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posted: 4/28/2014 5:30 AM

Fittest Loser contestants embrace healthier eating plans

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  • "Being a firefighter," Cheryl Seibert says, "I don't always eat meals at a reasonable time."

      "Being a firefighter," Cheryl Seibert says, "I don't always eat meals at a reasonable time."
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Exercise is hard but the greater challenge for the Fittest Loser contestants, including Allie Monroe, is making good food choices.

      Exercise is hard but the greater challenge for the Fittest Loser contestants, including Allie Monroe, is making good food choices.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Chris Kalamatas has his wife Beth's total support on the weight-loss journey.

      Chris Kalamatas has his wife Beth's total support on the weight-loss journey.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • John Bohanek is 66 pounds down due in large part to making better food choices.

      John Bohanek is 66 pounds down due in large part to making better food choices.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Today, Tim Lange embraces life with exercise and without doughnuts.

      Today, Tim Lange embraces life with exercise and without doughnuts.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

By Lisa Jones Townsel
Daily Herald correspondent

OK, yes all of the Fittest Loser Challenge contestants are on a strict nutrition plan, but that doesn't mean they're not human.

They miss eating pizza!

Sure, not having a scoop of ice cream drives them bananas. But denying themselves those pleasures for a time and learning about the benefits of healthier choices have resulted in dramatically changed bodies and minds related to food.

Allie Monroe

For Allie Monroe of Schaumburg, one of the biggest changes has been taking time for food prep.

"I have changed how often I eat and the way that I shop for food," she says. "I also cook on weekends to have food for the week to make my life easier."

Monroe says she is a "pretty picky eater" so she hasn't ventured out to try many new foods on this journey, but she has come to really love almond butter, a food she might not have tried had it not been for the challenge.

And while she has learned to live without many of her favorite junk foods over the past 10 weeks, she admits that "it will always be a struggle to keep them out of my life."

Yet, Monroe plans to add many of the elements of her current nutrition plan to her regular life.

"I definitely plan on continuing most of the program after the challenge," she says. "I want to keep on the same track, but make it fit into my normal social life and find a balance I can maintain."

Tim Lange

Tim Lange of Algonquin says the challenge has completely changed him.

"My eating habits have done a 360," he says. "Breakfast used to be a cup of coffee and a doughnut from my favorite bakery."

The last 10 weeks have changed his daily menu. "Now I take the time to eat a breakfast that is healthy, but I do miss that bakery sometimes," he says.

Since starting the challenge, Lange says he's learned that there are plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy offerings to select from.

"I found that I can eat fish now, where I would have never tried it if it were not for the contest," he says.

While he misses some of his old favorites, he's ready to eat healthier with or without them now.

"I do think that there is life without certain foods, and the ones that I enjoy the most can be made in a healthy manner," he says. "I have decided to keep up with the nutrition plan but to tweak it a little when it comes to my pasta."

Cheryl Seibert

Cheryl Seibert of Joliet admits that food was a big issue at the beginning of the challenge. That's because, she says, "it required a complete overhaul."

But she did it, even when it came to eliminating processed foods and artificial sweeteners, which she thought would be the toughest to sacrifice.

What she didn't realize is that she would need to also eliminate gluten from her diet while in the challenge.

"Due to poor results on the scale, the doctor I was referred to recommended I cut out gluten, corn and dairy because people often have an intolerance to them," she says. "Those restrictions have been slightly more difficult for me."

Yet, she has established a new routine.

"I personally do not enjoy breakfast. When the doctor added the new restrictions, I tried to eat a small meal in the morning but it just does not work for me. I found a protein drink without gluten, dairy or corn and actually enjoy it," she says.

"After the challenge, I will get tested to see if I have a gluten, corn or dairy intolerance and change my diet accordingly. I will definitely stick with the protein drink in the morning because it seems to put me on track for the rest of the day," she says.

Seibert says trying new things has kept her from getting bored.

"I made kale chips and really liked them," she says. "I can honestly say I don't think I would have considered that before this challenge. I will certainly make them in the future. I would have never tried coconut oil either, but I like using it to cook just about everything."

