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A life-changing experience: ‘Biggest Loser’ contestant to share story Saturday at Women’s Expo

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BEMIDJI -- There are no mirrors on "The Biggest Loser" ranch.

Well, there is one, a small hygienic mirror for brushing teeth or applying makeup.

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But there are no full-length mirrors that allow contestants to view their changing physiques.

O'Neal Hampton, who along with his daughter, SunShine, competed on the ninth season of NBC's reality show, said he was unable to gauge his physical improvements as he embarked on his weight-loss journey on the ranch.

Hampton, who is the keynote speaker for Saturday's Women's Expo in Bemidji, said he would look at SunShine and see the positive changes obviously occurring in her body.

And she, too, would tell him that he was looking good.

But it felt like flattery.

"It wasn't until we were coming home -- we had a challenge at home -- and honest to God, I was walking through the airport and I walked past a mirror. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw the image in the mirror and thought, 'Hey, that guy has got on the same thing that I got on,'" Hampton recalled. "Then I turned again and was like, 'That's me!'

"And I bawled like a baby."

It was SunShine who started the audition process, encouraging her father to join her on the show. Hampton, a former Green Beret who at his highest topped 435 pounds, had developed high blood pressure and high cholesterol and no longer had any cartilage in his knees.

"You look in the mirror and you say you're not big, you're just big-boned," Hampton said, "But bones don't jiggle."

Once at the ranch, Hampton said he committed to the process and embraced the life changes that would lead to a 160-pound weight loss.

"Me weighing in at 435 pounds was a byproduct of something else going on in my life," he said. "If you just lose weight on the outside, you will just repeat the process. I had to lose the weight internally before it came off externally."

He said he didn't have any epiphany moments before stepping foot on the ranch, but had several as he slowly shed layers of himself.

"The mental fatigue sets in way before the physical fatigue," Hampton said. "But you can do anything your heart wants you to do."

He and SunShine didn't win the competition, though the dad did win his daughter a car.

Together, they lost a combined 274 pounds.

Hampton, upon returning home, established the O'Neal Hampton Wellness Foundation, to empower people to make better life choices.

"Everyone deserves the same happiness I got," Hampton said. "I'm really, really passionate about wanting to help people and needing to help people."

Through his foundation, Hampton, a former post office manager, works to help people find the motivation to positively change their lives.

"Everybody knows what and how to do it (live more healthfully)," Hampton said. "They just don't always have the inner strength ... to make those critical choices."

Hampton said he does still indulge on occasion -- "I just have a piece of cake instead of the whole cake now" -- but also commits, then, to working harder the next day for the betterment of his health.

"It's definitely a life-changing experience," he said. "But you hold yourself accountable for what you do."

If you go:

What: 2013 Women's Expo

When: Saturday, Sept. 7; doors open at 8 a.m.

Where: Sanford Center

Cost: $6 in advance, $10 at the door

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