July 6, 2012 -- Chris Powell, the man who orchestrates each jaw-dropping weight transformation on "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition," says his secret as a hard-charging training has less to do with exercising people's bodies than exorcising their demons.
"There is a tie to some kind of emotional trauma, in the past, of people I've worked with, and that trauma is typically unaddressed," he said.
Powell has helped 11 super-obese people lose more than a ton of weight on the show: 2,198 pounds, to be exact. But in addition to helping people shrink to half their size, Powell also has gotten them to open up about a whole range of psychological issues, including sexual abuse and alcoholism.
Although he admits he is "absolutely not" professionally qualified to advise on these issues, Powell said he approaches it like a friend would.
"I know what's out of my scope of practice with some of these deep-rooted psychological issues," he said. "That's why we have therapists on board with us."
Learning to love yourself as a cure for morbid obesity might sound like psycho-babble, but Powell, 34, said it works. The trainer is known for moving in with his clients to makeover their lives and to break their bad habits. Their weight loss is often so dramatic that they require skin-removal surgeries.
Given Powell's rock-hard abs and intensity, you would never guess he was once a scrawny kid who failed to make the high school football team.
"I was so weak and vulnerable at that time that I just felt empowered and what gave it to me was fitness, iron, and I was hooked," he said.
Powell became a trainer and even appeared on "Good Morning Arizona." But after some bad business deals, he found himself living out of his car.
"I felt like a fraud, I felt like a total fraud," he said. "I made poor business decisions. I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. I was losing everything."
That is, until he met Heidi, a recently divorced single mom of two. The couple are now married and raising three kids together.
"We really met at the deepest, darkest part in both of our lives and it gave us a wonderful foundation to open up and say, 'Here's who I am," said Heidi Powell, who is also a trainer.
It was in that low moment that Chris Powell said he learned to overcome his fear of failure and also vowed that he would teach others how to be healthy. He even had the Roman numerals I, C, D, M, X, C and M tattooed onto his side. The last three are topped by horizontal lines, which means the base numbers should be multiplied by 1,000, so in Arabic numerals, they read 1, 100, 500, 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 and 1,000,000.
Powell said it symbolizes how many people have thanked him for making a positive change in their lives.
"I think we all have a desire to feel significant in the world," he said. "It's not about me doing nice things for other people. I get something out of this, and its fulfillment. This is the best addiction in the world."