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posted: 5/12/2014 5:30 AM

Focus trumps fear -- and other lessons I learned along the way

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  • Personal trainer and Push Fitness owner Joshua Steckler (black T-shirt), has been alongside Lisa the whole way, including running at her pace and encouraging her throughout the DuPage Human Race 5K in Downers Grove April 26.

      Personal trainer and Push Fitness owner Joshua Steckler (black T-shirt), has been alongside Lisa the whole way, including running at her pace and encouraging her throughout the DuPage Human Race 5K in Downers Grove April 26.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

By Lisa Jones Townsel

The Top 10 Lessons I learned during the Fittest Loser Challenge:

10. Trust the pros. When I first met my Push Fitness trainer Joshua Steckler, I saw him as the epitome of fitness and figured he'd view me as the epitome of fat. But over the past 12 weeks, he worked me hard, respectably, but hard, and seemed to be concerned about my concerns every step of the way. Before the challenge, I had reached a wall in terms of what I thought I could accomplish weight-wise, and I didn't know the next step to take. I had nothing to lose in trusting Steckler, other than weighty pride. Soon, I was certain that his plan would bring me the results I wanted.

9. Mind games are powerful. During the competition, I often had to ignore what my mind was trying to tell me. Times when I was clearly no longer hungry, I still panted for my favorite foods. While I never gave in to these cravings, they were strong and really took some time to recover from. This will continue to be a struggle, I'm sure, but now I know that I can get through it. (Taking snapshots still helps me.)

8. Pain doesn't kill. I already knew this. But I've never bench pressed, lifted dead weights, swung kettle bells or done burpees in rapid succession before this competition. Such routines, done in dizzying circuits, often left me achy, with tired feet and sore spots all over. Yet it didn't kill me, and it didn't take too long to notice what I was gaining in the process: a stronger, more toned body.

7. Variety helps. If I had to do the same exercises when I came to my training sessions, I'm certain I would've been bored. Same with my food options. If I only had one or two things to choose from, I probably would've lost interest early on. But it helped to try new vegetables, new types of fish, healthy oils and nut butters. And the fitness routines at Push were never, ever predictable and always a challenge. I learned that experiencing change was a good thing.

6. Success is contagious. If I lost three pounds on my own, it probably wouldn't matter much to me if I didn't lose a pound the following week. But because all of the contestants in the Fittest Loser Challenge lost several pounds weekly during this competition, it kept me on my toes and trying harder to figure out ways to hit bigger weight-loss milestones along the way.

5. The scale's not the only gauge of progress. One week I lost no weight. One week I gained. On average, I lost between 2 and 4 pounds. But what the scale didn't show was how quickly I could now leap out of bed, lift heavy things with my bare hands, run without getting winded and really, what compares to slipping into clothing sizes you haven't worn in decades?

4. Inner support is supreme. I wanted my family to always support my fitness and nutrition efforts, and sometimes they did. I wanted friends and others to avoid asking me out to dinner or skip ordering decadent desserts in my presence. But sometimes, it just happened. And really, that's life. I had to remind myself constantly that this is my challenge, not theirs. In the end, I had to decide if I really wanted to reach my goal, or just reach out and grab at the next temptation.

3. Focus trumps fear. When I felt the burn during my training sessions, I truly wanted to stop. Frankly, I would have if it were left to me. But when my trainer introduced new exercises that looked impossible to do and told me to "focus," "bear down," and "embrace the pain," I really wanted to give it my all, knowing that if I stuck with it, a better body might be on the other side.

2. It's not just for the challenge, but for life. Yes, I lost weight, stuck to the diet plan and can revel in the victory for a moment. But the true challenge rests in my future. I must make deliberate, ongoing changes to my diet and fitness regimen if I plan to maintain my hard, fought-for efforts.

1. Discipline dictates results. If I can skip out on Chinese food buffets, weekly pizzas, and decadent desserts, (and honestly, I did not think that I could), then I can continue to make a conscious effort not to derail my weight loss in the weeks, months and years to come. Fear aside of regaining what I've lost (really, who isn't thinking of that?), I am now more confident that I can do what is necessary (including living in a perpetual state of sweatiness) to become more fit.

This has been an incredible ride, a journey like none other, and freelance writer and substitute teacher Lisa Jones Townsel is not likely to forget any of the lessons learned along the way.

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