Two sisters who were the winner and runner-up in season 11 of "The Biggest Loser" figure Alabamians don't need expensive gym memberships or depravation diets to shed Alabama's image as the second most obese state.
Olivia Ward, who was the winner, and her sister, Hannah Curlee, are serving as role models for the sixth year of the statewide weight loss program Scale Back Alabama.
Their message is simple: Quit putting off a decision to get started losing weight and have a support system for encouragement.
"Normal people can do extraordinary things," said Curlee, who dropped from 248 pounds to 128.
The two sisters went to high school in Mobile and got degrees from the University of Alabama before heading off on separate careers. Ward is an opera singer in New York, and Curlee works for a healthcare company in Nashville, Tenn.
Ward, who dropped from 261 pounds to 132 pounds last spring, said keeping off the weight has required the sisters to cut back on some of the foods they loved, but they didn't give them up entirely because that's not realistic.
"We love a meat and three. We love cornbread. We are Southern girls through and through," she said. But now, the collards and cornbread are an occasional treat rather than a regular part of the diet.
"When you do have these things, they are that much more delicious," she said in a phone interview Thursday.
At Curlee's job in Nashville, she said she's either spending long hours at a desk or traveling. To increase her exercise, she parks in the back of the company parking lot to give her a longer walk to the front door. She got rid of the printer by her desk and uses one farther away that requires a walk. When she goes to the restroom, she goes on a different floor so that she has to climb stairs.
On the road, she makes sure her hotel room has a small refrigerator that she can stock with healthy food to avoid eating out for every meal, she said.
"We are food addicts to the core. We just found the tools to help us," she said.
She also suggests making deserts an occasional treat rather than an everyday pleasure and cutting out soft drinks.
"Small steps add up to big changes," she said.
The two sisters were there for each other during the 22 weeks on "The Biggest Loser." But Ward said she also had the moral support of her husband, who lost of 113 pounds at home while she was on the show.
Both said having a support group is critical. It can be family, friends, co-workers or church members. The key, they said, is to get over any concerns asking someone for support because people appreciate being asked.
"You want your friends and family to be successful," Ward said.
A recent report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said 32.3 percent of adult Alabamians are obese, which is second behind Mississippi. Alabama ranked fourth highest in diabetes (12.2 percent), third highest for adult hypertension (33.9 percent), and fourth highest in rates of physical inactivity (30.5 percent).
State Health Officer Don Williamson said programs like Scale Back Alabama are a way help the state shed those unwanted rankings. "Losing 5 percent of your body weight can make a huge difference in you winding up with Type 2 diabetes," he said.
For Scale Back Alabama, people get together in teams of four. Weigh-ins will be Jan. 21-27, and there are weigh-in sites in every county. Weigh-outs will be April 7-13. There is no cost to enter.
Teams where each member loses 10 pounds or more are entered into a drawing for prizes.
Rosemary Blackman, executive vice president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said participation has grown from 5,000 people the first year to 33,000 last year.
The Hospital Association sponsors the program with the state Department of Public Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.