Easter dinner, we're back to a normal Monday morning breakfast.
AFTERWARDS -- After his hour-long lecture I made my way to the front of the room for a little chat. I wanted to THANK him for being brave enough to go on The Biggest Loser after having gastric bypass surgery. Facing regain after WLS is hard and I appreciate his willingness to be open about his past. I also told him I'd had surgery - he smiled and asked how I was doing. I also asked him if he knew about ObesityHelp.com - he didn't - but I told him that he had his own cheering section on the forums and we talked about his success after each week's show. I showed him my before-and-after picture (at the bottom of this page) which I keep on my phone as a handy reminder and he congratulated me on my success. Then I had a gal nearby snap a photo on my camera phone. He was genuine and patient with all us lookie-loos who needed to have a moment of his time. A very nice man, for sure.
MY NEW OPINION -- Remember last August when I did a race where Helen and Shannon were participants? (Helen was winner of Season 7.) After chatting with Helen for a few minutes after the race I had a pretty big turn around on my opinion of The Biggest Loser. I used to like the show. But... The "advice" she gave to me in those few minutes of talking - and the advice I heard her giving to others who were nearby - was not very good advice. In fact, it was pretty dangerous advice for those who want to lose weight in a healthy and safe way. From that point forward I decided to not watch the show and to not promote it as a good weight loss inspiration source. I still question the tactics of the show -- extreme workouts without enough nutrition to back it up -- but after listening to Ron today, my opinion has changed a bit. The level of nutritional knowledge Ron had before the show compared to after was significant and when he talks about what the most important part of the show was, he talks about that education in the kitchen. After hearing Ron and his passion for the changes he's made in his life... and finding "IT" ... maybe I don't hate The Biggest Loser as much as I have for the past several months.