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Article updated: 3/26/2012 2:35 PM

Fittest Losers halfway through battle to shed pounds

Bloomingdale's Karen Maranto rolls out turkey burger patties for the grill.

Bloomingdale's Karen Maranto rolls out turkey burger patties for the grill.

 

Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 Salad is a staple of Fittest Loser Karen Maranto’s diet.

Salad is a staple of Fittest Loser Karen Maranto's diet.

 

Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 Fittest Loser contestant Tom Hampson flattens a chicken breast for his lunch.

Fittest Loser contestant Tom Hampson flattens a chicken breast for his lunch.

 

JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.com Tom Hampson's healthy lunch features a chicken breast served with spinach and baby carrots.

JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.com Tom Hampson's healthy lunch features a chicken breast served with spinach and baby carrots.

 
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Going into this, the six contestants of the Daily Herald's 2012 Fittest Loser competition knew this wasn't going to be easy.

It's halfway through -- and they were right.

The four men and two women contestants have spent nearly six weeks learning to eat healthy and work out regularly, each paired with a personal trainer from Push Fitness in Schaumburg. They're vying to shed the most weight percentage-wise over a 12-week period for the title of the Fittest Loser.

Despite their struggles thus far, each contestant is losing weight. And, to different degrees, they have all started noticing changes in their overall health. Here's where they stand at the halfway mark.

Tom Hampson

Tom Hampson isn't used to feeling this good. Adjusting to a new diet and fitness regime has been a major change for the Hoffman Estates investigator -- but it's hard to argue with results.

"At 64, Tom's body and mind don't always agree on what is possible during the workouts," says his trainer Joshua Steckler, "but he is seeing some awesome results. He is motivated by getting healthier. I remind him how important it is to not have to rely on medications. By the end of this contest, he'll feel like a new man."

Q. What has been the most difficult adjustment?

A. The obvious one is no Diet Coke. That's tough. I still don't really like water, but I'm getting used to it. Eating five times a day has been an adjustment. (Time) all of a sudden creeps up, and I have to eat. The habit isn't well-formed yet. The protein shakes aren't bad. But unsweetened Greek yogurt, that's really very unpleasant. It tastes like sour stomach acid. When is that supposed to start tasting good?

Q. What has been the most enjoyable part of the process?

A. I feel so much better. I have more energy. I'm more alert. Before, as I went through the day, I'd get sluggish. I'm more engaged.

Q. Have you noticed changes in your attitude since the contest began?

A. I'm not as slothful as I used to be. What these guys are having me do is working. I'm losing weight and feeling better.

Tom's stats

Starting weight: 316

Current weight: 290

Weight lost this week: 4 pounds

Total weight loss: 26 pounds, 8.2 percent

Katie Przyszlak

No one has higher expectations of Katie Przyszlak than she does of herself. And the past few weeks have been a lesson learned in knowing that sometimes, it's best to just ease up.

The new mom from Schaumburg has struggled with balancing her workout schedule, her teaching job and her family. "I didn't realize how much time it would take," she says. "There are days I don't get to see my 7-month-old daughter at all. I'm hoping it'll all be worth it."

She's also come to terms with not losing as much weight as she'd like. "For the first four weeks, I lost the least of everyone, and that's been frustrating," she says. "I was disappointed in myself. Now I look at it differently. I know every week, as long as I know I've done everything I can, I have to be proud."

Her trainer, Michelle Amsden, is pleased with Katie's new attitude. "As a woman contestant, you feel discouraged when you see the guys dropping double the pounds," she says. "But the most important aspect of this competition is to learn how to live a healthy life."

Q. What has been the most difficult adjustment?

A. The eating. I feel I'm lacking variety in what I eat. I don't mind the vegetables, but it's always the chicken, always the fish and always the eggs.

Q. Have you noticed any changes in your health?

A. Other contestants talk about feeling a change in energy. I'm still waiting for that. For an hour or two after my workout, I have a ton of energy, but then I'm just exhausted. Part of it is just that I feel in general, I've probably bitten off more than I can chew. I'm very hard on myself, and I've brought some stress and pressure on myself.

