Local Biggest Loser Resort shows way to healthy lifestyle

BY Kara Spak

August 28, 2013 8:22PM

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Updated: August 28, 2013 9:05PM

If you follow the program, you will shed pounds at the Biggest Loser Resort in west suburban Itasca.

You also will shed tears.

“My first week here, I cried like a baby,” said Brian Shields, 40, a Burr Ridge man who hopes to lose half his body weight (he wouldn’t disclose the number) in the six month he plans to stay. “Your barriers really come down.”

The Itasca resort is the fourth in the country franchised through NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” the reality hit where morbidly obese contestants drop hundreds of pounds through tough workouts and even tougher love.

Built within the upscale Eaglewood Resort and Spa, the Biggest Loser Resort opened June 9 and starts at $2,995 for one week (private occupancy), a fee that is pro-rated for the length of stay.

Participants are offered a menu that is approximately 1,500 calories a day, prepared with a dietician’s help. There’s an integrative wellness coach, or life coach, who gives group talks but also works individually with guests. There are four to five hours of workouts a day supervised by personal trainers, from traditional weightlifting to kickball games.

The workouts were vigorous but modified depending on the fitness level of participants, said Mark Lavin, 56, a Lake View resident who spent two weeks at the resort in June. Lavin was looking to drop 40 pounds and lost 10 between signing up for the program in April and when he started. He lost another 17.5 pounds at the resort, weight he has managed to keep off despite a boating accident sidelining his exercise routine.

You won’t find Jillian Michaels in Itasca, but the trainers are tough, he said.

“They didn’t scream in your face like that,” he said. “They yelled and they pushed you and kept you moving. They all also had a compassionate side.”

In Itasca, fans of the show will recognize a few sources of familiar inspiration. Season 7’s Jerry and Estella Hayes, who live in Wheaton, work as assistant trainers at the resort. Hayes weighed 369 pounds when he weighed in on the show, and won the “at home” winner $100,000 prize by dropping to 192 pounds. He is now 210 pounds, and his wife, Estella, lost 83 pounds, moving from a size 22 to a size 12.

“We’re trying to help wherever we can,” Jerry Hayes said.

Mark Pinhasovich, of Season 10, moved from the East Coast to Addison to work as the guest services manager. Like the Hayeses, he works out regularly with the guests and speaks to them about losing weight and keeping it off.

Those at the resort said they found a community understanding of the changes they were trying to make in their lives.

“There’s a lot of change that happens here and it’s not always on the scale,” said Nick Ridenoure, 31, of Springdale, Ark., a resort guest.

That’s usually where the tears come in, particularly on what are nicknamed “Tearful Tuesdays” and “Weepy Wednesdays,” when the excitement of the new week has worn off and the grind of so much work starts to take its toll.

Gretchen Fecht, 48, of Minneapolis spent eight weeks at the resort, losing 36 pounds. During her eighth week, she was asked to give a motivational talk. She started tearing up when talking about how, when she arrived, she needed to work hard on walking from one activity to the next.

“One day I walked two miles,” she said, the room of 20 guests and staff bursting into applause. “That was a big change for me. I’m early in my fitness journey. My next big step is Saturday night, when I go home.”

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