The gap widens.
Not only did defending champions Believers' Bulge Busters keep the lead in this year's Fitness Challenge, they're pulling away from the field.
Through three weeks of the community weight loss competition to benefit charity, the Bulge Busters shed 8.5 percent of their starting weight. Refuel stays in second place with 6.9 percent.
Fitness Challenge team members from Save the Tatas, from left, Patrice Darlington, Denise Cera and Diane Basista, enjoy salad night at Darlington’s Howland home. Team members get together periodically for dinner to focus on healthy eating.
"We were hoping we'd get a percentage point lead, but we didn't think it would happen so soon," Bulge Buster Bruce Buckler said. "They're tough."
The Wellness Warriors kept their hold on third place at 6.74 percent, just barely fending off the hard-charging Weight Out of Control, who is at 6.72 percent.
Weigh Out of Control won Team of the Week honors - and the bonus $10 for its charity - for the best single-week performance. They dropped nearly 2.1 percent of their starting weight over those seven days, shooting from 10th place into fourth.
So what does it take to top the scales in the Tribune Chronicle / St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth Health Centers Fitness Challenge and collect the $1,350 first prize pot for one's favorite service organization?
"We'd like our competition to know," Buckler said, "that we don't exercise and we pretty much eat what we want. I'd suggest that every team go out and buy a box of Twinkies. It seems to work for us."
Well, that's one road to success - con everyone else into eating more than you do.
Patrice Darlington, captain of Save the Tatas, said she just about buys Buckler's wild claim.
"What is it about those Bulge Busters? They must have put back on all that weight they lost last year to be back in it again this year," she said. "Not like us. We're in it to win it, and we won't be back."
Her team of family and friends plans to work not just on chasing away the pounds - they moved up from 30th place to 27th this week - but keeping them off once they're gone, Darlington said.
Part of the strategy is meeting at each other's homes every so often for a healthy meal of chicken breasts, salads and other healthful goodness.
"It's a lot of fun," Darlington said.
---- Tips and tasty tidbits
Challenge dietitian Lauren Manusakis of Humility of Mary Health Partners says overcoming food addictions is one of the greatest keys to building better food habits for life.
"There is evidence to suggest that obesity is an eating disorder caused by addiction," Manusakis said.
"Normally, with addiction, if you take the vice away, the addiction can be cured, but with food addiction, you can't tell someone to stop eating. We have to eat to live."
Part of the problem "is our emotional connection to food - how we feel when we eat certain foods, which is triggered by the type of food.
"Studies show foods that contain sugar, fat and salt can trigger our brains to desire it more, in a sense become addicted to the food. Alone, these items can create a sensory addiction, but combined - for example, ice cream with chocolate, peanut butter and pretzels creates a stronger addiction to the food.
"Repeated exposure to these foods will make the addiction stronger. Therefore, reducing the amount of high fat, salt, sugar food in our diet will help break this addiction," Manusakis said.
---- Fat facts
Thirty-five charities or service organizations are represented by the 66 Fitness Challenge teams this year.
The most popular - with seven teams - is the American Cancer Society and its various Relay For Life events throughout Trumbull County.
Five Fitness Challenge teams are playing for the Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University.
Seven groups are represented by three teams each. They are the Nicholson Center, YMCA of Trumbull County, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Warren Family Mission, Animal Welfare League, Harkelrode Memorial Foundation and Someplace Safe.
---- Groups we'd like to take to dinner
Two teams are playing for the Michael Theodore Jr. Memorial Youth Center. His mother, Laureen Theodore, is captain of Bankers Beauties, based out of Farmers Bank in Niles.
"Most of the people at the bank knew my son and what an amazing young man he was," Theodore, of Howland, said. "Obviously, it is very personal to me and close to my heart."
"Mikey," a 19-year-old worship leader at Pentecostal Community Church in New Lyme, was one of three U.S. Marines recruits killed in a March 31, 2010, traffic accident in Braceville.
"Michael Jr. was an athlete and very involved in church activities," Theodore said. "He couldn't wait for a youth center to be built. We could think of a better way to honor him than build a place for teenagers to get together for youth fellowship and fun.
"We will be breaking ground for the Michael Theodore Jr. Youth Center at the church on July 15, 2012, the day after the motorcycle run at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds."
---- Food labels
It's Carolyn Baer's turn to tell us how her team - Overproofed - came up with their name. First, it helps to know that all five members work at Panera Bread.
"Bread, bagels and pastries have to go in the proofer before they bake, and if they stay in the proofer longer than they should, they get really huge and puffy," Baer said. "Hence the name Overproofed."
---- Smacking of the lips
Each week, we give teams a chance to publically challenge each other. John Woods, captain of Mocha House Health Solutions, said he'd rather "play nice" with a sweet offer:
"We'd like to offer 20 percent off an entire cheesecake to any other team who wants one," Woods said.
Obviously, he's been studying the Bruce Buckler method of "helping" the competition in a contest.