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Fitness Experts Chris and Heidi Powell Continue to Teach, Evolve, and Inspire

The 'Extreme Weight Loss' power couple returns to television tonight with a new set of jaw-dropping lifestyle makeovers.


If you're looking for a little extra motivation to swap the couch with a rowing machine or the french fry with a carrot, you'll want to tune in to this season of ABC's hit series Extreme Weight Loss. Premiering tonight at 9/8c, our favorite reality show will kick off with even more diet and fitness tips, support, and inspiration from TV's (f)it couple Chris and Heidi Powell. 

It's been a year since we last spoke to the dynamic duo about their lives and how they're changing the world for the better. As they gear up for a batch of new episodes featuring participants from all walks of life, the couple reveals just how much their training styles have changed and evolved throughout the lengthy process.

Check out the full interview below for even more eye-opening and motivating advice from the experts, and be sure to tune in tonight for one of the most heartbreaking, though empowering stories in the show's history. 

Zimbio: We're so happy you're back! Tonight's season five premiere of Extreme Weight Loss features twin brothers, Rob and Ray. How was it to work with twins? What are some of the benefits and challenges? 

Chris: They have such a unique dynamic because obviously there's a special bond. Their bond, however, went so far beyond genetics. Because of their upbringing and everything they've been through in life, they've really learned to survive together. They were abandoned by their parents at 13 and took over the role as parents for their three sisters. It was really interesting working with them because they have the most unbelievably competitive relationship, but it was a beneficial competitive relationship -- a common sibling rivalry gone uncommonly right. We had to separate them after three months to see how they would do independently and they really struggled...they fell apart. When you put them back together, they can do anything together. It was such a wonderful and unique and different experience for Heidi and I to go through.

Z: Their story must be a true testament to the power of a support system.  

Twins Robert & Raymond from Monett, MO are participants on tonight's premiere of EWL. 
Twins Robert & Raymond from Monett, MO are participants on tonight's premiere of EWL. 

Heidi: They both realized from the very beginning that together is how they grew. They knew they could help each other get down in weight, but at any point in time -- if they are not on their A-game or not prepared to call each other out -- they're going to go right back to where they began. There were times throughout the year when they found themselves saying "hey, we're enabling each other again." As long as they're aware that that potential is there, they're in a much better place to thrive and grow together because they can, as we like to call it, "supervise" each other. Their support ended up being a really great thing, but there were moments throughout their journey where Chris and I questioned whether this was going to be good for them to do together, or detrimental for them to do together.

Z: We know that it may vary case-by-case, but is there a rough estimate on when actions or drastic differences in lifestyle can become habits?

C: You always hear "it takes 21 days to form a habit." Research recently came out about habit-forming behaviors and for some it takes 21 days, but they've found that for many more, it can take longer...like 45-60 days. It depends on the individual and their readiness for change. No matter what, it does take time. It's going to take at least three weeks.

H: Although there's research now against 21 days to form a habit, I feel like 21 days is our magic number. If you give us 21 days with someone, we'll show them what is possible. For the first time within that three week period, they'll begin to see their full potential...they'll begin to see that they have potential. That hope, that belief...they stop looking to us for it and begin to look within. 

Z: What about rest days? A lot of active people are always on the go, but what's the importance of down time and recovery?

H: Last year, if you would have asked this question, I would have said "rest is not important because I can go every day, all day, and I'm totally good, I swear." It actually catches up with you. Once I turned 32, my body began to break down. I didn't get the rest that I needed. We stress to our people -- at least one day a week -- not to work out. We increase their calories and give their bodies the rest they need.  When I actually experienced it for myself, I realized it wasn't something we were preaching because a text book said you need to do it. It's something you need to live by because your body will break down and not become thinner if you're not getting the proper rest and recovery.

C: The more you train, the more rest you need. In the gym we're breaking our bodies down, but we're actually getting thinner and stronger during our recovery. The older we get, the more rest and recovery we need. It doesn't matter if you're a 20 year-old athlete or a 50 year-old weekend warrior, when you train hard, your body needs that recovery. We train hard and fast -- you see what we do (on social media).  We'll train hard for two days...sometimes three days...and then we'll always take a day off. You'll never see us training five days in a row because we're smarter than that and, in the long run, that's going to actually hurt us more than it's going to help us. When you train really hard like that, after a while your body begins to go through exhaustion. You lose a lot of your performance. I know you see a lot of the PRs (personal records) that we post, but there's a lot more days when we don't post that. On days in between, we're being smart about our training. Everything is methodical, laid out, and prepared in advance. If we post a PR that day, we planned three weeks out for that PR. After that PR, we're focusing on recovery and then we'll slowly work up to another PR. 

Z: What are some of the worst fitness fads that are out there?

H: The shake weight [laughs].

Z: It's funny you mention that because we just attended the National Restaurant Association conference in Chicago and there were tons of machines that vibrated every part of your body. Do those even work?

