So what has the 2014 Fittest Loser Challenge meant to this year's five contestants?
Much more than weight loss.
Sure, they're ecstatic to have lost a heap of weight, but the lessons go much deeper than that. Here, they speak of new friendships, greater self-confidence, and success measured far beyond the scope of the competition.
Tim Lange of Algonquin is still pinching himself.
"I just can't believe 12 weeks have passed so quickly," he says of the fitness competition winding to a close.
Lange says he is not the person who started the contest, not in mind or body.
"When I started, I was overweight, tired and completely out of shape. Can you say bowling pin?" he says with a chuckle. "That's what I felt like. But with hard work, support and the right training, your body will respond. That's what I truly took out of this experience."
Lange understands that he didn't get there alone.
"I have also found out that with the right trainer or support group, that is always the right way to go," he said. "It all comes together when you use the eating and workout plan that fits your needs."
Now, he's looking forward to the days following the competition.
"For me, the future is an open road of healthy eating, working out and 5K races," says Lange. "This truly has been a rebirth for me and my family."
If there were any surprises, he says, it was that the competition "didn't kill me; and that it works."
"I will take away a lot from this program," says Allie Monroe, who puts grocery shopping skills at the top of her list. "Learning how to grocery shop is a big thing, and it will definitely help me stay on track."
Monroe says she was pleased that the nutrition plan consisted of more than calorie counting, but she admits to being a bit surprised by how intense the exercise program was. "The workouts were harder than anything I have done in a long time," she contends.
But she now plans to put that impressive catalog of fitness work to use after the contest.
"I have a huge list that I can put together on my own so I can keep up with the workouts in the future," she says. "I think the most important thing I will take away from this whole experience is that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. My body can do more than I ever pushed it to do."
All along, she says, she needed a plan.
"I have learned that planning is key to success whether it's meals, workouts or grocery shopping," she adds.
In the future, Monroe says she will modify her diet to make it healthier, yet still be conducive to her lifestyle.
"My plan is to find a way to incorporate this into my everyday life," she says. "I want to find something I can maintain and still be social and have nights out with my friends. But I want to now make better choices."
Monroe says the competition experience significantly boosted her morale.
"It has really given me more confidence going forward than I have ever had before," she insists. "It has given me confidence in my abilities and what I can accomplish long-term."
John Bohanek of South Elgin learned a lot about himself, his body and his habits during the competition.
"The competition made me take a step back and look at my life," says Bohanek. "I tried for years to lose weight by myself and failed. Sometimes you have to find an expert, swallow your pride and ask for help. That was the hardest. Learn from your trainer/nutritionist and run with the information."
That's what Bohanek did. And along the way, he made new friends and learned loads more about how his "body processes and uses food and the importance of consistent exercise."
In fact, he says he is a walking billboard to attest that the nutrition program works.
"During the entire challenge I was never hungry, and I think that is very important," says Bohanek. "Too many times before when I have 'dieted,' I was hungry and that led to overeating."
Bohanek hasn't reached his goal weight, but he intends to in the months to come. "My goal is to be 210 to 220 pounds," he says. "Currently with losing 70 pounds, I am halfway there and hope to be at my goal just before the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays."
After 12 weeks of training, Bohanek says he feels like a different man. "It far exceeded my expectations," he says of the competition. "I feel stronger; I sleep better, and I have more energy than I did 12 weeks ago."
His strength, both mental and physical, has intensified with time.
"Every week when we train, I think back to the first week when I couldn't do more than five situps," Bohanek recalls proudly. "Now I'm doing sets of 20, five times. It is incredible how my body has taken and adapted to exercise."
Being able to run a 5K on top of that, he says, was an added bonus.
"When they told us about the 5K run the first week of the competition, I thought, 'You better have the crash cart ready,'" Bohanek says.
Now, he is only shocked by one thing: "I don't miss soda," says Bohanek, who used to drink a dozen a day.
Cheryl Seibert of Joliet says the competition taught her more about herself than she ever imagined. One of the biggest lessons was the importance of sleep.
"I have always heard calories-in versus calories-out is how you lose weight," she says. "So when I was working out and not cheating on the food plan, it was frustrating to not get good results."
That's when a doctor's visit revealed that she had shift work sleep disorder, and "it was the biggest reason I was not seeing better results on the scale."
Seibert soon discovered that knowledge is power.
"I never realized how much of my health is impacted by a lack of sleep," she says. "Being a firefighter will always make sleep a challenge, but at least now I am aware and can try to do better on my days off. I truly try to make sleep a priority. Now, if only my kids would stop being sick and get onboard with that program!"
Not in her wildest dreams did Seibert think she would push herself as much as she has.
"I have learned that when I am tired, the hardest part is just getting in the gym," she says. "Even when I work out at the firehouse and get interrupted by a call, I can go back and finish. I used to find any excuse to not workout but now I realize it will have to be part of my routine."
She's seen a dramatic change in her eating habits.
"I feel much better when I eat better," says Seibert. "Eating five times a day is sometimes difficult because of my schedule, but when I finish eating a small meal I don't feel exhausted and uncomfortable."
Seibert says her purpose for participating in the competition changed with time.
"When I was chosen for this challenge, I was driven by the competition factor. Somewhere along the way I changed my focus to a personal challenge and learned that I had to stop comparing myself to everyone else," Seibert says. "I realized I was doing the best I could and that would have to be good enough for me. I needed to stop focusing on negativity and be proud of what I have accomplished: I have a great start on my weight-loss journey; I am healthier, stronger and I am making better decisions."
"The main thing I took away from this challenge is that it's never too late to make lifestyle changes that will improve your quality of life," says Chris Kalamatas of Lake in the Hills, adding, "And I haven't felt this good in many, many years."
Kalamatas says he plans to continue the same nutrition and exercise regimen he is on now, but with a few tweaks.
"For the future, my plans are to eat right and exercise my body four to five times a week because it's no longer a contest, but a way of life," he says. "And I can do it; I've learned that these past 12 weeks."
The biggest surprise, he says was seeing the old him disappear.
"It was surprising to see how quickly my body and shape transformed," Kalamatas says. "It wasn't just the weight loss but the inches off my belly and shape in general. You don't realize it until people you only see occasionally come up and say how good you look. That was motivation for me to keep on going."
Being a part of a public weight loss challenge kept Kalamatas accountable and working hard.
"I am positive that being in this contest where there was weekly media reporting through the Daily Herald definitely contributed to my success in losing almost 40 pounds in 12 weeks," he says. "I'm not sure I would have had the same success on my own. It has been a great experience, and I hope our group of six can in some way positively affect others who may be in the same boat."