Reasons to smile

Biggest Loser weight loss champ tells her story of heartache and healing

Michelle Aguilar
POUNDS AWAY: Michelle Aguilar today

With food as a comfort to mask her pain, Michelle Aguilar chose to join her estranged mother on USA's biggest television weight loss competition in 2008 and found a bigger transformation than she could have ever imagined.

"I think when you're at a place where you are so upset and out of control with a lot of things, it's an easy step to turn to food," Michelle says in a video by

The pain and confusion started at age 18 when she received an unexpected call from her mum to say that her parent's marriage was over.

"I couldn't help but think that her leaving meant that there was something wrong with me," Michelle says.

"I chose then to internalise all my pain and told my mum that because of her decision I was going to have to love her from a distance and I wasn't going to speak to her anymore."

Eating to feel better, Michelle says, also became a "guilt thing".

"You realise that you're eating and you feel bad while you're eating and it's just making things worse."

Trapped in "this vicious cycle", Michelle admits she put on almost 45kg.

When people asked her how she was going, Michelle says she hoped her smile would mask her feelings enough to "get me through the conversation".

"The moment I would close the door of my car I would just cry because it was all fake. In my mind I thought that if I tell everybody [what] I'm going through then they will leave me too."

Weighing in at just under 110kg, Michelle applied for The Biggest Loser competition through a friend's suggestion, motivated to feel better about herself and hopefully lose the highest body fat percentage for the US$250,000 prize.

When her application was accepted, Michelle's father suggested reconnecting with her mum by entering as a mother-daughter team.

When her mum agreed to join her, Michelle says: "I really felt like God was saying I am going to give you an opportunity to start over and change from the inside out."

Having grown up in a Christian home, Michelle had made a commitment to follow Jesus at a young age but knew that she had not been fully trusting in Him the way she needed to.

Michelle Aguilar book
Michelle Aguilar’s 2011 book

The rigorous training, restrictions on food, tough competition and TV drama revealed this to her as she noticed the relationships between the other contestants and their partners.

"While everybody had somebody that they loved and felt really connected with, I was there with someone I hardly knew. When I looked at [my mum] I saw the source of my pain and of my weight gain," she thought to herself at the time.

Michelle's emotional pain was fully exposed when she painfully chipped a tooth during a tough water tank challenge.

"I completely lost it. I felt like somebody had just stripped away that armour and said 'now, look at you! Your smile's gone now; what are you going to do?'" Michelle says.

"I remember just lying there in a complete state of brokenness. I told God, 'Okay, I get it! I can't do it... if you can use me and if you want me to work on this then I will stay and I'll give it all to You."

From that point forward, Michelle says, "It was like I let go and my whole body let go of everything I was holding onto, all the junk in my life."

By the end of the competition Michelle had lost 50kg – 45.5% of her body fat – and was named The Biggest Loser champion of the season.

"When I showed up at that finale I was a changed person. I really truly began to walk in love and forgiveness towards my mum," she says.

"The scale ultimately wasn't going to define me. My weight wouldn't define me. The smile on my face wasn't defining me. It was God all along that was defining me. To know that I could truly hand it over to God, who was in every way big enough to handle everything, and that He wasn't going to see all the junk and run away."

Michelle explains that "being in control is really me being out of control" which drove her to put her faith, trust and obedience in Jesus Christ alone.

"So that's why I have Christ first in my life, 'cos I know that in Him is really my full life," she says, concluding with one of her favourite verses from Psalm chapter 121 verse 1 to 3.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let [my] foot be moved; He who keeps [me] will not slumber."

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