DIXON – Operation Move to Win has a new group of winners.
The KSB Community Wellness corporate weight-loss initiative recently finished its second 12-week session. More than 1,400 pounds were shed by 426 employees of 16 participating companies.
The initiative launched in January when the first session drew 514 people from 13 companies who collectively lost about 3,000 pounds.
The program is the brainchild of Christine Scheffler, KSB Community Wellness coordinator, and Carrie Grobe, KSB Community Wellness dietitian. After wrapping up the program's first year, they are using surveys to help determine whether the demand warrants one or two sessions a year.
Chris Ekquist, 47, of Sterling, said she had tried every diet imaginable, but the results were what she called the “yo-yo effect.” Her weight fluctuated wildly before hitting an all-time high. Because she works in the dietary department at KSB, she was familiar with Operation Move to Win, and she knew she had to take a different approach.
"I had to make a total change and be able to stick with it," Ekquist said. "You can't just do a grapefruit diet for a week."
Her resolve made Ekquist the second session's Most Dynamic Lifestyle Improvement award winner. She lost just under 40 pounds during the 3 months.
Ekquist said the biggest initial change she made was to cut out sugary beverages like pop and iced tea.
"Carrie told me to switch to water, and I lost 5 pounds immediately," she said.
She then worked to cut back on sweets and processed foods. Grobe turned her on to a phone app called My Fitness Pal, which made it easy for her to count calories. She made most of her food and ate lots of fruits and vegetables.
"It was hard at first, but it's really easy after you get used to it," Ekquist said.
When her friends ask her how she dropped the weight, she says it's important to change not just your diet but your mindset.
"You have to think of food as energy instead of a means of satisfaction," she said. "Then when you want cookies, it's easier to turn to fruit."
Wally Garza, 44, of Dixon, dropped more weight than any other competitor in the latter session. A geotechnical crew supervisor for IDOT, Garza does a fair amount of physical labor, and says he knew he needed to drop a few pounds. A few became 45, and he now weighs in at 187 pounds.
He admits that guilt was a compelling motivator for him.
"My wife is a Zumba instructor and is always exercising, so I decided to sign up for the program," he said. “Her lifestyle and support has made it easier."
Garza says he started eating right, which included cutting out all red meat during the contest. He also got rid of the sugary beverages and ate lots of salads and chicken.
He made the 2-mile commute to work on his bicycle, and when the weather intervened, he started going to the YMCA twice a week. He rode the stationary bike and worked out on the elliptical machine for about an hour each visit.
"That was the most I had exercised in a long time," Garza said. "I just went in with my wife while she taught her classes there."
Garza said he had tried to lose weight before but had always failed. He said the competitive aspect of the program gave him added incentive to succeed.
"I know the other people involved here [IDOT] and they motivated me to do it," he said. "I didn't want to go into weigh-ins without losing any weight."
Program organizers also provided a great deal of support, Garza said.
"They were good at motivating you," he said. "They stayed involved and sent emails, tips, recipes, and it was really nice that they came to us."
Initial weigh-ins for the next session will begin Jan. 6. Participants must be signed up by Jan. 3. Projections for the third session are 700 employees from 25 companies.
The program involves an element of competition. Prize money goes to the individual winners, and the companies go head to head. The money comes from an entry fee of $20 a person.
The companies have a stake in the program, but they pay nothing. Program survey results show several employer benefits. Healthier employees are found to have higher energy levels, be more productive, and use fewer sick days. They also can save their businesses money through reduced insurance claims.
"Research shows that if employees are healthier, they tend to be better employees," Scheffler said. "This program is designed to assist companies in making workers happier and healthier."
Businesses also like that the program comes to them. Scheffler and Grobe go to the workplaces every month for weigh-ins, motivational and educational sessions, and one-on-one counseling. Body fat percentages are taken the first and last month of a session.
"It might be 40 minutes, or for the entire day, but we always go to them," Grobe said. "We find that when we're able to go to the individual, especially at the workplace, they are just so receptive."
The program has gained traction at Raynor Garage Doors in Dixon, a business that makes health and fitness an important part of its corporate culture.
"We have a wellness program at Raynor, and this has become an extension of our efforts," said Lindsay Drew, human resources coordinator. "Many of our people in management are into exercise and fitness – they do the Reagan Run and triathlons – and it kind of trickles down."
Drew said Raynor offers prizes and even options for premium reimbursements for employees who meet certain wellness criteria. She said the KSB program is a good team-building opportunity. It also helps that the program is brought to the workplace.
"It's not time-consuming for the company, and it's so nice to see the people who stick with it and look forward to the weigh-ins," Drew said.
UPM Raflatac employees dropped the most weight – 151.3 pounds – during the second session. The winning company also receives a cash award, but donates it to a charity of its choice. Toys for Tots received $319.50 from the company.
The Illinois Department of Transportation was the winner in the first session. IDOT workers dropped a little more than 307 pounds and collected $771 for their charity.
Grobe finds that the participants must clear many of the same hurdles along their path to better nutrition and fitness. One obstacle is poor food choices.
"People are so busy, they aren't taking the time to cook – many have never cooked," Grobe said.
Grobe encourages program participants to plan for meals and eat at home more often instead of eating fast food.
Portion control also is important. Grobe carries a portion plate with her that is half full of vegetables.
"People are used to eating large portions," she said. "Eat until you're content and not stuffed. It also helps to drink water again.”
Exercise can be scary for some, so Grobe focuses on easing into a routine. She says the key is to make it a priority as a part of good time management.
"I'll say, ‘Let's start with 10 minutes a day,’ and they ask, 'What's that going to do?'" Grobe said. "But it makes a huge difference to just establish a habit, then they can add to what they're doing."
Ekquist says she still has a long way to go, but feels she is finally on her way. She is signed up for the January session. Her family serves as constant motivation.
"I have two sons," she said.“and I want to be an example for them of how important a healthy lifestyle is."
• Most Dynamic Lifestyle Improvement Award: Chris Ekquist - KSB Hospital; Weight loss - 39.6 pounds/11.59 percent; Award - $319.50
• Individual Male: First place – Wally Garza - IDOT; Weight loss - 45.2 pounds/19.4 percent' Award - $1,597.50. Second place – Chad Hammer - Raynor Garage Doors; Weight loss - 32.4 pounds/13.44 percent; Award - $958.50. Third place – Jack Skrogstad - Team Lee County; Weight loss - 28.8 pounds/12.5 percent; Award - $319.50
• Individual Female: First place – Janice Borum - Anchor Coupling' Weight loss - 36.6 pounds/16.07 percent; Award - $1,597.50. Second place – Leith Hammond - KSB Hospital; Weight loss - 21 pounds/14.25 percent; Award - $958.50. Third place – Lisa Talbott - UPM Raflatac; Weight loss - 24 pounds/12.96 percent; Award - $319.50
• Company with Greatest Percentage of Weight Loss: UPM Raflatac - 151.3 pounds/3.60 percent; Award - $319.50 donated to Toys for Tots