One member of the Stewart family lost 36 pounds, which is helping him control his diabetes and sleep better.
Montgomery, Ala., resident Ashley Stewart and her family have made drastic changes over the past three months, going from being almost completely sedentary to preparing to run a 5K, from eating fried foods and fast food to planting their own organic vegetable garden, from putting their health on the back burner to making it a priority.
Five family members have lost a total of 113 pounds since mid-January and made vast improvements in their overall fitness. “To know that we’re able to jog and run now is crazy,” Ashley says. “I don’t think I had ever seen my mom work out before this, and now she’s doing some kind of workout almost every day. It’s nice to see.”
The Stewarts and five other families have been participating in USA TODAY’s Family Fitness Challenge — an initiative to help people across the country get more active and lose weight. The project is being produced in partnership with USA WEEKEND Magazine and The Doctors TV show. The families were paired with a fitness expert from the American College of Sports Medicine and a registered dietitian from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The family includes Ashley Stewart, 25, and her husband, Jared, 25; her parents, Ed, 46, and Lenora Cochran, 45; and her mother-in-law, Debra Stewart, 52. At the beginning of the challenge, Ed had the most weight-related health issues, including type 2 diabetes, gout, high blood pressure and sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. But he has made dramatic health improvements over the past three months.
STORY: Meet the Stewarts
Ashley offers her assessment of the family’s accomplishments:
Biggest loser: “My dad. He lost 36 pounds. He looks like a million bucks. His face has slimmed down a lot, and even his tummy looks smaller. He weighed 241 pounds at the beginning of the challenge and now weighs 205. He’s 5-foot-8. He exercises every day, and dare I say it — he’s becoming a gym rat. He can run 55 minutes without stopping. My dad and Jared have lost so much weight, they need new clothes.”
Biggest health improvement: “Not only is my dad the biggest loser, but he also has had the biggest health improvement. He is no longer taking insulin shots to control his diabetes, and the dosage of his diabetic medication has been reduced. He is able to sleep without snoring, and he has had no flare-ups from gout since embarking on this healthy journey.”
Biggest fitness accomplishment: “We run. I have never imagined myself getting on the treadmill at the gym or going outside for a jog or run. As a family, we’re able to jog/run together, and as individuals, we jog/run for exercise. It’s a good way to get our heart rate up, and I’m so proud that we’re able to do it.
“Debra did 12 push-ups at the start of the challenge, and she could 40 push-ups six weeks into it. Jared has lost 25 pounds. He goes to the gym every day. He is jogging on the treadmill now, where before, he could only walk. He’s lifting weights. You can see the weight loss in his face and his neck.”
Biggest diet change: “Consuming less sugar. Sometimes when people think of eating sugar, they think about cookies and cakes. Of course, we liked those, but we also added sugar to foods that were otherwise healthy, such as peas, carrots, collard greens, even spaghetti. Down south, everything tastes better fried and with a little sugar.
“We’ve learned to enjoy the natural tastes of vegetables without unnecessary additives. Instead of a hunk of red velvet cake for dessert, we enjoy the natural sweetness of fruit. On special occasions, we may still have cake, but always smaller portions and lower-sugar and lower-fat recipes. It’s amazing the swaps you can make in your regular recipes to lighten food up.”
Biggest fitness change: “We now move. Before we moved only when we had to. Now we move because we want to. When I miss a group fitness class at the gym, I actually feel like I missed out on something. We now find fitness time enjoyable; before, it was a chore. I always wondered what it would feel like to enjoy working out, and now I get it.”
Hardest obstacle to overcome: “Controlling our personal environments. The gym serves pizza once a month, work parties happen often, and we have other family members and friends who eat lots of great-tasting food that isn’t good for us. We began taking lunch and snacks to work. I even put snacks in my car so I’m not tempted to stop for fast food. When going to gatherings where there will be food, we offer to bring a dish that’s healthy and delicious. When going out to eat, we review the menu and nutrition facts in advance to make meal decisions ahead of time. This is real life, and we can’t hide from food, but we can control what we eat and how much.”
Best lesson learned: “That healthy living is a way of life. So many times, we tried miracle diets to lose weight, but the weight always returns. This time, with making healthy choices and exercise, the weight is gone and it’s not coming back. The only regret we have is that we didn’t do it this way sooner.”
Best advice to others: “Never give up. I have had my days where I felt like I will never lose the amount of weight that I want to because I ate peanut-butter cups at snack time. Peanut-butter cups will absolutely ruin a diet, but not a lifestyle. I had to remind myself that tomorrow is a new day and I could start fresh. Giving up is how I got to an unhealthy lifestyle in the first place, so I constantly remind myself that I don’t want to go back to that life.”
How they are going to stick with it: “Our family will continue our healthy lifestyle by continuing to have Sunday Funday, where we get together and try new healthy recipes and work out together. We are planting an organic fruit and vegetable garden so that we can have access to fresh fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the normal costs. We will also stick to planning meals in advance and once-a-week weigh-ins to keep us on track.”
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