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April 17, 2008

Weight race teams face final weigh-ins

And down the home stretch they come!

This week will see the final weigh-in for teams in Pitt’s MyHealth Weight Race, a 12-week competition launched in January to see which teams best achieve weight loss and weight management goals.

More than 1,300 Pitt staff and faculty across the University have been participating. As of week 10, the most current information available, weight race participants from all locations had shed a total of nearly 3 tons — 5,928.61 pounds.

Weight race standings are being posted online weekly for each of Pitt’s locations at Winners will be announced by April 30.

On the Pittsburgh campus, the top 10 teams that achieve the highest percentage of their members’ weight-loss goals will receive gift cards.

The top three teams will be awarded first place prizes; teams that finish 4-6 will be awarded second place prizes; teams 7-9 will be awarded third place prizes, and a fourth place prize goes to the team that finishes 10th.

Teams that achieve more than 100 percent of their goals will be scored as 100 percent. Ties will be broken by drawing team names.

The top four teams on the regional campuses and the top two at Pitt’s Mechanicsburg facilities also will win prizes.

Two teams in Pittsburgh topped 100 percent of their goals and several others were closing in on their goals, according to the week 10 standings.

The latest reflections of some teams the University Times has been following throughout the weight race ran the gamut from frustration to triumph, from guilt for letting teammates down to an unexpected team bonding, from competitive juices to laid-back attitudes, from high motivation for continuing lifestyle changes to fears of slacking off in the coming months.

The five members of Lori’s Losers, ranked No. 114 in the latest standings, all have lost weight, although team captain Lori Molinaro of the University Senate office said that only Cindy Brendel likely would meet her goal.

Having to face the final weigh-in this week fresh from the food and drink temptations of a Las Vegas vacation is daunting for Brendel, also a University Senate staffer.

Teammate Heather Defazio, a staff member in the Katz Graduate School of Business, said that although she was only about halfway to her stated goal, her clothes fit better even if the scale doesn’t show a huge decrease. “I didn’t deprive myself as much as I should have,” she said, noting that although she gave up desserts, she could have done more to nudge the scale downward.

Defazio said the competition was harder than she thought it would be. After being able to eat as much as she wanted for most of her life without gaining weight, she found that was no longer the case when she hit her late 20s. The adjustment has been tough.

Molinaro said she and her teammates chose weight loss goals of 10-20 pounds during the 12 weeks — admittedly ambitious and designed more as personal goals than strategic ones that might have placed their team higher in the standings. “We all went higher than we should” as far as setting goals, Molinaro said.

Terry Wood of the Department of Computer Science-based Rami’s Roundies (No. 80 in the standings), said the weight race was motivating. “We really didn’t work together all that much. But I really did like the fact that we were a team and that motivated me to make sure I lost the weight so I didn’t let my team down,” he said.

Wood discovered that losing weight was mostly a matter of personal discipline and the weight race competition did not matter so much to him.

“I learned when I cut out the snacks and increase the physical activity the weight will — slowly — come off. I also found that a cheap MP3 player really helps on my outdoor walks and that ’50s rock-n-roll beats Enya any day of the week for increasing one’s energy! I like to take the ‘Big Bopper’ (J.P. Richardson) on my walks! I feel much better in the past 10 weeks. The amount of energy I have is just amazing. Some of this is no doubt from the increased exercise,” he said.

Wood said he walks in Schenley Plaza and Schenley Park at lunchtime, using a pedometer to measure his activity level while gradually ramping up the amount of walking each day.

“I combined this with changing my after-dinner eating habits — that is, I stopped eating after dinner!” Wood said. “This has allowed me to lose about a pound a week. While seeing the scale go down is nice, it’s not the really important measure of whether this is working. I really gauge weight loss by waist size. If I build muscle mass to replace the fat, that’s just fine by me. So weight isn’t the whole story. I can tell I’m doing okay by being able to get into smaller pants.”

Team POWER (Provost’s Office Women, Energized and Ready) has been in the top 10 among teams on the Pittsburgh campus for the whole weight race, coming in at No. 7 in the latest standings.

