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They're walking the talk to lose weight

Sam Amado was heavy.

So heavy he had to sit out roller coaster rides because the safety bars often couldn't lock down over his bulk.

So heavy he had to have two weight-related knee surgeries before he was legally old enough to drink.

As recently as three months ago, the 5-foot-9, 22-year-old Everett native was a hefty 382 pounds. At one time, he even filled out to 417.

"I've always been big," Amado said. Chuckling, he admitted, "My portion sizes haven't always been the best."

Over the years, he tried fat burners, diet shakes, and strength training. Not finding success -- or at least anything that stuck -- he finally turned to that ever-broadening sanctuary for the dreamers and the desperate: reality TV.

Amado, along with 35-year-old Brookline resident Chantal Carrere, are appearing on the weekly ABC television series "Fat March." The show, which was taped over 10 weeks this year, started out following 12 obese contestants as they walk 570 miles from Boston to Washington to lose weight, learn healthy eating habits, and compete for a large sum of money. The show airs Monday nights at 9 p.m., with the finale scheduled for Sept. 10.

Two episodes in, the weight has already started to drop. In the process of walking roughly 150 miles, from the starting point of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton to New Haven, Carrere shed 14 pounds; Amado 31.

But getting there hasn't been the most jovial of experiences. During the first two episodes, marchers sparred, complained of aching knees, and two had to be taken to a hospital. The pack is also down two -- Kim, a former rap star, quit shortly into the walk, and Shane, a preacher, was amicably voted off because his numb, blistered feet were a health hazard.

Because of confidentiality agreements with ABC, Amado and Carrere cannot discuss specifics about the show, including how much weight they ultimately lost or whether they received any prizes.

Carrere, a stand-up comedian who has toured with the Laugh Factory, did give one hint about the experience, though: "I hate hills."

The 5-foot-2 native of California, who began her walk at 250 pounds, said she'd always been heavy -- but it was the steady approach to 300 that finally jolted her to action.

I've struggled with weight my whole life," she said in a recent phone interview, "but I'd never been that fat."

Like others who are overweight, there was also a threat of diabetes. She was a bull's-eye for the disease because her mother was diagnosed at 35.

And, despite her trail of failed diets -- she's tried Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, the Zone, and South Beach -- Carrere said her experiences on "Fat March" made an impact. What she learned will remain with her.

Part of her success came from the controlled TV environment, she admitted; she knew if she was held accountable in front of millions of viewers, she'd be more likely to stick with it.

But more important, "I was ready," she said. "I locked my mind. I made a commitment that I'd never quit."

Massage therapist Amado was empowered by the experience, too -- he said he's slimmer, healthier, and that his family is thrilled with his success.

"The show saved my life," he said, explaining his previous affinity for pizza, ribs, and Mexican food. "If I didn't do it, I'm sure I'd still be gaining weight."

The "Fat March" experience included some of the accustomed reality show devices: As well as walking, contestants competed in nutrition-centric challenges, and they could increase their share of a $1.2 million prize pool by voting off walkers they found contentious or too slow.

"The biggest challenge was surrendering control," said Carrere. "Every day, you didn't know what was coming. All you knew was that you had to step up to the plate."

Amado agreed, likening the show to boot camp. But from it, he said, he learned that healthy living comes from just one thing: Forcing yourself.

"Just eat right; portion control is huge," he said. "And you don't have to walk 575 miles. Just get out there and be active."