The life lessons of the challenge, she says, extend far beyond the contest.

"Certain aspects of the plan I will definitely stick with after the challenge ends," she says. "Being a firefighter, I don't always eat meals at a reasonable time, so I have learned to keep some things with me so I don't overeat when I do sit down for a meal."

Plus, she has her family to think about.

"My husband and I are definitely trying to choose 'clean' foods to build a solid foundation for our kids," Seibert adds. "I realize I feel better eating five times a day rather that three large meals. Protein drinks are something I will absolutely keep on hand for breakfast or a snack, and I am really glad I had this opportunity because it forced me to incorporate these changes all at once. Initially, it seemed overwhelming, but now it is honestly getting easier."

Temptations await, but Seibert says she's ready to deal with them.

"I am not going to lie, I miss pizza and will have some when this competition ends, but it will be in moderation from now on," she says.

Chris Kalamatas

Chris Kalamatas of Lake in the Hills admits that he never thought "there would be life without pizza."

But not only has he managed well, he has found some new favorites along the way.

"The main thing I have learned regarding my nutrition and eating habits is that you don't have to cut out a food you enjoy for the rest of your life; you just have to learn that you cannot eat it in abundance and whenever you crave it," says Kalamatas.

"I have learned to like avocado and ginger as these are two of the ingredients in a "Brodie Smoothie" that I now drink before and after a workout. I have completely cut out Diet Cokes and dairy, with the exception of eggs. I no longer use milk or cream with my coffee; I found that I love coconut milk."

Kalamatas says the lessons have been plentiful, and he doesn't fear the future or temptations anymore. "I believe that I have attained better eating habits and better quality foods during these past 10 weeks that will sustain my lifestyle after the challenge and beyond," he says.

"Knowing that during the challenge I would have to do without my favorite food (pizza), I told myself that I will enjoy a few pieces afterward, but in moderation, of course."

John Bohanek

John Bohanek of South Elgin has a new mantra in life: "I don't live to eat anymore, I eat to live."

He says that's because he's discovered that healthy can be delicious "when prepared properly with a little spice, garlic, shallots or onions."

Greek yogurt has become a favorite.

"It is delicious when mixed with berries," he says, "or when used as a substitute for sour cream."

That's a big difference from what Bohanek used to think was appetizing.

"I used to fry things in butter or oil," he adds. "Everything had to have a cream sauce, mayonnaise or barbecue sauce. All of that just added fat and sugar to my diet."

Now clean foods have an appealing quality to him.

"I have added greens, Brussels sprouts, okra, spinach, and red, yellow and orange peppers to my diet," he says. "I also buy fruits and veggies as part of my triweekly shopping trips."

Bohanek says that he is pretty sure that he will be continuing his current nutrition plan, well after the competition. "I look forward to continuing on my food journey as there is little that I miss," he says.

"Looking at a box of cinnamon crumb doughnuts yesterday, I noticed that they had 280 calories and 28 percent of your daily fat intake. I would normally eat two or three at a sitting. How could I do that to my body?"

Yet, Bohanek does plan to treat himself from time to time after the competition.

"I can't say that I will never have a 'fun-size' Kit-Kat or Twix," he says, "but it will be only one or two and not the entire bag."

Weighing in

John Bohanek, 46, South Elgin

Starting weight: 361

Current weight: 295

Weight lost this week: 6 pounds

Total weight loss: 66 pounds, 18.3 percent

Chris Kalamatas, 63, Lake in the Hills

Starting weight: 262

Current weight: 232

Weight lost this week: +2 pounds

Total weight loss: 30 pounds, 11.5 percent

Tim Lange, 57, Algonquin

Starting weight: 236

Current weight: 199

Weight lost this week: 2 pounds

Total weight loss: 37 pounds, 15.7 percent

Allie Monroe, 29, Schaumburg

Starting weight: 334

Current weight: 285

Weight lost this week: 2 pounds

Total weight loss: 49 pounds, 14.7 percent

Cheryl Seibert, 40, Joliet

Starting weight: 263

Current weight: 230

Weight lost this week: 7 pounds

Total weight loss: 33 pounds, 12.5 percent

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