Fittest Loser: What it takes to make lifestyle changes that last
Trying out a new exercise routine or diet for a week or two is easy.
Turning said diet and exercise routine into lifelong habits is much harder.
After several months of competition, the 2019 Fittest Loser contestants have learned that succeeding in the contest requires just as much mental strength as physical strength.
Collectively, the group said that their diet and exercise routines are becoming second nature to them. The results of the contest so far -- weight loss, improved sleep, more energy, increased strength and stamina -- are tangible.
Seeing their bodies transform before their eyes has motivated them to stick to Push Fitness' nutrition and exercise plan and it's what they say will drive them to continue working out and eating healthy once the contest is over.
But, how did contestants make the switch from being comfortable with their old habits to forming new healthier ones?
And how are they able to sustain these changes?
The answer is different for everyone, but it's clear that mindset plays a large role in every story.
Prior to Fittest Loser, contestant Bob Sinclair had enlisted the help of a personal trainer, but the results didn't stick.
Per his doctor's warning that he needed to lower his cholesterol and that he was at risk for developing diabetes, Sinclair knew he had to lose weight.
Knowing he has young grandchildren that he wants to watch grow, Sinclair determined that the time to make a change was now, before his health got away from him.
Sinclair admits it was hard in the beginning, but now seeing results and feeling so much better have pushed him to keep going.
"I thrive on the workouts," said Sinclair. "After you run, box, or lift weights, your body feels so much more energized. You're not tired. You want to keep doing more."
Improving health to be with family also motivated Melissa Hood to apply to Fittest Loser.
Before the contest, Hood said she had gained a significant amount of weight and that her blood pressure and blood sugar were rising.
She wanted to be in better health to be able to share many years with her family. Having watched her parents die prematurely from heart failure and diabetes, she knew now was the time to take control of her health.
Although, it may seem like the Fittest Loser prompted immediate change, Hood has been preparing for this moment for many years.
"It has taken years of intentional practice, faith, forgiveness and courage to be able to embrace the changes in attitude, discipline and self-care that I have been making in this challenge," Hood said. "Like a game of Chutes and Ladders, there have been strong starts, swift backsliding and outright hands-up moments of, I Quit! in caring for my body and my health."
Stopping and starting a fitness routine and nutrition plan is something Annamarie McMurray can relate to. Up until two years ago, McMurray led an active lifestyle; but when her husband passed away everything changed.
McMurray, who had exercised daily with her late husband, stopped working out. Instead of cooking healthy meals, she ate "junk food," and she stayed up later than usual, missing several of the hours between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. that are said to be optimal for good sleep.
McMurray knew being held accountable would help her return to her old habits. Seeing her weight loss journey documented in the paper every week has done just that.
The pressure to follow through with the program was only part of the equation for McMurray. Once she remembered how good it felt to exercise and eat right, "feeling better" is all she needs to continue following the Push Fitness nutrition and exercise plan.
"All I needed was a jump-start. I will keep going," said McMurray said.
A life-altering event also prompted Ed Poczatek to make a change and form healthier habits.
After being diagnosed with cancer and enduring several years of treatment, Poczatek wanted to make physical fitness a priority. For him, the accountability piece of the Fittest Loser has been instrumental in making positive changes as well.
"It got REAL, real when I saw my photograph in the Daily Herald with my first week's progress. There is no hiding when there is that level of visibility," Poczatek said. "The contest represented a commitment. The weekly published results commanded accountability."
A combination of watching his children beginning to make unhealthy food choices and feeling aches and pains from past injuries and poor diet, prompted Rick Meyers to actively make changes to his lifestyle.
"I wanted to lose weight and get healthy for them as well as myself," said Meyers. "Being a part of the canine unit requires me to have a certain level of fitness. I wasn't satisfied with where I was and I knew I could do better."
Each contestant had his or her own reasons for choosing winter and spring of 2019 to form new habits and it's no secret that making the decision to apply to Fittest Loser and follow through with the contest is challenging both mentally and physically.
Contestants have dug deep and found motivation to stay the course. Here they share some tips about forming new nutrition and exercise habits that last.
• Find an accountability partner. For the Fittest Loser competitors, seeing their photo in the paper every week accompanied by how much they weigh provides plenty of accountability.
Hearing from friends and community members has also inspired them to continue training each week.
Hood considers community support vitally important to her success. "I love walking into our weekday Bible study and hearing that folks who care about me are excited about my success and encouraging me to keep going when I am struggling to succeed," she said.
If your weight loss journey isn't being documented publicly in a newspaper, you can still find an accountability partner to help you meet your goals. Consider hiring a trainer or working with a registered dietitian who can devise a plan for you and with whom you can check-in each week.
You can also reach out to your friends and family and ask someone to hold you accountable by checking in with you daily, weekly, or monthly on your progress.
• Workout buddies work wonders. Several contestants have found that having a buddy to work out with not only makes exercising more fun, but is motivating as well.
Sinclair said working out with a group of people with a common goal has helped him hit the gym consistently. Even if he doesn't feel like working out, if another contestant does, it motivates him to exercise too.
• If you fall off the wagon, get right back on. It's not uncommon to start exercising and eating right, only to let these habits slip after a few weeks or months. Remember that you can't follow a diet and exercise routine perfectly for 365 days a year. Try not to be too hard on yourself on the days you miss a workout or indulge in a sweet treat.
"Don't be discouraged if you have a setback," Sinclair said. If one occurs, he and others advise people to resume their healthy habits as soon possible, whether that's the next meal or the next day. "Don't make excuses. If you fall off, just start again," McMurray said.
• Believe in yourself. Making a lifestyle change is hard, but as the contestants are learning, it can be done. During the tough days when you don't feel like exercising or it would be easier to pick up fast food than cook, they remember that they can do anything they set their mind to.
"I would encourage people to know that they can make changes through diet and exercise. They should take pride in even small changes," Meyers said.
• Motivation must come from within. To make life lasting changes, Sinclair said you must be motivated to make those changes for yourself, not anyone else. "If you really want it, you can do it, but you have to want it for yourself," Sinclair said.
• Start today. Several months into the challenge, contestants say they don't even think about fitting in exercise or loading up on healthy food at the grocery store.
Start making changes today. As you make positive changes, your confidence will grow, which will help you develop even more healthy habits.