Last year, Michael Ventrella of Bartlett, Ill., realized he had a big problem.
The heaviest-ever contestant on "The Biggest Loser" (Tuesday at 8 on NBC/4) said his late-night lifestyle as a DJ left him with little time to sleep or eat properly, and family stresses contributed to emotional eating. By the time Ventrella, 31, joined the cast of the weight-loss show along with his mother, Maria, he tipped the scales at 526 pounds. (As of last week's show, he was down to 481.) He spoke about his determination in a recent phone interview.
How did you become involved in the show?
I had never watched. But one of my buddies was working with a trainer, and he was really worried for me and my health. He asked his trainer, "Could you give my buddy a free assessment, maybe give him some workout tips to help him lose weight?" So I met up with the trainer and he said, "For a big guy, you're built very well. Have you ever thought of auditioning for 'The Biggest Loser'? I know they're having auditions in Chicago soon." I'm the kind of person that, once I become interested in something, I research it like crazy. So I watched the Season 7 episodes that were still on NBC.com, and I was thinking, "This looks like so much fun. I could totally do this."
Since you've been on the show, have you ever said to yourself, "This thing they're asking me to do is too hard?" Have you ever had moments of self-doubt?
I always have those moments. It's inevitable, we're all human. But I have [trainers] Bob [Harper] and Jillian [Michaels], who have so much faith in me. From all the small successes I've had so far, it's only proven to me that, yeah, I can do anything.
Contestants get a lot of encouragement and support when they're at the "Biggest Loser" ranch, but do you think you'll be able to continue the healthy habits in your daily life when you're not there?
Definitely. This wasn't just a temporary fix. It was a life change. The person I was before - that person doesn't exist anymore.