I confess I am not a huge fan of reality TV, have only watched The Biggest Loser a few times, and lack a significant personal story about weight loss. (I am about 15 pounds heavier than I prefer.) Yet, maybe because I am a therapist, I was curious and drawn find the healthy lesson in Fat Chance – Losing the Weight, Gaining My Worth by Julie Hadden with a foreword by Jillian Michaels, team trainer from The Biggest Loser. Fat Chance offers the first-hand inspirational story of the author's success and struggles with low self-esteem to lose weight through The Biggest Loser competition. I enjoyed the book.
Julie Hadden is a reality TV series, The Biggest Loser, Season 4 contestant from 2007. The idea of auditioning for the show came from Julie's skinny girlfriend, who learned producers from The Biggest Loser were hosting an open casting call in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida in the summer of 2006. An initial motivation for auditioning was that Julie wanted to lose weight, which would help resolve a medical condition interfering with becoming pregnant.
Julie recounts details of her successful audition and how she ended up on Jillian Michael's team. Up to now, in the six seasons that Jillian has been involved, a member of her team has always won. The author also discloses her emotional roller-coaster journey throughout the four months of competition and the grueling training with Jillian.
Complete with visually descriptive titles and language, the author provides an insider's view of The Biggest Loser, and her struggle to gain a sense of worthiness and lose weight. Her personal tale includes her spiritual journey, illustrated with several biblical references focusing on the support her faith provided.
Julie recalls vivid life memories, including one from her parents' rocky divorce and custody battle. When her father was moving out, he asked her who she "wanted to go with". Her mother offered Julie a role of Lifesavers if she picked her. In response, her father promised all the Lifesavers she wanted. She became aware at age 8=eight that she was "fat" when her very thin mother enrolled her in Weight Watchers.
By junior high, she was painfully aware of her "XXXL" sizing and was labeled "The Freezer" by a classmate after Chicago Bears defensive lineman William "The Refrigerator" Perry. Her high school years were shaped by her self-image as a fat girl.
Throughout their marriage, her husband, Mike, was an enabler regarding her weight. When she groaned she had gained weight, he would provide treats like chocolate cake, nachos, and egg rolls and she would feel better. When she gained so much weight her clothes wouldn't fit, she would refuse to go out with her husband. The next day, she would "find eight new pairs of pants on the bed" from her husband.
Julie's story of being on the show is hardly glamorous. Instead, it is consistently descriptive of pain and exhaustion, along with emotions of fear of failure, loyalty, frustration, and determination. There were 3am wake-ups, sports trainers taping feet and ankles, multiple redos of shots, video cameras in her face 24 hours a day, extremely grueling and painful workouts, and a four-month separation from her husband and son. (She was prohibited by the show from telling anyone else about where she was. Many assumed she had abandoned her husband and son.) Season 4 was titled The Biggest Loser University and based in a former clinic serving the mentally ill, with sterile, cold dorms and sawed-off bars on the windows.
The show also provided psych assessments by the show's psychologist and weekly visits to The Biggest Loser doctor to check body fat, bone strength, and muscle mass through a body composition scan. Training included group trips outside the Biggest Loser campus to the "real world" where they had to face the trigger smells of pizzerias and other tantalizing food aromas.
In the final episode of The Biggest Loser, Julie and teammate, Bill, were the last two players standing. Bill lost 164 pounds. She had lost a total of 97 pounds, which was 44.5% of her total body weight. Bill beat her out for first place by 8 pounds.
Chapter 8, "This Is Me Now", is my favorite because Julie realistically talks about her life post-competition and the three myths she encountered. The first one, that it will get easier, is definitely not true. She talks about her ongoing struggles when she returned home. As for myth #2, one bad choice won't matter, after her return home, she gained 10 pounds in less than a month due to occasional indulgences in chocolate cake or a basket of hot wings — even though she continued to eat well and exercise. The third myth, hard work equals radical results, also proved to be just that — a myth. Julie's 'life after loser' also included being a guest on Oprah and a special tour of the White House with other VIPs.
These key passages provide a sample of hopeful messages and information the reader can expect to find.
• As I trained Julie for those first few times, I saw the courage of a champion peeking through. She did not whine, she did not complain, she did not stop and she did not quit. As stronger contestants unraveled, it was Julie who was pushing through. (From the foreword by Jillian Michaels)
• Even if you never learn to love exercise, you do learn to love how you feel afterward. (Page 22)
• Throughout my entire existence, it seems, I had two lives going. There was the me that others saw, and the me that was truly me. The end result of my duplicity was inner turmoil that is tough to explain. (Page 33)
• Jillian Michaels has a philosophy that when you begin to change your body, the rest of you changes too. As physical strength powers up, emotional weights power down. (Page 43)
• … I bought a cup of coffee… and printed on (it) was… "treat your calories like hundred dollar bills". What that disposable coffee cup was telling me was that even when I screw up at breakfast… I could make a fresh start at any hour of the day, and spend the next hundred calories I eat as wisely as I would spend my cold, hard cash. (Page 75)
• People tend to think that when you lose weight you also lose all the insecurities that come with being fat…It was startling and sobering to me that while so much about me had changed during my months in LA, more about me had stayed exactly the same. (Page 149)
• …the most significant take away…from my time spent on The Biggest Loser campus… the most important thing… is that you and I are worthy of living the life of our dreams. (Page 160)
Readers who face an obesity challenge will identify with Julie and likely find hope and motivation. Helpful appendices with sample workouts, exercises, healthy recipes, resources, and FAQs are included.
Viewers of the reality show, The Biggest Loser, may be surprised, as was I, to understand how the emotion displayed by contestants (intensity often suspect) is triggered by the experience and production process. My admiration for the tremendous work and dedication it takes to lose 97 pounds, and maintain the loss, leaves me feeling grateful that I do not struggle with obesity and with the motivation to tackle the challenges I do have.