2020 Fittest Loser contestants turn new healthy habits into a new way of life

  • Senior Spencer Sang, left, and junior Grace Zhu work with Neil Madden as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently.

      Senior Spencer Sang, left, and junior Grace Zhu work with Neil Madden as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
By Colette Harris
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted3/22/2020 7:32 AM

As gym routines become solidified and second nature, Fittest Loser competitors turned their attention to the kitchen.

Before mandated school closings amid coronavirus concerns, students in the Food Revolution Club and their teacher, Sara Lohrmann, at Adlai E. Stevenson High School showed competitors how to take their cooking skills and meal preparation up a notch. Contestants sharpened their knife skills and learned how to use an assortment of spices to give healthy staples extra flavor.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This experience really opened my eyes to all the healthy, fresh ingredients one can use to prepare wonderful meals that the whole family can enjoy," competitor Neil Madden said. "There are so many combinations of meats, vegetables, oils and spices that I would not have thought of using."

Now that some initial weight has been shed and contestants have several weeks of training under their belt, the challenge becomes about maintaining their new lifestyles -- not just during the contest, but once Fittest Loser ends in May. For contestants, developing new habits is all about tapping into an internal desire to change and finding ways to keep that desire burning brightly.

Barb Simon said the Fittest Loser's easy-to-follow and nonrestrictive diet and exercise plan helped her break her "habit" of trying to implement new diets and routines, only to have them fizzle out within about a week. She now also uses a reward system and gives herself a small treat for every milestone hit.

"I am rewarding myself with a new workout outfit for every 10 pounds lost," Simon said. "This system may work for those people who are reward-based like me."

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Sophomore Regina Lapytska, left, and senior Steve Yoo work with Jennifere Lux as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently.
  Sophomore Regina Lapytska, left, and senior Steve Yoo work with Jennifere Lux as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

With a work-from-home position, Simon said it was easy to go from her desk straight to the couch after a long day. Now, she hits the gym right after work, the only exception being a scheduling conflict with her kids' activities, in which case she'll workout at lunch. As a rule, she never goes to the grocery store hungry and always takes a list. She tracks her workouts and food intake, as well. All these tricks combined are helping her make a permanent lifestyle change.

For Madden, being a naturally competitive and mentally organized person has made following the advice of his trainer, Nicole Caliva, easier. She's given him a disciplined eating and workout routine. His workout schedule and grocery store runs are planned well in advance to ensure they're completed every week.

Surrounding himself with a strong support system, tracking his progress, focusing on his goals and cultivating a positive mindset also helped his new habits stick.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Decide what new habit you want. Write it down and look at it daily. Ask people you care about to become your support network and to hold you accountable," he said. "Then start another new habit. Pretty soon, your life has really changed for the best."

For Karl "Van" Dillenkoffer, forming new habits is all about the desire to do so. If you don't want to make a change, he says, it won't work. Following the diet and workout plan and tracking his workouts, eating habits, progress and overall health has helped him immensely as he commits to changing his lifestyle.

Dillenkoffer's Apple Watch monitors his heart rate, workout time, distance walked or run, and calories burned and gives him an overview of daily, weekly and monthly progress. He uses the Push Fitness daily journal to log his meals and exercise, as well.

"I try to maintain the same amount of activity whenever possible each day and can set new activity goals as I am getting more fit," Dillenkoffer said.

Not wanting to let herself down made forming healthy habits easier for Jennifere Lux. For her, and for many others, the challenge may lie in maintaining them. For now, Lux draws on her successes to keep her moving forward.

"The moment I started feeling better, clothes started fitting better and my son, Tristan, told me how amazing I am looking … all of that is what keeps me going," she said.

To keep herself on track, Lux schedules her workouts each week and plans her meals in advance. She packs her lunches and snacks each day and discusses dinner plans with her family to eliminate the need to pick something up quickly. As her new habits turn into a permanent lifestyle change, Lux reports increased energy, better sleep, and days packed with more activities than before. Although she's sore after working out, she feels something else, too -- stronger.

"It's one thing to lose weight but it's a whole other playing field to feel strong. I am absolutely in love with this new feeling," Lux said.

Want to form healthier habits? Follow these expert tips:

Daily Herald Fittest Loser contestant Barbara Simon, center, of Buffalo Grove works with trainer Patrick Stille at Push Fitness in Schaumburg, while Daily Herald insider Dick Quagliano, left, works with trainer Joshua Steckler.
  Daily Herald Fittest Loser contestant Barbara Simon, center, of Buffalo Grove works with trainer Patrick Stille at Push Fitness in Schaumburg, while Daily Herald insider Dick Quagliano, left, works with trainer Joshua Steckler. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

1) Desire change: In order to make changes that become permanent, lifelong habits, you must have the desire to change. Joshua Steckler, owner of Push Fitness in Schaumburg, said this drive must come from within. While the motivation behind forming new habits is different for everyone, the constant is the internal desire to make changes, even in the face of adversity.

2) Set specific goals: Be clear about what you're trying to accomplish. Instead of saying, "I want to lose weight," specify how many pounds you want to lose, by when, and know why this is important to you. Knowing the "why" behind your goal helps you tap into your internal desire to make a change, the most important factor in making new habits permanent. Remember to make your goal challenging, but reasonable and attainable, and set a timeline for accomplishing your goal. "This is why clients with specific goals, such as losing 30 pounds for an upcoming wedding, often see results," Steckler said. "It's very personal to them and there is a time limit."

3) Schedule workouts: Think of your time in the gym as an important appointment you can't miss. Look at your weekly calendar in advance and find times you can squeeze workouts in. Write your gym appointments in your calendar or set reminders on your phone so you know your exercise appointment is approaching. Keep your gym appointments unless extenuating circumstances prevent you from going. If that happens, try exercising at home.

4) Meal plan: As best you can, try to plan out what you'll eat for meals and snacks each week. Make sure healthy snacks are readily available in your home. When you create a weekly menu, you'll know what you need at the grocery store and can cook some elements of your meals in advance, ultimately shortening cooking time. Having nutritious staples on hand means less temptation to purchase unhealthy options.

5) Make maintenance a priority: If you want to stay healthy, keep practicing healthy habits. Once you've achieved your initial goal, don't stop practicing the habits that got you there. Maintaining your results is often the hardest part of any wellness journey and the key to sustaining what you've accomplished is continuing to make your health and exercise a priority. "Our most successful clients have learned how to make exercise and nutrition a consistent part of their new lifestyle. It's no longer a chore, but just a normal part of their day," said Steckler.

Fittest Loser contestant Van Dillenkoffer of Wheaton is training with Push Fitness' Michelle Jeeninga.
  Fittest Loser contestant Van Dillenkoffer of Wheaton is training with Push Fitness' Michelle Jeeninga. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

6) Set your environment up for success: When forming new habits, set up your spaces in ways that promote success. Start in your kitchen by ridding it of "junk" foods and unhealthy options you might reach for unconsciously or during stressful times. Replace those items with healthy options you can access easily. If you're meal prepping, cook what you can in bulk for the week and put your meals in individual containers ahead of time, making it easy to grab and go on hectic days. If you need to hit the gym before or after work, pack a bag, or two, in advance and keep them in the car to have your workout clothes handy. Having all the ingredients you need to follow through on your goals, and eliminating those that derail you, can help make forming new habits easier.

7) Enlist the help of a professional: If you're struggling to get healthy, working with an experienced fitness professional is one of the best ways to start your wellness journey off on the right foot. "Building on a solid foundation will give you the best chance to make permanent changes," Steckler said.

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