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‘Biggest Losers’ Strut Their Slimmer Stuff

By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Aug. 17, 2007 – After a lifelong struggle with her weight, it took just six months for a military spouse and mother of five to lose 27 pounds and gain a hefty new title -- Fort Sam Houston’s Biggest Loser.

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Sunshine Jeane does a total body workout at the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Jeane is the winner of the post’s “The Biggest Loser” competition. Photo by Olivia Mendoza

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Sunshine Jeane is the winner of “The Biggest Loser,” a six-month-long weight loss and healthy eating competition that started as a friendly interoffice challenge and grew into a postwide event with 33 participants.

“I was shocked,” Jeane said about her big win. “Everyone else who participated looks so amazing; I never imagined I would be the Biggest Loser.”

The program started small-scale in January, when a group of co-workers in Building 124 decided to cut back after the holidays. They jokingly decided to pattern their competition after the NBC series “The Biggest Loser.” Word spread, interest grew and, in a collaborative effort with the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center and fitness trainer Cathleen Burrell, 33 people from around post signed up March 2 to embark on a quest for a healthier lifestyle.

Program participants followed their own diet and exercise plan, but traded triumphs and personal challenges at weekly weigh-ins at the Jimmy Brought. They also gathered several times for nutrition and fitness sessions, led by Army Capt. Renee Cole and Burrell, during which losers learned about portion size, the pitfalls of dieting, and effective ways to burn calories. Burrell, who became the Biggest Loser fitness consultant, tracked results through the weigh-ins as well as initial, mid-term and final tape tests to measure body-fat levels.

“It was amazing to sit back and watch the progress,” said Burrell, who selected the top three winners based on a combination of pounds, measurements and body fat lost. “The losers made an incredible decision to lead a healthy lifestyle. They should all be very proud.”

Each week, the losers shrank, not just in size, but in number. The 33 original participants dwindled throughout the months, and only 12 stuck it out to the end.

But the diminished numbers didn’t stand in the way of a triumphant outcome. The top 10 alone have lost 58.37 points of body fat and 160.2 pounds. At the program’s start in March, Biggest Loser Jeane weighed 213.6 pounds and is now a much more svelte 186.4.

Despite having five children under age 12 -- the youngest is 6 months old -- Jeane managed to squeeze in five workouts a week at the gym and avoid her normal diet pitfalls, in particular, chocolate. “The best compliment I got was when my 11-year-old returned after a summer trip and said I looked skinny,” she said. “The hard work, the hours spent away from my family at the gym, were worth it at that moment.

“But I’m not done,” she added. “I still have 50 more pounds to go to reach my pre-pregnancy weight of 136.”

Jeane is well on her way, as are the other participants. The runner-up, Phyllis Bergen, lost 36.1 pounds and reduced her body fat by 7.74 points.

“I feel great. I can walk up flights of stairs now, and my blood pressure is much lower,” said Bergen, who dropped three dress sizes. “This has been an awesome experience. Even if I hadn’t placed, I’d still feel like a winner. I feel better about myself and my lifestyle.”

Bergen’s co-workers, who rooted her on at the announcement ceremony, also are impressed. “I was watching and supporting her,” said co-worker Cindy Champagne. “It’s absolutely amazing to see the difference.”

Bergen said she lost the weight by cutting back on starchy foods and sweets, as well as breaking a sweat four times a week at the gym.

The support of friends, family and fellow losers seemed to have just as much of an impact for the losers as the treadmill miles clocked.

“I found some great workout partners through the program,” Jeane said. “And it helped to just have people to talk to who were going through the same thing. Every time we met at the gym, everyone was so encouraging; I always left with new resolve.”

Third-place loser Olivia Mendoza said she drew her motivation from her workout partners and a fit fiance who encouraged her to work out.

“Having a buddy system works,” said Mendoza, who dropped 19 pounds and 22 percent of her body fat. “Start by working out with a friend, neighbor or co-worker, and go to the gym or walk during lunch.”

Husband-wife loser team David and Jacqueline Fairclough, drew strength from each other. “It helps to have support,” Jacqueline said. Combined, the couple lost 16 pounds. “My husband used to bring ice cream home when I was trying to lose weight. But this time we committed to doing the program together. I bought French fries the other day, and he took them away from me. This process has made us more aware of each other and our feelings.”

Some losers lost just a few pounds, and others lost dozens, but all seem to share the same dedication to continuing a healthier lifestyle.

“I’m not going to stop being healthy just because the program is over,” Jeane said. “I’m getting ready to give away my ‘fat’ clothes. I never want to go back to the way I looked before.”

“I’m even more committed to losing weight than I was before,” Mendoza said. “I look better, feel better and can’t wait to continue on with this journey.”

Jimmy Brought fitness director Lucian Kimble said he’s seen a transformation in the losers. “They have a motivational look, an excitement about the results they were seeing. They walk with more confidence now, like they were proud to be involved in a great program.”

Aside from appearances, the losers have given themselves the best gift of all -- a healthier life, Burrell said.

“That means a longer time on this Earth, the capability to pick up your grandkids, the ability to take a walk with your loved ones, ride a bike; the benefits go on and on. To sum it up, you can enjoy your time on Earth more than you ever have before.”

(Elaine Wilson works in the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)

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