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Trevor Gartner (left) and Mike Bonney put on their "fat" jeans one last time to demonstrate how much weight they each lost in the recently completed "Lose Weight in 8" challenge.

Big losers are challenge winners

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Nearly 2,000 pounds were shed during the recently-completed "Lose Weight in 8" challenge in New Richmond.

The final numbers were 1,973 pounds lost by 364 participants.

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The eight-week program pitted 81 teams against each other to see who could lose the most total weight and who could lose the most weight as a percentage of their starting weight.

In the end, the team of Mike Bonney and Trevor Gartner (who called themselves the Fat Campers) took top honors in terms of average pounds lost (44 pounds per team member) and percentage of weight lost (21.24 percent of body weight on average). The top team won $1,000 for its winning effort.

Bonney dropped from 218 pounds down to 169.5 during the eight weeks. Gartner started at 196 pounds and dropped to 156.

"Our goal was to get to our high school graduation weights," Gartner said.

Gartner, a nurse at Westfields Hospital, and Bonney, a lab technician at Westfields, heard about the community challenge through the hospital's ongoing wellness efforts. They agreed to form a two-man team and promised each other to work hard to win the competition.

"I always enjoy a good competition," Gartner admitted.

The team watched their caloric intake during the challenge. Bonney's goal was to consume between 600 and 700 calories a day. Gartner kept his intake at 1,000 calories a day or less.

Breakfast consisted of three egg whites, mushrooms and tomatoes. The team members consumed fish and chicken breast for protein, and ate a lot of salads with low-fat dressings and various kinds of fruit. They stopped eating red meat, potatoes, rice and bread products as part of their quest.

"It was a low-fat, low-carbohydrate, low-calorie diet," Bonney said. "We were watching pretty much everything we were taking in."

To stay on track, Gartner and Bonney ate five or six smaller meals (totaling about 100 to 200 calories each) a day instead of three larger meals.

They coupled their strict diet with plenty of exercise.

Bonney ran a couple miles a day, and worked out at the New Richmond Area Centre as well.

Gartner worked out as well, dropping weight more quickly than he expected right from the start.

"The first three weeks were really hard," Bonney admitted, noting that he suffered caffeine withdrawl headaches after giving up his three to four Diet Cokes he typically drank every day. He switched to water instead and the decision helped him drop weight.

Staying away from unhealthy snacks was particularly hard at work, where long shifts often lead to more convenience foods.

"And you don't realize how much food people bring to work until you can't eat any of it," he said with a laugh.

Bonney admitted to being hungry often, but those pangs eventually subsided and he began to feel very good.

"I had a lot more energy," he reported. "I just feel so much better."

Bonney said he and his wife watch the television program "The Biggest Loser" often. Those contestants work with nutritionists and trainers for weeks on end to achieve their weight loss.

By the end of the local challenge, Bonney and Gartner had each lost more weight than nine of the 12 participants on the show.

"That was pretty impressive," Bonney said.

When they picked up their winners' checks, Bonney and Gartner pledged to keep the weight off even though the competition is over.

"I won't go back to the way I was," Bonney said.

"I want to stick around this weight as well," Gartner added.

49.4 pounds

The top weight loss participant in the competition was Steve Schmidt, who dropped 49.4 pounds in just eight weeks. Mike Bonney came out on top in percentage of body weight lost, 22 percent. Each won $250 in the challenge.

Schmidt joined "Lose Weight In 8" with a team from iMark Molding in Woodville.

He began the challenge at 282.6 pounds and by the end he was down to 233.2.

"My goal was to lose 40 pounds, which I thought was a little on the aggressive side," he said. "But I ended up exceeding that."

Schmidt tracked his weight and calorie intake daily, using the website provided by HealthPartners for the community competition. Schmidt also uses a "Fitbit" which he wears all day and automatically tracks steps and calories burned.

"I saw the progress every day," he said. "I spent a lot of time on the treadmill and a lot of time walking. And I ate healthy."

On his lunch breaks, Schmidt would walk about three miles around Woodville rather than eat a big meal.

When he was eating, he consumed lean meats, vegetables and fruit.

"My wife kind of joined me in my efforts, even though she wasn't on my team," Schmidt said. "It helps when you have someone at home who supports you and helps you."

As the competition drew to a close, Schmidt knew that he was in the lead and wanted it to stay that way. He lost 10 pounds in the final week to ensure the win.

Having team members at work also kept him motivated through the entire challenge, Schmidt said.

"I feel great," Schmidt said. "I've been struggling with back issues for a few years. Since I started the challenge, my back hasn't bothered me at all."

Schmidt said he hopes to continue eating better and exercising to keep his weight under control.

His advice for others looking to lose weight? Make it easy to keep track of food intake and exercise and stick to it.

JA Counter

The community-wide challenge was coordinated by JA Counter in New Richmond and HealthPartners, with support from the volunteer health and wellness organization Vitality Initiative.

Linda Skoglund, owner of JA Counter, said the challenge exceeded expectations in many ways.

"It's been insane," she said. "People really got into it."

JA Counter has received a lot of positive feedback from participants, many suggesting they would have never lost so much weight without some sort of fun competition.

"They've said it's made a difference," Skoglund said. "Some said it changed their lives."

"We started this wellness initiative for the purpose of helping make a difference in people's lives," Skoglund said. "It has been a very rewarding experience for all of us to see how much fun people have had with the contest. The team building and positive energy it has created among most of the participants has been a great gift to the people at JA Counter and HealthPartners."

Because of the success of the challenge, JA Counter was able to gather entry fees that exceeded expenses, Skoglund noted. After the prizes were paid out, the remaining money was donated to New Richmond's Vitality Initiative for future programming.

"It's been a huge win to the community and to us as a team as we continue to try to help make a difference by improving the health of the community we serve," she said.

Beginning April 1, JA Counter is launching its second community "challenge" of 2012. Employers are encouraged to sign up and encourage employees to drink more water, eat more fruit and vegetables, and meditate or pray more.

Visit www.jacounter.com for more information on the Quarter 2 wellness challenge.

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