This is a second in a series of articles about "The Biggest Loser" program at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Each month, the "News Leader" checks in with contestants to track their progress.

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Army News Service, April 11, 2007) - Ms. Olivia Mendoza is learning a new math these days. She's discovered that she can burn about 140 calories for every 10 minutes of high-intensity aerobics. By her calculations, she can then eat a 60 calorie chocolate rice cake, workout and still be ahead by 80 calories.

In the midst of her attempts to master intricate and sometimes mind-boggling fitness-related formulas, a simple one remains Mendoza's favorite: 199.3 minus 188.6 equals 10.7, the number of pounds she has lost since January.

"It feels great," said Ms. Mendoza, from the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office. "My clothes fit better; I feel better."

Ms. Mendoza is one of 33 people vying for the title of "Biggest Loser" at Fort Sam Houston in a six-month weight-loss program patterned loosely after its TV namesake. But rather than a stringent diet and exercise program, Fort Sam's version simply encourages participants to swap junk food for a balanced diet and couch-potato living for health-appropriate activity.

Although Ms. Mendoza got a head start, the program officially kicked off March 2, and most participants are already being called losers - but in a good way.

"I've lost 13 pounds so far," said Ms. Phyllis Bergen, Department of Academic Support, Army Medical Department Center and School. "I went to see my doctor and he was so happy.

"I'm wearing clothes that I've had in my closet for two years but never wore because they didn't fit. It's great."

Ms. Bergen's recipe for success is to eat healthier foods and smaller portions, as well as a steady diet of exercise and activity.

"I walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator," she said. "When I was at my previous job, I would walk 10 feet to the door and sit all day. Now, I go outside and walk around the building; park far away and walk. I'm just more active overall."

Ms. Cathleen Burrell, "Biggest Loser" fitness consultant, said Ms. Bergen is on the right track.

"Just about every participant has become more active," she said. "For the most part, everyone who has not exercised in the past has introduced physical activity, and those who were already exercising have increased their activity during the week."

Ms. Mendoza got on the fitness kick when the program began and is already encouraged by the change.

"It was hard at first to work out because I got out of breath easily and felt heavier when moving," she said. "Now, I don't feel as weighed down and can talk when working out."
She attributes her motivation in part to her steady workout partner and fellow loser, Ms. Cheryl Harrison. "If I didn't have a workout partner it would be more difficult. Find someone to motivate you; it helps to have someone to give you a push."

When it comes to eating, Ms. Mendoza advises people to take a look in their refrigerator and cabinets. "I got rid of all the sweets and bought more vegetables. I also cut down on sodas and fruit juices and I drink more water. I'm more aware of what I eat now."

Healthy eating and activity are the foundations for a healthier lifestyle, Ms. Burrell said, which is more important than any number.

"Recent research has come out showing that an overweight, active person is healthier than a thin person who doesn't exercise," Ms. Burrell said.

"You may not see results right away, but don't get frustrated; it takes time," she said. "It's about making a lifestyle change to a healthier, more active lifestyle. Stick with it. You may not have lost the weight, but are you feeling better' Is your health better' That's what counts."

Although only one of the 33 will be named the "Biggest Loser" in August, the competitors seem more interested in the weight-loss journey than the final destination. Like Ms. Mendoza, some have found a workout buddy and others meet up at the program's bi-monthly fitness and nutrition talks at the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center. Next up are weekly walk/runs at the track led by Ms. Burrell.

For Ms. Mendoza, it's not so much about a time-limited competition, but a lifelong change. "I'm disciplining myself and my body. If I keep doing this, I will feel even better and hopefully lower my cholesterol. I don't want to stop."

Neither does Ms. Bergen. "Set your mind to do it for a healthier lifestyle. Do it for your families. You want to be around for a long time."

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