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files of participants

Sara Skulec

When she started our Healthy Challenge, this busy, Seattle-area accountant was stuck on a seesaw when it came to her weight: She’d diet and lose pounds, then shoot up past her original weight when she stopped dieting. Sara knew she needed to make some changes in her life, but she’s admittedly an all-or-nothing personality — anything short of drastic change didn’t seem to be enough.

After we paired her with functional nutritionist Julie Starkel, MS, MBA, RD, the 40-year-old Sara learned the wisdom of making incremental steps toward her health and fitness goals. Five months later, she’s dropped 15 pounds — more weight than she’s ever lost excluding after childbirth — and 4 percent of her body fat. Even more important, healthy habits are now second nature. For instance, she makes her morning smoothies extra nutritious and packs healthy snacks and meals to take to work so that she’ll always have a healthy option instead of junk food. A vegetarian, she’s expanded the diversity of protein in her diet (she never knew how many delicious beans there were and how they had slightly different nutritional profiles) and she routinely prepares unfamiliar fresh vegetables that she used to ignore in the store.

“I finally feel like I’m in control of my health,” Sara says. “Working with Julie gave me so many tools to improve my nutrition.”

What was the most important thing you learned during the Healthy Challenge?

“Julie showed me how to incorporate protein into every meal and snack, and that made a huge difference in my cravings and in how I felt overall. Before I worked with her, I never gave any thought to having protein as part of a snack — a snack was just something to grab! But now I know that protein helps maintain steady blood sugar throughout the day, so if I’m having fruit, I also have nuts or yogurt. If I’m having crackers, I have cheese. I really noticed a difference in the way I felt over the December holidays when I didn’t make sure I was eating plenty of protein.”

What is the biggest challenge of continuing your healthy lifestyle without your coach?

“I miss the accountability that my meetings with Julie gave me, but I’ve discovered I can find that accountability elsewhere. My coworkers and friends are willing to help. I just had to ask!”

Did your Healthy Challenge successes inspire you to reach for other goals?

“Yes, the weight loss and other changes really jump-started progress on other goals. I joined a fitness group at a gym and won the body transformation challenge. I now exercise three to four times a week and am in much better shape than I’ve been in years. I see a big difference now when I practice curling. (Sara has been a competitive curler for five years and is now on a recreational team.) I have better arm and leg strength, and I just move around better overall.”

Lisa Maley

Her original plea for help breaking her Mountain Dew and sugar addiction sent Lisa on a profound journey, guided by nutritional psychologist Marc David, MA, the founder and director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Some of Marc’s suggestions sounded “hokey” to Lisa at first. But by the end of their work together, she believed them to be essential wisdom. Lisa now carries around a book filled with notes from her discussions with Marc. “It’s like a self-help book written just for Lisa,” she says.

Five months after she started the Healthy Challenge, the 46-year-old Dallas woman has lost her taste for Mountain Dew and dropped 8 pounds — the physical manifestation of a huge transformation in her heart and spirit. “Before, I’d look at Experience Life and couldn’t see how someone like me fit in,” she says. “But I was willing to change my life, and reading the magazine and being selected for the Healthy Challenge were my start down the path to better health. I hope my story shows people that you can change your life using small steps, even if you start off really unhealthy.”

What was the most important thing you learned during the Healthy Challenge?

“Marc told me to make sure to pay attention to my internal conversation. When you’re wrapped in self-loathing and hate what you look like, the body just hangs on to those calories. This was really hard for me to change. The first step was to realize that there was an internal conversation, that I was constantly criticizing myself without even realizing it, and then to turn that conversation in a positive direction. Now, I pay myself compliments — in fact, my thoughts about myself are mostly positive. I treat myself as kindly as I treat others, and it really shows. When you learn to like what you see, you exude confidence.”

What is the biggest challenge of continuing your healthy lifestyle without your coach?

“I still have a hard time eating enough protein. And I miss hearing Marc’s calm, positive voice — he has such a powerful voice. But I took copious notes, and I share what I learned with people in an online forum, and that reinforces the lessons. I know I’ll never be on a diet again. Marc taught me to change my behavior instead of relying on quick fixes. I’ll remember and build on these lessons for the rest of my life.”

Did your Healthy Challenge successes inspire you to reach for other goals?

“I’ve joined a gym near where I work. And I’m now enrolled in a business management  program and will end up with an associate’s degree. I’m past the age when most people get associate’s degrees, but the things Marc taught me have helped me think enough of myself that I can do this without feeling as if it’s silly.”

Robert Koski

When Robert embarked upon the Healthy Challenge, he had an inkling that he was in a fitness slump, but reinvigorating himself seemed hopeless because he was so overwhelmed by his responsibilities at work and at home. Experience Life decided to put some actual numbers on the state of his health by sending him to Life Time Fitness for a broad panel of fitness assessments. Those numbers in hand, Robert began working with Life Time Fitness life-balance coach Mary Farrell, MS, CWC, and others to come up with a suite of smart steps toward better health and a better-managed life.

Five months later, Robert has as many responsibilities as ever — but he’s on top of them, instead of being buried under them. And he’s figured out a steady path to better health. He’s going to the gym a few days a week, eating better meals, and feeling better overall. “That’s the really big part,” Robert says. “I have more energy and a better frame of mind.”

What was the most important thing you learned during the Healthy Challenge?

“Those numbers! Getting the health assessments made it all real for me. Before, I had this nagging feeling that I should be getting back to the gym. But when I had those results in my hand — the physicality of the data — I became convinced that I had work to do. I didn’t have any major health problems, but I could see that I might if I continued going on in the same way. I’ve gotten annual physicals for years, but I’ve now been given such a complete picture of my health.”

What is the biggest challenge of continuing your healthy lifestyle without your coach?

“I’m still checking in with Mary once a month. She’s been great at helping me develop action plans for my life — kind of like having a punch list at work. I’ve learned how to create steps that are incremental and doable so that I can succeed. We’ve created a structure that I can continue on my own so that even if I have a setback, it won’t derail me. One of the things the Life Time Fitness staff told me right at the very beginning was that you have no idea how bad you’ve been feeling until you feel good — and when you do feel good, it’s the ultimate light bulb. Now I know what it’s like to feel good again, so there’s no reason not to keep the momentum going.”

Did your Healthy Challenge successes inspire you to reach for other goals?

“It’s all incremental. I started to eat better, work out a little, and feel better, and that made other goals possible. Mary taught me time-management skills so that I don’t let my workday get away from me, and now I leave at the end of the day with more energy. When I go food shopping, I’m smarter about it — if you’re beat and hungry because you didn’t have time to eat lunch, then you make poor choices. I’m not only doing better meal planning now, but my daughter and I have just signed up for a yoga class and are thinking of doing kickboxing, too. I used to think I didn’t have time for these things, but now that I have more energy and am more efficient, I do.”

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