CHAPEL HILL - A lot of people exercise at Henry Horton State Park, but there's only one who's been on national TV and is continuing her remarkable experience to improve Americans' health, one person at a time.
"As you can see," Liz Young starts to say at a picnic table interview this week, "quite a few people come out here and walk."
In the cooler mornings of Tennessee's current heat wave, two and three person teams jog or quick walk by as Young and her walking buddy, Amy Rowell of Chapel Hill, discuss their routine and what it's doing for them.
Young was a contestant on the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser and in December, she was eliminated from the competition. She made it to the last episode of that season's shows, coming close to winning $250,000. Technically, she placed fourth, but she's the first to say it was well worth it.
Young was eliminated after she contracted bronchitis, and because program physicians were concerned that it might turn into pneumonia, medicines with steroids were administered. Her weakened condition, removal from the show's regime and other circumstances slowed or stopped her weight loss, so she was eliminated. It prompted her to regain 30 pounds. She weighed, and probably still weighs, about 210 pounds.
Now, it's coming off, and she's counseling her friend, Amy, who she met at a "Boot Camp" for weight loss. It's a long process and it boils down to diet, exercise and self determination, or mind over matter.
Amy had been losing weight, but had reached a plateau and was holding at a loss of 25 pounds. With help, Amy's lost another 25 pounds.
"Liz gave us little tips that helps us lose weight," Amy says, describing a program that encourages people to "eat clean and natural." Amy thought she was doing that, "but it was food out of a box," she said, condemning preservatives and additives.
Sugar and portion sizes were other lesson topics, she said.
"The size of a deck of cards is a cooked meat portion," she said.
Sometimes it's as simple as reading the label.
"If you can't read it," she says of a food box's contents list that includes complicated words with other ingredients like corn and flour, "then maybe you shouldn't eat it.
"It's too easy to drive through the drive-through" restaurant, Liz continued. "We've super-sized ourselves."
Liz had an interior design business in Cool Springs before she got on the TV show. She's closed it and doesn't plan to go back.
"I feel like this is a calling," Young said of her business plans to continue her weight loss practices.
Amy concedes, "It does cost more to eat healthy, but it costs more to be in the hospital."
Liz shares what she learned at "The Ranch" where Biggest Loser contestants live, work out, eat and are filmed for the show.
"When I came home from The Ranch, I asked myself, 'What will I do?'
"I was given a huge blessing to be on that show," Liz said.
Her conclusion is that she should help people.
Self determination and the buddy system are the basics of her message.
Her buddy, Amy, says she doesn't feel weight coming off and suspects it's because she's building muscle. Now she can do normal everyday things that were an effort before.
She's also reporting that at one time she was paying $450 per month for medicine after her health insurance provider paid its portion. She doesn't feel as though the medication is needed anymore because of her healthier lifestyle.
Some of her medicine was to treat fibromyalgia, or FM, a condition Americans may have become aware of since TV ads tout pills to treat musculoskeletal pain not related to cuts or injuries. Johns Hopkins' arthritis center says "since FM is a clinical diagnosis it requires only minimal screening laboratory tests to exclude other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, myositis, hypothyroidism, and lupus."
"You're very fatigued," Amy says.
"I needed exercise," she concluded. "I'm off all the medicine as far as fibromyalgia, except for the blood pressure medicine."
Liz says, "You have to push through the pain."
Amy's prescriptions started when she was 20, she said. She was depressed after a miscarriage.
That state of mind was part of the third of three parts of Liz Young's weight loss recipe. The other parts are simply diet and exercise. The third part is the individual's "mental ability to say, 'I choose to do this,'" she said.