Fans of the show watched last week as Vandenlangenberg had a "pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming" moment: The formerly 646-pound man stood alongside host Alison Sweeney and weighed in, logging a stunning 400-pound weight loss. That's more than any other contestant on the show has ever shed. Even more amazing? He did it all on his own. No gym. No personal trainer. No nutritionist.
Afterward, he participated in a media conference call to discuss how a near-death experience forced him to confront his weight. The key, he said, was taking responsibility for his weight and making the decision to do something about it.
"My life is a 100% turnaround," he said. Here's how he did it:
Vandenlangenberg, a cab driver from Wisconsin, said his sedentary job and a penchant for fast food had allowed him to slowly but surely pile on the pounds. "It was 30 years of build up. I was like a hoarder [with food from fast food restaurants]. I would just go from one place to the next and then I would go home and make another meal. I guess it was just 30 years of build up."
Then, about two years ago, he became ill with pneumonia and was admitted to the hospital. His health also took a turn for the worse, and he lapsed into an 11-day coma, during which he said he vividly recalled his late grandmother appearing to him in a vision, telling him that it wasn't his time yet. When he came out of the coma, he found himself weighing about 650 pounds, facing life in a wheelchair and walking with a cane due to his illness.
He was miserable, and he feared for his life. And then he made the decision on June 24, 2008, to lose the weight, once and for all. He said he will never forget that date.
First to go, the stuff that he knew was bad for him: Soda, refined sugars, cakes, cookies, "flour products, white products." He and his wife stripped their entire kitchen of anything that was not on their new weight-loss plan. "I just cut it out, gung ho," he said.
He said that was a pivotal moment because that meant there was no turning back. This wouldn't be a diet. Or a phase. This would be his new life. He began researching health and nutrition and recipes for fish, chicken and turkey.
He also began calculating his caloric intake for the day. And he was astonished at the results. "I had no idea I was eating 12,000 calories a day, until I started recording everything I put in my mouth."
Vandenlangenberg said he began watching "The Biggest Loser" and used the show for his inspiration. In particular, he was inspired by Jerry, from the yellow team in Season 6. Vandenlangenberg said he related to the law enforcement officer because they were about the same age, and he, like Jerry, found that his weight was limiting his life. Wayne said he also began soaking up everything that trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels said on the show as if they were talking to him personally.
One thing in particular that Bob said -- that walking was a great exercise, and it's free -- stuck with Vandenlangenberg. He couldn't afford a gym, so "my own gym was myself doing walking," Vandenlangenberg said. At first, he could not go very far. Then, "I began walking everywhere."
When he began incorporating light weightlifting into his routine, he used canned food and jugs for an upper body workout. He also concocted leg weights using cans strapped to his legs with -- get this -- his wife's yarn.
Vandenlangenberg says he still has some more weight to lose -- viewers will get to see him at the Season 9 finale next month. He confided that he has some issues involving excess skin. Surgery is not in his near future for two reasons: The cost, and because his doctor advised him to wait a year before doing anything to see how his body settles into its new shape.
It has not been easy, Vandenlangenberg said.
"The temptation is always there," he said. But he employs an unusual tact when he goes to the supermarket and travels the aisles with all the bad stuff. Now, he turns his weakness into a strength:
"I tried to not go down those aisles for the first couple of weeks," he said. Now, though, when he does, he makes fun of the stuff he used to eat and thinks, "Ha! Never again in my house." He also now uses the aisles to conquer his fears: When he has to go down those aisles he consciously acknowledges that those items no longer belong in his cart. The result? "I feel confident."
When "The Biggest Loser" learned of Vandenlangenberg's feat, they invited him to the ranch to weigh in on the scale, and show America his progress at the finale. They also gave him a stay at "The Biggest Loser" Resort at Fitness Ridge in Utah. Vandenlangenberg says he's thrilled because it will be his first time working with professional trainers and nutritionists.
Thousands of people try out each year to land a spot on the NBC reality weight-loss show because they believe the show is their last option -- they've tried everything, and just can't lose the weight on their own.
Vandenlangenberg says he's proof to the contrary. Trying out for the show is great, but since it's a long shot at best, men and women struggling with their weight need to find a way to do it on their own. Vandenlangenberg said he would have loved to try out for the show, but never realized there was such a thing of casting for it. He said he had no idea how the contestants ended up on the show.
Now that he knows the secret to getting on the show, though, it's probably too late: He's probably too thin.
Besides, he's already made it to the finale.
-- Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch
Photo credit: Family photo, left, and NBC Universal