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Volume 15, Issue 10 ~ March 8 - March 14, 2007

Public Figures

Is it easier to lose weight with God and the masses as witness?

By Carrie Madren

Many people tuck their bathroom scales in a corner, behind the door, and gingerly step on the unsteady surface far from prying eyes. Not so with two new local weight-loss competitions. For Annapolis’ Biggest Loser Fitness Challenge and South County Chamber of Commerce’s Weight Challenge, contestants share their most personal of victories — or defeats — with not only God but also all the people who care to watch.

Mass slimming became faddish with NBC TV’s Biggest Loser, which premiered in 2004, where two teams of seven vied for the winning rank, earned by losing the most weight as a group. Slim, muscular personal trainers cheered on — and often chided — the severely overweight contestants in running for miles, eating healthier foods and exercising.

When Losing Means Winning

In Chesapeake Country’s own versions of the game, hundred of locals have put aside privacy to publicly become healthier, slimmer versions of themselves. In both the Annapolis and South County contests, accountability, prizes — and success — keep the goal in sight day in and day out. Nights, too.

Each person, with unique strengths and struggles, must find a way to shed weight.

Two of the South County contestants — public figures Robert Costa, a delegate, and Ed Reilly, an Anne Arundel County Councilman — have agreed to let Bay Weekly track their personal journeys for the four months of the contest, which started February 24.

‘If I didn’t have the public pressure, I wouldn’t do it.’
–Delegate Bob Costa

Challenger: Costa

Del. Bob Costa is counting on you to help him lose weight.

“I know if I didn’t have the public pressure, I wouldn’t do it,” says the South County delegate and fire truck driver, who weighed in at 246.6 pounds.

“I think the scales were way off — so are my doctor’s — mine at home read 10 pounds less,” he jokes.

Costa’s typical lighthearted approach veils serious business.

“The reality is that I’m diabetic, and from a medical perspective I’m maxed out on medicines,” he says. “The way to control diabetes is to lose the weight.”

Now he’ll really have to listen to his doctor’s orders, he says.

Weight has been a problem for Costa since puberty, even though he played sports in high school.

“On my first day of boot camp, the drill sergeant got in my face and said Boy, you’re fat,” he recalls from 1981. For the first two weeks of boot camp, he ate one slice of toast for breakfast, meager lunches and dinners, paired with tons of exercise.

“After two weeks, I lost 38 pounds and five inches,” Costa says. “You can’t loose weight without exercise.”

Finding the time to exercise will be Costa’s biggest hurdle, he expects. Indeed, especially during the General Assembly session — when delegates spend early mornings and late nights hammering out our laws and feasting — the delegate isn’t sure from where that time will come.

“I do have a set of weights in the basement and a treadmill. I just need to get up half an hour earlier in the morning,” says Costa, who usually rises at 5:30am.

Costa’s goal is to shed 46 pounds, dropping down to some 200 pounds.

A self-professed chocoholic, he finds a secret weapon in avoidance. He doesn’t keep the sweet treat within reach.

“I try not to keep [chocolate] in house. I’m a weak man,” says Costa, who shares a passion for chocolate with his sons. “I do get a 9pm craving for chocolate. But if I don’t have it in the house, it’s not a problem.”

Costa admits that in the past he’s found himself eating chocolate chips from the bag. Now he avoids the baking aisle at the grocery store.

Instead, Costa believes, his love of robust, healthy salads — and lean foods like tuna — will launch his weight loss voyage in the right direction.

“I eat salads for lunch every day,” he says. Daily salads come from the salad bar in the legislative service building.

But upstairs, in his delegate’s office, where he keeps a martini bar, will he have to renounce his cocktail?

“No, absolutely not,” he says. “When I was diagnosed [with diabetes], the doctor said no longer could I drink dark liquors and beers because of the complex sugars.” But clear liquors aren’t as bad, Costa says. “So the martinis that I have are good for a medicinal purpose.”

Costa hopes success in the next few months can inspire others. “If I can do it,” he says, “anyone can do it.” Keep an eye on him to see if your attention really works.

Challenger: Reilly

Councilman Ed Reilly says he first signed on to the contest for selfish reasons.

“People call me ‘Big Ed,’” says Reilly, a tall, six-foot-six man, who’s using the contest as motivation to shed extra pounds.

Then the contest took a more altruistic turn for Reilly. He found out his oldest brother — the councilman is the third of nine — developed throat cancer and is looking ahead to two months of treatment and radiation.

‘People call
me Big Ed.’
–Councilman Ed Reilly

“For an attorney,” — who has to talk — “that’s a real problem,” Reilly says of his New Jersey big brother. “I’m dedicating this [weight loss effort] to him.”

