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February 7, 2008

Tales From the Scales: Lori's Losers

“Hey, Chubby, want to join our team?” isn’t exactly the most inviting opening line when trying to put together a weight race team, Cindy Brendel admitted. So, when she and fellow University Senate office staffer Lori Molinaro decided to form a team, they aimed to add people they already knew.

Since the Senate office is composed of just the two of them, they needed to recruit others to complete their five-member team, adding UCIS faculty member Melissa Reed, director of the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for International Studies, whose office also is on the 12th floor of the Cathedral of Learning, and Heather Defazio and Sharon Bindas, staffers from the Katz Graduate School of Business, where Molinaro worked before moving to her position as director of the Senate office.

Together, they’ve become Lori’s Losers.

In addition to exercising on their own, they’ve committed to get together at lunchtime daily to do some sort of exercise. Available team members simply meet at noon, typically in front of the Cathedral. Weather permitting, the women walk outside. As an alternative, they walk the Cathedral stairs or work out together in a vacant meeting room using exercise videos brought from home.

Tae Bo, Walkaerobics guru Leslie Sansone’s walking videos and diet and exercise expert Denise Austin’s workouts are waiting to be queued up on any rainy day. “Any old tapes we can get, we’re trying to do,” Brendel said.

Their motivations range from clothes that don’t fit, upcoming beach vacations and even a rapidly approaching appearance for Brendel as mother of the groom.

Veterans of weight-loss tries, the women also have some insight as to what does or doesn’t work. For Defazio, “I know it’s what I eat.” She lost 20 pounds on the Atkins diet but “went overboard when I went off.” For Bindas, however, Atkins didn’t work.

Reed finds it’s regular exercise that’s the necessary component if she wants to lose, noting that she can’t diet. Instead she’d rather stick to a reasonable number of calories and walk two hours a day — a plan she knows should be successful.

Brendel, who’s on a 1,200-calorie diet as part of a research study, has eliminated alcohol as part of her strategy. The arrival of Lent has been an additional incentive. “I’m giving up Cosmopolitans and watching everything I eat,” she said, adding, “That’s a real sacrifice.” While she counts her preferred mixed drink at a seemingly low 168 calories, they can add up quickly on a diet limited to 1,200 calories a day.

Several members of the team follow the Weight Watchers point system to keep tabs on their diet; others count calories.

The team’s collective weight-loss goal for the competition is 81 pounds, although several members have goals that go beyond the 12-week span of the weight race.

Reed ultimately hopes to lose 60 pounds to get back to the weight she was before the first of her three sons was born. She plans to commute to work on foot from her home in Squirrel Hill — a 30-minute walk — as often as possible.

She has had some initial success, but admits her family responsibilities or just “excuses” sometimes get in the way.

Molinaro and Brendel found their enthusiasm couldn’t wait until the initial weigh-in, so the two began their initiatives several weeks early to get conditioned for the weight race. Brendel said she already has lost a couple of pounds and is finding her clothes fit better.

Because Molinaro and Brendel work closely together, they keep a close eye on one another and are trying to mend their ways when it comes to bad habits. “Seems like all we do is talk about food,” Brendel said. Now talk has turned to Fiber One Chewy Bars and sharing weight-loss tips and tricks.

The high-calcium, high-fiber bars, accompanied by a cup of tea, have become a favorite mid-morning snack in the Senate office, although Brendel and Molinaro hesitate a bit to share the secret, since the treats seem to be in short supply on grocery store shelves.

Bindas has adopted the habit of brushing her teeth after dinner each night as a disincentive to night-time snacking, and is trying out a trick from TV’s “The Biggest Loser” — chewing sugar-free gum as a substitute for higher calorie sweet snacks.

Lori’s Losers are motivated by the prospect of winning prizes and by the peer pressure involved in publicly joining up with a team. But their biggest goal is to make lasting changes, Molinaro said. “We’re hoping this is not just for 12 weeks.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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