This is the first in a series of articles about "The Biggest Loser" program at Fort Sam Houston. The program was initially featured in Army News Service as being a competition between coworkers in a single office, but was so popular it was opened to all community members. Each month, the "News Leader" will check in with contestants to track their progress.

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Army News Service, March 8, 2007) - They've been called overweight, obese, stocky and thick, but until now they've never been called losers.

That's exactly what 33 people at Fort Sam Houston are aspiring to be over the next six months. The "loser" wannabes have banded together to slim down and shape up as they vie for the title of Fort Sam Houston's "Biggest Loser."

"I joined to be a part of a group," said Letitia Wright, Department of Information Management. "This is the first opportunity I've had to join my co-workers and come up with strategies to conquer this weight problem that's so common today."

The idea for the competition started in January, when six co-workers decided that this year their New Year's weight-loss resolutions would stick. They came up with the idea of a healthy-eating and weight-loss competition based loosely after the popular NBC show of the same name.

"I'm tired of feeling like a blob," said Cheryl Harrison, Public Information Office. "It was time to do something about it. We figured if we did it together, we could motivate each other to eat right and exercise and not give up."

The story of their weight-loss endeavor and presence in the gym every day at lunchtime attracted interest. They decided the more, the merrier, and opened the competition up post-wide. The response was overwhelming, Harrison said.

"We're still getting phone calls even though the deadline has passed," she said. "People are excited there's a program out there that has a sense of camaraderie and accountability."

Despite their own weight-loss progress, which ranges from 5 to 10 pounds, the ladies re-started their program along with the new participants. The group met for a baseline weigh-in and taping March 2 at the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center and will continue with weekly weigh-ins until the contest ends Aug. 2. Twice a month they will meet for a group session featuring advice from the program's nutrition expert, Capt. Renee Cole, and fitness expert, Cathleen Burrell.

Although contestants are free to follow their own food and fitness plan, the experts will encourage them to eat healthy and exercise.

"It's not about being perfect; it's about being persistent," Burrell advised. "You're going to have good and bad days. The important thing is to stick with it."

Cole advised people to avoid diets. "Diets create an endless cycle. People go back to their original lifestyle after they lose the weight, gain it back, then go back on the diet. It's important for people to rediscover their hunger and fullness signals, although all of us have been trained throughout our lives to ignore them. We've been told to clean our plates or only eat at a certain time whether we're hungry or not. Listen to your body."

Cole also encourages people to follow The Food Guide Pyramid, which represents food groups that make up a balanced, healthy diet.

"And be active," she added. "I once read a quote: 'You don't stop being active because you grow old. You grow older because you're less active.' There's a lot of truth to that statement."

At the program's end, after a final weigh-in and taping, the person with the most overall improvement will be named "The Biggest Loser" and featured in an edition of the Fort Sam Houston "News Leader."

But for most, if not all, contestants, the competition is a friendly one without an eye on the prize. They're more focused on gaining a few workout partners and some motivation.

"I've been exercising since Thanksgiving and wanted to make sure if I got a notion to quit, there would be something to make me continue," said Phyllis Bergen, Army Medical Department Center and School's Department of Academic Support and Quality Assurance. "Being overweight is not good for my health. It was time to do something for Phyllis."

"I think the program will help motivate me when I'm alone and tempted to eat," said Sgt. 1st Class James Jones, Army career counselor with the 90th Regional Readiness Command.

Nancy Hardin, Fort Sam Houston Youth Center, said the program has already motivated her to start exercising daily. In turn, she has gotten her husband moving.

"I want to lose this weight," she said. "I know the only way I'll do it is with a group of people."

Some contestants aim to lose 10 pounds and others, in excess of 30. But all are united in their desire to look and feel better.

"Just a few pounds make a big difference," said Lori Newman, who hopes to drop 15 pounds. "I've started exercising again and am eating healthier. I already feel better. I'm glad I committed to a healthier lifestyle."

(Elaine Wilson writes for the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)