He Dropped 185 Pounds and Kept It Off

It’s not easy to lose weight—and it’s even harder to keep it off. Only about 20% of people who lose weight manage to keep it off for a year or more.

Pete Thomas is one of them. He gained a national following during the second season of NBC’s The Biggest Loser. At the start, he weighed more than 400 pounds. Nine months later, he won the $100,000 prize after losing 185 pounds—weight that he has kept off for more than seven years.

He says the secret to losing weight and keeping it off is to develop “forever habits,” things that you will automatically do for the rest of your life. These include…

Journal your journey. When I started my journey, I jotted down what I thought were my biggest obstacles to weight loss. I knew that I needed to understand why I gained the weight in the first place. For me, it was a result of a troubled childhood in and out of foster care, during which I never knew where my next meal was going to come from. When I did get to eat, it usually was foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates such as fast food. I also wrote about how I would feel once I had lost the weight.

Now I use journaling every day to help me anticipate challenges and how I’ll master them. These challenges often take the form of stress or other emotional setbacks that used to drive me straight to the refrigerator.

Set power goals. A power goal is specific, measurable, aggressive, realistic and time-based. For The Biggest Loser, one of my goals was to lose 140 pounds. I achieved that goal and went on to lose even more weight.

Now my goals are based around my “personal success statements.” It sounds like a gimmick, but you can change how you see yourself by changing what you say to yourself. I keep myself on track by saying out loud one of my personal success statements every morning.

Examples: “Winners do daily what others do occasionally,” or “There’s a winner within me,” or “I feel sexy, strong and great as I maintain my weight at or around 238.”

Gather great teammates. Critics of The Biggest Loser point out that everyone would lose weight if they spent their days with professional trainers, producers and camera crews, shooting a weight-loss TV show.

It’s a valid point, but it misses the broader principle. A team effort makes it easier to do anything in life, including lose weight. So I strongly advise people to assemble their own teams. Start at home. Tell your spouse/significant other what you’re trying to achieve. Or tell your best friend or your mother or your brother. Encourage him/her to make you accountable—to gently remind you when you’re slipping, taking large portions, skipping workouts, etc.

You also can tell people at work what you’re up to. Encourage them to ask about your weight-loss successes (or failures). It helps to meet a few times a week with a professional trainer, but it’s not essential. What really makes a difference is the spirit of accountability through teamwork that you can get from the people closest to you.

The team that I assembled after I left The Biggest Loser keeps me on track today. That includes students who have been through my program, as well as friends and workout buddies who I see on a regular basis.

Stick to the list. Before I go to the grocery store, I write out a list and stick to it when I’m in the store. This sounds very simple, but it’s crucial to achieving your goals. I say to myself, If it’s not on the list, I must resist.

Focus on the 4 Cs: Correct Calories, Cautious Carbs. My primary purpose is to find foods that will fill me up while still reducing my calorie intake, but a secondary goal is to keep a cautious eye on carbohydrates because my body doesn’t fare well when I consume too many carbs.

I discovered this while I was on The Biggest Loser ranch. I was eating a lot of delicious fruit, thinking I was on my way to losing weight, but the scale didn’t budge. When I began substituting more lean proteins and even some good fats, the scale responded.

Everyone’s body is different, so when you set out to lose weight, you need to experiment to find the percentage that works best for you. Carbs account for about 15% of my daily diet, as opposed to the USDA’s recommendation of 55%.

Give up “white poisons.” This includes sugar and refined flour. The enormous amount of sugar in the American diet is a key reason that about two-thirds of the population is overweight. I advise people to completely avoid foods that include added sugar, such as sugary soft drinks, sweet breakfast cereals, candy, etc.

I also avoid all processed carbohydrates—white bread, white pasta, baked goods, etc. Refined flour has virtually the same effects on the body as sugar. It triggers an insulin surge that increases food cravings as well as weight gain.

Modify. With the exception of sugar and refined carbs, I recommend not giving up your favorite foods—just modify them to reduce calories. One way to do this is with substitutions.

Examples: A serving of two eggs has 140 calories. I found that I could eat more by substituting Egg Beaters, which has only 25 calories per serving. Similarly, I could substitute two or three slices of turkey bacon for each slice of regular bacon and eat about the same number of calories.

Move. It’s difficult to lose weight just by counting calories—you’ll also need to exercise. The same goes for keeping the weight off. Apart from its weight-loss benefits, exercise improves your mood as well as your appearance.

I had the advantage of working with the celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels, who was brutal about whipping me into shape. I don’t work with a trainer now, because I have become a certified personal trainer myself. But my experience while working with Jillian convinced me that it can be very helpful. Otherwise, just get moving. People who do any form of exercise will burn more calories than those who are sedentary. You can start with walking every day and work up to more strenuous exercise.

Each week I try to get in at least two sessions of cardio—swimming, running on a treadmill, etc.—along with four resistance workouts to increase muscle mass and metabolism. Exercise can become boring, so I normally listen to music while I do my cardio. When I find it really hard to get on the machine at all, I repeat my personal goals to get myself moving.