South Jersey’s Mike Epstein takes weight loss journey to the ‘Extreme’
ABC’s Extreme Weight Loss, a reality TV show in which individuals volunteer to receive training and lifestyle changes from trainer Chris Powell, might sound, well, extreme. But “extreme” is a fitting adjective to describe the whirlwind of a year Voorhees resident Mike Epstein has experienced.
Epstein, who auditioned during an open casting call in Philadelphia in February of 2012, was selected for the show and began filming in April of last year. “The open casting call was held at the Four Seasons hotel where my wife and I got married 20 years ago,” said Epstein. “I thought it was a sign.”
A lucky sign it certainly was. Epstein, who had previously tried out for The Biggest Loser to no avail, hit it big this time—literally. “I heard about the Extreme Weight Loss tryouts and realized they were for people who are even larger than those who participate on The Biggest Loser,” said Epstein whose starting weight was 417 lb. Although he cannot reveal how much weight he lost prior to the show’s Aug. 13 airing, he admits to being 453 lb. at his heaviest and promises that he now “looks good.”
More important than looking his best, however, Epstein feels great. “After the interview and selection process, we started filming,” a journey that takes one year while contestants work toward reaching weight loss goals and focus on healthier lifestyles. “During the process, Powell teaches about transformation, not just weight loss,” said Epstein of the show’s trainer. “The best thing for me is that I learned to focus on my mind and my body followed.”
Of course, there were different challenges, phases and adventures along the way, including completion of “boot camp” in California, but most of the process occurred right here in South Jersey. “Extreme Weight Loss built a gym in my home,” said Epstein. “I also worked with a local trainer and at the Katz JCC. A great advantage for maintaining my new lifestyle is that I lived in the real world throughout the process.”
Epstein, who worked out 3- 4 hours a day, was in constant communication with Powell and his wife Heidi. “They provided me with the tools needed to be successful,” he said “but what it came down to was integrity. At the end of the day when the cameras stopped filming, I had to be accountable for myself.”
Fortunately, Epstein has a significant support system, including his wife Nanci and their three children; Ethan, 18; Gabby, 15 and Aidan, 10. He also relied on his brother and business partner who helped by allowing a more flexible work schedule.
For Epstein though, it really is all about the mindset, and after being obese for most of his life, he was ready to make the commitment. “It’s about living a healthier lifestyle and understanding bad habits can come back fast.” Epstein realizes there are always times when people fall, but getting back up is crucial. “When you get knocked down, just brush yourself off and start over. Don’t ever give up.”
It is because of his new mindset that Epstein, a yo-yo dieter for most of his life, is convinced he won’t fall back into old habits. “I could teach every diet on the market,” he said. “I was the best at losing, but also the best at gaining it back. The missing piece was that I had to work on my mind first.”
Epstein said his wife was concerned his weight would lead to irreversible health problems and that she would lose him. “My family and kids are so important to me I was willing to do anything, even if it meant going on reality TV. I don’t want my kids to get into the same spiral I got into.”
Since shedding the pounds as a result of his efforts on Extreme Weight Loss, Epstein is no longer considered prediabetic, no longer has high cholesterol or high blood pressure and his sleep apnea has gone away.
Once a self-confessed sugar and carbaholic, he now eats a non-processed foods diet, uses natural sweetener substitutes, and stays away from white flour. When treating himself to desserts, he always makes sure to get right back to routine. “The Jewish holidays were the toughest for me. It’s hard to pass up Jewish apple cake and matzah ball soup, but in the end it all comes back to integrity.”
Epstein, a long-time member of Cong. Beth El, was not only the show’s oldest contestant— he recently turned 50— he was also the only Jew. In fact, Cong. Beth El Rabbi Aaron Krupnick and Hazzan Alisa Pomerantz-Boro have a role in the Aug. 13 show. Epstein, however, could not go into detail prior to the airing.
“My faith and my Judaism make me want to help other people. Obesity is an epidemic and I want to pay it forward,” said Epstein. He has already agreed to speak at wellness retreats and would love to work with kids to combat childhood obesity.
Epstein continues to work out every day and enjoys doing anything that keeps him moving. He is excited about watching his transformation process along with the rest of the country when his stint on Extreme Weight Loss airs on ABC Tuesday, Aug. 13 at 8 p.m. “My whole family benefited from my journey. It feels amazing to be in great shape.” .