Jeff Macht admits that the extra weight he's carried on his large frame placed a huge burden on his family.
“He was verbally abusive, just to be flat-out honest,” says his 16-year-old daughter, Juliana.
“Because I hated myself,” he is quick to jump in.
Mom Michelle just as quickly tries to clarify.
“He saw her weight, and he saw himself in that,” she said. “Him getting mad at her was like him yelling at himself.”
And that's how the family ended up on the television show, “Extreme Weight Loss,” which airs Tuesday nights on ABC.
The premise of the show is that Chris and Heidi Powell, personal trainers, guide extremely obese people on a journey to safely lose half of their body weight in one year.
“It was an intense year,” said Jeff.
The lives of the Highlands Ranch family had been pretty intense even before that, culminating in a suicide attempt in 2012.
Jeff says he started gaining weight when Michelle was pregnant with their first child, and Michelle said the whole family followed suit over the years.
“I would cook, and I would cook what they wanted, even though I knew better,” said Michelle, a math professor at Arapahoe Community College.
But their health isn't the only thing that was disintegrating. Communication was breaking down because all Jeff wanted to do was come home from work and watch TV — not even getting off the couch for dinner.
“I even had to mow the lawn,” remembers Michelle, who, even though she wasn't technically part of the cast, lost 60 pounds herself throughout the show's filming.
Her husband would try diets in fits and starts, never with much success.
“I was an athlete all through college, and that makes it even worse,” he said. “I knew what I had to do, but I just gave up on myself.”
“He'd try and fail, and I'd get upset and frustrated,” said Michelle. “I'd have to sit back and say, you can't make somebody change, they have to want to change.”
Then the kids started avoiding their parents.
“He had a strained relationship with both of our other children,” said Michelle. “They only knew him as heavy. And by the time you're a teenager, you start caring about what your parents do, and he was 300 pounds by then.”
But for Juliana, the youngest, things took a terrible turn as she retreated night after night to her bedroom in the basement.
“A year ago, I had severe depression,” she said. “I tried killing myself a year and a half ago. I had been a cutter for three years. There were a lot of family issues, and I got bullied at school a lot. Because I was bigger, I didn't have a lot of self-worth.”
Just as things were really falling apart, Jeff heard that the show was hosting auditions and planned to film in Denver, a departure from its usual Los Angeles setting.
Thousands turned out, and he never thought he had a chance. As it turned out, they wanted not only him, but Juliana, as well. They became the show's first dad and daughter team; Jeff is the show's oldest-ever cast member at 56, and Juliana is the youngest.
Part of the Powells' mission is to require some soul-searching on the part of their charges, and that's how Juliana ended up pounding on a punching bag while screaming, “I hate my father,” with him watching from another room.
“I was blown away,” said Jeff.
“I think that's the first time it clicked for him that he wasn't being a father,” said Juliana.
We'll have to wait until Sept. 9 to find out how it all works out on the air, except to report that they all have witnessed amazing transformations, and they plan to pay it forward by working on issues like suicide prevention and mental-health awareness.
“I've never seen a young person like my daughter and the strength she has portrayed this last year,” said Jeff. “I have amazing respect for her. … Because of this year, I got to look at myself, as the head of the household, finally encouraging my family and not finding things wrong with them, but finding things right. Family has always been very important to me. I had just been blind about how much I let it get away from me.”
“My biggest transformation throughout the year was learning that it's OK, I don't have to die,” said Juliana. “I have a purpose on this earth.”