People forget it's about changing habits to create a lifestyle.

–Heidi Powell

H: They have some benefits. 

C: One of the most beneficial applications would be flexibility. A muscle has the tendency to contract and protect itself, so the vibration can actually trick the muscle into relaxing further. To answer your earlier question, I think one of the biggest fitness fads -- or weight loss fads -- is the whole no carb thing. You cannot remove a major and necessary macronutrient from your body and think it's going to be a sustainable solution. It's just not. It does give you instant gratification, but there's a fraction of a percent of our population that can actually sustain that kind of lifestyle. When you begin to reintroduce carbs, especially if they've been gone for a long time, then your body goes into turmoil and chaos and puts a lot of that weight back on.

H: I'd also have to say the juice cleanse fad. Cleanses are a good thing and they serve a purpose. Number one, they detox your body. Number two, they do give you that boost for any weight loss journey. But people tend to think any time they want to lose weight, they're just going to do a juice cleanse. It's not something that's sustainable. It's that immediate satisfaction. They want to do whatever's going to get them there the quickest, but they fail to realize in that moment that the bounce back -- every time -- is a little bit worse. They aren't getting closer to their long-term goals, they're just getting closer to fitting into that dress or wearing that bikini for that moment. People forget it's about changing habits to create a lifestyle. 

Z: What about the Paleo diet? Is it healthy? 

C:  Absolutely, however, you need to consider the typical American lifestyle. There's going to be grains in the house...there's a little bit of sugar too. We try to stay as flexible as possible, but at the same time Heidi and I are really aware of the calories we're eating. We're much more into our macronutrient breakdown and the amount of protein and carbs we're getting per meal. It affords us a little flexibility. As far as the quality of the food goes, you can't go wrong with Paleo. It's amazing. But with kids, we don't want to live an extremely restrictive lifestyle because we know they're going to be exposed to processed food eventually. We'd much rather they be exposed around us in a controlled environment where we don't make a big deal of sugar or processed foods or white flour. We eat power foods and healthy foods first, but if they want to have a cookie or something, no problem. Go ahead and grab a cookie. Eat a little bit and when you're full, you're full. It's a lot more of a psychological approach.

Z: If someone is ready to make a significant change in lifestyle, what is the first thing he or she should do? 

C: Increase your water intake. Right off the bat, drink at least an extra quart of water a day and ultimately aim for a gallon. Number two, reduce your sugar intake as much as possible. Cut out sugar altogether, except for natural sugars like fruit. We also eat protein first at each and every meal. It's really important. It's one of our best kept tricks of the trade and it works like a charm. Also, if you eat breakfast within thirty minutes of waking up and eat every three hours after, you will see such a significant change in your body and in your life.

Z: Last year we asked you about favorite cheat foods. Do you have a favorite healthy snack?

C: I've been on a string cheese kick recently. It's a wonderful healthy snack. It's got a punch of protein and because of the fats, it keeps you full for a longer period of time. I'll eat at least a couple sticks of string cheese a day.

H: My food changes pretty often. I will say steamed broccoli. It's actually always been one of my favorite healthy foods because you can't go wrong with green vegetables in the first place. When I have some kind of craving for salty at night, the first thing I do is steam up a bag of broccoli and eat as much of it as a I can. My stomach is full and everything I'd eat and drink after is going to sit and I'm not going to want it.

Z: Are you still eating your Starbucks cinnamon buns every morning, Heidi?

H: Yes! Every morning is a protein shake and bun.

Z: Going into this season, how have your training styles evolved both personally and with the show's participants? 

Everything we do is all based on the emotional side. It's love, passion, forgiveness, understanding -- that's what gets people to change.

–Chris Powell

H: This is easy for me. Since a year ago, I have gone back to my roots and incorporated a lot more gymnastics into my weekly regiment. And not just gymnastics like back handsprings and back tucks -- which all of that stuff has come back better than ever -- but the strength and conditioning of gymnastics has changed my life. I swear. For others, so much has changed, I don't even know where to start. As Chris and I learn, we are constantly tweaking things on a daily basis. It's safe to say that over the last year, we've had 20 new individuals and each individual requires something so uniquely different that their training regiments are different. 

C: I also went back to my roots. I'm loving some bodybuilding right now, believe it or not. I still do Crossfit, but I'm back to some classic bodybuilding and I'm beginning to see changes to my body. It's fun to keep switching it up. The old training style translates into how I train other people. I really look forward to bringing in old school methods or sports. At the same time, we'll never abandon Crossfit because it has so many benefits -- not just in the areas of fitness, but on the emotional and psychological level of helping people build strength. You can't go wrong. 

Z: Though training styles and trends will come and go, it's safe to say that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" when it comes to the fundamentals of diet and exercise. What part of your fitness philosophy will always hold true?

C: Everything we do is all based on the emotional side. It's love, passion, forgiveness, understanding -- that's what gets people to change. 

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