After a disappointing wrestling season at the University of Iowa, Belle Plaine’s Matt Hoover became depressed, which led to binge eating and drinking. By 2005 when he was cast on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser 2,” the former 190-pounder had ballooned to a staggering 339 pounds. His emotional journey of self-discovery while on the show resulted in Hoover’s losing a total of 157 pounds and walking away with both the $250,000 grand prize and, more importantly, a new life. Iowa Public Television's Andrea Coyle interviews Matt about his monumental loss.
You arrived weighing 339 pounds. In order to beat Seth’s percentage of total weight loss of 42.27 and become the Biggest Loser, you need to have lost at least 144 pounds, and you did it!
Coyle: So, Matt, you look good, but you look like you feel really good. How are you doing?
Hoover: Well, I’m feeling great, you know. I think the show -- having been on the show "The Biggest Loser" helped me to a find a lot more about myself rather than just weight loss. It taught me how to live my life. I got a pretty good life, and I’m enjoying life a lot more. You know, when I was obese, I was struggling with my depression and sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, all these things that made me feel low. And now I have gotten all that under control, and I’m able to live a much happier, much more exciting life because of it.
Coyle: Tell me about your road to obesity and how that occurred.
Hoover: Yeah, my road to obesity wasn't a very long road. It didn't take me much time at all to become obese. I was a college athlete. I wrestled at the university of Iowa for Coach Dan Gable and for Coach Jim Zileske, and we were winning a lot. I was 177 and 190 pounds and trained a lot. I spent my whole life cutting weight. So now I deserved to eat a little more, and it didn't take long for me to go from 190-pound division I college athlete to 300 -- over 350 pounds. And I bet it didn't take me much more than four years.
Coyle: How was that journey emotionally for you?
Hoover: Emotionally, the journey, it made me a wreck. You know, I was like -- you know, I felt good about myself. I felt like I had plans and dreams and goals for my life, and then they just kind of went to the wayside. You know, I kept thinking I’ll get around to it. When I’m ready to lose the weight, I’ll lose the weight. But unfortunately for a lot of us, the bigger you get, the more unhealthy you become, the longer that wait is before you decide to do something about it. And for some people, by the time they get around to making life changes, it's too late. You know, they're full-blown diabetic or they have already had their heart attack or they die from obesity.
Coyle: So when you were obese, were there simple things that you couldn't do, that normally you would have been able to?
Hoover: Being obese was very difficult for me. Putting pants on was uncomfortable. You know, you had to suck your gut in to button your pants. Tying your shoes, you know, getting the wind knocked out of you. Snoring all night, waking yourself up snoring, having heartburn so bad that you sleep sitting up. I mean those are all symptoms that I had. The great thing is they've all gone away. But those few years of my life when I had to deal with that were terrible. I think probably the most -- the toughest thing for me was the way I looked at myself. The way I felt about myself was horrible. But on the outside when I come around people, I was the most happy guy you've ever met. “Oh, look at this guy. He's got such a great personality, blah, blah, blah.” and you're like I just want to crawl in and eat. You know, I’d eat two in the morning. Every Sunday I’d go to my little Chinese restaurant and get the dinner for six and eat the whole thing while I’m watching TV, you know, and kid myself into thinking, well, this is just how it is for me, this is a ritual.
Coyle: So when was your light-bulb moment, when you started losing the weight that you realized you had the power all along?
Hoover: Yeah, my light-bulb moment was it -- is it probably was one that most people wouldn't experience, is when my wife now cut my hair. I walked around when I was on the show, I had this long hair because I thought that having the long hair made my face look thinner. When you're 350 pounds, there isn't a whole lot that makes you look thinner. So, you know, for me I was hiding behind this hair. And Suzie came in and she cut my hair, and I looked in the mirror. I was like, "Oh, my gosh, I’ve lost weight.” You know, for me that was my moment. I have done change -- I’ve made changes. But at that moment, cutting my hair was kind of symbolic of letting go of the past, letting go of the old me and saying this is who I am, this is what I’m gonna be, and seeing the new me. And then I started seeing me smiling more and finding myself carrying myself different, and that's when you start to appreciate the work you've done.
Coyle: Which do you think was harder, losing the weight or trying to maintain weight loss?
Hoover: The hardest part about losing weight is definitely keeping it off. You know, for me I was in a situation, all I had to do was work out and eat perfect every day for three months. Now I’m in the real world where I’m traveling all over. I have my wife. I have to work even harder now just to maintain where I’m at now, and I’m still probably 15 pounds heavier than I’d like to be, but that's part of it. I don't justify and say, well, I’ve keep off over 100 pounds for a year. I’m 15 pounds heavier; I need to do it now. I’m not gonna go back up to 350.
Coyle: So what strategy works best for you when it comes to weight loss?
Hoover: Moderation in food and exercising. You know, people are making millions off obese people because they’re selling the magic pill. If that worked, nobody would be obese, including myself.
Coyle: When you see pictures of yourself before, now what do you think?
Hoover: I feel sorry for him, and I say him because I feel like I’m a different person, because when you lose a lot of weight, you go through a lot of changes. And I remember back when I was 350 and being sad all the time, being angry all the time, and I feel bad for him. The one thing I was able to do is look at that and say I’m sorry. You know, a lot of us will apologize to other people long before we'll forgive ourselves. When I see pictures of myself, I just know that there's an unhappy person and someone who had a lot of potential, a lot of love to offer, but wasn't able to do it because I couldn't care about myself. And now that I do, I think I do a pretty good job of that.