Season five of “Extreme Weight Loss” launches tonight, May 26, and this year there will be a couple of new variations on the popular theme of long-term weight loss journeys.
“This season we’re dabbling with something that Heidi and I have been wanting to do for a long time and that’s work with couples,” reports trainer and lifestyle makeover specialist Chris Powell, referring to his wife and fellow trainer, Heidi. “We have three engaged couple who want to make a change before they start the next chapter of their lives together.”
“We not only get to work with them in achieving their weight loss goals,” adds Heidi, “Chris gets to give the bachelors advice and I get to give the bachelorettes advice. We tell them what’s worked for our marriage and what hasn’t worked — so it goes further than weight loss.” She laughs brightly, “It’s weddings and weight loss.”
Literally — as those particular weight transformations each ends with an on-camera wedding. In fact, notes Chris, “I got to marry one couple. It was such an honor.” He admits, “I was more nervous for that than anything I’ve done this year. It’s like, it wasn’t about the show, it was about that they’d become such wonderful friends of ours and we wanted that moment to be perfect for them. It was an honor and it was a blast.”
This energetic, seemingly sweet-natured, attractive and — of course — mightily well-toned pair have four children and a unique lifestyle in Aurora, Colorado, balancing their reality series with such activities as their weight loss boot camp at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.
And yes, they really are friends of their show’s participants. Season four’s Bruce from Salt Lake City, for example, comes and stays with Chris and Heidi and their brood every month. They’re like an extended family.
“They are! We call them the extended Powell Pack,” affirms Heidi. Their kids “have all these extra aunts and uncles. They love it — more people to love them.”
The beautiful blond fitness expert, also seen on the ABC.com Web series “Meet the Powell Pack,” has always worked with “Weight Loss” participants behind the scenes — but only last year began co-hosting the prime time show. Being seen as a training twosome obviously works well for the Powells, since Heidi is not only back this year, but in more episodes.
Another difference this season? “I will say this season’s cast is female dominant,” notes Heidi. “I do feel this past year there has been more need for a woman’s perspective and more involvement in my own experience. Many times I think it’s so much easier for women to open up to other women who have been there.”
To look at Heidi, a walking example of perfect female form, one wouldn’t think extremely overweight women would find her relatable.
“The thing that people don’t realize until they get to know me is that I struggled with my own eating disorder for a long time,” responds Heidi, who met Chris when they were both going through tough times.
(He was coming out of a business failure, she was a newly divorced mother of two.) She goes on, “Really, anorexia is almost the exact same thing they’re dealing with except on the opposite end of the spectrum — very, very similar. The difference is, my eating issue wasn’t as apparent as their eating issue. And mine wasn’t limited to anorexia. I also struggled with bulimia.”
If Heidi hadn’t been afflicted with the disorder that causes victims to purge their bodies of food, her binging would soon have caused her weight to balloon. “I would have been the same weight they were,” she says of her and Chris’ clients. “So I do understand, in so many ways, what they’re dealing with and what those triggers are that make you not only eat food but binge eat food — eat until it doesn’t even look good or taste good but you keep eating because it’s there.”
What do the Powells advise someone who is, perhaps, dealing with an extremely stressful situation and unconsciously trying to handle it by shoveling in food? How do they short-circuit that drive?
“Any time you’re using food as a coping mechanism, there is something much deeper that has to be dealt with,” says Heidi. “Myself included. For everyone it’s different. For some people it’s the need to love and forgive someone. It might just be insecurities they need to overcome within themselves. My responsibility, and Chris’s responsibility is helping them get to the root, and once we do that, we can identify that food is the coping mechanism you have using that you’ve trained your body to use for years. It’s easier to trade addictions — maybe we go from food to a healthier addiction, maybe exercise, or whatever it is. Awareness is the key to everything.”
Chris elaborates, “To actually achieve long-term transformation is to get to the emotional root of what is driving that behavior in the first place. It’s by far the biggest challenge. Some people get there in a couple of weeks, for some it takes months. Some, it could take a whole year. It really depends on the individual and their journey.”
In a television landscape full of “reality” shows that have nothing to do with reality, “Extreme Weight Loss” does seem to show moments of genuine disappointment and outright failure. The folks working to drop half their body weight or more over the course of a year have been known to rebel, go off the plan, regain weight, try to hide their eating. Sometimes — many times — they miss their weight loss goals along the way.
“This is the reality of rehabilitation,” stresses Chris. “This is what it’s like for people to change. We need people to know it’s not easy. The most important part is the emotional and psychological battle. It’s not all hugs and high fives. We want people to watch the show and find hope and inspiration, but also realistic expectations. We want to give them the tools they need to know, hey, life’s gonna be tough but I’m tough enough to push through.”
The Powells have been “decompressing” between promotional chores, as their children’s school year, and their season five filming, just came to an end. Heidi notes that twice a year, they take family trips that are work-free.
“We made a pact; we put the phones down and just spend time with the kids. In October we took them to Hawaii and in March, we took the family to California. Other than that, the kids kind of dig traveling with us when we’re working, too. We enjoy our time together.”