By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
It’s been nearly two years since Helen Phillips shed 140 pounds to become “The Biggest Loser” at age 48. It wasn’t easy, but the Michigan woman built an athletic lifestyle during the eight months she spent in the NBC weight loss competition that she refuses to let go.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Phillips, who is now 50. “If I can do it, so can you.”
Phillips will share lessons she learned on The Biggest Loser ranch and after she returned home to Michigan as part of the North Mississippi Medical Center Spirit of Women Small Steps … Big Changes event in Tupelo on Jan. 27.
In January as people struggle with resolutions to lose weight, the program organizers hope Phillips can inspire them to overcome barriers to a healthy life.
“We feel like she can be a great encouragement to people,” said Liz Dawson, director of NMMC Community Heath Department.
Phillips made the same resolution – to lose weight – for years and failed to make it a reality.
“Every time we make those resolutions and fail, we get down on ourselves even harder,” Phillips said. “I want to empower women with a focus to stay with their resolutions.”
In September 2008, Helen Phillips’ plan was to make the most of her time on the Biggest Loser ranch.
“I was almost ready to settle, because I had tried everything else. This was my last chance,” said Phillips, who was part of the pink team with her daughter Shannon. “I didn’t think I’d be there a month.”
Phillips had medical supervision, intense trainers, nutrition counseling and the freedom to workout for eight to 10 hours a day.
“I was a machine on the ranch,” Phillips said. “There was nothing else to do.”
She learned to push herself out of her comfort zone. She conquered emotional eating habits and rebuilt a healthy eating plan.
But she still had to make it work when she returned home. Phillips remembers being terrified when she came home from the ranch.
“This is where I got fat,” Phillips said.
First thing, she dragged two garbage cans into the house and cleaned out the pantries and the freezer.
“I still had seven pounds of butter in the freezer,” Phillips said.
Phillips’ healthy lifestyle makeover has proved infectious. Her husband has dropped 55 pounds and is now able to control his diabetes without medication.
Her daughter Shannon, who had left the show weeks earlier than Phillips, in part, because of a need to get back to her home and business, has dropped 110 pounds.
Reality post reality show
Phillips no longer exercises for eight to 10 hours a day, like she did during the competition.
“It’s not about the size you are,” Phillips said. “It’s about how you live your life.”
She doesn’t try to maintain the 117-pound “competition weight.” She’s found that a weight between 135 and 140 is healthy for her.
“I was on a reality show,” where house cleaning, work and grocery shopping weren’t part of the mix, Phillips said. “Now I’m living my life.”
These days, Phillips has speaking engagements around the country a few times a month and is writing a book. She has just finished recovering from surgery to remove the extra loose skin that never quite tightened up.
Phillips typically works out four or five times a week and adds in 15-minute bursts of physical activity on her off days.
“I love working out outside,” Phillips said. A park near her home in Michigan has a six-mile loop. “I bundle up and run around the frozen lake. It’s something I want to do. It makes me happy.”
It’s so important to find something enjoyable to sustain an exercise routine, Phillips said. Otherwise, it’s too easy to find excuses to miss it.
“So many times, we drag ourselves into a gym. You think ‘I can’t wait to get off this treadmill,’” Phillips said. “I think we get bored.”
To avoid stale workouts, Phillips mixes up her routine with an emphasis on trying new sports.
In addition to spin and Zumba classes, she’s added cross country skiing and is learning to play ice hockey.
Phillips does still eat like she did on the ranch. She starts the day with a solid breakfast, usually oatmeal, egg whites, coffee with almond milk, Greek yogurt and fruit.
She watches her portion sizes and calories closely, avoiding sugar and butter. She stocks up on fruit and veggies, preferably at the farmer’s market, and then preps them so they are as available.
“I grill year round,” so she always has a stock of grilled chicken or shrimp on hand, she said.
She carries a cooler of healthy snacks, like veggies, hummus and guiltless chips so the temptation to run through a drive-through doesn’t strike.
Phillips allows herself one high-calorie day a week. On a regular day, she’ll take in 1,600 to 1,800 calories. On her high-calorie day, she doubles that.
“It doesn’t mean a free-for-all,” Phillips said.
Over the holidays, she had turkey dinner with small portions of traditional favorites like mashed potatoes and gravy.
“I saved myself for cheesecake,” Phillips said with a laugh. “It would be unrealistic to say I’m never going to have cheesecake again.”
Even on the high-calorie days, she is serious about avoiding fast-food, which were one of her triggers for overeating.
“I was a junk food queen,” Phillips said. “I choose not to eat them now.”
Small Steps … Big Changes
- When: 6:30 p.m Jan. 27
- Where: Summit Center in Tupelo
- Cost: $20 includes dinner and gift
- Sponsor: NMMC’s Spirit of Women Initiative
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Walk around the block today. Walk a little farther tomorrow, “even if it’s just three steps forward.
- Keep two journals. Use one to track everything that goes into your mouth. Use the other to record your thoughts and moods. “It really helps work through the emotions.”