The contest might be over, but that doesn't mean the journey to wellness is complete for the 2018 Fittest Loser contestants.
They've all said from the start that the Fittest Loser wasn't just about the 12 weeks of competition or the pounds dropped from February to May. For these five, the contest has always been a way to jump-start a path to well-being that will last a lifetime.
The contestants have seen extraordinary changes over the past few months, not only in their physical appearance, but how they view exercise, nutrition, and living a healthy lifestyle as well. With the official results in the books, the contestants shared the best parts of their journey, the hardest parts of the challenge, and what comes next.
Before the Fittest Loser started, Chad Lowry said he felt that he "should lose weight" but didn't think he'd be able to stick to a plan long enough in order to shed all the pounds he needed to.
Fast forward 12 weeks and Lowry is the 2018 Fittest Loser champion. He went from 244 to 190 pounds, losing a total of 54 pounds, 11 inches off his waist, and 22.1 percent of his body weight.
Over the course of the challenge, Lowry changed his eating habits, resumed his running regimen, and now stays much more hydrated by upping his water intake. A final push that included extra workouts and a slightly different diet the last week of the contest propelled him to first place.
The biggest physical changes Lowry has noticed is the loss of his "belly" and "love handles" as well as more definition in his arms.
Even more importantly, his mindset regarding weight loss has changed. Now that he's gone through the Fittest Loser experience, he knows he can complete tasks every day that will help him maintain his current success and push him to new heights (or lows as the case may be).
"My next goal is to lose another 20-25 pounds from where I am, and then maintain that going forward such that I don't put on more than another 10 pounds," Lowry said. "I plan to do that by slowly increasing my running speed and distance, and continuing with the group classes at Push Fitness."
While Lowry said he won't miss step-up exercises at the gym and wished he'd figured out a few tricks earlier in the competition, such as wearing compression sleeves to combat pain in his shins when running, the overall experience was amazing.
"I still can't get my head around the idea that I've dropped more than 50 pounds, much less having done it in three months," Lowry said. "I've met some amazing people in my fellow contestants and the trainers at Push Fitness, and I feel phenomenally better than I did prior to the contest."
Shelly Daley was in first place until the last week of the challenge. She finished a very close second to Lowry, going from 280 to 220 pounds, a total of 60 pounds lost. She lost 21.4 percent of her body weight and eight inches off her waist.
Just as noticeable as her weight loss is her newfound confidence and belief in herself. By participating in the Fittest Loser, Daley discovered that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. She dug deep to find her strength and learned how to believe in herself and her worth again -- perhaps the most important accomplishment of all.
Prior to the contest Daley described herself as "feeling hopeless of ever getting healthy in body and mind, again." She persevered, however, and that has made all the difference. Her mindset has shifted dramatically, especially regarding how she views food.
"I realized that I would eat when I wasn't hungry at all. Understanding my triggers to food and realizing that I don't have to celebrate everything with food was a game changer for me," Daley said.
The contest touched every member of Daley's family as well. Her transformation has changed all of their lives.
"Everyone in my family is eating healthier and being more active since my lifestyle changes," Daley said. "The positive habits that I have learned and acquired from the Fittest Loser will be everlasting."
Daley's next fitness goal is to change the first numeral of the number on the scale from a two to a one. She's aiming to get down to 199 pounds and plans to continue setting goals from there.
"I think always having a health and fitness goal is the key to staying healthy. I would also love to run a race at Disney World someday," said Daley.
Kirsten Binder dropped 40 pounds and lost five inches off her waist over the course of the challenge.
She's noticed many physical changes, even within the last week of the contest. She chose her dress for the finale 10 days prior to the event. In the short time between the dress selection and finale, Binder said her body had changed so much she could have chosen a smaller size.
"I can see my clavicles and my cheekbones again. My hip bones aren't buried under layers of fat," Binder said. "My arms have never been so toned and my waist hasn't been this narrow since my 20s."
However, the biggest change Binder has noticed is how well she sleeps.
Today, she sleeps better, feels rested upon waking, and is energized and focused throughout the day. She has a more positive outlook on life and any time she's tempted to skip a workout or eat something she shouldn't, she asks herself if it's worth it and draws on the support of family and friends to keep her accountable. That accountability coupled with mindfulness about her diet and exercise plan has been key to her success.
Binder plans to continue with her weight-loss goals. She'd like to lose about 15 more pounds, up her situp count from 34 to 40 situps per minute, and run a 5K within 35 minutes.
Binder knew she'd lose weight during the challenge, but wasn't expecting to gain so many new friendships and the support of others in the process. Although she was nervous about suspending her privacy during this journey, she said she's been humbled by others who say they've been following her story and have been inspired by her experiences.
"If I took a week to describe all of the wonderful people I've befriended and experiences I've had over the last three months, I still couldn't cover everything," she said.
Nicole Mueller also lost a significant amount of weight throughout the contest, going from 206 to 173 pounds. She lost 33 pounds and six inches off her waist.
She's noticed an improvement in her endurance; her hips and knees feel better; and she has much more energy.
The positive changes are rubbing off on her family, too. They've started working out together and Mueller said the family is making better and smarter food choices. While the contest was not without obstacles, the experience was a positive one.
"I've experienced many obstacles on the journey. However, I've learned as much or more about mental toughness and stick-to-itiveness than I ever expected. I validated that the mind is one of the strongest parts of the body," Mueller said.
Being able to set goals and reach them was her biggest accomplishment of the contest. Moving forward, she plans to continue attending group fitness classes at Push Fitness. She'd like to get down to 155 pounds, but more importantly, she wants to continue down the road of eating healthy and exercising to ensure she does not gain the weight back.
"This entire experience has changed my life and I will be forever grateful," she said.
Kim Rosewell's wedding date is only four months away and thanks to participating in the Fittest Loser, she is well on her way to achieving her goal weight for her big day.
Rosewell went from 244 to 216 pounds, losing a total of 28 pounds and eight inches off her waist. Her near 30-pound weight loss is a major accomplishment, but the shift in how she views diet and exercise might be just as big of an accomplishment.
"Now I can make healthy eating choices even when going out to dinner and not having the ability to cook at home," Rosewell said. "Working out five or six days a week is something I am very capable of doing and will be able to continue to meet my wedding goal."
Rosewell plans to keep going with her fitness goals, hoping to lose another 40 pounds before her wedding. To stay on track, Rosewell plans to stay clear about and focused on her goal; continue to fit in time for working out; and maintain her diet.
If she gets off track with her eating plan, she won't wait to course correct. She'll return to her newfound habits at her next meal.