ERIK CHOPIN, 37, a Long Island, N.Y., delicatessen owner and family man, once carried more than 400 pounds on his 6-foot frame.
The extreme weight was obvious, but what Erik didn't know was that he also had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Not to mention a body mass index of 55, a far cry from the recommended range of 18.5 to 24.9.
Erik was just about to go under the knife for bariatric surgery when he was selected by lottery to be on NBC's "The Biggest Loser" last season. Not in a million years had he thought he'd be one of the lucky winners out of more than 250,000 "Loser" hopefuls.
"The show was plan A - to do it with diet and exercise," he recalled recently. "It was not realistic, but I knew this could save my life."
Now a svelte 215 pounds, Erik continues to inspire others with his message to increase awareness about type II diabetes and other health issues.
Erik also is spokesperson for the national educational campaign Diabetes & You: Step It Up to Get it Down (www.stepitupdiabetes.com). Recently, he took the time to share his story with me.
Q: When did you first realize you had a weight problem?
A: Always had one. It came to peak just months before I went on the show. For six months to a year I did not weigh myself at all. I had gone up to 407. I was always concerned, but I was not doing anything about it.
So, I went to a weight-loss clinic. I was really depressed about it. I gave it a few weeks and then decided to opt for weight-loss surgery. I was going to have lap-band surgery and the surgery was scheduled for Feb. 14. Then my brother mentioned the casting call.
Q: Wow, that's amazing. Talk about divine intervention. So, would you say the show was a major turning point in your life?
A: Yes! The show was plan A. I knew it was not realistic [that he would be chosen], but I knew this could save my life. I knew I could do it with diet and exercise. I just needed help.
Q: How old were you when you were diagnosed with type II diabetes?
A: Actually, I was diagnosed with diabetes on the show and on camera.
Q: Gee, that must have been a shock. However, you were able to reverse your condition with the skills you acquired from the show, right?
A: Yes, my diabetes is under control. I didn't go on any medications. Things were under control after I lost the first 50 to 60 pounds and exercised regularly. Now I work with Step It Up and spread the message to go see your doctor.
I didn't know I had it. I didn't want to hear about what they were going to tell me about my obesity. If I had gone to the doctor, I could have done something about it. There are no symptoms.
Q: So what's your message to the thousands of type II diabetic or pre-diabetic Americans?
A: Go to your doctor. Find out about your health. Get your blood work done.
Q: Was the money [he won $250,000] the No. 1 motivating factor for your success?
A: It was a combination of things. My health. I initially got in that line that was five blocks [long] because I wanted to look good. I want to buy the clothes that are in fashion. I wanted to be able to take a snapshot with my family. I have two little girls at home and a wife I love. I want to be there to walk my girls down the aisle.
Q: Erik, that's beautiful. How much did you actually lose?
A: I lost 214 pounds in eight months. I lost 124 on the ranch and 93 at home. I broke all the "Biggest Loser" records for weight lost and percentage lost.
Q: Have you been able to maintain?
A: Yes, I have. I went down to 193 pounds in the show but currently stay around 215. My waist went from a 54 to a 34. I've put on some muscle, too, and went from a XXXXXL to a Large.
Q: What was your exercise routine like at the ranch?
A: Every day, get up and do cardio on our own, before the trainer arrived, for one hour. The trainer would arrive around 11 a.m. We would work three hours with the trainer. After dinner, we would do another hour of cardio. In all, about five hours a day.
Q: Whew! Talk about working it out. Now what's your routine like?
A: Now I do an hour of cardio and I'm done. I also meet with a trainer three to four times a week to tone up. I like working with the trainer. I love the results.
Q: What was your diet like on the show?
A: I was on the Blue Team with [trainer] Bob Harper. I was on 2,000 calories a day. I was not told specifically what to eat. I had to log calories in a journal. Took out sugar and fat, white flour. Oatmeal was a typical breakfast, or egg white and low-sodium ham, with whole-grain bread and no butter.
Lunch might be tuna with low-fat mayo or crackers and Laughing Cow cheese. Dinner might be fish, chicken or steak with vegetables, minus the carbs.
Q: How has being on the show affected your family?
A: Prior to the show my wife said, "You're going to get thin, and I'm going to be the fat wife at home. I'm joining a gym." She lost 40 pounds while I was on the show, then lost 20 more. She went from a size 18 to size 10. She's the real hero. She was juggling the business, running the house, managing the girls and still managed to get to the gym.
Q: That's wonderful. What else changed in your life?
A: The show has completely changed my life. For one, I learned about my health. It has changed me to want to work with other people. To help them get to the doctors. I want to help. Send me an e-mail [email@example.com]. I know how helpless and hopeless they feel. *
Kimberly Garrison is a certified personal trainer and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia (www.1on1ultimatefitness.com).
E-mail her at