FORT LEE, VA. (April 4, 2013) -- There was a time when Diana Martinez struggled with her weight and saw food as a companion. To illustrate her point, she recalled a chance meeting with a seemingly harmless box of donuts she eventually devoured like an enemy.

"When I finished it off," she said, remembering the guilt, "I said 'Oh my God. What am I doing with my life?'"

It was an awakening of sorts for the wife and mother of two small children at the time. She needed to behave like someone who was more health conscious.

"I started looking and researching to see how many calories were in each donut and whether there was any nutritional value -- there was none," she said with a laugh. "It was the moment. I had to start changing. I had to be healthy for my kids!"

That was more than 20 years, 20 pounds and many struggles with her health later. Today, Martinez is a journeyed, 5-foot, 119-pound, 40-something who is now fit and healthy and wants to extend her healthful graces to others.

The object of her aspirations is something called "Winning for Life." It is loosely related in concept to the popular "The Biggest Loser" TV show, using prizes as an incentive for participants to lose weight. However, "Winning for Life" doesn't encourage extreme solutions or behavior but uses a pragmatic, logical approach to fitness.

"I don't like 'The Biggest Loser' name per se because I don't want people going into crazy diets just to win the prize," she said. "I want people to make healthy changes in their lives."

The five-month program is quite simple: participants are required to get weighed, get their blood pressure checked and commit to healthy changes. That may mean putting a plan into action, upgrading an exercise routine or eating more nutritiously. By and large, participants will determine their own goals.

From there, Martinez said she will implement a passive management approach, using email and a weekly walk (contingent upon the amount of participation) to engage them and provide advice and information to support their efforts.

"I will give weekly tips like providing recipes or classes that are going on," she said. "We have a lot of fitness classes here that are great. The instructors are very knowledgeable and the prices are within everyone's budget. I want people to try different classes and physical activities."

Aerobics, zumba and yoga are among the classes on the installation that are offered on an ongoing basis to military members, civilian employees and family members. Martinez said those classes and other physical activity in general are areas of focus and the means to lose weight, and at a minimum, feel better and more energized.

"Even if it's just walking in the neighborhood or walking in the park, going out with your children and being active, it gives you energy, makes you feel better," she said, "Physical activity is an integral part of this program because it helps to facilitate other positive changes."

Martinez said the program has many strengths, but the support features are probably the most critical.

"I think there is a lot of value in being committed to something," she said, "but also to work with a group, to have some people who you can share your experiences and aspirations with. I think that has more value because it creates a sense of community. Fort Lee is not as small as it used to be. It's growing and there are new people coming in all the time, but I want to bring back that sense of community."

On the other hand, Martinez also realizes that some may want more one-on-one interaction.

"They can ask me questions if they don't want to talk to all of the participants," she said. "I've been teaching for almost 20 years and there are ethical guidelines I have to follow, so what is said to me is confidential. I can still help and be available to them."

At the end of the five-month period, participants will be assessed to determine how well they've fared. Martinez said losing weight won't be the only gauge for success.

"People lose weight in stages," she said. "Some may lose weight at a faster pace and some may lose at a slower pace, but the way I see success is based on how they're feeling. Are they more energized? Do they sleep better? It's not just weight because physical activity has repercussions on the nervous system and metabolism. You will see that when you start making healthy choices."

Only the top two participants in Winning for Life will earn prizes, said Martinez, "because some people do need incentives, but I also want to acknowledge the other participants. I do believe everyone should be recognized for what they've achieved."

Furthermore, Martinez has plans to engage patrons of the program even after the five-month period is over.

"I don't want people to come saying, 'Hey, I just want to lose four or five pounds a month and I will come back to see you.' No, I don't want that. I want more of a relationship with the participants."

The program is open to military members, civilian employees and family members, said Martinez. Civilians can take advantage of the Civilian Wellness and Fitness Program, which offers them one hour of exercise, three days week during work hours with the approval of supervisors.

For more information, call (804) 734-6198.