“Having our name out there has definitely been a motivator. We don’t want to let down the Provost’s office or our teammates,” said POWER team captain Kit Ayars. “Seeing where we were in the standings each week helped give us a weekly kick in the butt — and it was fun, it helped to make it more of a game. We all seem to have a bit of a competitive streak.”

POWER teammate Mary Anne Davis said that one of the pluses for her is that “this is the first time that I have a head start on losing weight for summer. Every winter you plan to lose weight so that you can look good in a bathing suit and before you know it, it’s summer and you still don’t look good in a bathing suit.”

“Honestly, we all enjoyed it very much,” Ayars said. “We took off some pounds and got a little stronger and fitter, all of which is good for our physical health. But perhaps more importantly, we got to know each other better and we had a good time together — and with some of the other teams on campus. In that sense, the impact on our mental health was as strong or stronger than the impact on our physical well-being.”

Teammate Susan Borowski added, “I have never had so much fun with a group of people as I did with the provost’s POWER team ladies. This has been one of the most positive and fun things I’ve done so far in 2008. What a life-changing experience this has been for me. I will be sad to see this race end. I compared this race to a horse race because up until the last bend there was a chance to win. I like the excitement in that. Unlike a horse race though, everybody who crosses the finish line is a winner.”

The POWER team also learned a lot during the weight race, Ayars said.

Davis said, “I learned that losing weight isn’t impossible or even painful once you get the hang of it. When you work as a team, the load gets lighter — no pun intended.”

POWER teammate Joyce McDonald of the Center for Philosophy of Science added, “Accountability to others — your team — and exposure — public — are great motivational tools. Doing this helped me get through the dark winter months. I think I was more positive than I usually am in February and early March.”

Teammate Tonya LaRue Holloman said, “I learned that I can still eat the things I like, just in smaller portions, and still lose weight. And when I went to get my ring guards for my rings, I learned that I no longer wear a size 10 ring; I now wear a size 7!”

Ayars noted that her team didn’t have to do anything drastic to succeed. “We still eat chocolate, drink wine, enjoy hot dogs and a beer — it’s baseball season. Moderation seems to work better for us than setting up taboo lists. However, Sue (Borowski) has foresworn her ‘sloe Beam’ drink and fried chicken wings at the club in favor of Diet Coke with a cherry and a slice of lemon.”

Ayars added, “We’re all feeling healthier, thinner and more energetic. Less stressed is all relative, though, right?”

The competition has had its rough spots, according to some of the teams.

Katz staff member Sharon Bindas of Lori’s Losers said her weight loss frustratingly plateaued twice and a broken treadmill at home cost her three weeks’ worth of exercise.

Teammate Molinaro said her weight actually went up one week in spite of her diet and exercise. Brendel sympathized. “It’s not fair to feel like you’re really struggling and not getting anywhere,” she said.

Rosalie Jones of the Center for Minority Health, a member of the Thomas’s Promises team (No. 198, currently) gained rather than lost weight. “It must be muscle,” she joked.

But Jones found her cholesterol and blood pressure are down. She attributes the changes to daily walking and a change in her diet. She said she’s eating more oatmeal, salads and baked chicken and fish while cutting out fried foods, red meat and ham-and-cheese omelets. She’s also concentrating on replacing sweetened drinks with water.

Jones said she’s cut her stress levels, too — attributing the change to walks with teammate Tiffany Kinney. In addition to the health benefits, the walks up and down Oakland’s “Cardiac Hill” have helped the co-workers bond, Jones said.

Wood of Rami’s Roundies said he’s sworn off eating anything with gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats.

“I’ve discovered that for reasons unknown to me or my doctors, gluten makes me ill within minutes of eating it,” he said. Since he’s modified his diet by substituting potatoes and rice for gluten grains, he feels much better.

“I think it is this new diet that also has allowed me to increase my physical activity to be able to lose this weight. I feel thousands of times better today since I swore off gluten. It’s simply amazing,” Wood said. “Unfortunately, this has required a significant change in my life. For instance, it’s almost impossible to eat out. If it weren’t for Wendy’s, Eat’n Park and P.F. Chang’s, I’d never be able to eat out again! These restaurants have made a significant effort to offer gluten-free meals.”

