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posted: 3/18/2013 6:00 AM

Changing attitudes toward food, exercise motivate Fittest Loser competitors

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  • Team Moehrlin works out in the living room with 8-year-old Emily and 5-year-old Maddie in charge of training and motivating their dad, Fittest Loser contestant Greg Moehrlin.

       Team Moehrlin works out in the living room with 8-year-old Emily and 5-year-old Maddie in charge of training and motivating their dad, Fittest Loser contestant Greg Moehrlin.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Fittest Loser Mike Paulo gets some help in the kitchen from his 25-year-old twin daughters, Nina and Natalie.

       Fittest Loser Mike Paulo gets some help in the kitchen from his 25-year-old twin daughters, Nina and Natalie.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Megan McCarthy-Cook plays catch with her daughter Molly, 8, in the gym at the Hoffman Estates Park District as part of her exercise routine.

       Megan McCarthy-Cook plays catch with her daughter Molly, 8, in the gym at the Hoffman Estates Park District as part of her exercise routine.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The Girl Scout cookies have been delivered and Fittest Loser Joe Gundling faces a huge temptation right in the middle of the competition.

       The Girl Scout cookies have been delivered and Fittest Loser Joe Gundling faces a huge temptation right in the middle of the competition.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Fittest Loser contestant Marianne Costales-Roman stretches with her daughter Selena Gloria Costales-Roman, 4 at the Center Stage Dance Studio in Bloomingdale.

       Fittest Loser contestant Marianne Costales-Roman stretches with her daughter Selena Gloria Costales-Roman, 4 at the Center Stage Dance Studio in Bloomingdale.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Karen Castillo is hanging tough despite struggling on the scale. Recently she had an opportunity to check out a Power Hour workout demo at the Lucy store at Deer Park Town Center with Title Boxing Club of Lake Zurich manager Michelle Sikorski.

       Karen Castillo is hanging tough despite struggling on the scale. Recently she had an opportunity to check out a Power Hour workout demo at the Lucy store at Deer Park Town Center with Title Boxing Club of Lake Zurich manager Michelle Sikorski.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
By Gerry Alger
galger@dailyherald.com

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?

Greg Moehrlin

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."

Mike Paulo

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.

Megan McCarthy-Cook

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

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."

Karen Castillo

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!"

Marianne Costales-Roman

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

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