The Parhams: Biggest Loser, Greatest Gain
By Will Dawson
The 700 Club
Becoming the biggest loser is something you probably want to avoid. That is, unless you’ve got something to lose. Phil and Amy Parham were obese. At his heaviest, Phil weighed 340 pounds, and Amy weighed 229. Phillip had never seen the weight loss reality show, but Amy was a big fan.
“I would sit and watch The Biggest Loser and cry and eat ice cream; and think, ‘oh, I wish I could do that and change my life,’” Amy said.
Phil and Amy met more than 20 years ago at a Bible college. To some degree, their weight was always an issue.
“Ten, fifteen pounds - that kind of struggle,” Amy said.
“I think mine was mental. I saw myself as a heavy person,” Phil said. “So, really in all actuality, I was probably like Amy said, 10 to 15 pounds above where I should have been.”
Phil and Amy graduated in 1988. Phil set out in business as a mortgage broker. His poor self-image drove him to succeed.
“I wanted the big house. I wanted the big car,” Phil admitted. “I wanted to look good in front of others so I could have this certain kind of self-esteem.”
His long hours led to unhealthy eating habits and a gradual weight gain. In four years Amy gave birth to three boys and gained a total of 70 pounds with her pregnancies. But Phil and Amy’s weight wasn’t their only struggle. In 2003, their youngest son Rhett was diagnosed with autism.
“That, for me, was devastating as a mother, because you have dreams for your children,” Amy said. “You want to see them be president, or you want to see them go to Harvard, or you want to see them even get married and have children.”
Autism has no cure, but Amy poured all her time and energy on “fixing” her son. At night, she would binge eat to cope with the stress. That stress compounded when Phil’s business partner left him and he lost his business.
“It’s just like everything that I had thought I had built got taken away,” Phil said. “It’s kind of hard to go from the Mercedes to the pickup truck. It was really, really bad. We struggled to keep our house and to pay our bills.”
Amy became depressed and even thought about ending her life.
“There was a hole in the ceiling of this one room, like a library type room; and you could see a beam through the hole because it went up to the attic,” Amy said. “And there was one day I was laying there and I thought, ‘I could put a rope over that. I could end it.’ It was so hard and it was so dark.”
Amy says God wouldn’t let her give up.
“I just kept thinking every morning, ‘OK, I don’t want to get out of bed, but I’m just going to keep getting up. I’m just going to keep going and eventually there’s going to come a day when this won’t be this way,” Amy said.
One Sunday, Amy heard a message at church and knew it was meant for her.
“I was in the service and I was like, I said, ‘God, I just can’t handle this anymore,’” Amy remembered. “And the pastor said, ‘there’s some people out there, that you feel that you just can’t handle this anymore; but you’re getting ready to have your breakthrough.’ I was just praying and I was like, ‘God, what can I do? There has to be something I’m missing here.’ And He said, ‘Amy, you’re not perfect and I love you.’ And it was just real clear and simple. He said, ‘why does Rhett have to be perfect for you to love him?’ And I got to thinking, I’m not loving him like he is. I’m putting all this pressure on fixing him. When I need to just love him and know that God is going to lead me to the therapy that he needs.”
The next week, Amy discovered a therapy program that really helped her son. Then the couple found new careers in real estate.
“Our first full year in real estate, we were the top agents in our company and financially started seeing the ship turn around,” Amy said.
“We sold 64 houses our first full year,” Phil added.
Phil says things changed when they surrendered their lives to God.
“You feel like it’s the end of the world sometimes. You can’t see out of that dark place,” he said. “But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and all the while we just held onto God. Jesus became our friend in those dark places too.”
Things seemed to be heading in the right direction. But Phil and Amy were heavier than ever. In February 2008, the couple auditioned in Atlanta for The Biggest Loser. Out of 300,000 applicants, Phil and Amy were chosen.
“The pounds were coming off really, really fast,” Phil said. “I think our first weigh in, I lost 23 pounds. You lost 16? Combined, we lost 39 pounds, I think. We were second on the campus.”
When the show ended, the Parhams combined for a total weight loss of 256 pounds. They’re quick to give all the glory to God.
“I know that this was God’s plan for us to be able to do this,” Amy said.
“For us personally, but we’ve always thought that there was a bigger reason for that too,” Phil said.
“We want to minister and go to churches and communities and share our story,” Amy said. “Hopefully inspire people and let them know God is with them as well and can also change their life.”
“I never imagined I would come and speak in front of a group of people on health and nutrition or fitness,” Phil laughed and said. “It’s awesome. God’s good, because well, He is.”
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