Mother and son team Jackie and Dan Evans participated in season 5 of NBC's "The Biggest Loser." Over the shows run, they dropped a combined total of 225 pounds and have kept them off for six years. In an exclusive interview with Life Reimagined, Jackie reveals how losing weight together helped her gain new insight into her relationship with her son.
What was your relationship with Dan like prior to "The Biggest Loser"?
Jackie Evans: I was more than 100 pounds overweight and raising three sons. One of the biggest problems I had as a mother was that I never saw Dan as a 310-pound boy. I just saw him as my son I loved. I signed him up for Chicagoland Idol and he won third place, so I knew other people saw the talent in him. But one day, shortly after he'd won, he came to me with tears in his eyes and said, "Mom, please don't sign me up for anything else. I'm 310, I am so uncomfortable in my own skin. I feel like everybody's looking at me and saying 'There's the 300-pound guy with the good voice.' I just can't do it." And for the first time I looked at him and said, "Oh my God, my son is 310 pounds."
That must have been a sobering moment.
I felt so doggone guilty. Here's the thing: I made him brush his teeth when he didn't want to because I knew better. I made him do his homework when he didn't want to because I knew he needed an education. And I made him go to school when he didn't want to. As the mother responsible for his diet and nutrition, I failed him. I felt so guilty, because as a parent, the goal of your life is to raise children who can achieve their goals. And here I had my son telling me "don't ever sign me up for anything again."
And then you signed him up for "Biggest Loser," but they'd only let him on the show if you came along. What was that like for you?
My biggest fears were [that they would discover] some secret disease or illness or heart problem that wouldn't allow me to be on the show; and that I would fail my son again because I had tried to lose weight all my life and never could. He was 310 pounds because of something I'd done wrong, and now we were going to get voted off because I can't lose weight.
During season 5, what was the biggest surprise in terms of your relationship with Dan?
We became a lot closer because we related so intimately to the food issues that drive you to eat to the point where you are killing yourself. And I think his issues were really learned behaviors from me in a lot of ways. We became so close because he's now an adult—he turned 21 on the show—and he was starting to be introspective. We would have conversations about how we're getting beyond [our obesity], support one another and hold each other accountable. We have a bond that most people can't comprehend unless they're there.
You feel you failed your son. Did Dan ever give you the sense that he blamed you?
Never, ever. And I think it's because both of us were so clueless as to why we were in this state. We were the fast food family. Now I've learned so much—the fast food diet really sets you up for obesity. So here I would take them to fast food, and then Dan got his driver's license and he would go to fast food for breakfast. He didn't blame me because he didn't comprehend that he should blame me.
What I would have done differently is plan our meals and our schedule. When you're raising children you plan for bedtime, you try to get all the homework done, you plan what you're going to dress them in for school. You plan, plan, plan. I didn't plan our food and our eating, we just did it on the fly.
A lot of people are going to relate to using fast food as a meal substitute because it's so convenient and affordable.
The other thing people really relate to is feeling guilty about your kids. I think the greatest line I've ever heard is "if you knew better you would do better." As parents, we have to continually be on that quest to know better so that we can do better.
After the show ended, how did you and Dan motivate each other?
The coaches gave us the greatest tools. Bob [Harper] told me how many calories I should be eating and I started crying because I thought I was going to starve. And Bob said, "You know Jackie, for 50 years you've tried to do it your way. Why don't you just for once listen to somebody who's helped hundreds of people succeed, and submit to the process?" Dan and I both took it to heart, that we just needed to yield to someone who knew better. And sure enough we did succeed. So when we got home it wasn't me saying "Okay, Dan, do it my way," or Dan saying, "Do it my way," it was, "Let's get back to the principles that truly did bring us success."
What was the hardest relationship adjustment you had to make?
Living in the doggone dorm room with him! He was 20 when we went into that dorm room, and here I'm still wanting to be the controlling mom and treat him like he's 10. I'm watching every move he's making, and then finally I just had to say, "Stop. He's a young adult now and you need to transform this relationship from this mother who tells this young boy what to do," to "You're an adult. We are on this journey together, learning together, and we're both under Bob" and allow him to be an adult.
What's it like now that you work as a team to inspire others?
There's always a check for me to remind myself that he's an adult. In our working relationship I have to constantly remind myself, because you just always want to go back to being the mother-boss.
I think my story in a nutshell is that yes, I had a good relationship with my kids, but it didn't mean that I wasn't totally screwing up in one area, and I'm thankful that even though it took 'til Dan was an adult for us to come to grips with that issue, I'm thankful that we got to do it together. I say by the grace of God we got to go on that journey together and both have the epiphanies and awakenings so neither of us holds the other responsible for the past, but we definitely hold each other accountable for the future, and we help each other.
A new season of "The Biggest Loser" premieres Thursday, September 11 on NBC.