For years, audiences have been turning up to watch host Ty Pennington stir up tears of joy while making over people's homes on the ABC hit reality series, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Starting next Monday, fitness expert Chris Powell will be getting even more personal by helping overweight men and women achieve a makeover through weight loss with, you guessed it, more than a few tears shed along the way. This new series, however, is no competition show like "The Biggest Loser."
Instead, "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition" takes each episode to show a year-long journey where Powell guides an individual through not only losing weight but also resolving old emotional wounds and changing their lives once and for all. Our Jim Halterman kept the tissues handy as he asked Powell just how impactful the stories are to him, how he works differently with men and women in their makeovers and, even though Powell is the vision of healthy living, if he has some guilty food pleasures of his own that he cannot say no to.
Jim Halterman: I'm the kind of guy who doesn't cry easily but you got me in the first episode with the story of Rachel!
Chris Powell: [Laughs.] Is she not the sweetest thing in the world? That makes two of us. I think I cry more than anybody in that episode. It's such a personal process and it's so emotional to be going through it with my people. I don't hold back and it's very open and honest and we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with each other. That's the by-product of what happens and to make a difference in someone's life like that is so rewarding and so fulfilling and it means so much to me every single time. It gets me every time!
JH: For every episode that we see, is it a full year from start to finish with each subject?
CP: Yes, sir! It's one year and you get it all in 42 minutes! But there's so much that we go through that hits the editing room floor but we do shoot for a full year. It's awesome for the viewers at home to see this incredible transformation happen. You can only do so much and there are so many great things I have in my own memory in the experience with my people.
JH: Were there unexpected parts of the process in the individual's journey that truly surprised you including your own reaction to what you saw?
CP: Absolutely and that's a great question. Coming into any kind of transformation there's a template that I always like to start with and that's just the basic, ideological aspect of it. Here's how you're going to eat, here's how you're going to exercise and then you throw in the human ingredient and everything just gets completely chaotic. With each and every person, when you sprinkle in their own life and their own struggles and their pressures and their triggers, you'll see some individuals and they deal with the true food addiction but the others struggle with their social group and the support group in their family. For others, it's their work or their career or different things that surround them. All of them - and the one thing that is the common denominator - they all have some moment or moments in their pasts where they come from some kind of trauma whether it be abandonment or death or molestation and those are the moments that created so much meaning in their life and started to create their identity of who they were. Those were the moments that were so unexpected when it comes out and when it happens. It's inevitable that it's going to happen and when it does happen, that's when the true rehabilitation and transformation begins and they can start freeing themselves from the burden they've been carrying. Up until that moment, it's just weight loss. You're following this diet regimen and exercise. That whole time I'm watching for those moments when they open up about those moments. Those are the curveballs that get thrown in.
JH: I know we didn't see this in Rachel's journey but is therapy a big part of this whole experience?
CP: Therapy is so necessary and it's offered to everybody in the process from day one. They're going through so much and the transformation, as much as they want it, is so stressful. Aside from the physical aspect of it, they're losing so much weight but they're also creating this new identity for themselves. When you talk to someone who loses 320 pounds but they look in the mirror and they still see 500 pounds they need someone outside of the process to help them. They're training their bodies but they have to train their minds and when they come from some kind of trauma that has created so much of meaning in their life and identity, we're stripping this identity completely away from them and they're creating a new one and it's so stressful!
JH: Are there different approaches for men and women or does it really come down to the individual?
CP: I try to stay as flexible as possible and it's funny because so often I click really differently with everybody but there are some personalities that open up to me immediately and others that are much more guarded. Some of the females, if they came from some past trauma that involved a male, sometimes it's difficult and it's a longer process for them to open up to me. I'm going to fill you in on my secret weapon and that's my wife, Heidi, who is the ultimate life coach. She is my coach and she works with me through all of my issues. We all have them; we're all human. She has become such an intricate part of the process and she works with my people, as well. She's not on camera but during their transformation she's really as part of the process as I am.
JH: We see some of this in the Rachel episode but how important is it for the family and friends for your subject in their process?
CP: The support group is without a doubt the most influential factor in the process. I mean, when it comes to a culture and our customs, these are patterns that are so difficult to be broken. You saw the struggles we had with Rachel's family right off the bat. It's funny because we fill the house with cameras and everyone is gung-ho and 'We're 100% behind you' but the novelty of the process wears off relatively fast and then a month or two in you see people go back to their habits. That's the thing. It's not a 90-day transformation. It's a full year and that's when we get down to the reality of it. Off camera, Rachel was so depressed about the fact that she kept trying to motivate her family to change and she couldn't do it. You can't force people to change and as much as she was motivated and she was excited, it's something she really battled and unfortunately it didn't make it into her story. She took it very personally and it's tough when you can't get your own family to change.
JH: Talk to me about people who have kids and how you deal with that since kids eat differently than adults.
CP: It throws a whole new curveball because kids are so finicky and especially when I come charging into their lives and I turn everything upside down and start stripping food out of the pantry and they have two little ones - 3 and 5 years old, for example - and they're very used to eating in a particular way. Typically, in the first week we have a process called 'Creating an Environment For Success' and we have to be so cognizant of the children in the house and we make a stand by removing all fast food. You're not going to be accepting any food through the window through your car and drive-thrus are going to be completely eliminated. One thing you can do is create a separate area of the kitchen that is a shelf and it's allocated specifically for the kids. However, let's also talk about 'Eat this, not that' concept and choose a bunch of healthy alternatives for your children. At first, the parents always say 'They'll never eat that' but one of the most beautiful things happen in the process. You'll see Stacey's episode later on and she has 3 and 5-year old children and they grew up on McDonald's, which is unfortunately not uncommon. She called me in tears about six months into the process and said 'I finally get it. I didn't enforce anything on my children and saying they couldn't have this. But now that I've changed my life all they want to do is eat the way Mommy does.' That's exactly what I want to do is change the family dynamic. The thing is, no matter what you tell your kids, they're not going to listen to you but if you simply act, they will do what you do. If they see you start making healthy choices, then it becomes cool to them!
JH: You're obviously in great shape but we all have our guilty food pleasures. What's yours?
CP: Peanut butter and tortilla chips. I didn't even have to think twice about that one! Life is so much better if you're able to reward yourself emotionally and psychologically with those things. I don't hold back. At least two days a week - usually Wednesdays and Sundays - I'll reward myself. I'm a really big toast and peanut butter fan with honey. I know that doesn't sound like that big of a deal but it's heaven to me!
"Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition" premieres Monday, May 30 at 10:00/9:00c on ABC. Chris Powell's diet and fitness book "Choose to Lose: The 7-Day Carb-Cycle Solution" will be released this October.