05/16/2012 08:16 am ET

Joy Bauer's 'The Joy Fit Club': Get Healthy And Celebrate Yourself

Joy Bauer, nutritionist and Today Show contributor, is well known for her weight loss segment, the "Joy Fit Club." Each week, she highlights the accomplishment of one viewer who has lost 100 or more pounds, and -- in doing so -- encourages readers with weight to lose to do the same.

Now she's compiled the stories of 35 of the 250 club members -- along with a selection of the recipes that helped them shed the weight and keep it off. Bauer talked with HuffPost Healthy Living about the club, what it means to her to showcase her members and how the discipline of weight loss applies to other areas of life.

What is so satisfying to us about watching someone else transform his or her body?

I think it’s two-fold: you’re so happy for the person. We get a glimpse into their dark side -- their life when things were bad and they were depressed and down and out. And in four minutes, you see them go from the deepest darkest place to the most fabulous, healthy happy place. You get such satisfaction seeing somebody blossoming into this wonderful person, so fulfilled and happy and healthy.

And there’s another level: there’s so much hope. These are regular people who didn’t have fancy-shmancy personal chefs and access to elite trainers at exclusive sports clubs. If they can do it, certainly I can do it too.

It lends hope to people who have hundreds of pounds to lose and people with less. They can say, “If she was able to overcome all these obstacles. I can certainly lose seven pounds.”

As a side note, so much about this segment is really rewarding for me. It’s so cool for me to celebrate for these people, to acknowledge their triumphant accomplishment. They lose sight of the magnitude of what they’ve done when it’s the little bit each week and you don’t see the dramatic result at the end. For most of them, it’s the first moment they really take stock of their starting and their current size. Watching how emotionally reactive they are, it’s just chilling.

Tell me about the origins of The Joy Fit Club. What made you want to get started in the first place?

We started the segment about four years ago. We were brainstorming a way to create a series that would really resonate with viewers. How can we show them that they really can lose weight? We came up with [the benchmark of] 100 pounds because it was so visual and so clear a number.

We started with people I’d worked with and people I knew and then, as the series exploded, we got thousands of letters from people who wanted to be in the club. Now, members have lost a total of 25,000 pounds and there are files and files of people who have accomplished the weight loss and want to be in the club.

What’s great is that it really validates [weight loss programs]: it’s doable. I sometimes get so exhausted and discouraged by obesity coverage. There’s so much attention on the ridiculous, ludicrous percentage of people who are not only obese, but severely obese -- meaning they have 80 pounds or more to lose.

It paints this very discouraging picture of how difficult it is to lose weight. And it is hard, no question, but it’s doable. But you can lose it and you can keep it off. You just can’t view it as a quick fix or a fad. You have to commit to long lasting changes.

What do you think is really contributing to our unabating obesity rates?

It’s a huge problem -- definitely. And it’s multi-faceted. We’re living in a toxic environment with way too much of the wrong food, processed and high in calories, sugar and fat. And we have preliminary research that shows that these types of foods are somewhat addicting, so you continue to want them. Couple that with outrageous portions, our sedentary lifestyles: we’re glued to the TV, the computer, cell phones.

So we’re eating the wrong foods and we’re not moving and we’re also leading these overscheduled, busy lives -- which means we have less time to make wholesome healthy meals in the kitchen. In a sense it’s not our fault, we’re in this catch-22.

At the same time, genetics plays a big part here. And once you gain the weight, it’s really hard to lose it because your body changes in a way that makes you want to keep the weight on: your metabolism slows down as you drop the pounds. If you don’t exercise enough or eat too much, it will come right back on, so it’s a constant struggle.

What about The Joy Fit Club members do you think allows them to beat these obstacles and really get and keep the weight off?

First of all, the people in the club have often kept the weight off for 10 or more years. These are not new weight losses -- they didn’t just touch homeplate. They have been working hard. Some are more “Type A” and regimented than others, but they are not perfect -- they have ice cream, they eat cake on their birthdays and holidays, they go out to eat, but they pull it right back on track. Some of them eat “90 percent healthy and 10 percent fun” each day, but they are controlled. And when they get out of control, they reign it right back in. If they mess up on Tuesday morning, they don’t start fresh the following Monday -- they start fresh on Tuesday afternoon.

That’s a good lesson: You don’t have to start on the first day of the year or the first day of the summer -- every day is really a day to begin.

What are some of the other lessons we can take away from the weight loss of your membership?

Number one, anyone can do this. The strongest lesson here is to believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter how bad off you are at the moment. Things can be better. It’s not just about the weight -- it’s all aspects of life: you are your solution.

Start off with smaller changes, smaller steps. You read about different ways these members started. Some began with a full plan from the get go, but some of them started by saying “I’m not going to drink soda” and then two weeks later said: “No soda, no fried foods.” Believing in yourself is the first step. How you implement the plan is up to you.

Next, is learning to sustain your journey. I love long-term goals, but they can be overwhelming. Short-term goals are more powerful. It’s the weekly goals that you can check off easily and that seem manageable. You can have a pound-based goal or an action goal, like “I’m going to make delicious ethnic healthy recipes this week.” Or “I’m not going to succumb to the vending machine every day this week.” You can even set up an excel sheet or some computer graph.

These definitely sound like strategies that can apply to other life goals. Have you found that the Joy Fit Club members are using them in other areas?

Oh yes -- in everything. They went back to school to get degrees, one woman put herself through nursing school –- she never had the self-confidence to do that before. They started dating, [running] marathons, exercise excursions, learning to ride bikes, pushing their fears. One woman had a fear of heights, so she got a guide and climbed a mountain. I know for a fact that believing in yourself works its way into every aspect of your life.

It's fun for me to watch: this book brought a lot of the members together as friends. To watch them on my Facebook, over massive emails, they just connect on such a level. They can’t necessarily connect with someone else. A lot of the same struggles and triumphs. Lots of stuff planned -- possibly a show, definitely more books, more segments. Really meaningful. Hoping to add many, many more people to the club. Inspired by it, but don’t necessarily have to lose 100 pounds. Someobody doesn’t even need to lose weight. Gotten themselves off medications -- high cholesterol, diabetes, etc.

Why did you guys decide to do a book?

People were constantly saying “I need a plan,” so we always knew that a book would be well received.

I got the credit as the author, but I wrote it with 150 incredible weight loss superstars. It’s kind of like an ultimate weight loss resource: a plan with a huge proven track record that’s also a cookbook. And it’s got unbeatable inspirations. I picked 30 of the members to profile. I tried to pick the people so that it was a very diverse group, with people from all different walks of life who would resonate with anybody. It was the absolute hardest part of the book choosing!

What you get within those stories is much more than we can deliver on the air. I wanted to be able to show before the process, during and after. How they busted through plateaus and overcame obstacles -- really serious things like abuse and toxic family dynamics as well as financial restraints, time constraints.

So has anything rubbed off on you from working with these members of your club?

It has really humbled me and changed how I think -- with my kids, my husband, my parents, etc. [I learned] if there’s a problem, you are your own solution. Believe in yourself. We are powerful, we really are but sometimes we forget that. Everybody has these beautiful aspects and assets to their personalities -- the key is to let those things be shown and heard.