In the “It’s a small world” category, Wood added, “By the way, I went to see my doctor [last week] and he remarked how much better I looked. As he told me this I noted that he too appeared to have lost weight. It turns out that he’s part of the weight race too. His team is in the top eight!”

Molinaro said she sees other weight race participants out and about — even if she doesn’t know them by name, she recognizes the ones she sees in line when she weighs in — and their progress is visible.

Karen Dicks, team captain of Rami’s Roundies, said, “I have been struggling with a knee problem since early on in the program and had to cut down on my walking. I am doing stretching and bending exercises at home.”

Still, the weight race was beneficial, she said. “It made me aware of what I was eating and encouraged me to eat healthier. I have lost 12 pounds to date. My loss is due to eating better and reducing calories rather than exercise. I hope to continue losing weight after the race is over. I think that a few of us on the team got discouraged after the weight loss started slowing down and sometimes saw our weight creeping up a little. But I feel even the small lifestyle changes I made were beneficial and hope that I will continue to lose weight.”

Other weight race participants also planned to continue weight loss efforts after the conclusion of the race.

Dicks’s teammate Wood said, “I intend to lose another 10 pounds in the next 10 weeks by doing the same routine that I’ve been using. I’m going to increase the distance I walk, if possible in my allotted lunch break, especially now that the weather is nicer for outdoor walks. I’m going to use the pedometer until the battery dies.”

Borowski of the Provost’s office said, “Every day is a battlefield and at any given moment there is a chance I could slip back to my old ways. I have finally come to terms with myself that I need support to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Knowing that other people care and share the same healthy lifestyle values as I do makes a world of difference.”

Teammate Ayars said, “We’ll definitely keep going with the team approach. We enjoyed doing a 3K walk together — even though it was early on a Saturday morning — for the Hillman Cancer Center and plan to do another walk together in the not-too-distant future.”

Borowski added, “I feel good! I do not want it to end here though. I want to feel better than good. I want to feel great, so I’m going to keep going!”

Molinaro said all five of Lori’s Losers plan to continue the habits they’ve developed over the course of the competition. “It was just a starting point,” she said.

She said their ability to exercise with others helps. She and Brendel, who share an office, can include 12th-floor neighbor Melissa Reed from the Governor’s School for International Studies when they exercise. Likewise, it’s convenient for Heather Defazio and Sharon Bindas, who both work in the business school, to team up for encouragement as well as exercise.

Molinaro also plans to keep up the habit of weighing herself each Tuesday.

She and Brendel have maintained their pact not to eat the cookies that are served at the University Senate meetings. Tea and Fiber One bars have become a way of life as far as snacking, they said.

Molinaro also has made some small sacrifices she says are worth it. She’s traded regular potato chips for baked chips when she needs a salty snack. And while she still willingly accepts a taste of the real ones from her young daughter — she’ll buy her a single-serving sized bag occasionally — she doesn’t want to go back to the higher calorie version even if they do taste better.

She’s also learned not to keep foods that are too tempting in the house, for fear of eating “just because it’s there.” Cheese is one of them. “If I have it in the house, I think ‘Oh, a slice of cheese would be good … on everything,” Molinaro said.

Teammate Bindas gave up alcohol for the duration of the competition to avoid the calories, but predicted that with summer coming, it will be hard to pass up the chance to mix up a bucket of frozen margaritas and indulge a bit on the patio.

Likewise, her sweet tooth might get the better of her when faced with ice cream and other frozen treats. She also admits that she loves baking, but curtailed it during the competition, and misses it.

Molinaro said the team’s habit of journaling — writing down what they eat — has helped keep them conscious of their food choices and helped them to make healthier ones. “It keeps you on your toes,” she said, adding that she aims to continue. She admitted that sometimes portion control is an issue, but she is trying to make better choices.

Molinaro said she’s been impressed with participation across campus. “I think the University has to be really pleased with all the enthusiasm,” she said. “It got people talking and thinking.”

Wood of Rami’s Roundies concluded, “It’s too bad that it’s such a short period of time. I’m sure that if we just had a few more weeks through the summer, our team would have been ‘kicking butt and taking names!’

“No matter though. Like the Brooklyn Dodgers who lost against the Yankees again and again, our motto will be: ‘Just wait till next year!’”

—Peter Hart & Kimberly K. Barlow

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