He was The Biggest Loser who gained almost all his weight back - but now Erik Chopin tells In Touch exclusively how he's getting back on track
Erik Chopin won season 3 of The Biggest Loser in 2006 after dropping 214 pounds, but soon learned the hard way that it's more than a game - it's a lifelong struggle. As the years passed, he packed on over 100 pounds. Ashamed, he didn't even tell trainer Bob Harper what was going on. "My plan was to lose the weight behind the scenes and then the next time there was a Biggest Loser event, I'd be ready to go. But I never got myself together," Erik tells In Touch, adding that he nearly canceled his participation on the recent "Where Are They Now?" special. "I had broken a record for weight loss on the show. There was such an outpouring of support and people telling me I inspired them. It was such a big thing, so to stumble like that, and stumble so severely, it was really hard for me. All of a sudden, you're the disappointment, the guy who had a great opportunity and threw it away." Instead, he found that by returning to the Biggest Loser family, it's easier to get back on track. On the special, Bob challenged him to drop the pounds by this season's finale, so Erik headed to The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge in Utah to jumpstart his new journey, which In Touch will be exclusively following until he reaches his latest - and this time, lasting - goal.
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What led you back to this point?
I won season 3 in December 2006 and after that I started working with Bob Harper on a diabetes campaign. We were touring the country doing speaking engagements. I was keeping myself busy for about a year and a half, and I was maintaining my weight. Before The Biggest Loser, I had a deli and I sold it and I thought what I was doing was going to be my career. I loved it, because I was meeting people, sharing my story and I felt like I was paying it forward, motivating people. I felt like I had a great purpose in life. Then some of those things started to slow down and I found myself not finding as many things that I could count on to make a living. After a few months, I found a sales job. My wife was also pregnant, so some of the bad food started coming back into the house. I said, "We'll have this for a while and stop." But after the baby came, I was continuing to eat that stuff. Also, I was kind of depressed about not knowing what I was supposed to be doing for a living and I stopped going to the gym. I've heard people say, "But you didn't just put on a few pounds, it's over 100 pounds." The only answer I can give is that while this was going on, I kept saying, "Tomorrow is the day I'm going to stop this." And then those days kept running into each other. I would say, "The first of the month" and then that day would pass by and I would stop weighing myself. All of a sudden I had to look in the mirror and realize I couldn't hide anymore. I finally got on the scale, and I weighed 368 pounds.
Did Bob know?
No. We keep in touch. Bob's always on to the next season, the next cast. It's hard to keep up with all of his "kids." I try not to be needy, but he would yell at me if he heard that. He'd say, "You're crazy. Of course you can call me anytime." I didn't want to be like, "Help me again" because I knew that there was someone new that needed it. I already got the treatment. I kept saying I'm going to fix this on my own.
How did Bob react?
I told him I was scared and ashamed to see him. He said "You should never feel like that. I don't care if you're over the 407 pounds. It doesn't matter." That helped a lot. I can't keep looking in the past. I have to look forward. Massive weight loss is a challenging thing. I always thought it was just physical, but there's a lot of mental as well. Why, after taking all this weight off, did you put it on again? There's something you have to find out and dig into.
Are you doing that now?
I've done a lot of that. At home, my wife and I were doing couples therapy and at the resort I was seeing the in-house therapist. He dug right into that. It goes back to feeling that lack of purpose. When you eat and don't exercise, you're giving yourself instant gratification. I'm still a work in process, but the reason I was doing it is that I don't know what I want to do. I'm 40 and my joke is I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. When you feel aimless, you're in a little bit of pain and you try to medicate yourself with food. That time period after the show was really one of the happiest times of my life because I was helping people and that was gratifying for me. So my goal by the time of this finale is to have something in place that I'm going to be doing to make sure that this time I can keep the weight off because I want maintain what I've accomplished.
You just got back from two weeks at the Biggest Loser Resort. What is it like?
It's gorgeous. I live in Long Island, so we don't have anything with elevation. Out there, a big part of the exercise is hiking. It's beautiful scenery, things that I had never seen before; petrified dunes and caves. You climb and some of them are pretty good inclines, so you struggle to get to the top but the view is breathtaking, so it's rewarding. On top of that, you have regular classes and a pool. My favorite thing was the food. I like food and complex flavors, so I used to think that when you eat healthy, it doesn't taste as good. I told myself to just deal with it. But I got the resort and I really enjoyed the healthy food. One meal after another, the chef kept surprising me with healthy things. I'm thinking grilled chicken, fish and steamed vegetables. He's using those ingredients but also other ingredients that I'd never heard of and making it taste gourmet.
What is your daily regimen now?
I'm trying to work out three hours a day. Another thing from the resort that I'm trying to incorporate at home is early rising. I'm not a morning person but I had to at the resort so my clock switched to getting up at 5 and going to bed at 9. If I can keep the resort schedule, I think I can get three workouts in. Some people say they do 5, 6 hours. I don't know how they do that with a job. It's also a matter of how hard each of those hours are. I always push myself for that one hour and burn a lot of calories. I make sure it's a crisp, hard workout.
What is your calorie intake?
1200-1500 a day. The resort was 1200. I didn't feel deprived at all, except maybe a little bit at night when I wanted a little snack. But that's more habit than hunger, I think.
How much weight have you lost?
In the two weeks at the ranch, I lost 20 pounds, and since I've been back I lost about 5 more pounds. So the resort was an awesome springboard for me.
Are you going back?
Yeah, the plan is to go back in mid-April and then stay until the finale in May.
Is it more difficult to do this time around?
It's very different. The first time, I was trying to win the prize. This time, it's an opportunity to redeem myself and do this for me, so I can maintain this for the rest of my life.