East Texans taking challenge: Lose 5 percent of body weight
Obesity rates in Smith and surrounding counties range from 26 percent to 36 percent. Texas has become the 10th most obese state in the nation, at 30.4 percent.
Nationally, about 33 percent of the adult population is obese. It's these figures that are at the core of Lighten Up East Texas -- a weight-loss contest that encourages participants to shed 5 percent of their body weight.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, losing between 5 and 10 percent of body weight can have a positive impact on health, including improving blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.
Residents from around East Texas already have pledged to use this opportunity to not only lose the weight, but be inspired to live a healthier lifestyle.
'I WANT TO LIVE'
Rhonda Glena, 51, of Athens, is hoping Lighten Up East Texas is the challenge that will finally get her on the road to a healthy weight. She said her body mass index, a height-weight calculation, is 51. An individual is obese when the BMI is greater than 30. She wants to lose about 120 pounds, as she notes that her "big clothes are getting too small."
Ms. Glena has suffered many health problems, including a massive heart attack in 2001 at the age of 40. Her then-11-year-old daughter called 911. At the hospital, she flatlined.
"I should not have made it," Ms. Glena recounted.
The heart attack was brought on by years of not eating right, and she was a smoker. Ms. Glena also said there was a family history of heart disease.
But even with the life-altering episode, not much had changed in her diet.
"Throughout the years, obviously, I have not taken care of myself," she said.
She did, however, stop smoking after 25 years.
A single mother, Ms. Glena admitted that food was a comfort to her.
"Instead of doing something about it, I just ate," she said. "I can't say what really triggered it over the last 10 years. Life happened, I guess."
Following the heart attack, Ms. Glena feared that if something happened to her, there would be no one there to care for her daughter, now 23.
"I used to say I wanted to live long enough to see my daughter graduate from college," she said. "She did that in May. Well, I want to live longer than that."
Ms. Glena was hospitalized twice for congestive heart failure since August. She takes 19 medications, including medicine for her heart, blood pressure, cholesterol and depression. She uses a machine for severe sleep apnea, is on oxygen, carries a nitroglycerine spray and is borderline diabetic. She sees her doctor in Athens every three months and a cardiologist every other month.
Ms. Glena said she's tried many weight-loss programs, but she couldn't stay motivated. She believes the weight-loss challenge will offer some accountability that will help her stay motivated. She learned of the contest through her niece, who lives in Tyler.
"I've always been a believer that if you really put your mind to something, if you really want it bad enough, you can do it. ... Do I just not want it bad enough?"
The stigma associated with being obese also has been a motivator.
"You're treated differently when you're overweight," she said. "You're treated differently by the public, by your doctors. I'm tired of it."
A human resources director for a research and development company in Athens, Ms. Glena will have to take baby steps on her journey.
"It's hard for me to walk, but I'm just going to start taking short walks at a time," she said.
She's also aiming to restrict sodium, find Weight Watcher's recipes and receive information from the Lighten Up community.
Ms. Glena recently bought a boat because she loves to fish. But there's something else she'd like to do right now. She's unable to visit two of her cousins, who live in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"I can't fly right now because of the heart failure," she said. "I loved going to see them and going to the Mall of America. I want to be able to do that again. I miss seeing them."
In the meantime, the goal she thrives for throughout the contest is simple.
"I want to live," she said. "That's it."
A TEAM TO BEAT?
Summer Owens, marketing administrator for The Lighthouse -- a nonprofit organization that empowers blind people through rehabilitation, training and employment -- said the group encourages healthy lifestyle choices for the blind community. Since last year, the group has taken that mission a step further.
It has implemented health initiatives, which included health fairs, Weight Watchers and four weight-loss sessions. With up to 52 participants per session, employees have lost a collective 1,473 pounds since March 2011.
"We have a special interest in conquering obesity and making healthy choices," Ms. Owens said. "At The Lighthouse, the majority of our employees are actually blind or visually impaired. What many may or may not know is that obesity can lead to diseases that cause vision loss and ultimately cause blindness. We do what we can to encourage our employees to make healthy choices."
At Horizon Industries, which employs many of the people The Lighthouse serves, a team of 11 will take up the Lighten Up East Texas challenge this weekend. Employees there manufacture paper products and produce T-shirt screen-printing.
Lisa Hamlett, a Zumba instructor, is considering offering a private class for the group throughout the challenge. It'll be one of many opportunities used to motivate each other.
"As a company, since we've started this whole healthy initiative, I've noticed within our department we have just shifted to more healthy choices," Ms. Hamlett noted.
This team is not only incentivized by reaching a healthy weight, but they also want the car and other prizes that will be given away at the final weigh-in in May.
Many on the team have underlying health problems such as high blood pressure and want to keep others at bay.
"Diabetes runs in my family, and I sure don't want it," Sheila DePriest said.
Their most competitive team members, Jan Lynch and Donna Milliken, are co-captains, or what they call co-encouragers.
Employee Pat Spenla said the accountability from peer pressure may be helpful during the contest.
"I've been on Weight Watchers off and on for the last year," she said. "So I needed something that gave me an extra incentive."
Linda Moore, who lives near coworker Pam Crawford, encourages her to get up and move around.
"I usually go home and go to bed, but she's starting to come to my house and getting me out of bed to walk," Ms. Crawford said.
Ms. Crawford is also a breast cancer survivor and wants to lose at least 60 pounds by the end of the challenge. She's not the only one being encouraged.
"We had a built-in accountability," Ms. Lynch said. "We know that on Wednesdays we're going to weigh and talk to each other. I've learned a lot from these women. I'm not alone."
Ms. Lynch already has lost 45 pounds, after joining Weight Watchers in February but has tried to lose weight most of her life. She also noted the contest will give her an extra push.
"This is the point where I turn back," she said. "I always turn back. When I heard about this I thought this would see me through to the finish line."
-- If you live in Athens and would like to create a team with Rhonda Glena, call 903-681-0183.
-- Throughout the challenge, watch for updates on Rhonda Glena and The Lighthouse team in the Health & Fitness section each Sunday.