Editor's note: Lisa Jones Townsel will cover the 2014 Fittest Loser Challenge from the "inside," participating alongside the five contestants in the rigorous 12-week program. She will report on their journey while sharing her own thoughts along the way.
I have been exercising and dieting in some capacity since age 8 when I would do jumping jacks and leg stretches while watching episodes of the then-hit sitcom "Three's Company." But I have never been close to being waif thin. In fact, in my family you were expected to "have some meat on your bones," or older relatives insisted you must be in failing health. You were expected to eat everything heaped on your plate and that often included soul food favorites like cornbread, greens, meat (that was fried crisp or sunk in gravy) and a smorgasbord of buttery rich desserts.
Lisa Jones TownselHeight: 5 feet, 4½ inches
Starting weight: 198
Waist: 41 inches
Body fat: 41 percent
Body age: 55
I don't eat like that anymore (haven't for years). But I still have a lot of bad habits to break related to eating and exercise.
I feel like I should say that I do not binge on doughnuts, crave burgers or nosh on breads, pastas and pizzas. Yet, I am still obese. I have achieved this degree of out-of-shapeness slowly and steadily. I get my sugar kick by scarfing two to three bowls of cold cereal at a time. I tell myself that my need for raisins (I can go through a box in a week or two) is a healthy "little" controllable splurge. I can plow down creamy or extra crunchy peanut butter by the spoonful. One time at any buffet is never enough, and I often eat, out of nervousness or boredom.
My work schedule doesn't help much either. By day, I work as a freelance writer and substitute teacher. Both offer lots of flexibility, maybe too much. When I am home writing I can't help but to put a load of clothes in the washer, then eat, get the clothes out, write, then eat something else and then nibble all day. My exercise schedule consists mostly of attending Zumba classes two or three times a week, and in the summer, I jog in my neighborhood. That is, when I can fit those activities in; I am also a married mom of two.
So, as you can see, getting to participate in this year's Fittest Loser Challenge is an incredible gift that will help me to put all of these moving parts together and finally (hopefully) achieve long-term fitness success.
Two years ago represented the beginning of my new start: my in-laws gave me a hunk of Christmas cash and insisted that I use it on myself. I thought about using it for clothes or a spa day. But having suffered from severe back pain, achy joints and diminishing self-esteem, I decided to get a Weight Watchers membership. Over the course of two years, I lost 50 pounds and the back pain vanished. I appreciated the camaraderie of the weekly meetings and the learned knowledge about tracking food and activities. I started jogging as I once had in college, and I was able to shop again among the many sizes in my closet. But I knew that I had also reached an impasse; I had met my personal goal of getting below 200 pounds. (I hadn't seen 100-anything in ages!) How was I going to talk myself into doing more?
Ugh, I may not have to now. I believe that my Push Fitness personal trainer, owner Joshua Steckler, will do that for me. He has already told me to stop celebrating and get over the fact that I reached the under-200 mark. He has loftier goals for me to reach now. And that's good, 'cause I'm ready!
• Lisa Jones Townsel, a freelance writer and substitute teacher, is still bumbling around her kitchen pantry trying to avoid all of the high-calorie land mines in sight. She lives in Bartlett with her husband and two sons.