Challenge hits the halfway mark

It’s halftime for the Fitness Challenge, so it’s time to fatten the stakes, Wellness Warriors team captain Scott MacMillan said.

”We had a rough week,” MacMillan said. ”We had one guy doing taxes, so he stress-ate.”

First-place team In It to Win It took advantage to pad its lead over the second-place Warriors, 11.5 percent of starting weight lost to 9.1 percent.

Four weeks are left on the scales in the Tribune Chronicle-St. Elizabeth / St. Joseph Health Centers Fitness Challenge community weight-loss competition to benefit charity.

With his team starting to plateau, MacMillan issued a challenge to his teammates.

”The lowest loser has to buy lunch at Subway for the rest of the team and give $5 to the biggest loser. If a guy’s the lowest loser two weeks in a row, he buys two lunches and sends $10 to the biggest loser.

”We’re going to have a team meeting and then a five-mile march on the track” at the Mayor Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center in Niles, where the team is based, he said. ”I’m trying for around dinner time.”

Meanwhile, Just Weight moved back into third place at 7.6 percent. Last week’s third-place team, Lonesome Doves, slipped into fourth at nearly 7.2 percent of starting weight lost.

After four weeks of the competition, the 255 players on the 51 teams have shed a total 2,366.5 pounds – an average of about 9.3 pounds a person.

The wild card for Week 5 results – St. Patrick’s Day. Will the salty corned beef and cabbage meals and beverages from the weekend take their toll when teams weigh again on Thursday?

— Main Course

Seeing its lead shrink last week kick-started In It to Win It into another gear this week.

”We just buckled down,” team captain Jeff Tate said. ”We’re going to the gym a couple times a day – we’re on a two-a-days.

”In the second half, we’re going to keep doing the same thing – eat right and exercise.”

Tate, who lost six of the team’s nearly 22 pounds for the week, said he’s concentrating on cardio workouts, particularly the treadmill.

”We want to win the money for the Rich Center for Autism,” the service organization the team chose as its charity, Tate said. ”If we keep it up, we should be OK as long as we don’t slip too bad.”

Stephanie Iacozili, team captain of Just Weight, warned not to count them out.

”Last week was a bad week. This week, we made up some ground,” Iacozili said. ”Everybody was pleased with their weight loss this week.

”We’re still just eating good and exercising, just like we have been,” Iacozili said. ”We hope to (move up in the standings). We’re just holding a steady pace, and we’re just hoping it will work out in the end.”

— Dessert

For the third time in three weeks, Team of the Week honors go to In It to Win It. The team shed 2.06 percent of its weight over the seven-day span. That earns a bonus $10 to be added to whatever prize money it earns for its charity.

The Wellness Warriors, last week’s Team of the Week, was second with a 1.17 percent one-week loss.

Any team can win the bonus cash with a great week. But all five team members have to weigh in at both ends of the week so that it’s a true one-week effort.

— Tips and Tasty Tidbits

Challenge dietitian Lauren Manusakis of Humility of Mary Health Partners returns this week to offer simple changes to accomplish lasting weight control. Here are the first four:

* Build a healthy plate. Fill half your plate with fruits and non-starchy vegetables and the other half with one-quarter protein and one quarter starch, Manusakis said. Information can be found on

* Downsize your plate. ”Using a small plate – 9-inch plate, salad plate – will help you keep portions small,” she said. Most households use larger dinner plates, so the natural inclination is to fill it.

* ”Watch you BLTs – not bacon, lettuce and tomatoes, but rather you bites, licks and tastes throughout the day.

”Though it may not seem harmful, over the course of the day, each BLT can add up fast. For example, a lick of peanut butter equals 165 calories, a bite of cake with frosting equals 103 calories, a few bites of french fries equals 93 calories, and leftover mac and cheese in the pan, a quarter cup, equals 108 calories.

”These can add up over the day to 469 total calories, the equivalent of a meal,” Manusakis said.

* ”The simplest way to reduce your calories and start the weight loss process is cutting out calorie-containing drinks,” Manusakis said.

For example, a can of a popular soft drink contains 140 calories. That includes about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Calculated out over a year, one can of pop a day adds up to 51,100 calories, or 14.6 pounds of fat.

Manusakis returns next week with more simple changes, including tips about eating out.

— Food Labels

This week, its captain Jim Parry’s turn to explain how his team – the Lonesome Doves – chose its name.

”Our team name is taken from the Western mini-series Lonesome Dove. We are all big fans of the film,” Parry said.

Git along, little poundies.

— Groups We’d Like to Take to Dinner

Each Fitness Challenge team selected a nonprofit organization to receive whatever prize money it ears. The service group spotlight this week falls on the Rich Center for Autism, selected by three teams, In It to Win It, the Slovak Club and Jare’s Bears.

The Rich Center for Autism was established in 1995 at Youngstown State University for the “creation, use and enhancement of innovative educational programs specifically designed to enhance the individuals’ opportunities to achieve their full potentials.”

Jare’s Bears captain Brian McConnell said his son has attended for the past five years. ”The school has made a tremendous impact on my Jared’s life,” he has said.

“My son has been taught basic living needs. He can dress himself, brush his own teeth and do the every day. These are items that seem simple, but they are difficult for autistic children,” McConnell said.

“We are very grateful that we have such a great school in the Mahoning Valley, and the people who work there are very special people.”

— Fat Facts

The 51 Fitness Challenge teams combined for a total loss of 304.25 pounds in Week 4, a 14-pound improvement over Week 3, the week that reality set in.

In Week 3, eight teams actually gained weight. This week, four teams gained.

The week also featured a lot of changes in the standings. Seventeen teams moved up, including two that jumped up nine places – Weigh Out of Control 78ers, from 20th to 11th place, and The Offensive Line and One Hypocrite, from 31st to 22nd place.

”Although some of us on the team exercise more than others – hint, hint team, you know who you are – we are poised to make a valiant effort all the way to the end,” Offensive Line captain Nick Liakaris said. ”Don’t count us out yet. We were in 33rd place last year and finished fourth.”

Twenty-two teams dropped in the standings, including one, WAAFA, that slipped eight notches, from 11th to 19th.

The other 12 teams stood pat, including In It at first place and the Wellness Warriors in second.

— Smacking of the Lips

Besides captaining a Fitness Challenge team, Liakaris also happens to run a certain well-known eating establishment in Warren. He’s not above using it to tempt other teams out of their diet plans.

”Anyone participating in the challenge is more than welcome to come into The Mocha House for 50 percent off any cheesecake slice of their choice, especially some of those folks with the unbelievable weight losses in the first week,” he said.