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I’ve done it. And chances are you have too: Lost a measurable amount of weight, only to gain some or all of it back.
Getting clarity on exactly what it takes to be successful in the long term – that’s one of those things that lots of people perennially search for, but only a handful actually find.
“Every diet I tried, I’d have some success on, and then quit,” says Brad Westmoreland, a San Antonio police officer who dropped nearly 50 pounds in the last 12 weeks, and was crowned Fan Favorite at the HEB Slim Down Showdown Finale.
[Read our previous coverage of the showdown: “Slim Down Showdown: Creating a Culture of Health“]
“The difference this time is knowing more, going through a comprehensive program, and having all the detailed nutrition information,” he says. “That, along with all the support from the HEB team, my fellow contestants, and family and friends, it all makes a difference.”
Westmoreland was one of 25 contestants chosen for the Slim Down Showdown Challenge, a comprehensive wellness program, which kicked off with a week of intensive, hands on workshops before sending competitors home to practice their new life skills. The program concluded on April 6th.
“At this point, I’ve secured those positive habits, and it’s become a lifestyle,” says Westmoreland, who has had back and forth battles with weight since he was a kid. “Now, Its a different mindset. I pack healthy snacks if I’m going to be out and about for a while, and prepare and bring my own lunch. And since I’ve been successful and people are seeing the difference, they’re following suit and bringing their own meals as well.”
Those new habits and patterns are so ingrained now, that once the competition was over and he decided to take a weekend off and visit one of his old favorite restaurants, the experience was less than appetizing. “The taste of lard, the salt, the greasiness; it literally made me sick,” he said. “But, it was a good thing to have such a strong reaction. And it reinforced the fact that I’m totally content and happy to eat all the fresh, healthy foods that I’ve had during the program.”
What also helped was having the entire family unit on board. Once Westmoreland returned from his weeklong FitCamp, he worked with his wife and kids to clear the house of any junk, and start fresh. There are still snacks around, but now it’s much healthier fare, like fresh fruit, string cheese or baked pita chips.
It also helps that he has some solid goals in his future, outside of the competition. “I’m thrilled with all the weight I lost, but right now my goal is focusing on the next 10 pounds, and then the next 10 after that, and so on,” says Westmoreland. Aside from that, his long-term goal is to complete a half marathon with some of his fellow competitors before the year is over.
With regard to his success and offering advice to others looking to make a change, he has this to offer: “You might have some success on a fad diet, but chances are you’ll backtrack… But this is a lifestyle change, and you have to have faith that you can change your life. You have to jump in with both feet and do it. And if I can do it, anybody can.”
Other contestants seemed to echo the same basic principles.
“For me, changing my food habits was the biggest challenge,” says Brittany Ward, winner of the community member contest and $10,000 grand prize.
Ward lost 34 pounds and dropped her cholesterol by more than 60 points during the competition. “Before the contest, I was in the habit of always grabbing something on the go, and I only cooked on the weekends. But now I plan my meals in advance, get in an appropriate amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, and batch cook so I have meals for the rest of the week.”
Now that the contest is over, Ward is still at it and looking forward to what lies ahead.
“I’m already back in the gym, and I’m giving myself another 12 weeks to hit my personal goal weight,” she says. “I just plan to continue doing what I’m doing, and I’m sure as things come along, that I’ll come up with new goals along the way.”
Her advice to others: “Get serious about your health, know that you’re worth it, and tell other people about it,” she says. “Being accountable to someone or something, and having a support system made a huge difference for me. So get someone to go along with you on the journey.”
Another local competitor had similar advice.
“We all know the basics for losing weight, my problem was keeping it off,” says Juan Ramirez, who dropped his body fat by 18 percent during the challenge and was awarded the Healthy Hero honors. “What we had was a really strong, thorough program – we learned to see food as fuel, took a shopping trip with a dietitian to the grocery store, learned to cook and prepare healthy meals – and all of those things helped. It helped us prepare to go out in the real world and do it on our own.”
While the strategies may be simple, making those transitions permanent can take a little time.
“We had to change our lives, and balance our new way of living with everything else,” says Ramirez. “I absorbed as much as I could during that first critical week, and applied it the best I could… It took a while, but by the 7th week, I had it down, and now it’s our way of life.”
Perhaps the biggest change for Ramirez and his family was shopping, preparing, and cooking their own meals. Prior to the contest, they would eat dinner out every night, and every meal out on the weekends. “We never use to cook at home, and that’s definitely different now,” he says. Plus there’s an added bonus.
“We have more family time by cooking our meals together and eating at home,” says Ramirez. “And even though we’ve been in our home for several years now, we had our very first cookout just a couple weeks ago, and for the first time had a meal together with the family outside. It was great.”
With the competition behind him, he plans to continue setting new goals, and join fellow contestants at an unofficial reunion of sorts by participating in an area half marathon.
“A lot of people can relate to our situation, and wanted to be a part of the program,” says Ramirez. “And I want to show them and others that it’s not about the 12 weeks, it’s about a long-term lifestyle change.
“The contest might be over, but I still continue to log what I eat, pack my own lunch, workout, and generally do what I do, because it’s a habit and it helps me stay on track.”
Tom Trevino is a writer, artist and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His column, “The Feed,” addresses health and fitness issues and dispense practical advice for San Antonians attempting to wade through the often-confusing diet and fitness world. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas, with training and certification from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.