Biggest Loser Contestants Share Tips

Two past contestants from the TV show The Biggest Loser spoke at Harvard about their experiences and to give advice on weight loss.

Two former contestants on the popular television show The Biggest Loser, in which obese men and women compete to lose the most weight and win a prize of $250,000, came to the Malkin Athletic Center on January 19 to give motivational speeches on health and weight loss. Frado Dinten and Brendan Donovan, neither of whom won the grand prize, frankly dissected their fears, obstacles, and strategies used on the show, as well as their formative life experiences before and since.

Dinten, 45, of Staten Island, who weighed in at 367 pounds at the start of the show, got down to 205 on air, and is now above 240, though he did not specify his current weight. "Ninety percent of the people on the show put most of it back on," he declared at the outset. Nonetheless, his doctor had predicted that Dinten would die within five years if he did not address his obesity and diabetes, and "This TV show saved my life," he said. "I get choked up when I think about it." He detailed some of the stringent eating practices, like an 800-calorie-per-day diet, that he used in his reduction efforts. Losing weight, he said, is "80 percent nutrition and 20 percent hitting the gym."

Bostonian Brendan Donovan, 34, got up to 380 pounds before the show and at 29 years of age had a host of weight-related medical problems. He ended The Biggest Loser  at 245 pounds with a 31-inch waist, but said he’d made a big mistake in goal setting: "All I wanted to do was win." During the contest, he lost as much as 18 pounds in seven days, and "That is not healthy," he said. He now weighs 338 pounds and recognizes that reversing that gain means dealing with the fact that "weight loss is hard, it's an everyday thing, and it is a lifestyle change."

The event was one of many free winter-session programs presented by the department of athletics and the Harvard Center for Wellness. Area fitness manager Dawn Murdock Stenis, profiled in 2010 in Harvard Magazine, introduced the speakers and outlined for the audience the far less dramatic, but more lastingly effective, approach to weight loss offered at Harvard as the Harvard Slim Down program, an eight-week endeavor in lifestyle change that combines personal training, exercise classes, and nutritional advice with other interventions.

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