Six weeks ago, six Daily Herald readers began the Fittest Loser Challenge eager to make changes ... changes in their attitude toward diet and exercise, changes that could have a significant impact on their health. Changes that have the potential to affect the quality of their life. The competition is at the halfway mark. How are they doing?
Check out our Fittest Loser page at dailyherald.com/entlife/health/fittest for the latest stories, plus videos of all the contestants and an interactive map tracking the community teams.
For Greg Moehrlin, the changes are piling on and the pounds are falling off. The 39-year-old science teacher and father of two from St. Charles has a completely new attitude about diet and exercise and he's down more than 20 pounds from his starting weight of 245.
These days Moehrlin finds himself obsessed with learning about nutrition and working out. "My wife, Laura, can attest to my obsession. I'm always telling her about things I'm learning."
His new attitude isn't just about fitness, it's popping up other places, too.
"I find myself joking around more with Laura and my girls when I get home from work," Moehrlin says. "I've noticed I'm more efficient at work, getting my grading and lesson planning done quicker and I have more energy in the classroom when I'm teaching."
While it's not easy waking up at 4 a.m. every day and forgoing his favorite sweet snacks, it's all worth it when he steps on the scale every Saturday.
"The best moments by far have been seeing the pounds come off at weigh-in," he says. "The falling numbers make all the negatives worthwhile."
Fifty-eight-year-old Mike Paulo's biggest learning so far is that his body really knows no limits. "It's my mind that needs convincing."
The college softball coach and father of four works hard every day keeping himself focused.
"My daily game plan starts with controlling my mind with meditation and breathing, telling myself that I can and I will accomplish this," he says. "The focus then moves to winning each day by making healthy food selections, eating well throughout the day, all combined with my trainer's intense workouts."
And it's paying off, not just in pounds and inches lost, but with a drop in blood pressure.
"The healthy eating along with the workouts resulted in my doctor cutting my medication in half," Paulo is happy to report.
Initially, Megan McCarthy-Cook entered the Fittest Loser competition hoping to make her mom proud. Her mom's battle with cancer definitely was a wake-up call for the 33-year-old from Hoffman Estates.
"Life is so precious. If you don't have your health, you don't have anything," she says. "I have the opportunity to make a change and help myself to get better. That's just what I'm doing."
And the changes are adding up ... physically, mentally and emotionally.
"My energy level is so much better," says the mother of two. "I don't sit on the couch for hours. I don't find myself napping in the middle of the day with my little one. I'm doing the laundry, picking up around the house or just having great conversations with my mom.
"She's been so supportive, everyone has been, but her opinion matters the most to me," McCarthy-Cook says of her mom. "She tells me all the time how proud she is of me and I tell her that I'm doing it for both of us. My health has worried her for over 20 years. I'm no longer going to let that happen."
Joe Gundling of Hanover Park has recently discovered mornings.
"My trainer has me getting up in the morning at a decent time compared to the 11 a.m. wake-up I was used to," Gundling says. "I've been struggling to maintain a proper sleep pattern."
Not unlike many teenagers, Gundling was used to staying up late at night and sleeping in every morning. With the rigors of the competition including daily workouts and a strict diet regimen, his trainer has been working hard to teach the 18-year-old the discipline a healthy lifestyle requires.
"Breakfast is at 8," his trainer, Tony Figueroa, reminds him. "8 a.m."
The inches are coming off, but the pounds are hanging on. As Karen Castillo navigates discouraging numbers on the scale, she's heading into the second half of the competition determined to finish strong.
The 37-year-old from Carpentersville has been adhering to the diet strictly enforced by her trainer.
"I haven't had a piece of bread in over a month and I'm craving anything bread," she says. "Especially the pretzel rolls at my favorite diner, Paul's Family Restaurant in Elgin."
Castillo does admit to one brief slip ... succumbing to the lure of three little Sour Patch Kids.
"I was in Milwaukee on business, in a rut and believe me, those three SPKs made my day," she admits. "But I felt so guilty afterward and my body felt terrible from the sugar and carbs."
Castillo's trainer, Michelle Amsden, is working her hard, correcting bad form and most importantly, she says, "not letting me quit!"
Fittest Loser Marianne Costales-Roman is leading the pack, holding on to first place for the third week in a row. By any measure that would be an accomplishment, but for this competitor it's even more impressive given the challenges she faces every day.
In addition to her husband and two young daughters, Costales-Roman cares for her disabled mother and autistic brother. She works full- and part-time jobs all the while maintaining the rigorous Fittest Loser workout schedule.
How does she do it? For the 37-year-old, it's WHY she does it that keeps her going.
"My father passed away suddenly almost a year ago," she says. "I grieve the death of my dad and yet he is the very reason I'm in this competition. He's my inspiration.
"If I give in to the obstacles and let them dictate my choices as I have in the past, then I'm just repeating my history and what kind of example am I setting for others?"
Costales-Roman is determined to persevere.
"If I can overcome these obstacles," she declares, "than there's no excuse for anyone else."
Karen Castillo, 37, Carpentersville
Starting weight: 206
Current weight: 198
Weight lost this week: 2 pounds
Total weight loss: 8 pounds, 3.8 percent
Marianne Costales-Roman, 37, Carol Stream
Starting weight: 222
Current weight: 200
Weight lost this week: 0 pounds
Total weight loss: 22 pounds, 9.9 percent
Joe Gundling, 18, Hanover Park
Starting weight: 264
Current weight: 242
Weight lost this week: 5 pounds
Total weight loss: 22 pounds, 8.3 percent
Megan McCarthy-Cook, 33, Hoffman Estates
Starting weight: 282
Current weight: 259
Weight lost this week: 5 pounds
Total weight loss: 23 pounds, 8.1 percent
Greg Moehrlin, 39, St. Charles
Starting weight: 245
Current weight: 222
Weight lost this week: 4 pounds
Total weight loss: 23 pounds, 9.3 percent
Mike Paulo, 58, Woodridge
Starting weight: 294
Current weight: 273
Weight lost this week: 6 pounds
Total weight loss: 21 pounds, 7.1 percent