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Valerie Phillips: Biggest Losers offer inspiring, cautionary tales

SHARE Valerie Phillips: Biggest Losers offer inspiring, cautionary tales

While touring The Biggest Loser Resort a couple weeks ago, I met two "biggest losers" with tales that were both inspiring and cautionary: Erik Chopin and Wayne Vandenlangenberg.

Chopin went from 407 pounds to 193 to win Season 3 of NBC's "The Biggest Loser." Some may remember that was also the season when Heather Hansen of West Bountiful was a contestant.

But, after a couple of years, the husband and father of three found his weight had climbed back up to 368 pounds.

"I was paranoid that I would gain the weight back, and it was a self-fulfilling prophecy," he told me while taking a break after completing his gym workout.

Chopin appeared on last week's episode to warn current contestants of the challenges of keeping weight off once they get home. When that episode was filmed in February, Chopin weighed around 300 pounds. He stayed two weeks at the resort in January and is now doing another five-week stint there before heading straight to the season finale, where he will weigh in on the show.

He couldn't divulge how much he's lost so far, "but it will be a good amount at the finale."

After winning the prize money, Chopin managed to keep the pounds off for a year and a half. With his $250,000 (which, he added, "goes pretty fast,") he bought a small car that was a snug fit, and lots of clothes for his new 34-inch waist, to keep himself more accountable.

He and trainer Bob Harper were also working with a pharmaceutical company.

"I was going to health and wellness fairs, meeting and greeting people and signing autographs, so I wanted to make sure I was practicing what I preached," he said. "I looked good for that."

When the public appearances started to fade out, "I had less accountability, and I also had a job I was unhappy with. You think food will make you feel better, but the more that you eat, the worse you feel, and it compounds. And I started skipping workouts."

After meeting with a therapist at the ranch, Chopin realized his job uncertainties were causing him to "medicate" with food. He's decided to pursue a career as a life coach, as he enjoys motivating people.

I caught up with Wayne Vandenlangenberg as he was coming back from his 21/2-hour morning hike. In March, he was on "The Biggest Loser," telling viewers how he lost 418 pounds in two years.

The 674-pound taxi driver was confined to a wheelchair. He became inspired by watching "The Biggest Loser," especially Season 6 contestant Jerry Skeaback. Unable to afford a gym membership, he took trainer Bob Harper's advice to heart: "If you don't have the money for a gym membership, walking is free."

He and his wife threw out all the junk food. He began using vegetable cans for weight-lifting, tying cans to his legs with yarn.

With the aid of a walker, he began walking up and down the hallway in his home.

"The first time I walked around the block three months later, it felt like a marathon to me."

In two years, he's gone from an 87-inch waist to a 40-inch waist.

One day, he got a call from a producer with "The Biggest Loser." Someone had submitted his story, and producers wanted to make sure he was for real before inviting him to fly to California for a weigh-in on the show.

Besides getting a two-week stay at the Biggest Loser Resort, Vandenlangenberg and his wife also received tickets to attend "The Biggest Loser" finale.

Staying at the resort was a treat, since it was the first time Vandenlangenberg had been able to use real gym equipment. "I've used more muscles here than I ever knew I had."

He's also become a celebrity in his hometown, with speaking invitations and even leading a school pep rally.

He plans to teach a nine-week weight loss course, and he has a website, www.waynevan.webs.com.

It will be interesting to see how each of these men look at next week's "Biggest Loser" finale.

And, it might be even more interesting a year from now, to see if they will be able to keep those pounds off.

e-mail: vphillips@desnews.com