This is the fourth in a series of articles about "The Biggest Loser" program, a weight loss and healthy eating competition at Fort Sam Houston. Each month, the "News Leader" checks in with contestants to track their progress.

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Army News Service, June 29, 2007) - The "Biggest Losers" are nearing the end of a six-month journey to shape up and adopt a healthier lifestyle. The competition, which started March 2, will wrap up Aug. 2.

With just six weeks left, the 33 participants have become somewhat reminiscent of a high school class. There are a few star pupils, some dropouts and a number of people who hover on the fringe of the crowd.

About 12 have been steady participants, and all showed up for a midpoint taping to gauge progress.

"The grand total was a loss of 58.35 percent body loss with an average of 4.86 percentage points lost per person," said Cathleen Burrell, Biggest Loser fitness consultant. "Everyone is doing fantastic.

"But, I can't reiterate enough the importance of focusing on the lifestyle changes that you are making out there and not getting so wrapped around the pounds on the scale," she advised.

A few "losers" are nearing their weight-loss goal. Olivia Mendoza has shed an impressive 20 pounds and is just 10 away from her goal weight. Laura Nalls is only six pounds from her goal of 140 pounds.

"For the last 10 years losing weight has been a part of my everyday life," said Ms. Nalls, who credits her weight loss to Weight Watchers and an absence of sweets. "I lose it and gain it back right away, but hopefully this time will be different. Since I started the Biggest Loser competition I committed myself to lose the weight for good."

Along with better-fitting clothes and a more positive self-image, Ms. Mendoza is reaping side benefits from the weight loss.

"My cholesterol has dropped from over 200 to 170, just through exercise and healthier eating," said Ms/ Mendoza, whose weight loss is so dramatic people stop her in the office hallways to comment on her appearance. "I've been getting a lot of compliments from family and friends. It feels great."

Each participant has adopted a different fitness and healthy eating plan, but just about all have stepped up their exercise and are passing on calorie-packed desserts.

"I have lost 10 pounds through portion control, less snacking and no late-night eating," said Barbara Lucas, Institute of Surgical Research. "Now that I'm beginning to exercise, I expect even better results."

"I've found it takes two - diet and exercise," said Debra Barresi, San Antonio Recruiting Battalion, whose weight has been "yo-yo-ing" since the competition started. "There is little to no success for me if I do one without the other. Kind of like marriage ... success only through tag teaming.

"Weight loss is a lifelong battle for me and I know one day I will win," she said.

Some "losers" have shed pounds quicker than others, success that Ms. Burrell attributes in part to "great genetics." Age also seems to be a factor; two of the losers with the greatest amount of weight loss are also the youngest. Thirty-three-year-old Mendoza and 29-year-old Sunshine Jeane are contenders for the Biggest Loser title. However, the average age of the contestants is 48.

While age is a factor, it's not the only one, Ms. Burrell said.

"As you grow older your metabolism slows," she said. "It's tougher to lose weight as you grow older but the golden rule still applies: You must expend more calories than you intake. Either consume fewer calories or burn more off through exercise."

Ms. Burrell recommends beginners exercise for 30 minutes three to five times a week and urges people to check out the new food pyramid on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site,, for tips on healthy eating.

"Obesity numbers are staggering, ranging from children to adults, due to the increased consumption of high-calorie, easy-to-eat processed foods, coupled with a more sedentary lifestyle," Ms. Burrell said. "Most of us work at a computer all day and come home too tired to do anything but eat and go to sleep."

Ns. Burrell recommends people pack a lunch and snacks for the day, cook a nutritious meal in the evening and, above all, "don't give up."

"It takes dedication and hard work but the payoffs are remarkable," Ms. Burrell said. "It is not an easy road but with a support group, like the Biggest Losers, anyone can do it."

When the Biggest Loser competition ends and the losers "graduate" from the program, Ms. Burrell hopes they do so equipped for a lifelong journey.

"You are making lifelong changes that will allow you to live healthier and happier lives," said Ms. Burrell in an e-mail to the losers. "In the end, you are the one who will benefit for years to come."

Ms. Burrell will evaluate final results, which include a taping and weighing, and select the Biggest Loser and two runner-ups Aug. 2. All of the contestants, slimmer or not, will be highlighted in the Aug. 9 edition of the News Leader.

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