The 14th season of "The Biggest Loser" is featuring three teenage contestants -- 13-year-olds Biingo and Lindsay, and 16-year-old Sunny -- who are learning new diet and exercise habits from the show's trainers and nutritionists, while also cluing viewers in to the ongoing, and growing, problem of childhood obesity.
Producers chose wisely in casting all three endearing, bright, focused kids, but Rochester, New York, resident Sunny Chandrasekar is clearly headed for a successful future in all her endeavors. Sharp, sweet, well-spoken, and committed to making healthy changes in her life, Sunny, in tonight's new episode of "The Biggest Loser," tackles an extra issue when she has an emotional conversation with her mother about her health concerns and the health and fitness of the rest of the family.
The teen, brave and savvy beyond her years, talked to Yahoo! TV about her decision to apply for the show, about learning that she and her vegetarian family are actually "carbatarians," about the joyful discovery that she loves to run, and about how she hopes her success is inspiring other teenage girls to get healthy, too.
What made you decide to apply for the show?
Being overweight has been something that I've battled my entire life. I've tried everything. I've tried diets. I've tried killing myself in the gym, and nothing's worked for me. I'd seen the show in the past. I've seen how it's transformed people's lives. The changes people make on the show are as much mental as they are physical, and I was just really hoping that the show could help me with that. I just applied for the show over the summer, and from there it blossomed.
How long did it take you to find out that you had been selected as one of the teenage contestants?
The audition process was a couple months long. It was pretty nerve wracking, but at that final moment, when I found out that I was on the show, me and Lindsay found out at the same time actually, and we were together. We just went absolutely crazy. We were jumping around and crying and screaming. It was pretty awesome.
Watch Sunny's audition tape:
What about the show, do you think, makes it possible for people to be successful with health goals they haven't been able to tackle successfully on their own?
The show's given me a really amazing support system. I'm working with Dr. Joanna [Dolgoff], who's a nutritionist. She has this wonderful eating program. I also have Jillian [Michaels], who's my trainer, and I can always go to her for advice. [And] I have a coach back here at home I'm working with. In terms of having a support system with people who are really experts in their field, that has helped a lot.
Also, I feel like by me being on the show, people around me are taking health and fitness so much more seriously. I have friends who are coming with me to Zumba lessons, and sometimes I'll cook a healthy dinner with my mom. I feel like people are just really taking this issue seriously. Teenage obesity is such a huge issue. We need to start making a difference.
Throughout the season, you've also talked time-management issues, which is obviously a big issue for almost everyone. Were you surprised to realize how much that was affecting your physical health?
Yeah, it's definitely a huge time commitment, because in the past, one of my big problems is that I would overstretch myself. I would commit myself to too many things, then I'd get stressed out, and then I'd overeat. One of the huge lessons that I've learned on this show is how to manage my time, and how to just get the most out of my day. It's great, because us teenagers on the show, we're not letting go of our normal lives and [living] at the ranch. We're actually losing weight while continuing with school, continuing with extracurricular activities and friends. All the normal stuff that teenagers do, and on top of that, I'm making healthy changes in my life. It's great, because I feel like other teenage girls can see that, and realize they can do it, too.
Was it scary at first to think about going on a TV show and opening up your personal life to viewers?
It definitely was scary. It was a big decision when I decided to try out for the show, because it's a very public issue. I realized that by taking this step and being brave, I'm setting an example for so many other people out there to make a change in their lives, and that just made me feel better about what I was doing.
The kids visit the Ranch:
Are you watching the show as it airs? Are you watching with family and your friends?
Yeah, I do. I watch it here at home with my family and friends. It's a nice experience. It's cool, because sometimes when you're working towards something, it's hard to sit back and take the time to look back at where you've come from. You always have a certain goal in mind for the future, so it's been nice for me to just see how my journey has progressed so far.
What's the single best piece of advice in terms of nutrition that you've gotten from your time on the show?
My whole family's actually vegetarian, and we were wondering, "What's wrong with our diet? Why are we so unhealthy when we're eating these vegetarian diets?" Turns out that I'm actually a carbetarian. My whole family, we're a family of carbetarians. We would just eat rice, naan, and pasta, and all those unhealthy processed things. We wouldn't eat food that was nutritionally enriching at all. By adding protein and adding fresh fruit and vegetables to my diet, it's just really transformed how I feel on the inside.
And in terms of exercise, what's the single best piece of advice you've gotten?
I think not necessarily advice, but just getting onto that treadmill and realizing how much I love jogging. I'm doing 5Ks now, and I really want to do a half-marathon in the future. I've just discovered I really do like exercising. I've replaced binge eating as a way to deal with stress with exercise. I'll go for a jog instead of reaching for the cookies, which is just a wonderful swap that I've made.
You're already running 5Ks?
I've run numerous 5Ks, actually.
Congratulations, that's fantastic! Obviously, everything you're learning and implementing from the show is working. What do you hope people watching the show get out of seeing your success this season?
I really hope that other teenage girls out there can see what I've accomplished on this show, and realize that if I can do it, so can they. That's really what I want to show America.
"The Biggest Loser: Challenge America" airs Mondays at 8 PM on NBC.