Who is the biggest loser among the Northern Montana Hospital staff? You'll have to wait until April to find out.
The hospital's wellness committee met after the holidays and discussed ways to help employees lose holiday pounds. They decided to hold a contest modeled after the NBC show "The Biggest Loser." The hospital's contest comes complete with exercise coaches and a dietitian. It began Jan. 11 and will last three months.
Participant Ruth Orr said people at work have been talking about the competition a lot since it began. "There's a little bit of joking about what you can and cannot have," she said, "but because you know other people are depending on you, you bypass" the fattening food.
A total of 58 hospital employees signed up to participate and were split into two teams, blue and green. Each member of the winning team will get $40 in chamber of commerce gift certificates and each team's biggest loser will get $250 in prizes. The grand biggest loser will take home another $250. Weight loss will be measured as a percent of body weight.
Jennifer Leonard, the green team fitness coach, and Andrea Azure, the blue team fitness coach, and contest dietitian Lisa Ranes all hope that a new healthy lifestyle will be incentive enough to keep team members working out and eating well every day, even after the contest ends.
Orr hopes the effects will be lasting. She decided to participate in the contest because she recently had back surgery and would like to lose extra weight to ease back pain. She said she also wants to be able to play with her grandchildren, joining them swimming, or on a water slide, or on the ground during playtime.
Participants are advised to exercise 30 minutes a day and cut 250 calories from their diet each day for a net loss of 500 calories per day. Each morning they can choose one carbohydrate and one protein serving and at lunch and dinner they have the same choices, with the addition of a vegetable serving.
Though the diet seems plain at first, with suggestions of egg whites and wheat toast for breakfast and lunches and dinners that include whole grain breads and pastas as well as healthy vegetables and low-fat protein sources, Ranes plans to teach all the contest members how to incorporate variety into the diet over time, including healthy chili or pizza options.
The first thing Ranes stresses is portion size. Individuals can adjust the portion sizes in their diet to raise the base calorie intake of 1,470 calories if necessary, but they have to be aware of the portion sizes they are eating. She also made a shopping list that keeps people shopping in the perimeter of the grocery store - staying away from processed foods and refined sugars and emphasizing low-fat dairy products and olive oil rather than butter.
In the coming weeks, Ranes will share tips for eating out as well. "Everyone knows that French fries are bad for you, but ordering a small instead of a super size" cuts a significant amount of calories, she said. Also, when eating out, she advises people to remove one half of a hamburger or sandwich bun to balance out the small fries. Most of all, she tells them to avoid drinking calories in pop.
The combined diet and exercise plan offers a pound a week weight loss.
Exercise can include a brisk walk for thirty minutes. That can be split up into 10 minutes, three times in the day, Azure said.
"What I would like to see come out of this," she said, "is that at the end of 12 weeks, people see that exercise is something they really enjoy and that they're really going to want to continue."
Azure will instruct a class once a week on different topics including strength training and yoga. "Just to give people a feel for what they might want to expand on," she said.
The final instruction: Do it every day. If you have to, take one day off, not two, she said.
Ruth Wardell said she and a co-worker who are both participating in the contest have been using their lunch breaks to exercise each day. Her diet plan is different from others' because she is allergic to wheat products, but she said she plans to ask Ranes to help tailor the diet to her restrictions. Already Wardell said she's lost 2 pounds between the first and second weigh-ins, and another pound since then.
"Everybody is very proud of what they've lost," she said.
Kathie Newell is the hospital spokesperson and also a planner and participant in the contest. She said she's enjoyed the team aspect of the contest, it's what sets it apart from any other diet or exercise plan. "That's why I'm hoping this group will be a real success, because we've all got 27 buddies who are participating with us," she said.