They may have begun as strangers, but everyone became friends during the group boot camp this past Saturday in the wee hours of the morning at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.
It was an opportunity for the Fittest Loser Challenge contestants to swap nutrition tales and to push themselves beyond what they thought was possible, thanks to boot camp boss Brad Parotto.
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He divided the group into teams and led them through grueling, sweaty workout sets for what seemed like an infinite hour. There were grunts, sighs and grimaces -- and lots of sweat. But what was heard loudest were the cheers of "You can do it," "Keep going!" and "Just one more" that everyone told one another while moving through one unimaginable task to the next.
But this 12-week regimen will not be built on exercise alone. Push trainers devised nutrition plans for each contestant. While calorie-counting is key, the focus is on having a balance of high-quality fats, proteins and carbohydrates throughout the day, distributed in five to six meals. Everyone is also mandated to drink half their body weight in ounces of water.
So, after a week of cutting out fatty fast foods and carb-heavy favorites, the group anxiously awaited their first weigh-ins, which were emotionally charged and celebrated. The numbers spoke for themselves. Combined, the five contestants lost 50-plus pounds.
Push personal trainer and owner Joshua Steckler was not surprised.
"Our contestants have been told that proper nutrition is responsible for 70 percent of the results they'll see on the scale," he says. "Because (they) have made such drastic changes over the first week, such as limiting sodium intake, eating more vegetables, watching their portions, and improving the quality of their food, they will be rewarded with not only feeling healthier, but with a substantial weight loss as well."
John Bohanek of South Elgin can attest to this. He came out of the weighing room looking astonished. The man who gave up his 12-soda-a-day habit saw a loss of 15 pounds on the scale. He was near tears: "I just can't believe it," he repeated as he high-fived fellow competitors.
"I stopped drinking all soda the day after I met with my trainer," says Bohanek of trainer Michelle Amsden. He has been on a 2,000-calorie, six-meal nutrition plan ever since.
"The biggest concern that I had was being hungry and that has not been a problem," he insists. "The nutrition book that my trainer gave me was a big help. I just keep reviewing it to know how many proteins, fats and carbs I can have at a sitting."
Bohanek swapped his diet of sugary beverages and a feast of fast food (including late-night stops at Wendy's) for "eating fresh meat, chicken, scallops and tons of veggies and fruit," he says. "Eating eight ounces of vegetables is a lot more filling than eating french fries."
Drinking water has helped him, too. "Having a large glass before bed seems to make me sleep better," he said. "The first few days, I was sluggish. But my trainer said once your body purges the garbage from your system you will feel better. I stayed away from it all, even the fun size Snickers bar that was in a candy dish. Now, I have no caffeine headaches and my energy level has stayed the same."
Allie Monroe of Schaumburg lost 16 pounds this week. She said she stuck with her nutrition plan as prescribed by her trainer, Wade Merrill, and she is ecstatic about her progress.
"So far I'm doing pretty well," she says. "I am not confused about what to eat. The nutrition part has always come easy to me. For me, it's more about the will power."
Monroe discovered that nutrition is about more than eating. "I have learned mostly about timed eating and eating more of my starches and fruits during the day and not close to bedtime," she says. Part of the contestants' nutrition plans requires keeping a food journal, which has been helpful for Monroe and others.
She says that she has even ventured out and tried new foods. "The one thing that I have tried that I wasn't sure I would like is almond butter," she says, adding, "I love it more than peanut butter."
But she does miss a few items left out of the plan, like pasta. "I used to eat it a lot and now I can't have it at all," she says.
Monroe, who is single, now keeps her house free of temptations. "What has worked most for me is only keeping things in the house I can eat," she says. "It's easy for me since I live alone. And since I'm eating so often, I'm never starving which helps me stay on track. The main challenges are getting used to grocery shopping more than once a week and planning my day the night before."
Monroe and the others received sound advice for grocery shopping during a tour of the Whole Foods Market in Schaumburg recently. Assistant Marketing Specialist Tatiyana Baukovic encouraged contestants to shop the perimeter of the store. "No matter what type of diet or lifestyle you follow, staying away from processed foods is really important," she says. "The more you can purchase and consume whole, real foods, the better it is for your body. Typically, the more something is processed, the fewer nutrients the item has. As you fuel your body with real foods, you'll be less likely to overeat."
Chris Kalamatas of Lake in the Hills saw his first week nine-pound loss as a step in the right direction.
"I've learned a ton in just a week about nutrition, and rediscovered my liking for certain fruits and veggies," Kalamatas says. "My personal trainer, Brodie Medlock, has been very helpful. He explains things in a way that it all makes sense. I have also come to realize that my biggest problem before was overeating. I couldn't walk away from the table unless I was stuffed! Now, I have cut out the late-night snacks and eating before I go to bed."
Yet, he admits that he misses pizza; but at this point, there's no turning back. "I am taking this a day at a time," he offers, "and that will be my mantra throughout these 12 weeks."
Tim Lange of Algonquin was motivated by his nine-pound loss. But he admits that it took some time to get used to the changes. "At first, I was confused on what to eat but my trainer was very helpful," he says of Steve Amsden. "I have not gone back to my old eating habits, and cravings for cookies has stopped."
Lange admits that he misses his evening ice cream, but he wouldn't dare grab for a scoop now. "Steve, my trainer, checks (my journal) during every workout, and it better be right or extra sets will be in my future," he says, partially joking.
Lange says eating is more fun now. "My friends think I eat all day now, but it is the right foods now," he adds. "I never feel full, just comfortable"
He's even dared to venture out of his comfort zone. "The oddest thing I have eaten was an apple sandwich with peanut butter and flaxseeds, it was surprisingly good," he says.
Lange says careful planning is key. "The most important thing for me is the preparation of meals," Lange says of the part of the process that his family helps with. "Plan your foods the night before, and eat your proteins. You cannot go in helter-skelter or you will fail."
Cheryl Seibert of Joliet knew that shedding eight pounds this first week was just a start. Now, she is pumped to keep going strong, even if it means making long-term dietary changes.
"Eating no processed foods always sounded like a great idea, but it's challenging," Seibert says. "Push Fitness gave us a food plan to follow that has really simplified it. I have always liked 'clean' foods but always added other stuff to my meals. This has been a transition mostly because my old habits try to resurface, like eating food off my kids' plates.'"
Real life obligations continue, but Seibert is glad to be winning these early battles: "My mom needed cupcakes and didn't want me to suffer through the temptation but I figured I had the willpower to succeed so I made them," she says. "I really had no idea how much of the batter that I eat until I couldn't have any. I was elated to say I didn't have one lick!"
Journaling keeps her honest. "I don't want to write something down that would be a setback," she says, also admitting, "Yes, the idea crossed my mind to not write it down but I have learned the hard way that eating in secret still shows up on the scale."
She and her husband are tackling this together. "My husband does the cooking and is amazing," she says. "We scheduled more time to shop, and more importantly, to prep all the food as soon as it gets home."
Since Seibert's career as a firefighter requires that she spends much of her time away from home, eating healthy is often a challenge. "Every day, we pitch in money and one of the guys volunteers to cook. What we eat is completely up to them," she explains. "Of course we have the ability to bring our own food, but I like eating as a 'family.' The guy who typically cooks at our house is a pretty healthy cook and has been truly helpful. When he comes back with all the food, he asks me if I want my food cooked separately. He has even cooked it for me," she says. "The support has been truly amazing, which I think makes a huge difference."