Weight loss program teaches students healthy habits

?No sweat, no loss.

Sharayah Lewis, 17, pushed the pedals on the elliptical machine
at a breakneck speed, chatting about her boyfriend and school and
weight loss just a little bit faster.

She’s slashed her pop consumption to two to three cans per day.
She’s cut portions and slowed down while eating.

“When you’re eating too fast, it makes you still think you’re
hungry,” Lewis said, explaining a nutrition fact she learned a few
weeks earlier. “I’ve cut back on the ranch too.”

She paused and took a long sip from her water bottle.

“And make sure you drink water when you do.”

After weeks of working out and watching what she ate, Lewis
hadn’t lost weight. With only a few weeks left of the Take It Off
program, Lewis wanted to make her effort count.

The program connects students at Kelly Walsh High School with a
personal trainer, a registered dietitian, a counselor and a gym
membership. Students voluntarily commit to the 10-week program with
doctor approval. Those services would cost about $550 per week, but
a grant and memberships donated by the Flex Complex fitness center
allowed Kelly Walsh students to participate at no cost.

Kelly Walsh piloted the program in fall 2010 with great results:
all participating students lost weight, one girl lost 4 percent
body fat, school attendance increased. Eight students are
participating this semester. One has lost at least 25 pounds, a
requirement of her goal to join the Air Force.

Not all students lost big, but that wasn’t the end goal of the
program, said Brittany Bennett, the registered dietitian working
with the students.

“If they lose weight, that’s a bonus, but it’s really about them
changing those habits they’ve built up,” Bennett said.

Students learn time management and that exercise is a healthy
way to deal with stress, said Jesse Espinosa, the program’s
personal trainer. Students who miss more than three sessions are
asked to leave the program, but Espinosa doesn’t want that to

“Even if they come twice a week, they still walk away with
something,” Espinosa said. “It takes 12 weeks to develop a habit
and that’s about how long I have them. I let them go at their own

Bennett discusses big issues, such as body image and how to eat
better around the holidays, with students as a group once a week.
She meets with them individually to review their food journals and
discuss habits and goals.

Staying on track is difficult because teenagers often don’t
grocery shop or prepare meals and go out to eat and eat fast food
with friends.

“They’re already young adults, already very set in their
habits,” Bennett said. “If we could catch them earlier in
elementary or middle school, we can make a better influence.”

Building self-esteem and positive body image has been difficult,
said participants Mystic Smith, 14, and Morgan Strang, 15. The
friends used to jokingly call each other “fat” and “fatty,” but
realized their teasing actually brought them down.

“Now I say, ‘I feel so fat today I look pretty,’” Strang said.
“From the first day I went to kindergarten until now I’ve been an
overweight kid. I’m done with it.”

Smith and Strang said there’s a lot of pressure to be skinny and
healthy, but obstacles such as fast food and video games stand in
the way. Friends might not understand, but other Take It Off
students provide support.

“I do want to be healthy,” Smith said. “This really helps.”

Apr 11th, 2011 | Posted in Weight Loss
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