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Potato-Chip Sprinkled Cupcakes, Bloating and a Broken Treadmill

Columnist Heather Borden Herve checks in midway through the four-week ‘Game On! Wilton Patch’ weight-loss, health-gain challenge.

What craziness have I gotten us into?

Right after Thanksgiving I issued a challenge to readers who wanted to take charge of their health and weight by inviting them to join me in a lifestyle competition. Basing the contest on the book Game On! Diet, the plan was to assign readers who signed on to teams; those teams would compete to earn points based on how strictly they followed the game’s health and wellness rules—exercise daily, follow a low-calorie meal plan, and increase sleep hours and water intake, among others.

I was amazed to find that 21 people wanted to take part in this wacky idea. Some were motivated by the ‘team’ part of things—they knew that to really stick to the plan they needed camaraderie and partnership to motivate them to work at incorporating healthier habits into their lives. Others liked the competitive aspect—bragging rights and higher scores would help propel them to victory over their own battles with the bulge as they tried to beat the other players.

Only one participant was forced to take part because he is married to the columnist. (Love you, baby!)

There are rules we all had to follow. For food, we had to eat five meals a day, and each one needed to be comprised of smaller portions than we typically were used to: a fist sized serving of a carbohydrate, a palm sized serving of a protein and a thumb sized serving of fat. For some of the meals we had to add additional servings of vegetables, and at all meals we were permitted to eat unlimited greens (like lettuce of spinach). We had lists of all the permitted and prohibited foods to refer to.

What’s more, we had to drink three liters of water a day. Have you ever had to drink three liters a day? Let’s just say, we all have gotten to know exactly where the closest, cleanest bathroom is wherever we are.

Also mandatory:  at least seven hours of sleep a night. That has been one of the tougher rules for me to follow. Considering that I sat down to begin writing this column at 9:30 p.m. the night before you’re reading this on Monday morning, you can see I’m more of a night owl—an owl with  baby owlets that get up veeeery early in the morning for school.

We also had to exercise, every day. The minimum required to earn points was just 20 minutes a day, but of course we all know that weight loss really boils down to one thing:  You need to burn more calories than you eat. 

But truthfully, at least for me (and I believe for most everyone else playing), we signed on because it really wasn’t just about losing weight. We all have needed to come to the understanding that this isn’t simply a weight loss game—it’s about making the effort to take care of our health a regular habit. As Krista Vernoff, the author of Game On! Diet, wrote, “This is not just a diet game, it’s a better-life game, a goal-meeting game, a health-improving game.

And that was the other component covered by the rules—habits. To earn certain points, each of us needed to find one new, healthy habit to commit to follow every day, as well as give up one bad habit every day.

The catch—our point-keeping would be based on honesty and integrity. There would be no one to double-check whether you were doing what you said you promised to do. Each player would report the points he or she had earned and be taken at his or her word.

Because what it boils down to is this:  if we lied or cheated, we’d only be cheating ourselves. The end goal—despite there being a great set of prizes (including personal training sessions at Wilton’s PTP Personal Training Professionals and a series of yoga classes from Hello Yoga)—was that we’d be getting healthier and forging a path for a healthier lifestyle for ourselves.

That meant coming clean to my teammates and to myself when I fell off the wagon, falling prey to habitual late night munchies on one occasion—eating half a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips last week when I stayed up too late for a column deadline. I realize, the bad habits don’t happen alone—it was easy to add between-meal (over)snacking to not getting enough sleep.

But I found 21 new partners and friends, people with whom I could share recipes for healthy meal ideas, or exchange friendly taunts—like posting pictures of candy bars on National Candy day or descriptions of chocolate cupcakes with chocolate-covered potato chip-sprinkled tops.

There were also supportive suggestions for ways to reduce bloating (three liters of water, combined with loads more greens and vegetables can have a sudden expanding effect at times, as some of us have learned).

There have been funny moments—like my husband and I discovering we broke our treadmill. Was it due to overuse? Perhaps. A more likely explanation was that it had actually been underused for the years we had it up until now, when it was suddenly seeing daily action. (Thankfully he’s a trained mechanical engineer, and he figured out it was an unnecessary part that was damaged, and once he removed it, it still worked just fine.)

But one moment in the two weeks we’ve spent thus far has really made all the point-keeping, sugar-free calorie-counting worth it. It was reading an email one of the competitors sent me. She wrote, “My weight is now 198!!!! May I never, ever, ever again in my entire life EVER see a ‘2’ in front of my weight. Game On!!!!! Thanks again for doing all of this!” She was one of the high-scorers for the first week of competition.

With two more weeks to go, I can’t wait for more high points for all of us on this Game that despite the scores, we all seem to be winning just by being in it.

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