Food is the final frontier for Fittest Loser contestants

  • Kathy Couston of Schaumburg chops vegetables with sophomore Abby Starr under the instruction of family and consumer sciences teacher Sara Lohrmann during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Teachers and students from the Food Revolution Club helped the contestants learn to cook meals.

      Kathy Couston of Schaumburg chops vegetables with sophomore Abby Starr under the instruction of family and consumer sciences teacher Sara Lohrmann during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Teachers and students from the Food Revolution Club helped the contestants learn to cook meals. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Sharon Miller of Elk Grove Village adds coconut to roasted almond trail mix with help from sophomores Rachel McCoy and Sophia Connolly during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.

      Sharon Miller of Elk Grove Village adds coconut to roasted almond trail mix with help from sophomores Rachel McCoy and Sophia Connolly during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Jiten Patel of Hoffman Estates chops vegetables with sophomore Megan Embreeas as they make crustless quiche during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants.

      Jiten Patel of Hoffman Estates chops vegetables with sophomore Megan Embreeas as they make crustless quiche during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Janet Ford of Elk Grove Village stirs the dressing for the salad in a Mason jar with help from freshman Alexandra Chang during a cooking class.

      Janet Ford of Elk Grove Village stirs the dressing for the salad in a Mason jar with help from freshman Alexandra Chang during a cooking class. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Salad in a Mason jar is one of the meals Fittest Loser contestants learned to make.

      Salad in a Mason jar is one of the meals Fittest Loser contestants learned to make. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Kathy Couston of Schaumburg makes a salad in a Mason jar with sophomore Abby Starr during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.

      Kathy Couston of Schaumburg makes a salad in a Mason jar with sophomore Abby Starr during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Photos by Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Jiten Patel of Hoffman Estates makes a salad in a Mason jar with help from Allison Chen, left, and Alexandra Chang.

      Jiten Patel of Hoffman Estates makes a salad in a Mason jar with help from Allison Chen, left, and Alexandra Chang. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Family and consumer sciences teacher Christina Erickson talks to Sharon Miller of Elk Grove Village during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants.

      Family and consumer sciences teacher Christina Erickson talks to Sharon Miller of Elk Grove Village during a cooking class for the Fittest Loser contestants. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
By Annie Overboe
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 5/1/2016 6:04 AM

Now in their 10th week of the 2016 Fittest Loser Contest, our five contestants understand that the key to winning this challenging competition means giving food the same focus and energy they give physical training.

Fitness and food are now the cornerstones of their healthier lives.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To help them learn more about healthy eating, they spent an evening with the Food Revolution Club, a group at Adlai Stevenson High School founded a year ago by sophomores Elmira Hezarkhani and Allison Chen.

Now going strong with 25 high school members, the Food Revolution Club shares its passion for healthy eating through service projects and offering homemade granola at Stevenson High School's World Fair event. The club now has more than 25 members.

This year's contestants, along with Push Fitness owner Josh Steckler, had a meal with several courses at Stevenson High School. The club members prepared salad in a Mason jar, smokehouse almond trail mix and ground chicken lettuce wraps.

"I was impressed by how knowledgeable and mature the students were about food," says Janet Ford. "Delicious and healthy snacks, along with a hot meal and take-home food. Thanks so much to Stevenson High School and the Food Revolution Club members."

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Special events like this help inspire the contestants to eat healthier, but how are they doing day-to-day? We asked the contestants to share their culinary experiences, challenges and successes so far.

Mel Boldt

Mel Boldt's world of food spins in an entirely new direction now.

"My new eating habits are light years away from the old," Mel says. "Previously, I'd skip breakfast or consume a plate of carbs and sugar. I'd be starving by 11 a.m. Then fast-food for lunch, followed by a candy chaser. Dinner often centered on my favorites, Chinese takeout and pizza."

No one recognizes his new diet plan. "My day starts with a nutritious breakfast; protein shake packed with spinach, kale, chard, blueberries and often walnuts," says Mel. "I'll switch it out with eggs and leftover taco ingredients, just to keep it interesting. Snacks range from fresh cut veggies and occasionally edamame. Dinners include healthy proteins, fat and lots of fresh vegetables … the good carbs."

Mel's hanging tough with the food changes. "The Push Fitness diet is the simplest most difficult thing I've done in my life," Mel says. "The challenge is maintaining the food plan 24/7, without a break. I am still tempted by Chinese food and pizza, and the other day I really wanted BBQ. When temptation hit one night, Angela reminded me that I could do anything for three weeks. My Facebook page shows '16 days left until pizza.'"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Janet Ford

As a health professional, Janet appreciates all the help from the Push Fitness team on changing eating habits.

