Beaufort News

'Biggest Loser' to join staff of new Bluffton teen weight-loss program

MindStream Academy fitness director Michael Paulmeier, left, gives a tour of the fitness area in this 2011 file photo.
MindStream Academy fitness director Michael Paulmeier, left, gives a tour of the fitness area in this 2011 file photo. Jonathan Dyer

Instead of calorie counting and vigorous workouts, teens at a new weight-loss boarding program on the Tulifinny property in Bluffton will ride horses, swim in lakes and grow their own vegetables.

They'll also have a mentor who's gotten national attention for his pound-dropping prowess.

Patrick House, winner of the "Biggest Loser" TV show's 10th season, joined the staff of the MindStream Academy on Thursday to outline a nontraditional approach to shedding weight. House will move to the area to motivate and counsel the teens.

House said he hopes the students will look to him as a role model because he has been in their shoes. During the hit show's 2010 season, House dropped from 400 pounds to 219 pounds and walked away with $250,000 for losing the most weight. The theme of the show was "paying it forward," by motivating communities to get healthy.

"What better to way to pay it forward?" House said of his new role.

MindStream founder Ray Travaglione, who started the International Junior Golf Academy and helped organize the Heritage Academy, said he decided to use his experience to tackle the problem of childhood and adolescent obesity. It's a problem affecting nearly 20 percent of those aged 6 to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Everywhere you look, you're hearing about childhood obesity, from the president's wife to local campaigns," he said.

A wellness team composed of House, nutritionists, fitness experts, a chef, a psychotherapist and other counselors will promote lifestyle changes -- from enjoying fresh foods to reducing stress that triggers unhealthy eating, he said.

Students at the co-ed boarding program will learn teamwork and confidence during therapy at the horse stables. The facility has no gym, so staff will encourage the teens to exercise outside on the 43-acre property. At nightly fireside chats by the lake, the teens will be able to relax while sharing their goals.

Travaglione said the four-month program represents a return to basics: playing outdoors, reducing stress through exercise and knowing where your food comes from.

Along with those approaches are innovative techniques, such as Beaufort-based therapist Dr. Royce Malphrus' neurofeedback and biofeedback therapies that use special video games to reduce anxiety, he said.

The teens will take Kaplan online academic courses.

Director of operations Sarah Stone said schedules will be structured throughout the week, but that each portion would be tailored to individuals to meet their goals and needs.

"It's new, we're completely innovative, but it's all evidence-based and supported," she said.

The academy will offer rolling admissions, so students can start anytime. The facility has classroom and dorm space for about 30 students. Travaglione said it would grow as needed to house as many as 100 students.

The program costs $28,500. Scholarships are available, and a committee will vet candidates for awards starting today. Travaglione said he hopes corporate support will fund future scholarships and that the directors are "very sensitive to the fact some may view this as a costly program."

The property southeast of the roundabout at S.C. 46 and S.C. 170 was annexed into Bluffton in July. Travaglione's original annexation request included opening the Tulifinny Recovery Management Center for Women to treat teenage girls struggling with drug abuse and eating disorders. Travaglione said that program is not on the property, is not relevant to the weight-loss program and would not provide further details.

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