Q. Have you noticed changes in your attitude since the contest started?

A. Recently, I've done a lot of self-reflecting. When I started, it was all about the competition. To me, it's about knowing I'm giving everything I can and making sure I'm doing what's best for my life all around. The lifestyle is more than 12 weeks, and it's not about winning anymore; it's about doing this in the least stressful way possible. This isn't about anyone else anymore. It's about me.

Katie's stats

Starting weight: 266

Current weight: 240

Weight lost this week: 2 pounds

Total weight loss: 26 pounds, 9.8 percent

Michael White

These days, Michael White feels like a new person.

The West Dundee resident still is surprised that he's doing things like running on a treadmill and picking up heavy plates. "If the first six weeks are any indication about how the last six weeks will be," he says, "then I'm in for a really good rest of my life."

His trainer, Wade Merrill, sees improvement each week. "His diligence in preparing meals over the weekend and working out on his own has been his greatest hurdle," he says. "But he broke through those challenges and is planning ahead so the opportunity to succeed doesn't pass him by."

Q. What has been the most difficult adjustment?

A. Not snacking at night. I'm a night owl, so sometimes my stomach is begging for food, but I just have to ignore it and move on to the next day. I used to drink an unheard amount of caffeine. As soon as the headaches passed, I found I have so much more energy and I'm sleeping better. When I sweat, it's a clean sweat; it feels like pure water coming out. Before, I just felt so gross.

The planning is time-consuming. My hardest thing is remembering to bring food with me to work. Luckily, there's an amazing cafeteria with a salad bar and plenty of healthy options.

This is a competition. We had a pep talk last week, and when the contest is over, the (lifestyle) is not going to be. You have to move on with the rest of your life. You have to learn to keep progressing.

Q. What has been the most enjoyable part of the process?

A. I like pushing myself. There's no way I could've done (some of these exercises) a few weeks ago; I wouldn't have lasted one set. To complete three sets of a difficult workout is really great.

Q. Have you noticed any changes in your attitude since the contest began?

A. I like to show off and brag a little. I look in the mirror a lot more now. It's exciting. I was stretching one day and I found my sternum. You drop 40 pounds and you find out stuff about your body you didn't know before. When I walk into a gym now, I'm not so intimidated. When I used to work out, I felt like all these super-in-shape people were looking at me. I'm beginning to get past that.

Michael's stats

Starting weight: 320

Current weight: 271

Weight lost this week: 6 pounds

Total weight loss: 49 pounds, 15.3 percent

Karen Maranto

With an injury in the beginning, Karen Maranto had a slow start, but the Bloomingdale mom of three is starting to find her groove.

She's discovered a newfound love of boxing and is regularly getting in water workouts. She's dropped a few sizes in clothing and has already noticed a thinner face. "As long as I can see a difference, I don't worry about the scale anymore," she says. "I might move a notch in my belt, but the scale only says one pound. It's not about the number but the actions you're taking to get there."

Q. What has been the most difficult adjustment?

A. My biggest challenge is with food. You have to eat five proteins a day, and it's hard for me to eat meat and veggies for breakfast.

Every couple of days, I have a problem where I have a hard time eating anything. It's my brain fighting with my body. I keep cutting things in little pieces and eating it, but at this point, I'm not really enjoying food. I'm worried about the day I can have a piece of pizza because I don't want to go back to where I was.

Q. What has been the most enjoyable part of the process?

A. The gratification after a workout. I'm apprehensive before every workout with my trainer. But on my ride home, I think "I can't believe I did that for 30 seconds." It's a really good feeling when the workout is done to say, "I did it."

Q. Have you noticed any health benefits?

A. My polyester work uniforms are big. The belt, I keep going one more notch. I feel better. I don't have that fantastic feeling, but I'm sure I will at some point. I feel like I have more energy. It's easier to get through the day because the foods you're eating keep you on a steady high all day.

Q. Have you noticed changes in your attitude since the contest started?

A. I get angry at myself that I didn't do something about my health sooner. I don't know why I didn't have just one piece of pizza rather than five, or half a beef sandwich. You're more cautious about what you eat and don't want bad things anymore.

