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Wednesday, April 29, 2009 11:22 am

When losing is good

How one couple’s life changed after they decided to “Lose Big”

Angie Griffin cooks a healthy chicken stir-fry meal using what she learned in nutrition classes.

Angie Griffin never considered herself obese, but when her Body Mass Index revealed she fell into that category, she knew something had to change. Together with her husband, Derek, Angie signed up from the YMCA’s first ever Lose Big contest, an event designed to mimic NBC’s popular weight-loss reality show, “The Biggest Loser.”

Patty Knepler, marketing director for the YMCA, says she was overwhelmed by the positive response. More than 100 people signed up, and 65 completed the 12-week program. Cindy Kropid, YMCA fitness coordinator, and other fitness experts worked with participants as fitness and nutrition coaches, putting them through various classes, programs and weigh-ins. Some cried, some made excuses and some quit, but those who stayed lost weight.

Although the Griffins didn’t win the competition, they benefited from the camaraderie and encouragement that comes with group exercise. The Lose Big participants shed more than 1,000 pounds in total, as teams of various numbers vied to lose the biggest percentage of their starting body fat. Damon and Sonya Perkins dropped 11.1 percent to win the competition, followed by A.J., Tijuana, and Alicia Akers, who lost a combined 93 pounds to finish in second place.

For the Griffins, the contest came at a good time and brought significant changes to their lives. “It was the start of the year, we have two small kids, and I’m turning 40,” says Derek. “The kids eat what we eat, and we want them to have a healthy lifestyle.” Like Angie, Derek was shocked to see his actual weight on the scale at the first Lose Big weigh-in day, a day that he calls “depressing,” because he didn’t realize how much he actually weighed.

A day after weigh-in, the real work began with the initial Ultimate Workout, a boot-camp-style event designed to push participants hard. One group of teams (team sizes varied since the scoring is based on percentage of body fat lost) met at Centennial Park, where Kropid instructed them to run up the park’s steepest hill with an egg in hand, leave it atop the incline, and repeat the process. The next week, somebody brought her horns and a pitchfork.

The coaches push their teams hard because they are concerned about individual health and care about results. Kropid says that the trick to sticking to a workout regimen is discovering ways to make exercise work. On her team, people with certain physical limitations or injuries were provided with options and alternatives that allowed them to participate in spite of setbacks. “This isn’t reality TV, this is reality, and everyone can find a program that works for them,” she says.

With a busy schedule built around their two young kids (ages 3 and 5), the Griffins were aware of every excuse. “You can say you’re too busy, or it’s too expensive, or it’s too hard, but the real trick is finding the lifestyle changes you can actually move forward with,” Derek says. For his family, success involved making small adjustments like eating smaller, healthier meals more frequently, and taking simple steps to be more active while teaching the kids to adopt a healthy lifestyle, such as going for a family walk after dinner instead of staying inside.

Derek and Angie Griffin, lighter and still losing, after competing in the YMCA's Lose Big competition.

The first few weeks in the Lose Big program were difficult for many participants who expected to see tangible results immediately. Like most, the Griffins learned that results don’t usually come right away. Between weeks three and four, Derek and Angie finally noticed some changes. Clothes fit differently, they were less stressed out, and they finally had more energy to keep up with their children.

Although each of the Griffins has lost 20 pounds, neither is stopping now that the contest is over. Derek hopes to lose 10 more, while Angie’s goal is to make exercise and nutrition permanent habits. “I’m not losing weight, I’m shedding. It’s not coming back,” she says, adding that she is buying some new clothes now so she’ll notice if the weight does start to creep back.

The YMCA’s nutrition classes, a required Lose Big component, were important for the Griffins, who say that not knowing how to eat healthy was their main barrier to weight loss. Now, they’ve replaced potato chips with multigrain varieties of chips. They talk about nutrition and healthy cooking like experts, but Angie insists it was an easy change. “You learn a few tricks. We buy healthier foods in bulk and make it last. We buy smart,” she says.

The kids are getting healthier too, although they might not realize it because the results are still years away. “It’s a lifestyle that we’re teaching them now so they will be healthy adults,” Derek says.

The Lose Big program changed both Derek and Angie’s lives. They know how to exercise, how to eat well, how to have a healthy lifestyle and how to teach others to do the same. In fact, Derek will serve as a captain for the second YMCA Lose Big competition set to begin on May 11.

The Griffins both suggest that a beginner start small and try a lot of different activities to find out what works best for him. The key, they say, is not to be discouraged by a bad week or a slip in diet. “We don’t eat salads for every meal, either,” Derek says, adding that they are still able to live their normal lives and have fun. “I think people will see that it’s not that hard, that they’ll make some friends, and that they’ll want to keep doing it. That’s what happened to us, and if we can do it, anybody can,” he says.

The second Lose Big contest runs from May 11 to July 27, and is $25 for Y members and $199 for nonmembers. Payment is due by May 4, and the initial weigh-in is on May 8. There are four official workouts/classes, nutrition classes and one weigh-in per week. Prize packages will be presented to the top two males and top two females with the largest percentage of weight loss. Rules and registration forms are available at the Springfield YMCA, or online at Springfieldymca.org. For more info, call (217) 544-9846.

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