(The Root) — Obesity is more common in African Americans than in other ethnic groups. But when it comes to black people and weight, that’s where the agreement seem to ends. Is food the culprit? Is exercise the solution? Is there even a real problem to begin with, or should we be focusing on health — or even self-acceptance — rather than the number on the scale?
Against the backdrop of a first lady’s mission to slim down the nation’s kids, black celebs getting endorsements after shedding inches and a booming weight-loss industry, The Root will publish a series of interviews with medical professionals, activists and fitness enthusiasts that reveal the complexity of this issue and the range of approaches to it.
For the 13th in our series, we spoke to Pete Thomas, who, in 2005, won $100,000 on NBC’s The Biggest Loser by losing 185 pounds in just nine months — most of it at home, after being voted off.
As a result of his mother’s serious mental illness, Thomas says he was often left alone for weeks at a time as a child, finding food wherever he could, and, when he was fed, it was “out of boxes.” His weight eventually climbed to 416 pounds.
He says the 10-week “Lose It Fast, Lose It Forever” weight-loss plan that’s outlined in his newly released book of the same title explains what he understands now that he didn’t realize then. We spoke to him about the practical tips he offers readers, why he refuses to accept that anyone is “big-boned” and how, when it comes to communicating an anti-obesity message to the black community, it won’t work to “keep saying the same dumb thing over and over.”
The Root: According to the latest statistics, African Americans are 1.5 times as likely as whites to be obese. What’s going on, from your perspective, with black people, obesity and overall health?
Pete Thomas: One of the dynamics is that we as an African-American community tend to celebrate around food. When I came back from the show, I had people inviting me over to their gatherings, and then I started noticing, “Wow, they really don’t have any healthy options.” There was just all kinds of junk, and I’d say, “You don’t have anything I eat — you don’t have any salads, no diet pop.”