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Her loss is also her gain

Newport Beach woman is among the contestants on this season’s ‘The Biggest Loser.’ She started the show at 476 pounds.

September 10, 2009|By Brianna Bailey

Newport Beach resident Shay Sorrells knew she had to change her life when her mother died three years ago at age 48.

Like most of the women in her family, Sorrells and her mother were overweight. Years of drug use also contributed to her mother’s death.

“It was a wake-up call,” Sorrells said. “I thought ‘I’m almost 30, can I only have 15 years to live?’ I cannot fathom death being that close.”

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After trying to lose the weight on her own, Sorrells went to a casting call for season eight of the hit NBC reality television show “The Biggest Loser” earlier this year.

Weighing 476 pounds at the beginning of production, Sorrells, a school social worker, will be the heaviest contestant to compete in “Biggest Loser” history when the eighth season of the show premieres Tuesday night.

Sorrells was among a cast of 16 “Biggest Loser” contestants who signed up for a rigorous diet and fitness regimen in front of the cameras this season.

“It is difficult being cut off from family and friends on the show. You can’t lean on [them] anymore,” Sorrells said. “It’s also difficult to realize your faults on national TV — you’re having these revelations in front of America. As powerful as that is, it is difficult too.”

The relationship between Sorrells, the youngest of three girls, and her mother was not always easy. The family was homeless for a time, and Sorrells was in the foster care system from age 5 to 18.

“Being homeless and not having food consistently, I would eat as much as I could, whenever I could,” Sorrells said.

She also grew up eating rich Southern foods like jambalaya, gumbo and fried fish.

Living with an aunt at one point during her childhood, Sorrells recalls blissful meals of macaroni and cheese and fried chicken.

“I remember rolling out dough for buttermilk biscuits at age 9 or 10,” Sorrells said. “You would have eight or nine things for breakfast, and that was normal.”

On the show, Sorrells learned that exercise and healthy eating made her feel better.

“It’s really about putting into practice what I’ve heard all along, diet and exercise,” Sorrells said. “I never realized how full you feel when you eat whole, natural foods.”

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