Weighing in at 461 pounds during Sunday afternoon's kickoff to Chattanooga's "Biggest Loser" contest, Joe Green said he was nervous but still looking forward to the upcoming workouts and nutritional lessons.
"This is life or death for me," said the 33-year-old Mr. Green.
He said worrying over his health motivated him to join the competition, during which he hopes to lose at least 10 pounds in each of the 10 weeks.
"Common sense tells you, you can't stay at 400 pounds forever," he said. "How many old fat people do you see?"
Members of the public were able to watch a nutritional cooking demonstration, ask a plastic surgeon questions and undergo a personal weight assessment, complete with a "before" photo. Attendees then participated in a free group workout.
The competition's 12 finalists had more extensive assessments that included body-mass index, waist-to-hip and blood pressure measurements.
The competition -- based on the reality TV show "The Biggest Loser" -- pits the finalists against each other in the intensive 10-week contest, said local personal trainers Kristen and Kevin Harvey, the contest's organizers and owners of Ignite Fitness in Hixson.
"We've seen the power of the contests and what they can do to transform not only people's physiques but also their lifestyle," Kristen Harvey said.
She said she was shocked to see a December 2008 report that named Chattanooga the country's least-fit city and wanted to help make a positive change.
"We've got so many resources at our fingertips here, and yet we're really struggling in the health department," Kevin Harvey said.
The Harveys said the finalists will work out six times each week as a group as well as adhere to an individualized nutrition plan, hopefully instilling lifestyle changes.
Finalist Jody Branum attributed his 369-pound physique to his job as a local chef, using mostly unhealthy ingredients.
"Everything's butter, heavy cream and salt," he said. "Those are the main things people are used to."
He said he's already started his own diet by cutting out most sugars and has already lost almost 40 pounds. He hopes to lose at least another 80 pounds from the competition, he said.
After weekly weigh-ins, the finalists who have lost the least percentage of their body weight will be up for elimination, but still will be encouraged to participate. Although finalists already have been chosen, the Harveys said members of the public are still invited to join the competition each Sunday at 3 p.m. after filling out an application at chattanoogabiggestloser.com.
"We know it's not just about the 12," Kevin Harvey said. "It spreads to everybody. It spreads to their kids, to their family members. We're just excited to see where it goes."