(Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles following the weight-loss and fitness progress of participants in Commit to Get Fit in Liberty. A second article sharing their overall results will appear in April.)
Cameron Brenton has stared down the scales before. Last year he was the Biggest Loser at Heritage Middle School in Liberty, where he works. He lost 62 pounds during the 12-week competition.
“I ended winning that, but gained all that weight back and more,” said the 27-year-old Brenton, who along with three other members of his family — including his father Lyndell Brenton, Liberty’s mayor — have joined the Commit to Get Fit Challenge sponsored by Liberty Parks and Recreation.
“We all talk about we need to work out and do more. but we are all so busy so I thought, well, this will be a way for us to kind of hold each other accountable,” said Lyndell Brenton who came up with the idea of signing up as a family team. “It’s more enjoyable to do it with someone than to have the discipline to go do it by yourself.”
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The Brentons are among the 141 adults participating in Commit to Get Fit (CTGF). At the initial weigh-ins Jan. 10-11, participants ranged in weight from 107 to 435 pounds.
“I will say one of the coolest parts I’ve had in my profession is being at the pre-measurement,” said Chris Lucas, recreation programs manager with Liberty. “I would say for 95 percent of them, their excitement for the program and their excitement for being there was heartwarming. It made me feel very proud to be in a program like this, to get to enhance the lives of people in this program.”
Participants join Commit to Get Fit for different reasons, said trainer Kat Lantto.
“People are looking for a jump start to help lose weight, get stronger, find some accountability, get a little educated and it’s a darn good deal.”
The program itself costs $25 to $50 for the 12 weeks and includes weekly sessions with a trainer, nutrition counseling and a variety of exercise options. Registration was free for people wanting to go it alone.
“From our standpoint, we want to make it about lifestyle change and we want to provide opportunity for individuals to learn more about health and wellness,” said Lucas. “There’s an opportunity for each and every one of the people to live a healthier lifestyle if they choose so.”
This is the second year for Amy Hayes to participate. On a strict diet a few years ago, she lost 40 pounds in four months. But the program was unrealistic, she knows now, and she gained all the weight back once off the diet.
“We were the class of people who had a (community center) membership but never went,” she said.
This year at weigh-in, she was 152 pounds. She wants to lose another 10 pounds. Her husband Dave, 39, at 272 pounds. and 6’5” is hoping to lose 40 pounds.
Amy Hayes, of Kansas City, North, has embraced running and is following a Couch to 5K program, too.
“I run because I like to eat. I don’t want to be on a diet for the rest of my life. I like cheese and crackers,” the 40-year-old said.
Two of the biggest challenges for team members are time and diet, said trainer Tristan Larson.
“Creating a lifestyle change isn’t easy. It really is true that we have to make time to work out. Some of the most common dietary hurdles are myths and media. It’s hard to know who to listen to about what to eat.”
After weighing in at 327 pounds, Cameron Brenton is approaching things differently this year.
“I’m going to try not to be as intense this year. My goal is 60 pounds. like last year, but I’m not going to be upset if I don’t meet that because that burned me out last year. So I was just ready to not exercise for a while. So I think more of a slow and steady, rabbit-and-hare kind of scenario. Slow and steady wins the race,” he said.
It’s not all about exercise, says Caitlin DeSalvo, 29, Cameron’s sister who weighed in at 172.5 pounds.
“Diet is probably my biggest change, or trying to change that. The trainer during the first week said 75 percent of your weight loss is diet. Only 25 percent matters what you do like in the gym,” DeSalvo said.
“So that was like, OK — I cut out a lot of carbs. Instead of having three pieces, I’m just going to have one. I’m a big chocolate dessert person, so cutting those out.”
Cameron Brenton said he’s always been a “healthy hard food eater.”
“It’s the liquid calories that kill me: beer, soda, chocolate milk. And fast food needs to go.”
He admits he’s so busy as a teacher that he’ll often skip lunch, which makes for a big dinner at the end of the day.
“My New Year’s resolution is to bring my lunch to school.”
His father has been guilty of skipping lunch in the past, too, but has made changes.
“I try to keep a bowl of apples here at my desk and take advantage of those as needed. And part of the regime I’ve adopted is a lunch of various flavors of oatmeal,” Lyndell Brenton said.
Last year, 115 people registered for Commit to Get Fit, and a number of them dropped out. Lucas points to roadblocks.
“No matter who is it is — me, you, anybody — we all have roadblocks that will take us away from our goal. The main focus is trying to figure out these roadblocks and minimize as much as we can so each individual can meet their fitness goals,” he said.
Church pastor Kirsten Dow, who was talked into joining last year’s challenge by a friend, was intimidated by gyms and people who worked out regularly. The most significant benefit from joining Commit to Get Fit came from the shift in her self-perception..
“I had never before seen myself as someone who was capable of achieving fitness goals,” Dow said. “By the end of the year, I had completed five 5K races and totally changed my relationship to fitness.
“I didn’t realize that exercise is first and foremost a mental experience. I was letting the wrong mental messages shape my life. I know now that just showing up is the most important part of any workout, and what I tell myself about myself influences what I can do.
“I have learned that I am capable of more than I thought I was. Who knew I could run a 5K? I have also learned that making time for fitness is a priority worth making.”
Tips from trainers and real people
▪ Don’t Make Excuses, says Caitlyn DeSalvo. “Like, ‘oh, I worked out really hard this morning and I can have an extra this.’ And just when you’re working out, continuing to push yourself, even when your legs feel like Jello and you want to stop.
▪ Celebrate success, be accountable, says Cameron Brenton, who emails his family members each week and asks for their fitness goals, what they’ve struggled with and where they feel they have succeeded. “That’s huge just getting us talking and celebrating successes and giving suggestions on what somebody’s struggling with.”
▪ Dress early to work out, says Amy Hayes. “There are so many times that when I don’t feel like working out, I will dress to work out. If you dress, it’s a lot harder to talk yourself out of it.”
▪ Get to the gym, says Dave Hayes. “Getting here’s the hardest thing. People say they don’t have time to go to the gym and stuff like that. I’m guilty of it. There’s days I get off at 6 p.m. and I’m ‘Ah, I just want to go home,’ but you got to work it in.”
▪ Write down plans to maintain your fitness progression after the formal program ends, says Cameron Brenton. “Even at the finish line of a triathlon, they have coolers full of beer.”
▪ Dive in and get started, says Caitlyn DeSalvo. “That was my hardest thing. ‘Oh, I’ll start next week’ or ‘OK next month, I’ll get started.’ Just start making yourself get started even if you’re slow as a snail, but just go, do it.”
▪ Give yourself credit, says Kirsten Dow. “When you see yourself in the mirrors at the gym and you don't love what you see, remind yourself that you showed up, and that's more than most people can say.”
▪ Start slow, says trainer Tristan Larson. “The best thing you can be is consistent. Even if it's a short walk or a simple floor routine. A daily exercise routine doesn't have to take up a lot of time.“
▪ Decrease sugar intake and get moving, says trainer Kat Lantto. “The American Heart Association recommends that women intake no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day and men no more than 38 grams. Children ages 4-8 should get no more than 12 grams. One 12-ounce can of soda could have as much as 45 grams of sugar.”