By Eric Brotman
April Pate of Edmonds decided last January she wanted to lose a lot of weight and get paid well for losing it.
The 39-year-old has belonged to a fitness club for years, but she worked out infrequently and didn’t eat healthfully until the club’s new owner began a Biggest Loser competition for members who wanted to shed extra pounds.
The contest takes place a few times each year and is open to members of the 10 Vision Quest Sport and Fitness centers located in the Puget Sound region. Participants are judged on the percentage of body weight they lose, with $5,000 going to the Grand Prize Winner.
Pate hesitated before joining the 90-day competition. She sat at the sign-up table twice, only to leave both times without making a commitment.
Her boyfriend, 57-year-old Brian Wilds, accompanied her on a third attempt and said, “What’s holding you back?”
She signed the paperwork.
Pate, who works as a nurse, weighed a fraction over 258 pounds before the contest began late last January. She wanted to lose 76 pounds, which represented just over 29 percent of her bodyweight.
Before joining the competition, her time in the gym was spent socializing. “Most of my exercise was oral,” she says. “I’d do a little bit of work, then leave. Nothing was accomplished. Nobody ever said to me, ‘Wow, you look great.’”
Working as a nurse on the night shift could be stressful, and she often succumbed to the same food temptations as her work colleagues. “People bring in food,” Pate explains. “They say, ‘It’s somebody’s birthday; [or] it’s Mother’s Day; [or] we haven’t had a potluck this month.’ When you deal with stress, eating is a great comfort. If you’re mad or sad or happy, eat! It’ll make you feel better.”
That kind of thinking began to change as she started working with Chris Freedman, a 20-year-old Vision Quest fitness trainer who put her and approximately a dozen of her competition teammates through their exercises and helped them formulate meal plans.
In high school, Freedman himself weighed 290 pounds. His doctor advised him to take medication for his high blood pressure. He refused, turning instead to a program of healthful eating and vigorous exercise, and brought his weight down to a current 206 pounds.
When Freedman drove her hard in training, Pate admits his life experience was as valuable to her as it was frustrating. “I couldn’t tell him he didn’t know what it’s like to be heavy, or how hard it is to lose weight,” she says.
Every two weeks within the 90-day training period, Pate attended a weigh-in with her teammates. The contestants supported each other and exchanged thoughts on how to reach their goals.
“All the team members brought their food journals to the weigh-ins and were asked to review them,” Pate recalls. “You write down every piece of food that goes into your mouth. If you eat five M&M’s as you walk through the kitchen, you write down ‘Five M&M’s’ to be held accountable.”
Pate credits her boyfriend for his support and involvement during the contest. Although he did not formally enter the Biggest Loser competition, Wilds exercised with Pate and followed the same meal plan she did for the 90-day period.
Both trained several days each week. When they talk about the experience, they acknowledge the importance of exercise, but speak even more passionately about the power of keeping a food journal.
“Writing down the food [I eat] is humbling,” Pate says.
Wilds calls the food journal “a wake-up call” that has provided him and Pate with an effective tool for change. “I used to eat more than 1,000 calories every day before 11 a.m. by having donuts and lattes for breakfast,” he says. “During the contest, each of us was down to 1,200 to 1,400 calories a day.
“I think we lose track of what we actually eat during the course of a day,” he adds. “If you write down everything that goes into your mouth [and the number of calories that go with it], you’re shocked.”
The benefits yielded by their new discipline have gone beyond weight loss alone.
“Having a shared goal of losing weight—it changes all aspects of your life,” Wilds says. “We’re spending more time together in the kitchen. There’s more fun stuff going on there now.”
When the 90 days were over, Pate had lost 59 lbs., or about 23 percent of her body weight. She placed a very respectable 20th in the overall competition. (The winner lost 111 lbs., or about 42 percent of his pre-contest weight.)
“It’s tough to go it alone,” said Wilds, who lost 43 pounds. “Even if you can’t join a group, I think it’s really important to have someone else be there for you, slap you on the back and say, ‘You’re doing a great job, keep on going.’”
Pate smiles as she says she wishes she had won the $5,000. But she’s proud of her accomplishment. After some people told her it was unfortunate she didn’t place first in the competition, she had a ready answer.
“I’ve got a new body,” she told them.
Wilds has similar thoughts. “I’m 57 and I feel great,” he says. “I think being healthier, with the weight loss, will add years to my life. I told April, ‘We’re never going back to being out of shape and large again.’”
Pate plans to informally keep on track with some of her former teammates this summer. They’ll weigh in every two weeks and probably meet each Sunday.
“Everybody will have another 90-day goal,” she says. “I’d like to reach my original goal of losing 76 pounds. By the end of 90 days, I’d like to lose that additional 17 pounds.”
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