This week 35 Texans will be busy pumping physical and mental iron in San Antonio at Fit Camp, an intense week of workouts with personal trainers and meetings/cooking sessions with nutritionists designed to prepare them for the fifth annual H-E-B Slim Down Showdown.
Contestants have a chance to lose weight while gaining $2,500 to $10,000 in prizes. During the 2014 competition, 30 contestants lost a total of 1,100 pounds – an average of about 37 pounds. The transformations are physical, emotional, and the effects last far longer than those get-thin-quick schemes as seen on late-night television.
The 16-week contest includes a health and fitness extravaganza involving nutritionists, personal trainers, counselors, and experts from H-E-B, Methodist Healthcare, and Cooper Aerobics Center, who are in San Antonio to teach participants the fundamentals of how to lead a healthier life.
One of the Showdown’s messages is resoundingly clear: health and fitness don’t end when the stopwatch times out.
“The contest is competitive, but it’s about more than just weight – it’s about the importance of moving the needle on biometrics, cholesterol, and other health issues to prevent diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, and other health problems,” said Heidi Deen, an H-E-B health promotion and nutrition services specialist.
One of this year’s contestants is Tamlynn Niemietz, a young woman from New Braunfels who is an amputee and looking to lose weight.
“Growing up, I was never self-conscious about being an amputee, but I was self-conscious about my weight,” she said.
Niemietz said she first heard about the contest while driving down U.S. 281 and seeing a billboard advertising it. She went online to read about last year’s contestants.
Currently a student majoring in kinesiology, she said she saw it as an opportunity to step back from the classroom setting to gain knowledge about future careers and to meet other people in similar situations.
Niemietz keeps a record of her daily progress on her tablet, which she checks each morning.
“They keep us so busy – it’s go, go, go. Last night I got to call my mom at 9:45 p.m.–I said, ‘Mom, I’m so tired!’” she said. “This morning, I worked out in the gym on the elliptical machine from 5:30-6 a.m., while others went for a walk outside.
“This kind of involves flipping my world upside down,” she added. “I’ve talked to a dietician about my specific goals and my health coach about keeping mental clarity. I’ll still do the gym rotation and later talk to doctors about what’s going on inside.”
Contestants have 45-minute sessions with Methodist doctors, who debrief them on the results of their blood work, stress tests, and biometric weigh-ins. A special machine measures percentage body fat – an important factor in overall health, though not the end-all in fitness.
Niemietz, who is 23, learned that her body composition makeup put her at the metabolic age of a 38-year-old woman.
“It’s an ah-ha moment for people to realize that it’s reversible,” Deen said. “At the end of the program, they’ll go back and do the same test. It puts your body into perspective, telling you how much of your weight is fat versus muscle and bone.”
Niemietz said she’ll be measuring inches lost around her waist rather than pounds lost as a daily self-test.
She spoke between personal trainer sessions held Tuesday at the Hilton Hill Country Hotel, where representatives from Gold’s Gym met with contestants – half of whom are H-E-B employees, called partners, and half community members. During an 11 a.m. break, the contestants enjoyed stalks of celery with almond butter made at the nearby H-E-B.
Each day at Fit Camp is long, beginning at dawn with a light breakfast and continuing with activities late into the night. In the lobby near the workout room, coordinators set up a tent with a video camera for contestants to document their daily experiences for use in testimonials.
On Wednesday, the participants will embark on a shopping tour of the H-E-B Plus at Loop 1604 and Bandera Road and visit the Taco Cabana across the street from the University of Texas at San Antonio to learn how to order healthy menu items at the popular restaurant chain.
Wednesday night, contestants will tour H-E-B’s new culinary center and cooking school on South Flores and Arsenal streets, continuing Thursday with group rotations of total body workouts at a local Gold’s Gym before “graduating” from the weeklong program on Friday.
“At the end of 14 weeks, they’ll be measured to see who has the greatest overall percentage improvement in body mass index, blood pressure, and cholesterol,” Deen said.
The health experts are focusing on teaching fitness in small spurts so people can get assimilated to the idea that working out is not just about going to the gym, but integrating fitness into everyday life.
H-E-B selected this year’s contestants from about 2,000 online applications based on their willingness and desire to embrace the program and to publicly share their journey and the resulting life changes through photos, journaling, and social media. They’ll be posting their personal blogs online each week at www.heb.com/slimdown.
Grand Prize, $10,000-winners – one from the partner group and one community member – will be selected based on overall health improvement, participation and fan engagement. Both Healthy Hero winners will receive $5,000 for demonstrating the most progress on health markers including body mass index, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels. H-E-B has also selected five “Second Chance” partners – one from each of the five previous seasons – to compete again this year. The Second Chance winner will receive $2,500.
2015 will be the first year Slim Down Showdown coordinators are not only logging points for their community, but tracking contestant weights on the website as part of the Slim Down Showdown Challenge, an online healthy living course that aims to reach more than 2 million Texans and drive people to engage in the Showdown even if they’re not competing.
“(All aspects of the Showdown are) now mobile – to participate, you can go to the website and click on the Slimdown Show Down challenge to access Fit Tips, recipes, workout videos, and more,” Deen said.“You can select where you’re from and track your weight and any additional information you provide, so it’s like you’re following right along.”
This year, participants can log their progress to help their hometown with the third-annual H-E-B Community Challenge, launched Jan. 1 and running through April, as a way to challenge communities across the state to compete to see which can demonstrate the greatest commitment to healthy living.
“We’re joining forces with It’s Time Texas out of Austin as a way for schools, organizations, and municipalities to earn points for their communities,” Deen said. Five communities will be named winners and one school within each will receive a $1,000 grant. Winning schools and communities will be recognized at the Slim Down Showdown Finale on May 9 in San Antonio.
The finale at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in conjunction with the H-E-B Health and Wellness Family Expo, where contestants dress up and strut their new, healthier selves on the runway to a packed house of cheering family and friends.
Between Fit Camp and the finale, however, they’ll go back to their families. They also receive a one-year gym membership courtesy of Gold’s Gym to help them with their fitness routine, campfire sessions with counselors, and stay in weekly contact with a dietician.
On March 22, they’ll return to a central location for the midpoint of the Showdown to focus on competitive activities and take part in more group sessions with counselors.
“Everyone has their own registered counselor and dietician,” Deen said. “In addition, H-E-B nutrition services allows them to use their health insurance for the private competition. Everyone is encouraged to stay registered after the finale.”
The H-E-B registered dieticians at select stores accept Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance through a new program designed to provide contestants with a unique new health service, she said.
*Featured/top image: Before and after photographs of Brittany Ward, a graduate student in occupational therapy at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Ward won the $10,000 grand prize in the 2013 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown. Photos courtesy of H-E-B.