If you want to know what a difference seven weeks can make, just ask the Fittest Losers. From amusing wardrobe malfunctions to taking less medication, all six of the contestants are happy to talk about the changes, big and small. They and others are noticing the differences in the way they look and feel.
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"Last week my wife asked me to change a light bulb in the kitchen. As I was standing on the ladder reaching up to change the bulb, my pants fell down to my ankles," says 47-year-old Matt Kramer of Elk Grove Village. "When I asked for her assistance, she handed me the bulb.
"It just boggles my mind to think of all of the changes I've seen since the contest started," Kramer says. "My watch spins around my wrist like a hula hoop. I haven't been able to wear my wedding ring for the past three years. Now I can get it on without soap. My belt used to be longer than I am tall. It's getting shorter every day. When I tie my shoes there is no longer a huge gap in the tongue from my feet being swollen. My neck ties are longer because my neck is smaller.
And if all that isn't enough, the most important changes are those noted by Kramer's doctor. With the support and encouragement of his trainer, Mark Trapp, and lots of hard work, Kramer reached one of his goals several weeks ahead of schedule.
"My doctor has taken me off both my blood pressure and cholesterol medications," Kramer says. "He told me that I need to monitor my blood pressure daily, which I am, and informed me that if I keep eating a healthy diet of nonprocessed foods and continue to exercise, I may never have to be on them again. For years he has tried to get me to exercise and change the way I eat and it finally happened!"
And one more thing Kramer's amazed about: "I can put my arms around my wife and grab my elbows."
The sternum, when you find it, is a fascinating thing. Fittest Loser Michael White has been talking about it quite a bit since locating it last week.
"I was over at a friend's house watching the Bulls game and leaned back to stretch while rubbing my chest. That's when I felt the big lump in the middle of my chest," White recalls. "I asked my friend, 'Hey do you have a lump right here?' He said 'yeah that's your sternum.' I knew I had a sternum, I knew where it was, but it took losing 50 pounds to actually feel it."
Along with that 50-pound weight loss comes increased flexibility and a shrinking waistline.
"My clothes are so baggy, my wife is taking some of my jeans out of rotation," White says. "I'm still holding onto a couple pairs with a 46-inch waist, but I fit much more comfortably in a 42. When I wear my clothes from 50 pounds ago, I feel like I'm 7 years old and wearing my dad's shirt."
Contestant Brian Corrigan of Carol Stream is focused and working hard. He stays motivated by noticing the little things that remind him he doesn't ever want to go back to being the 275-pound man who started the competition seven weeks ago. "I've dropped 4 inches off my pants size and had to dig old clothes out of the basement," Corrigan says. "Fortunately, I had old belts because I ran out of holes in the one I was wearing. Life is good now that I can put my socks on without losing my breath and breaking a sweat.
"My trainer, Steve Amsden, likes to impersonate me doing a squat the first week. It's his way of saying, 'look at you now.'"
And those compliments Corrigan hears from random people?
"They always bring a smile."
Sixth-grade teacher Katie Przyszlak is recognizing that the changes she's making are having an impact.
"In the middle of teaching a lesson," Przyszlak says, "I had a student raise his hand, and say, 'Mrs. Przyszlak, you look skinnier.' He wasn't saying it to get an 'A,' but because it's what he thought. It felt great!"
When I started this competition I thought losing BIG numbers was what it was all about. I've come to appreciate that even a LITTLE weight loss on the scale is better than nothing."
The biggest surprise? "I expected to miss pizza, chocolate and diet soda, but I don't. I never thought I'd look forward to bananas, carrots or hummus, but I do!"
Most embarrassing moment? "Michelle had to hold my pants up while I was doing mountain climbers because they're too big. It was embarrassing and it was motivating!"
Her clothes are looser, her workouts are more intense and she's being encouraged all along the way by family, friends, co-workers and her trainer, Michelle Amsden.
"Halfway through the competition, my cardiologist cut the prescription for two of my blood pressure medications in half and said if I continue to progress I might get off all the meds. Two months ago that seemed like an unobtainable goal. Now it's a practical reality right on the horizon," says Tom Hampson. On top of that, he says, "all indications are that I'm no longer in imminent danger of developing Type 2 diabetes."
For the 64-year-old from Hoffman Estates that's a really big thing.
"When I was younger," Hampson says, "I could stay in shape more by accident than by design. Now I have to work at maintaining, or in my case regaining, good physical health. Being over 60 doesn't mean I have to resign myself to being over the hill. Losing weight and getting stronger through diet and exercise was expected through this program. That's a little thing. But restoring my health? Reversing the damage I've already done to my body? That's miraculous. That's a big thing, a very big thing."
Karen Maranto and her capri pants joined the ranks of the Fittest Losers experiencing wardrobe malfunctions.
"Last week when the weather was so warm, I pulled out a pair of denim capris and put them on," Maranto says. "I was very excited when I realized they were NOT going to work for the day ... the slightest movement made them slide down. I ran down the stairs, holding the pants up and, when the time was right, I just shimmied myself right out of those pants! I got a round of applause from my audience. Boy, that was fun!"
Maranto's mother lives nearby, but had been refusing to see her daughter in person until after the competition.
"Every time I'd invite myself over to her house, she'd say no. One day I really needed some encouragement and just stopped by unannounced. She was almost hyperventilating, exclaiming about how great I looked. That was just five weeks into the competition. Now she doesn't want to see me until the end."
Compliments are a great motivator and there have been plenty coming Maranto's way during her pool classes at the Elmhurst YMCA.
"Compliments like, 'wow, your face is looking so thin' and 'if you have time after class can you give me some diet hints?' Are you kidding? They're asking me for help? I'm amazed at the difference I'm able to make helping others during my journey."
Then there's the best compliment of all. Maranto overheard her trainer, Tony Figueroa and Push Fitness co-owner, Mark Trapp, discussing her progress. "They were saying things like, 'she's looking healthy' and 'really thinning out.' They could see the difference!"