Bluffton Packet

Paying it forward: 'Biggest loser' moves to Bluffton to make a difference

Seven months ago, Patrick House was a 400-pound, out-of-work food service distributor living in Vicksburg, Miss.

Today, he weighs 219 pounds, is gainfully employed at a new co-ed boarding school for overweight teens in Bluffton and is house-hunting in the area.

Yes, it's as if House won the lottery.

But his path to a better life came with the hard work of diet and exercise. House, who is 28, is the most recent winner of "The Biggest Loser," a popular reality television show that focuses on overweight contestants attempting to lose weight where a hefty cash prize of $250,000 and a car awaits the winner.

House lost 181 pounds in six months, from the time the show began in June up through the December finale. He lost about 45 percent of his body weight, the highest among the 15 other contestants, which is the criterion for winning.

"Not only did I win the title of 'The Biggest Loser,' the grand prize and a new car, most importantly I won my life back," House said.

And it's a life that changed in a microwave minute, from TV appearances up and down the dial, to speaking before the Mississippi state legislators last week, where House was honored by lawmakers who started their own healthy-eating program.

House's weight began to balloon after a college football injury his sophomore year that required back surgery. The exercising stopped and the eating amped up.

"Pizza, fast foods, everything," House said. "And it was not just bad things, but big quantities of bad things."

When House started on the show, his beginning calorie intake was between 800 and 1,000 a day. He has increased it to about 1,400 to 1,600, and has stepped up his already ambitious workout routine. Fast foods have been replaced with lean meats, steamed veggies and a lot of salad. His Cherry Coke fixes -- which could stack up to six-pack a day -- have been substituted with Crystal Light lemonade and other sugar-free drinks.

House's goal is to stay true to his season's theme of the TV show, which was "Pay It Forward." The opportunity to give back came up in a big way when he reconnected with Rachel Eastman, head of marketing at MindStream Academy, the weight-loss facility for teens that recently opened in Bluffton. The two were friends at Brandon (Miss.) High. House graduated in 2000, a year before Eastman.

House has been hired as director of admissions and will have his hand in many areas at the academy, including telling his story and teaching the benefits of healthy eating and exercising. He also will travel the country doing speaking engagements -- his long-term goal is to continue to be an inspirational speaker long after the luster of winning a reality show dims.

"You can take the popularity of the show, and I can go and endorse some protein bar or something. With the school, I have the chance to be an endorsement and be the face of a school that's gong to help kids. I'm really going to make a difference."

House moved his wife Bradley and their two young sons to Bluffton at the start of the new year. Already, he likes what he sees.

"I have done a lot of traveling outside of Mississippi, but I have to tell you that Bluffton is one of the most beautiful places I have been to," House said. "Friendly people and beautiful views . . . it doesn't get much better than that."