"I'm eating meat five times daily, which is incredible," Janet says. "Snacking is not an issue with all the protein, healthy fat and carbohydrates on my meal plan."

Her family remains supportive even when skeptical. "I use coconut oil every day and that's new for me. The first time I cooked beef with coconut oil, my husband Bob commented, 'What's wrong with this meat?' I didn't give advance notice, thinking ignorance is bliss," she says. "Bob ate the meat once he realized it wasn't tainted."

Janet still misses a few favorite foods from the past. "The old food pyramid I grew up with recommended 9 to 11 servings of bread/pasta/rice/cereals every day. Now we know this isn't solid nutritional advice," she says. "For me, I absolutely cannot drop any weight unless I am grain-free, so I'm continuing with the new food program."

To ignite weight loss, Janet dropped dairy from her diet. "Omitting dairy is very hard for a girl from Wisconsin. I crave cheese, milk and yogurt," she says. "Permanent changes include a gluten-free lifestyle omitting beer. I hope to add dairy back after I get to 185 pounds and monitor it closely. Maybe the occasional wine, stepping in for my beloved beer."

Jiten "J" Patel

If you've been wondering how a vegetarian changes his eating habits to embrace a high protein food plan, J shares his daily menu to illustrate the challenges: "My usual breakfast starts with an omelet, avocado, lots of fresh vegetables and a side of fruit. Snacks feature an apple or protein shake, accompanied by peanut butter.

"Lunch protein usually centers on beans, more vegetables and an oil-based dressing," he says. "Afternoon snacks are protein bars. Dinner menu includes veggie burgers, minus the bun, or veggies with avocado. I eat lots of eggs and vegetables, with omelets often make an evening appearance on our table. I like that each meal has enough to make me feel full."

J has stuck to his new eating routine, even though it may not always appear so.

"Our building has a bowl of candy on the weekends, and out of habit I always pick a few from the jar and slide them in my pocket. In the past, I would eat them; since the contest I haven't eaten any. Of course, I put them in my sweatshirt, and when I pulled it out of my gym bag, the candy fell out in front of all the contestants and so much worse, my trainer Steve."

But his willpower has stayed strong and he hasn't eaten any.

Sharon Miller

What Sharon likes best about the Push Fitness food plan is eating more small meals throughout the day. "As a diabetic, this really helps regulate my blood sugar," she says. "The most challenging part of changing my eating habits has been measuring and weighing food. But that makes me very aware of every morsel I put into my body."

The family is on board with all the food changes. "Breakfast begins with coffee, now black only. Strawberries or blueberries, along with nuts and Greek yogurt finish the meal. For lunch I eat mostly salads, topped with tomatoes, avocados and chopped lean meats," she says. "Dinners include proteins sauteed in olive oil, to get in the good fats."

It hasn't been easy, but she's sticking with it.

"I really miss a good piece of dark chocolate," says Sharon. "I'm on the hunt for a great flourless chocolate cake that's also low in sugar."

While Sharon purged her kitchen of any food not on the Push Fitness diet plan, the family manages to sneak in old favorites. "Walking into the house after the Stevenson High School event, all I could smell was the aroma of Chinese takeout," she says. "I kept telling them how delicious the lettuce wraps were, as I ate my own healthy takeout."

Kathy Couston

At the beginning of the Fittest Loser contest, Kathy decided to try her hand at breakfast protein shakes.

"One day my trainer Michelle Amsden asked what I put into the protein shake. When I answered it included banana and chopped chocolate covered nuts, Michelle almost had a coronary," says Kathy. "I tried to convince her to add raisins and chocolate almonds to my diet, but she wouldn't budge."

For Kathy, the culinary lifestyle change began with breakfast. "Before I drank a pot of coffee before lunchtime," she explains. "Now I have stopped drinking regular coffee and switched to decaf. Also, I have a different mindset and have been buying much more organic products, especially if they are on sale."

There have been challenges adapting to the Push Fitness food plan and embracing new eating habits. "The plan offers variety, which I like. However, portion sizes are small. Who eats half a banana? Also, this diet allows brown or wild rice, but I'm not a fan of either. Give me white rice with my sushi!"

Kathy remains solidly committed to her new eating habits. "It's not what I'm going to add back after the contest, but what I am not going to include, that matters," she says. "I will continue to limit soda, alcohol, bread, pasta and desserts. It's too hard to work off the weight, once it's back on."

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