GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Nick Keeler and Lael Dandan together lost 111 pounds in four months.
Lost & Found
A couple improve their health and their relationship as they compete in a TV diet challenge
Nick Keeler was a walking time bomb. He was overweight, lacked energy and endured high levels of stress. Not to mention, he had a family history of diabetes.
His fiancee, Lael Dandan, had cholesterol levels that were off the chart at 401. And, her mother suffered a heart attack and triple bypass surgery at the age of 43.
Family history and the desire to get married and start their own family forced them to take action. They applied to be a part of "The Biggest Loser: Engaged Couples" program, where they learned the tools that gave them a second chance. The two are now married, with a new lease on life -- and love.
"We feel like we are dating again ... like we are in high school," said Nick. "Now that the weight is off, the romance has kicked in. We are laughing and joking more."
The NBC reality show teaches contestants about healthy foods and exercise at "The Biggest Loser" ranch, then challenges them to maintain their new lifestyle over several months. Nick and Lael competed against another couple to lose the most weight and win a $50,000 dream wedding.
Their show aired Feb. 9 -- and though they didn't win, Nick lost 68 pounds and Lael lost 43 pounds, a total of 111 pounds in four months.
Nick said they used to enjoy a "wine and dine" relationship.
"That is why we gained most of the weight. We wanted to taste food and experience everything." A typical meal would consist of appetizers, separate entrees and dessert. Now, they skip the appetizers, order lean proteins or fish minus the starch and forgo dessert.
Upon leaving the ranch, they found their home stocked by the show with healthy foods and new gym equipment. After a few months of keeping a watchful eye on their diet and enduring rigorous exercise routines, they each dropped their cholesterol levels by about 70 points. "We learned that diet and exercise go hand in hand. ... It is 50/50," Lael said.
Now, the sharing of rich and heavy meals has been replaced with hikes, bike rides and activities that were difficult before the weight came off.
Among their consolation prizes from the show was a personal chef's services for a month. "We learned how important it is to eat breakfast," Lael said. Typically, the meal consists of a whole-grain cereal with fat-free milk or oatmeal and fresh fruit. "We make better choices if we don't skip breakfast."
Nick works as a vice president of a communications firm with about 95 employees. "There is candy on every desk," he said, noting that things escalate during the holidays. He brings two apples to work each day to help with sugar cravings and to control snacking.
"After about two weeks of healthy eating, it became a habit for us," Lael said. "Now, I have so much more energy and self-confidence. I have a much more positive outlook on life."
Nick added, "I crave exercise, have less stress and feel good about myself. All that hard work really paid off."
The trek wasn't easy but was worth it, they said. "We didn't want to have kids and one of us drop dead from a heart attack. We want to be there to take care of each other," Nick said.
He does not recommend that everyone lose weight so quickly. Subtle changes can make a difference, such as eliminating dressings and butter, he explained.
They were monitored by doctors during the several months of dieting and grueling workouts. And they claim that they would not have been able to do it without the support of family and friends.
They've since had to learn not to be so extreme. Instead of working out four to five hours a day, they maintain a one-hour cardio workout daily and a weight workout a couple times a week.
One of their new hobbies is training for triathlons. Nick was a triathlete more than five years ago, but Lael had never done one. They completed their first one together last year. "It is a good way to set goals and work out together," Nick said.
"It is all about moderation," Lael said. "We can't deprive ourselves and do have splurge days." They satisfy sugar cravings with fat-free Fudgesicles that don't add too much to their calorie intake. Sugar-free Jell-O is another favorite. "We can eat chocolate, but the next day, we go back to being healthy," she added.
Another perk was learning to cook together at home. "We make a lot of stir-fry without using oil and replace sugar with Splenda," Lael said. "We have become the unofficial ambassadors for our friends. They are becoming more health-conscious about what they eat."
Nick is most amazed by Lael's increased confidence. "She is like night and day," he said, noting that Lael is opening a wine store downtown in April. "More guys are whistling at her when she is jogging," he laughed.
"If we can do it, anyone can do it," Nick added. Most people just neglect making the commitment.
Even the family pet is reaping the benefits, Nick said. "The dog gets more walks. He is happy with our active lifestyle."