Helen Phillips went from 257 to 117 pounds — to become the season's "Biggest Loser" and at age 48 the oldest person to win the contest.
DETROIT — For almost all of her adult life, Helen Phillips made one New Year's resolution — the same one every year: "I'm going to lose weight."
She would kick off the year with new gym shoes and workout clothes to match her motivation, but her enthusiasm would wear out before her new shoes.
Like many of us, she would end the year with no pounds lost or worse — far more gained than she had temporarily lost.
That all changed in 2009, when she became a contestant on NBC's reality weight-loss show, "The Biggest Loser."
Phillips proudly became half the woman she used to be — dropping from 257 to 117 pounds — to become the season's "Biggest Loser" and at age 48 the oldest person to earn that top spot.
Others have lost big on the show, too, including Pete Thomas, 43, of Ann Arbor, Mich., who shed 185 pounds and was the biggest at-home loser in 2005; Ron Morelli, 57, whose entire South Lyon, Mich., family has gone from fat to fit since 2009, when he appeared on the show, and Carla Triplett, 40, of Detroit, who is 100 pounds lighter and still on her weight-loss journey.
These four "Biggest Losers" all now spend at least part of their time coaching, coaxing and encouraging others to lose weight.
As many people make America's most popular resolution this new year, Phillips, Thomas, Morelli and Triplett offer their stories and tips to help along the way.
They all agree, however, that a key step toward reaching a healthy weight is to stop temporary dieting. Instead, decide to permanently change the way you live.
Pete Thomas remembers when simply walking up a flight of stairs left him winded. He weighed 416 pounds.
He could not have envisioned it before being a "Biggest Loser" contestant, which he calls the start of his new life. He lost 83 pounds in two months on the show and lost 102 more pounds in nine months at home on his own.
"I feel amazing," Thomas says. "I even think sharper. I'm not sluggish in my mind or my body. I feel like I could hike the Grand Canyon and then come back and dance all night. You can't do that if you're carrying an extra person in your body."
Thomas now teaches weight loss through a program called "Lose it Fast, Lose it Forever." He works as a motivational speaker and corporate wellness consultant and continues to speak on behalf of the reality show.
The first thing Helen Phillips had to do before she could lose weight was believe she could do it.
She'd been fat so long and tried every conceivable diet — some more than once — that she had lost confidence in herself.
"You just get to a point where you stop believing you can accomplish it," says Phillips, 51, of Sterling Heights, Mich. She'd pretty much given up trying.
"The Biggest Loser" showed her that she could succeed.
"Right off the bus, they have you exercising," Phillips recalls. "I didn't even think I could exercise like that. And I was doing it. That gave me confidence, and with each accomplishment I gained more confidence."
The show also taught her something she tells others — set small, achievable goals. The thought of losing 100 pounds looked impossible to her.
Instead of thinking of losing large amounts of weight, think about a smaller number. Approach exercise the same way, she advises.
"If you can't walk three miles, decide that today I'm going to walk three blocks, then four, five," she says.
Pick one goal every day.
Phillips has made exercise a regular part of daily life. "I don't let two days go by without exercising," she says. Variety is important, says Phillips, who works out at least 1 ½ hours each time. She goes to two gyms, walks when weather allows and swims, shoots hoops and ice skates.
You have to view doing daily exercise like taking your daily dose of medicine, says Ron Morelli, 57, of South Lyon.
"I hate it, but I do it," he says. "If your doctor told you (that) you had cancer and you need chemotherapy, you'd make time for chemotherapy," he says. "I make time to walk on the treadmill. That's just what I do — at least five of seven days."
Doing so and eating healthier — fewer fatty foods in smaller amounts — helped Morelli go from 430 pounds when he started on "The Biggest Loser" to 275 today. He'd weighed even more before gastric bypass surgery, which he had in 1995. Before the surgery, his weight had hit 532 pounds.
Losing weight has become a family affair for Ron, his wife, Becky, 47, and their sons, Mike, 21, and Max, 19.
Together they've written a book about their story, "Fat Family/Fit Family: How We Beat Obesity and You Can Too" (Plume, $15), published earlier this year.
In total, they've shed 650 pounds since the 2009 show — the same season as Phillips.
"The key is never giving up," Morelli says. "Don't let a slip ruin the day or the week. There are days — like during the holidays — when you're going to overeat. So what? Get over it."
Carla Triplett's "ah-ha" moment came when she sat in a chair at Comerica Bank, where she's a branch manager, and the chair broke.
That's when she knew she had to lose weight.
Triplett, 40, of Detroit was among the 2009 contestants, along with Morelli and Phillips.
She was among the first contestants sent home from the weight-loss ranch.
That didn't stop her, however.
Since being on the show, she has lost 128 pounds and is still working toward her goal of 170 pounds. She weighs 289 — still not where she wants to be, but closer to her goal when she started the show at 379 pounds.
"Being on the show made me more conscious of what I was putting in my mouth," says Triplett.
Triplett enjoys boxing and dancing because she discovered that by dancing vigorously, she can burn more calories than she does on an elliptical trainer. Boxing also burns a lot of calories and both are fun, she says.
"People stop exercising because they become bored," she says. "I box and dance because I enjoy doing those things. Boxing also helped me get over the frustration of not being on the show."