Overcoming … OBESITY

Mississippi’s Patrick House, who won big as a loser, will be featured speaker at EXPO kickoff breakfast

Patrick House doesn’t display a “Born to Lose” tattoo to boast of his new status as one of America’s Biggest Losers.

He instead lets his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame attest to what he accomplished in the last six months of 2010.

As last June approached, the Brandon native was fat and getting fatter. At 421 pounds, his life was a journey from the refrigerator to the couch (and back). Only the kindest among us would have called him rolly-poly-poly.

The 28-year-old father of two young boys a few months before had lost his job in Vicksburg as a wholesale food sales rep and prospects for another job anytime soon looked dim. Finally, convinced his obesity would kill him early and he’d lose out on seeing his sons grow up, House arrived at what many men today call their “lock-and-load” moment — a time to commit to an action that will have lifelong implications. He’d get back to the weight he had as a multi-sport athlete at Brandon High School. And he’d pull in a quarter-million dollars while he was at it.

Getting noticed in the Big Easy

House thinks his big break came when he did something his mother and father had taught him: when you speak, speak like you mean it. Stand up and have your say.

The room in New Orleans was filled with wannabe-losers. They sat and took turns reciting why they should be contestants on Season 10 of NBC Television’s “Biggest Loser.”

House was the exception. When his turn came, he stood up, looked the producers in the eye and said simply: “My name is Patrick House. I’m from Vicksburg, Miss., and I am going to lose 182 pounds.”

In the brief moment he made his pitch, House noticed a producer scribbling notes.

Today, he thinks his sincerity helped him stand out among the hundreds of “Loser” candidates. “I think they saw me as someone who was at the end of their rope,” he said.

Whatever they saw, it was good enough to get an invite to California for more interviews. When selection day arrived, House had a place on the contestant roster. And he had a won a place as a favorite of the producers, House said.

“They would say, ‘We hope you win, because you’re a marketer’s dream: married, a couple of kids, putting others in front of yourself…’”

Coming to the test

As a former walk-on who went on to win a scholarship as an offensive lineman on the Delta State University football team, House had more than a passing acquaintance with grueling workouts in the summer sun. What he didn’t have was any experience living off of 800 calories a day.

Both became central to his life as he settled in at the Biggest Loser Ranch in California. His background in sports helped to prepare him for the endless hours of cardio exercises.

The short food ration was different altogether. To endure that, House had to recall the abyss he was falling into before his “Loser” break came. And he had to remember: “There’s a quarter-million bucks dangling in front of you.”

For three months, House ate his 800 calories each day and exercised “as long as it took to burn 7,000 calories.”

After he’d burn away the 800 calories, the body would tap into the only calories it had left: those in fat cells and muscle. He said he wasn’t worried about losing muscle mass because “if you keep your heart rate in the proper range you’ll burn the fat off and not the muscle.”

He followed three months of the ranch regime with several weeks at home – with the “Biggest Loser” cameras in tow.

Arriving home, House discovered his wife had joined in with a weight-loss effort of her own — shedding 60 pounds in the process. “My wife made the changes while I was on the ranch. She cleaned up our family’s eating habits.”

They ate healthy and light and House worked out eight hours a day, six days a week. He said he had a constant sense of urgency. “I only had a few weeks at home to get the weight off before the finale.”

To win, House would have to show the largest percentage of body weight lost — not just pounds.

Whether he had achieved that wouldn’t be known until he stepped on the scales in a live telecast of the final show of Season 10 — an episode that 11 million viewers overall, one of NBC’s heftiest showings ever in the Tuesday 8-10 p.m. slot, excluding the summer Olympics.

An Intrinsic Quality

Allison Kaz, vice president of casting, said she sensed in House an individual; who had a “rootable quality” that led people to support him and wish the best for him. It helped that he had a huge desire to be a better dad, Kaz said.

“Patrick has that intrinsic quality that makes him a good leader,” she said in an email. “And that came out on the show.”

At the urging of his Delta State football coaches in his early 20s, House packed on the pounds. His college career ended with a back injury his sophomore year but he kept eating as if still played. “Being a former athlete, we knew he could take the weight off; he just had to prove to us he was ready,” Kaz said.

“He had auditioned a few times proper to making it on the show season 10,” she said. “He really had to look at himself and decide if he was really ready for a change. That conviction ultimately is why he made the show.”

Take My Car

NBC casting executive Allison Kaz emphasized House’s “rootable” quality. That quality produced a key, emotion-packed moment as House and two other “Loser” contestants engaged in a running challenge with the winner to get a $40,000 Ford Edge car.

“I needed a car bad,” House said. “I was driving a 1992 Plymouth Acclaim clunker.”

Except longtime runner Ada Wong was in the challenge, as was Brendan Donovan, either of whom could outpace House in the running challenge. Except they conspired not to. “On the last lap Ada and Brendan stopped and let me finish to win the car.”

So how did the show’s execs react? After all, the show is a nitty-gritty competition.

“The executive producer told me that what happened was what the spirit of ‘Biggest Loser’ was all about. There’s something to be said about the willingness of two people to put their feelings aside and let someone else win. It was a pretty amazing moment.”

Tipping the Scales

Writing in her LA Times Show Tracker blog, Rene Lynch said trainer Bob Harper pegged House for the winner from the moment he arrived at the ranch. Normally, Harper thinks motivations like money and fame are not enough to sustain a “Loser” contestant. But House’s case was different. Harper told Lynch: His family was on the verge of financial collapse and that was a powerful motivation. “He needed the money, bad,” Bob said. And Patrick used that to motivate himself. “I knew he was going to win, I knew it, knew it, knew it,” Harper said.

And House was willing to eliminate a rival if it meant winning, Lynch noted.  Mark Pinhasovich, a chief competitor, was shocked and hurt when House voted him off the show. In retrospect, it was a wise decision, Lynch writes. Had Pinhasovich stuck around and made it into the Final Three, he would have easily won: He started at 421 pounds and lost 213 pounds, or 50.59 percent of his body weight. Pinhasovich had to settle for taking home the $100,000 at-home prize.

At the finale, House’s remaining challengers were Alredo “Frado” Dinten, a 43-year-old futures trader from Staten Island, and Ada, the runner who had stopped short to allow House to claim the Ford Edge.

They went first, leaving House to step on last. “To get on the scale and see those numbers flashing and see that I’m the biggest loser — man, that’s incredible,” he said afterward.

The confetti fell amid the cheers and the hugs. And life has not been the same for House — not since he had that “commitment” moment many months back.

Today, he’s an instructor at the MindStream Academy in Bluffton, S.C., where he teaches overweight teens how to live healthy and keep their weight under control. “It’s kind of like the ‘Biggest Loser.’ We work on changing their lifestyles and getting them healthy.”

And House has kept his weight at between 220 and 230 pounds since winning the “Big Loser” title in December. On April 18, he’ll be running in the Boston Marathon.

“I’m about to go out on a 15-mile training run,” he said in an afternoon interview March 25, on a speaking stop in Shreveport.

He had already made dinner plans for his return: steamed mahi mahi (no oil or butter) and steamed vegetables.

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Winning words

>> What: MBJ EXPO kickoff breakfast

>> When: 7:30 a.m., April 7

>> Where: Jackson Trade Mart, Mississippi State Fairgrounds

>> Who: Patrick House, a Brandon native and winner of the “Big Loser” in season 10 of the hit NBC show.

>> More info: Call, 601-364-1011.

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