I recently interviewed “The Biggest Loser” contestant Scott Mitchell about his new book, “Alive Again” (Spring Creek Books, $16.95). In my Standard-Examiner column, I shared some of the healthy eating habits the former NFL and U quarterback made to go from 366 pounds to 240 on last season’s weight-loss reality series.
But while I had him on the phone, I asked him a lot of the things that viewers wondered about during last season’s episodes.
The trash-talking scene with Woody at Comeback Canyon was for real. “Everything I did was for real, this was all as real as rain. Part of it was that I’d managed to stay at Comeback Canyon for so long, I felt I deserved to go back to the ranch, and I didn’t want to lose to Woody. I just knew inside of me that there probably wasn’t a lot of weight loss that week. So the whole thing added up. They didn’t even show the best part of the workout, and it went on for awhile.”
With Comeback Canyon , contestant coming from the ranch hadn’t lost much weight the past week, so it was likely they would lose a lot. So someone had to show a consistently strong weight loss week after week in order to stay.
Many viewers were turned off by teammate, Rob Guiry, because he seemed to get upset easily.
“I don’t know if people caught it, but in his past life, Rob held all his emotions inside; he never said anything. So now Rob was expressing his emotions, and I saw that as a good thing. He wasn’t always expressing it in an effective way, but at least he’s expressing it. He’s such a good person, and I saw that on the show, but a lot of what they were showing were those unfortunate moments. I was really pulling for him, I would have loved for him to win.”
He felt Toma, the eventual grand prize winner, deserved it. “He really worked hard and was a good guy, a pleasant person.”
He wrote in his book that he was infuriated when he was voted off. He hadn’t lost any weight that week, but Toma had actually gained a pound. Did people view him as a threat?
“You don’t really know how other people view you,” he said. “We had conversations about who should stay on the show, because we all got along very well. But we’re getting down to the bottom, and now we’re in this voting people off kind of thing, who should go home? I made the comment, why not keep it how it’s been and let the person who loses the lowest amount of weight be sent home? We all agreed that if anyone gains weight, they should go home. We had these conversations, but I began to see that some folks were playing the game. And some of the comments about how we love each other was probably some gamesmanship.
“That week it would have been Toma to be voted off, because he gained weight. I can’t answer for everyone else. But I would think they saw me as a threat because I won a lot of the challenges and I worked really hard.”
What was your workout schedule like? How much time did you spend working with trainers, and how much discretionary time did have?
“It depended on the trainer you worked with, Jen was at the ranch every day, even if we weren’t filming. We were always with a trainer for a portion of the day, and they had assistants. Your trainer gave you homework to work out X hours a day on your own, and you can do it however you want. I’m a morning person. I would hike an hour to 1 1/2 hours early in the morning, then get on a spin bike for an hour, then an elliptical or treadmill for another hour. So that was about three-and-a-half hours in the morning. Then I’d take a break, and swim in the pool for an hour. Then we’d have a workout with a trainer. Our on-camera workouts would be an hour or two hours, other workouts were close to three hours.
It was hard because you didn’t know what the challenge was, and they could be very active, such as a treadmill or spin bike challenge. But, I always worked out every morning even on the challenge days. The most important thing was to lose weight, not to win challenges. I knew if I took care of losing weight I’d be OK.”
In fact, it was the week of a very active challenge that Mitchell failed to lose any weight, and ended up at Comeback Canyon. “I thought I would lose a lot of weight because I really pushed it. I was dumbfounded. But everyone had a light week. That was also the week that we released the butterflies, and it was really hot weather. The filming on the hike took hours, so we were two days in the hot sun leading up to a weigh-in. I know my water consumption was at a higher level, and I think that was the case with everyone else. Sometimes with weight loss, the work didn’t necessarily translate into pounds at that specific moment. When you’re consistently losing high numbers of pounds week after week, it’s hard to keep it up.”
Critics of the show say the workouts seem really brutal for people who are so overweight, that the risk of injury seems pretty high. “As far as your health, they’re very conscious all the time about your wellness. Mike Murberg spent most of his time in the swimming pool, and he lost a lot of weight. I spent a lot of time in the swimming pool, and on a spin bike, exercising in a way that didn’t impact my body. From a cardio perspective, I got winded, but it wasn’t detrimental to my health. That’s what I liked about hiking, it was really
strenuous but enjoyable at the same time. I didn’t feel like I was exercising, just enjoying being outside.”
Now he’s home, he a couple of hours exercising, including being active with his kids.
“For any person, 90 minutes of exercise is do-able for anyone. It’s just managing your time. I don’t watch TV as much. You replace something with something else.”
He’s not a gym rat. “I don’t like the gym, because a lot of people want to talk, and I don’t want to feel the pressure of having to socialize. For me, it’s not a social hour. But if I don’t socialize, people think you’re kind of rude, and in a public situation I’m not going to be rude. I just like to work out alone and in a quiet place. So I go to the high school early in the morning when no one is there and work out, or go hike up the mountain. We had an episode on the show where we moved the furniture around , and it was a really good workout. You just need the ability to move.”
On the show, he was given a limit of 1,800 calories per day. For someone who regularly downed about 1,500 calories for breakfast alone, that was a drastic cutback. “I had to learn how to make healthy food taste good. In my mind, if it didn’t have butter or bacon or cheese, it wouldn’t taste good.”