Q. How do you stay motivated?

A. I've never thought about giving up. My family eats pizza in front of me; Girl Scout cookies are everywhere. My trainer is so supportive. I hear his words of encouragement all day. One cookie could be an hour on the treadmill. It's not worth it.

Karen's stats

Starting weight: 288

Current weight: 263

Weight lost this week: 4 pounds

Total weight loss: 25 pounds, 8.7 percent


Matt Kramer

On a Friday night, the old Matt Kramer would've been ordering deep-dish pizza. Now, he's baking tilapia.

The Elk Grove Village man, who says he's absolutely "astonished" at his results so far, is still surprised at how much life has changed in such a short amount of time. Pre-contest, he'd drive to a movie theater just to order a large buttery bucket of popcorn to take home. "I think now, 'Wow, that was really sick,'" he says.

Q. What has been the most difficult adjustment?

A. The exercise part, that's the hardest. I haven't worked out like this since I was 21. You get upset at yourself because you can't believe how limited you are. I can't even do a full sit-up because my stomach is so big -- that affects you physically and mentally. But everything comes in time. I didn't put all this weight on in 12 weeks, and it's not going to all come off in 12 weeks.

Q. What has been the most enjoyable part of the process?

A. Seeing the results. What's motivating is getting into a smaller belt size or going down a shirt size. My neck and chin are smaller. The scale is only one factor. The education I'm getting about the proper way to treat your body (is the real prize).

Q. Have you noticed a change in your mindset or attitude?

A. Everything about me has changed, whether it's a lower stress level or a lower blood pressure. My cholesterol numbers are down. When something's going on at work, it doesn't stress me out anymore. My energy level is 10 times what it used to be. It's tremendous.

Q. How do you stay motivated?

A. Many times, I'll think, "Do I really need to work out this morning?" You just have to push through that. I have to entertain for work and take clients to lunch. Now, I know I can order off the menu and have a healthier choice. Eating is such an emotional thing. If you can exercise and get rid of a lot of stress in your life, your head's clearer. I don't have that desire to drive to McDonald's and get a cheeseburger.

Matt's stats

Starting weight: 372

Current weight: 324

Weight lost this week: 5 pounds

Total weight loss: 48 pounds, 12.9 percent

Brian Corrigan

A Navy veteran, Brian Corrigan is a fighter by nature. And a nagging back injury didn't slow the Carol Stream man down -- at least not too much.

"He is an all-or-nothing guy, so it was tough to get him to take it easy and skip boot camp for a couple of weeks," his trainer, Steve Amsden, says. "He is now healthy and pushing the issue, keeping me worried about re-injury, but I can't control a wild bull."

The two have a friendly rivalry, and Army veteran Amsden motivates by dishing out. "The other challenging part for Brian is learning how to 'shut his pie hole' and just do as he is told without suggestion or complaint. We have fun with that, though."

Corrigan says he feels "like a million bucks" and already has had to dig out decade-old clothes from the basement to fit his shrinking size "and even those are getting too big."

Q. What has been the most difficult adjustment?

A. Getting used to working in five meals a day into a busy corporate schedule. I worked out a nice system where I shop Saturday and cook all day Sunday for the entire week. Now things are rolling well.

Q. Have you noticed a change in your attitude since the contest started?

A. No. I'm the guy that was willfully not doing what I should have been. I used to be a health nut, and it just slid. It's been great, because I've found my mood has improved. Things that would've stressed me out before don't seem to matter as much anymore.

Q. Has there been anything surprising about the process?

A. The speed of the weight loss. I tried before to lose weight on my own, but I was willing to miss a workout if life or home got in the way. Now everyone's on board and that comes first. With five meals a day, you feel like you're eating all the time. I haven't felt full since I started, and I haven't been hungry -- it shocks me I don't have a single craving at 9 p.m.

Q. How do you stay motivated?

A. I was walking into church recently, and an (acquaintance) said, "Wow, you're really losing weight." That kind of compliment from someone who doesn't know you're in a contest tells you it's really showing, and it's not someone just blowing smoke.

Brian's stats

Starting weight: 275

Current weight: 236

Weight lost this week: 6 pounds

Total weight loss: 39 pounds, 14.2 percent

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