“Through his trials and my support,” Reilly says he hopes each of the brothers gains extra courage and strength to make it through the next months.

On February 24, Reilly weighed in at 280 pounds. He wants to decrease his public figure to 250 pounds by the June finale.

That goal will get him closer to his figure of years past.

“When I got married, I was 185 pounds,” he says. “When I stopped playing basketball and when I was less active, the pounds came easy.” Reilly played basketball for one year in college and used to hit the courts in recreational leagues, including the 50-plus league at Annapolis High School.

Now, he says, “I’m carrying extra pounds.”

His vice? An Irish heritage that yearns for beer.

“I’m a two-beer-a-day drinker, so I’ve given that up,” he says. His new commitment will hit hard in April, when he and his wife travel to Ireland to visit their daughter studying abroad.

“It’ll be difficult to not have a pint,” Reilly says. “But that’s my goal — to give up having a drink every day.”

Reilly says his other strategies are passing on sweets and desserts and getting to the gym more. Patronizing Gold’s Gym in Crofton, Reilly says he’s the biggest spinner in the class.

Reilly bypassed popular plans such as the Atkins or the South Beach diet for his own self-tailored program, which he believes will work best for him.

The hardest time of day, Reilly says, is mid-afternoon. That’s when the snacking urge hits. On our mid-afternoon phone call, he was nibbling on peanuts, a protein-filled alternative to junk food.

Though swearing off beer and renouncing chocolate cake won’t be easy, Reilly says his strategy focuses on the positive.

His weight loss voyage won’t require making up for lost foods, he says, because “I have a full and enjoyable life.”

Weigh Down South

Joining Reilly and Costa in the Southern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce’s Weight Challenge are some 34 other citizens, including five husband-wife couples. Each stepped aboard the scales at the Deale Elks Lodge on February 24 to kick off the contest.

“We want South County to get fit and be healthier,” explains Shelita Fanciulli of why the Chamber is hosting the challenge.

Inspiring the dieters at the kick-off were businesses offering support for weight loss: a vitamin and exercise program, stretching, dancing, yoga, massages, personal coaching, health, wellness and more.

So the Chamber’s second motivation is building business. During the competition, several of the businesses — a healthy lifestyle coach, dance coach and personal fitness trainer — have offered special fitness plans. Body Shapers, for example, will give contestants an extra free month with their membership, to last the duration of the contest.

Five restaurants — Happy House Pizza, Pirates Cove, Whitmans’ South County Café, Snug Harbor Inn and Thursday’s — have also pledged to offer a special healthy menu item. As of March, however, they weren’t on any menu.

Through the March 24, April 21 and May 19 weigh-ins, the Chamber plans to keep losses a secret. Only on June 16, at the South County Festival, will pounds be counted and converted to prizes.

In a game of percentages, contenders measure each month’s progress — or digress — against their initial weight on February 24. In March, contestants weigh in to learn what percent of weight they’ve lost. Come April, only half of the contestants — those with the highest percentage — will continue on to compete in May. In May, only one-quarter of those left in the competition — again those with the highest percentage — get to try for prizes at June’s final weigh in. Then, two first- and two second-place winners — one man and one woman in each rank — claim prizes of gift certificates for massages, food and more.

Making the contest all the more interesting is a friendly side competition between Reilly and Costa, old friends.

“I may lose more pounds, but he can still beat me,” says Reilly, if Costa were to lose a larger percentage of his body weight. Two weeks in, he anticipates that he and Costa will both do well. “It’s good for everyone,” says Reilly, who prides himself on building win-win solutions.

Five Tips for a Healthy Start

Losing weight on a deadline may be daunting, but follow the advice of one local trainer and you’ll be well on your way.

With a foundation of regular exercise and healthy eating habits, most contestants — or non-contestants — can create a healthier, slimmer lifestyle. Darcy Cooper, a certified trainer and the owner of the Deale women’s gym, Body Shapers, offers advice:

1. Start Slow: “Don’t jump in with both feet, you can injure yourself,” says Cooper. Instead, decide on your plan of attack; then start slow and steady.

2. Practice a Trio of Exercises: Try to hit something in each of the three main forms of exercise — cardio (getting your heart pumping), resistance (building lean muscle by working muscles against your own weight, dumbbells or a weight machine) and flexibility (lengthening your muscles).

3. Scale Back: Most people get into the habit of eating too much because it’s put in front of them, Cooper says. Through eating way too many calories, many people gain weight slowly, without noticing it until they’re 20 pounds heavier. Many restaurant portions, too, have grown. Think about how much food is on your plate and how big your stomach is, even though it can expand. “The hamburger used to be the size of a fist, now it’s the size of a spread hand,” Cooper says.

