Fitness Challenge enters the home stretch

As the Fitness Challenge hippety-hops down the bunny trail to the finish line, the Wellness Warriors concede that they’re playing for runner-up.

“I’m hoping for second place,” captain Scott MacMillan said. “They (first place In It to Win It) still have guys losing six pounds a week.”

Meanwhile, the fifth-place Fatagins say after those top places, the bulk of the top 10 – the money spots – is up for grabs.

“It will be an interesting two weeks,” Fatagins captain Rudy Pekarovic Jr. said. “The problem this year is we’re going into Easter.”

Heavily seasoned ham and chocolate eggs stood as the final major hurdle for the 12th annual Tribune Chronicle-St. Elizabeth / St. Joseph Health Centers Fitness Challenge community weight-loss competition to benefit charity.

With two weeks to go in the two-month contest, the five-player team of In It to Win It leads with 14.3 percent of their starting weight lost.

The Wellness Warriors trail in second with 12.32 percent; Just Weight remains in third at 10.45 percent; the Lonesome Doves stay in fourth at 9.23 percent; and the Fatagins moved up a spot with 7.95 percent of starting weight lost.

—- Main Course

The Fatagins are among the second-tier Top 10 teams quietly jostling for better position to earn more prize money for their designated charities.

“I’m down 35 pounds,” Pekarovic said. “I’m pretty sure I can get 40. My wife and sister are doing well. I want to break the 100-pound mark (as a team),” he said.

The Fatagins have 13.25 pounds to go.

The Wellness Warriors are almost at 133 pounds as a team. “If we can lose 15 pounds this week and 10 next week, we should be OK,” MacMillan said. “(Teammate Steve) Papalas got so sick he lost 10 pounds. I told him to keep the flu for another week or two.”

The Wellness Warriors have what looks like a comfortable lead over third place Just Weight. MacMillan’s not counting any prize chickens before the Easter eggs hatch.

“I thought so last year, but a team caught up,” he remembers.

The team that zipped past them last year – and came within a bunny whisker of winning the whole basket – was Just Weight, the very same team that’s riding their cottontails this year.

Just Weight captain Stephanie Iacozili remembers what not giving up in those final two weeks can do and has pledged to keep pressing.

Meanwhile, In It captain Jeff Tate said his team doesn’t plan to coast.

“We keep exercising and watching what we eat,” he said Friday. “I’m supposed to go to Mom’s for Easter. It’s going to be tough. Maybe a little bit of everything, but small portions.

“It gets harder and harder every week,” he said. But the team keeps going because “they want to win that money for the charity, (the Rich Center for Autism).”

—- Dessert

Any team, from top to the bottom of the standings, can win Team of the Week honors. The bonus $10 goes to the team with the single best one-week percentage. Any team can do it. Honest.

But so far this year, only three teams have – the top three teams.

This week, the second place Wellness Warriors, claimed their second Team of the Week award with a 2.40 percent single-week effort.

First place In It to Win It was runner-up for at 1.66 percent, and has collected the bonus three times.

Just Weight was right behind them this week at 1.66 percent. It was Team of the Week last week.

To win Team of the Week, 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

This week, official Challenge dietitian Lauren Manusakis of Humility of Mary Health Partners finishes her list of 10 simple lifestyle changes to accomplish lasting weight control:

“There are many free apps for smartphones and websites to help you track the food you eat to maintain a healthy calorie limit. Studies show if you write down what you eat – or track it – you will lose weight,” Manusakis said.

Limit your intake of salt, sugar and fat. “These don’t just add calories to your food, but also aid in your addiction to food,” Manusakis said.

“Eating foods high in any of these components increases the pleasure centers in our brain. Combine more than one of these and it heightens the pleasure response causing us to become addicted to the foods we eat.”

And finally, the big one – change your behaviors.

“Are you eating in response to emotions, stress, boredom or social environment? What can you do to change that behavior?”

Set up no-snacking zones to avoid eating while watching TV or on the computer.

“Remember the 80/20 rule: Weight loss is 80 percent what you eat – diet – and 20 percent what you do – exercise.”

For example, “you could walk for 60 minutes – three miles – to burn about 300 kilocalories, or just say no the small fries. In addition, if you put all that time and energy into exercising for 60 minutes or more, will it really be worth it to waste all that work for an unsatisfying snack?”

Remember that the goal is a healthy lifestyle.

“Simply changing our unhealthy behaviors can decrease your risk for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and many other diseases with the added benefit of weight loss,” Manusakis said.

“Weight loss of about 10 percent of your body weight can decrease your risk of developing many of the chronic disease.

“Keep in mind even if you are at a ‘healthy’ weight, making small changes to a healthier lifestyle is still just as important to prevent many chronic diseases. Choosing healthier eating habits can also contribute to high energy and overall ‘good’ feeling.

“Remember the saying: ‘You are what you eat,”’ she said.

—- Groups We’d Like to Take to Dinner

It’s either the most unusual or the most specifically designated use of money we’ve ever had listed. The team 4.5 Full Grown Men are playing for towels.

Captain Mike Rossi said the Towel Foundation at the YMCA in Warren ”exists to facilitate the provision of fresh towels for the members. Its reason for being is that, historically, there has been an insufficient supply of fresh towels for any number of reasons. Details will serve no useful purpose at this time.”

He noted that ”fresh” hasn’t been a problem. Supply has.

”If we do very well in the Fitness Challenge, we plan to have the towels monogrammed and distributed to each member as a matter of goodwill and cleanliness,” Rossi said.

The foundation is being registered as a Section 501(C)(3) charitable organization, he said.

—- Fat Facts

The Fitness Challenge standings are based on percentage of starting weight lost, not total pounds. But hey, let’s take a look at the scales anyway.

Four teams have lost at least 100 pounds. They’re also teams one through four in the standings: In It to Win It, 170.5 pounds; Wellness Warriors, 132.75 pounds; Just Weight, 111.25 pounds; and Lonesome Doves, 105 pounds.

Two teams reached 90 pounds: The Kingz of Carz, 94 pounds, in 11th place; and 4.5 Full Grown Men, 92.25 pounds, in eighth place.

The 80-pound club is The Slovak Club, 89.5 pounds, ninth place; Southside Environmental, 88 pounds, 10th place; the Fatagins, 86.75 pounds, fifth place; and Weigh Out of Control 78ers, 80 pounds, seventh place.

—- Smacking of the Lips

Repeating an oft heard chorus near the end of Fitness Challenge, MacMillan said he believes this will be his last year in the competition.

His meant for every year to be his last year, but too much weight creeps back on during the winter one-two punch of a heavy holiday schedule and temperatures too frigid to work the garden or ride the bike trails.

Still, he and other teammates have kept off a good deal of the weight, which makes the competition more difficult each year. There’s less to lose – a good problem to have.

“We’re starting to plateau,” McMillan said.

Over at the Fatagins, Pekarovic sang the same sonnet – this is the last one. He said he’s hoping to start a weight-loss group at his church to help keep him true.

“It’s so easy to get off track in the summertime. Everyone is so busy,” he said. “We want to do this and get committed.”

Anyone care to make predictions about who’s coming back next year?