In his book, Scott Mitchell shares experiences on the show, and the struggles in his childhood and football career that contributed to his weight issues.
When he showed up on “The Biggest Loser” trainer, Dolvett Quince told him he would probably gain the weight back unless he figured out why he had gained it in the first place,.
Mitchell seemed to be the “golden boy,” who excelled in football, baseball and basketball. But his home life was financially and emotionally unstable.
In his book, Mitchell wrote that he craved love and acceptance from his emotionally distant parents. Sports was the way to connect with his dad; and with his mother, it was through food.
“Although my mother was an amazing cook, none of it was healthy,” Mitchell wrote, after describing homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, from-scratch bread smeared with butter and homemade raspberry jam, and birthday cheesecakes. “It was awfully tasty, but extremely high in saturated fat and empty calories.”
When his dream to win a Super Bowl didn’t happen, Mitchell felt like a failure. During his time at “The Biggest Loser,” he did a lot of soul-searching, and realized that he had always focused on the destination goal, but when he got to it, he found no joy.
‘It hit me that your joy comes out of the experiences in your life, regardless of the outcome,” he said. “Things you view as failures is what really makes you so wonderful, that you learned how to have patience, how to love unconditionally, and how to be a better person. Life isn’t about a destination but the everyday events that happen. ”
After Mitchell left the NFL, he worked as a real estate developer, coached his alma mater, the Springville High School football team, and got involved with a software company. And he ate a lot of food.
His daily commute started out with two breakfast combo meals at McDonalds, or a breakfast burrito at a local Mexican restaurant “that feels like it weighs three pounds. ”
Then he would polish off the healthy lunch his wife, Wendy, had prepared for him.
At lunchtime, he would head for all-you-can-eat restaurant, followed by afternoon snacks and Popeye’s Chicken on the drive home.
Then he would eat dinner to try to keep his wife from suspecting that he’d been snacking.
When he coached at Springville High, the staff often met at an all-you-can-eat pizza joint, a Mexican restaurant, or IHOP. Watching game film always involved snacks and soda.
His father’s long bout of obesity-related illnesses and untimely death served as a wake-up call, as Mitchell realized that was going to be his future. He became a “Biggest Loser” competitor soon after, and he felt as if he were a dying caterpillar, ready to go into a cocoon. He was able to emerge as a butterfly, finding joy in the weight-loss journey.
One of those joyful experiences that Mitchell began to enjoy was eating healthy food.
“I had gotten so numb to how wonderful and good-tasting food can be,” he said. “It can be symphony orchestra playing in your mouth with all these flavors and textures and combinations of really simple things,” he said.
The contestants have to cook their own meals, and Mitchell found he enjoyed figuring out how cut calories while adding nutrition, with help from the show’s dietitian Cheryl Forberg and chef Rocco DiSpirito.”
On one episode, Mitchell’s team won the healthy cooking challenge by making “White Delight,” using egg whites.
His salmon and egg white omelet is still his favorite go-to breakfast today.
“You’re taking egg whites that have no appeal or flavor, and from an artistic point, are a white canvas as a background. Then you add salmon, which I never would have thought to eat for breakfast,” he said.
His method is to sauté a strip of one to two ounces of salmon one both sides, then break it into small, 1/2-inch pieces with a spatula. Then he adds some chopped asparagus or spinach.
“Then you cook the omelet with about a half-cup of egg whites, and put in feta cheese, where 1/4 cup is 50 calories, and it has an interesting taste to it,” Mitchell said. “Then I make homemade salsa, with onions and tomatoes and jalapeno, low-sodium salt and lime, and that’s about low in calories, but the flavor is so powerful.”
The omelet and salsa are topped with 1/4 of an avocado, finely diced.
“There’s so much going on there, when you take a bite of it. I eat it every day now and I absolutely love it.”
He also boosts the flavor of other ho-hum foods with chipotle peppers, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic, lemons, limes, and flavored vinegars. To flavor fish and chicken, he makes a sauce from Dijon mustard, rice vinegar, a tiny bit of sesame oil, and freshly ground pepper.
He often roasts tomatoes, peppers and other veggies.
“My kids despise Brussels sprouts, but roasting them changes the whole flavor profile,” he said.
He also invested in a lot of really good storage containers, so that he could cook enough food for multiple meals. With a healthy meal on hand, there’s no need for the drive-through.
“If you’re going through the process of cooking one breakfast, you might as well add to it and cook three,” he said. “I have meals in my fridge that I could eat for three days.”
He said the perfect ending of the season finale was to go to Subway at 3 a.m. with his teammates Jordan and Rob, and recap their “Biggest Loser” journeys.
“When the Super Bowl is over, you go to Disney World,” Mitchell wrote. “When “The Biggest Loser ‘ is over, you go to Subway.”
Mitchell will be sharing some of his recipes, information about his book, and any upcoming speaking or book signing events on his website, www.scottmitchell19.com.
More Biggest Loser stories:
Jackson Carter, behind the scenes at “The Biggest Loser: http://chewandchat.com/2013/04/biggest-loser-ja…-the-scenes-info.html
Matt Miller’s exit interview.
Jackson Carter’s weight loss tips.