4. Eat Smaller, More Often: Don’t let yourself go hungry until you are ravenous, eating the first thing in sight — or tempted by a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Instead, eat smaller meals with healthy snacks in between, like yogurt, fruit, a slice of cheese or hummus.

5. Teach Yourself New Tricks: “There are lots of different ways to be successful,” Cooper says. “Find what works for you. There are a lot of little things that can help you out.” Small changes can go a long way. Cooper herself eats from a smaller plate to avoid overeating. Another idea, she offers, is “a glass of water in the middle of the day to help you get over the hump of being hungry.”

–Carrie Madren

The Final Measure

As the Chamber’s South County race begins, another year-long contest crowns its winner — and counts lost pounds.

The Biggest Loser Fitness Challenge, sponsored by Premier Health and Fitness Club, wrapped up on March 7. Nicole White, of Annapolis, lost 110 pounds, winning the event by 36 pounds. Her labor earned her quite a grand prize: a 12-month lease for a Hyundai Sonata. Runner up Mike Whitworth of Pasadena lost 74 pounds.

Whitworth gave up soda, drinking mainly water. “That made a big difference,” he says. He also ran in the mornings and worked out at the gym in the afternoons, exceeding his goal of thinning down to 220. By the end of the competition, he says, he felt great, and has been able to keep up many of his healthy lifestyle changes.

White worried earlier in February, when Whitworth reached the 70-pound range, but White kept ahead of her challenger.

In its first year, Premier’s version of Biggest Loser — inspired by and named for the TV show — drew 130 hopefuls who planned to work out dutifully for prizes and prestige. From last April through this February, each contestant had six months to shed weight. The date of each person’s first weigh-in determined the start of their six months; some registered in April, while others didn’t jump in until August 30, the last day to sign up.

Like the South County contest, “everyone was allowed to do whatever they wanted to do,” says Gail Connaughton, vice president of marketing and development for Premier Health and Fitness Clubs.

“The only requirement was that they weigh in once a week at the health club,” she says.

With their $150 registration fee, contestants got a membership to Premier Fitness, including access to exercise, nutrition and health classes, personal trainers and more to boost their weight loss journey. Along the way, winners at each of the monthly public award ceremonies at Annapolis Mall claimed a share of Biggest Loser’s donated prizes, totaling $20,000.

“The goal is to try to get them to start exercising regularly by bringing them into the health club once a week,” Connaughton says.

“Our personal trainers would talk to them, be supportive and ask them Have you gone to any classes? How are you doing?” says Connaughton.

The Effect of God And All the People

On the Biggest Loser television series, millions of people tracked the 14 contestants through their intense — often grueling — journey to lighter selves. For these contestants and many of those in the two local contests, working toward a goal with society watching keeps them motivated.

“They feel like people are watching them,” says Ryan Andrews, dietician and exercise physiologist for the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. Having an audience keeps them focused. “Fear of failure is a huge motivator,” he says, especially when people know others will see them fail.

Costa, for example, says he gets an extra push from knowing others are paying attention to pounds lost or gained.

For runner-up Whitworth, it wasn’t the public’s eye, but the contest itself that helped him lose.

“I’m competitive,” Whitworth says, “so I thought competing would give me incentive to lose weight.” His desire to win helped him exceed his personal goal of getting his weight down to 220. By the contest’s end, he weighed 197.

Two other contestants, husband and wife team Terri and Michael Levasseur of Annapolis, found that the contest “gave us the extra push that we needed,” said Terri, who reports that the pair has continued the exercise and healthy eating habits they began in the contest. “We had the advantage of working together and motivating each other,” she added. “So when it comes to food, we’re both on the same diet, and we have healthier food in the house.”

Feeling like you’re held accountable for following through on your weight loss goals can help, says Mary Beth Sodus, registered dietician at University of Maryland Center for Weight Management and Wellness. “The idea here,” she says, “is to build exercise into your daily life.” Walking a mile a day, for example, can take off four pounds a month, or 48 pounds in a year, Sodus says.

Shedding pounds on a deadline can be exhilarating and make a person feel successful, but the real test comes after the competition. After both contests come to a close, contestants must keep up the good work.

“Once the contest is over and people aren’t in the limelight any more, the hard part is keeping up with that” healthier lifestyle, Andrews says.

“Losing weight is a difficult process,” agrees Kathy Santos of Weight Watchers on the Chesapeake’s Western Shore. “It’s long-term lifestyle changes that will really make a difference.”

Stay tuned next month to watch Costa and Reilly’s diminishing public figure.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.