Weight-loss program tries to change lifestyles

In its first year, popular weight-loss competition is bucking the trend of mounting obesity in the United States, especially the South, and giving participants a reason to slim down. But with the holiday gorge-fest on the horizon, participants in the third, and final, weight-loss round of 2012 may have the most difficult row to hoe.

The program, Lighten Up 4 Life, is a free, online team weight-loss competition sponsored by Angel Medical Center in Franklin. Contestants weigh themselves periodically and record it online.

At the end of each four-month period, teams, with names like “Mission Slimpossible” and the “Featherweights,” square off to see who slimmed down the most. The winners get prizes like a Kindle Fire or a free fitness club membership.

In the first session, from January to April, about 600 contestants dropped a combined total of about 2,500 pounds — that’s about the weight of a hardtop Mini Cooper. One contestant lost more than 50 pounds alone.

“We were shocked,” said Bonnie Peggs, director of marketing and public relations at the medical center. Peggs even decided to enter herself into the competition with other staff members from Angel Medical Center.

So far, for the session that began in late August, Peggs team is in 12th place out of several hundred other teams. But, she worries about the daunting statistic that says many people gain between five and seven pounds during the holidays.

“Maintain, don’t gain,” is Peggs’ mantra with Thanksgiving around the corner. She also has vowed in spite of cooling temperatures to continue to park her car far away from the hospital’s door to get some added steps.

Although the competition is good and fun, it also has proven to be effective, confronting a serious issue with a touch of weight-loss psychology.

“That top team is really going to put the pressure on each other,” said Teresa Breedlove, a licensed dietician at Angel. “It helps having a buddy.”

But the more discouraging aspect is that once the excitement has ended, many people find it hard to keep the weight off and quickly get fatter. Breedlove routinely works with the ugly side of obesity. She gives dietary consultations to patients with heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure — often a result of extra poundage.

The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates indicate about a quarter of adults are obese in Macon County; in neighboring Jackson County, about one in three adults are obese.

Although Western North Carolina fares better than other parts of the state, which in turn fares better than other states like Mississippi, the South remains one of the fattest regions of the country.

“The South in general likes — fried okra, fried squash, fried catfish, fried chicken — fried foods,” Breedlove said.

But diet is only part of the equation. Stress, sleep deprivation and lack of exercise are also tied to weight gain, she said. And for many people, making changes in all those aspects of personal life constitutes a huge change.

That’s why staff members at the Angel Medical Center are reaching out to as many people in the community as possible to attract them the Lighten Up 4 Life challenge, in the hopes the seemingly inconsequential game will have widespread consequences.

“The whole thing is about a healthy lifestyle,” Breedlove said.


Holiday eating tips

• Don’t skip breakfast or lunch before a big dinner. It may actually cause you to overeat.

• Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed.

• Select small portions of a variety of colorful food like vegetables and fruits.

• If you drink, select light wines and beers, rather than mixed drinks.

• Stand away from the buffet tables and food trays to avoid the urge to nibble.

• Talk more, eat less. Take the time at gatherings to focus on the people, not the food.

• It’s OK to say “no,” and refuse food, even to persistent hosts.

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