'Biggest Loser' revisit: How Ken Andrews' life has changed
Pastor Ken Andrews of Pasadena joined "The Biggest Loser" last season because the wanted to lose weight.
Instead, he found God.
When he took off his shirt and stepped on the show's giant scales earlier this year it read 377 pounds. That was a number he was sharing publicly for the first time with friends, relatives, millions of Americans and parishioners at his small Pasadena church. One family abandoned the parish because they felt it unseemly that their religious leader would strip down in public.
Andrews, 49, wasn't crazy about doing it either. But he knew he had to do something about the weight. He had struggled with obesity or most of his life, and joined the show along with his son, Austin, because he thought that he could tackle it once and for all if he just got away from the pressures of day-to-day life. If he just focused on eating right and exercise, all his problems would be gone.
In fact, Andrews said, the most important help he received at the ranch had nothing to do with cardio or calories. All contestants on the NBC weight-loss show undergo psychological counseling as part of their transformation, and Andrews credits that intervention with helping him to confront a horrific childhood trauma that triggered overeating -- a trauma that was never actually revealed on the show.
When he was a little boy of about 4, a man broke into his home and raped his mother, beat him, and threatened to kill all of them -- including Ken's baby brother -- if they told anyone. Ken's father was stationed overseas in the military at the time, and his mother swore him to secrecy. The rest of her years were shrouded in depression, Andrews said.
Andrews buried the trauma in the recesses of his mind, never acknowledging it for decades. But now he realizes that it was there all along, triggering his excessive eating. Confronting it ultimately helped him redefine his relationship with God, and gave new meaning to his ministry. “Losing the weight almost became secondary,” he said.
Today, Andrews said he realizes he has an obligation to God to live a healthy, happy, and spiritually enriched life -- and that being miserable about his weight was abusing the gift of life that God has bestowed upon him. He said he also realized that he no longer needed to eat to try to smooth over his problems. He could bring them to God, and it's a message that he has begun encouraging other pastors to share with their congregation.
Since then, a slimmer, trimmer Andrews shows up each Sunday at Pasadena Christian Center Church. He's lost more than 100 pounds, and is working toward a goal weight of 220 pounds. But the changes go far beyond Andrews’ appearance.
Gone are the fattening casseroles and hearty fare that often marked after-church get togethers. More often than not it's now healthy Mexican served with fiber-rich tortillas and heart-healthy guacamole. There are regular church hikes, led by Andrews himself. And weekly workshops where Andrews, 49, and his son Austin, 22, share what they learned from "The Biggest Loser" about nutrition, diet -- and how God can help them in their weight-loss journey.
Jimmy Pena, the Los Angeles-based author of "PRAYFIT", predicted that Andrews was at the forefront of a movement that would see more and more pastors fighting obesity from the pulpit.
“Our health is a means of praise,” said Pena, and as the country's obesity problem continues to grown, clergymen will no longer be able to ignore it. "He is to be commended for taking it on," Pena said. "Not a lot of churches are interested, they don't see this as their issue." He added: "Some leaders say, 'Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.' In the area of health, God says, 'Bring me your problems, I am your solution.' ”
Until "The Biggest Loser," Andrews said he believed that God cared only about his spiritual health -- not his physical health. Now he knows that God wants him to live in total health: mind, body and soul. And so, when he wakes up early to go to a spin class, or a hike, or even a walk or a weight-lifting session, he's doing it in service to the Lord.
But isn't that vanity, one of the seven deadly sins?
"It doesn't have to do with vanity as much as it has to do with emotional health, being truly spiritual and bringing all those things together," he said. "It's really about the wholesomeness and the wholeness of life."
Andrews said he came to believe at "The Biggest Loser" ranch that he was being of service to God at every point in the day, and he had to make his choices accordingly. When he was overweight, struggling to get through the day, Andrews said he was robbing his congregation of service. So now, when he thinks about eating a doughnut versus oatmeal for breakfast, he can pause and ask himself which choice makes the most sense for a man who wants to have as much energy as he can so he can serve God as much as possible?
“God is concerned about our health. That concern is emotional, spiritual and physical,” he told his congregation on a recent Sunday. He added: “God looks at us as a whole person … our spiritual walk cannot be separate from our physical walk.”
Instead of turning to food, drugs, alcohol or video games to avoid problems, turn to God, he urged them. “You’re looking for a way to escape reality because you haven’t dealt with the pain of your past,” he said. But “God promised us he will lead us and guide us and help us.”
He encouraged his followers to seek professional help if need be, and told them that seeking help was a sign of strength, not weakness. He said that once he confronted his trauma in counseling, losing the weight became less of a chore. He was able to deal with anxiety and fear by acknowledging it –- and acknowledging that he didn’t need to eat as a response to it. Working out became less of a challenge because he viewed it as a way to burn off stress and worry, a way that would allow him to show up fully for his family, friends and church followers.
He confronted another fear while on the show –- a fear of heights -– when he chose to base jump by wire off the Sky Tower in New Zealand during a trip the competitors took as part of the show. And when he finally took the leap, he said, something changed inside him. "All of the fears in my life became manageable, instead of controlling me. It's a whole different change of perspective now. I'm not afraid," he said.
Back in church on a recent Sunday, Andrews urged his parishioners to do the same.
He challenged them to get the help they need to confront pass issues. “It’s time to embrace the pain,” he said. He promised them that a healthy, joyous and fit life awaited them on the other side.
“I want you to put feet to your faith,” he urged them.
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Photo: Pastor Ken Andrews shares details about his "Biggest Loser" journey at church recently. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times