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Exercise class from Nicolet High School sheds 300 pounds

Big Melt Down sponsored by JCC and WEA Trust inspires staff to improve health

Patricia Patterson (center), a personal trainer at the Harry & Rose Samson Jewish Community Center, gives one of the final group exercise classes to some of the 33 individuals participating in The Big Melt Down. John Reiels (front left), Nicolet High School’s technology director, lost the most weight, 42 pounds.

Patricia Patterson (center), a personal trainer at the Harry & Rose Samson Jewish Community Center, gives one of the final group exercise classes to some of the 33 individuals participating in The Big Melt Down. John Reiels (front left), Nicolet High School’s technology director, lost the most weight, 42 pounds. Photo By Angela Peterson

June 10, 2013

It has been Elaine Harvey's sermon for nearly 12 weeks:

"If you make the healthy choice every time, the weight will come off."

Harvey, a nutritionist for the Harry & Rose Samson Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay, repeated the message recently during a lecture on the top 15 super foods. Her audience of about 20 people was participating in The Big Melt Down, a weight-management program presented by the JCC in partnership with the WEA Trust and Nicolet High School.

"Try adding half an avocado slice to a salad," she says, reading from a handout. As the audience listens attentively, she quickly corrects herself. "I made this up when I was nicer. Now I'm stricter. I'm going to change that to a quarter."

The audience laughs, but Harvey isn't joking.

"I tell them by the end of 12 weeks you are not going to be as tempted by the things you are missing now. I pull them off that taste for all this junk food and sugar, and they literally do not have the taste for those things any more," Harvey said.

That has proved true for many of the 33 participants in The Big Melt Down, who recently finished the program (34 started, but one dropped out). All of them completed at least 20 out of 24 group workout sessions and 10 out 12 of the nutritional sessions, which means the WEA Trust will reimburse half the $500 cost of the program to the Nicolet staff, WEA Trust health insurance clients and their spouses who participated in the program.

Jill Johnson Miller, 51, a special education paraprofessional at Nicolet High School, said giving up diet soda was her biggest sacrifice. Before The Big Melt Down she would consume two a day.

"I would have one at lunch and (one) at dinner. And the time when I would really indulge was when I was out and there was an open fountain. I would keep refilling," she said.

These days Miller is down to a few diet sodas a week and mostly drinks carbonated water with fresh fruits and mints.

Harvey took participants off sugar drinks and sugar substitutes during the training, saying, "When the brain gets a message that sweet calories are coming (and) they don't arrive, the void may set you up for cravings that ultimately lead to consuming more calories later on."

A team approach

Assisting Johnson Miller through the challenges of change was her husband Don Miller, 51, a dentist, who did the program with her.

Her husband lost 12 pounds, while Johnson Miller gained strength and toned up. The couple have also purchased similar exercise equipment such as exercise bands and a stability ball, so they can keep doing the exercises they learned during the Big Melt Down.

Another member of the group is Rick Monroe, 59, outgoing superintendent of Nicolet High School. A runner for 30 years, Monroe wanted to get in better shape and improve his time from last year's Summerfest half-marathon. He dropped 18 pounds over the course of the 12 weeks.

"I'm doing more running now that the program is over," Monroe said. "I've also started to log longer miles for the June race. I judge my fitness in how well I'm running. I'm hoping to take off 15 minutes from last year's run."

Monroe also wanted to be a role model for his staff.

"I wanted to show people that if the superintendent can do it, they can do it," he said. "You need to lead by example if you want your employees to be more health-conscious."

The group lost a total of 300 pounds, which is an average of nine pounds per person.

John Reiels, director of technology at Nicolet, shed the most weight in the group: 42.4 pounds.

"This was something that I wanted to do," said Reiels, a 25-year Nicolet employee. "I knew right away that this was something that was going to be good for me and something I was going to be able to stick with."

Since completing the program he is more involved in meal preparations with his wife, Diane, he said.

During the program, personal trainers and Harvey, the nutritionist, encouraged the members of the group to push harder, dig deeper, refuse to give up and refuse to give in. But now, they are facing their toughest assignment yet: Continuing the mission of wellness on their own.

On their own now

Some have said they would like to continue with a group exercise class at least once a week.

That would be a good idea, said Judy Springer, a physical education teacher at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

"They have a huge benefit of seeing each other on a regular basis — interacting with like-minded individuals will maintain motivation," Springer said of the Nicolet staffers.

Harvey agreed. "You have to tell yourself this is it for life," she said.  


Weight-loss tips

■ No processed foods

■ Watch portion control

■ Eliminate or limit sugar and sugar substitutes

■ Eat bright colored fruits and vegetables

■ Eat healthy fats — olive oils, omega 3, avocado

■ Stay hydrated — water

■ Talk down the urge — seize control of your eating habits

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