ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Individuals across Aberdeen Proving Ground are combating
the battle of the bulge by participating in Slim Down weight loss challenges.

Personnel at the Public Health Command, Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic and Human Resources employees from the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, to name a few, have started informal
challenges with coworkers, motivating each other to lose weight.

"Competitions are totally voluntary, and are not endorsed by any organization, said Wendy LaRoche, the installation's community health promotion officer, PHC. "Challenges are led by people who have a desire to motivate themselves and others to lose weight. Individual groups come up with their own guidelines."

LaRoche, who brought awareness of the Slim Down challenges to an installation level, said getting the right support when you're trying to lose weight is key to success. She said individuals participating in the increasingly popular weight loss challenge are holding each other accountable.

"Accountability is an extremely great motivator," said LaRoche. "In fact, it is the basis for the most successful endeavors, worldwide."

"The power of social support helped inspire me throughout my weight loss journey," said Esther Dada, an employee of PHC, who lost 30 pounds last year while participating in weight loss challenges on post. "On a daily basis for months, my fellow colleagues provided support, encouragement, and accountability."

Groups participate in healthy recipe swaps, diet journals, walking clubs, and Lunch 'n Learn sessions. LaRoche said convenient access to fitness equipment and exercise classes on post is another level of health support the garrison is offering, and one that is making a difference. A
group of PHC employees have challenged one another to visit the gym with a partner. KUSAHC employees decided to use the clinic's training center to do yoga, Zumba, and work up a sweat to belly dancing DVDs during their breaks.

And as spring approaches, more employees will take to the installation's walking trails and sidewalks. A group of CMA employees gather regularly and have started walking during their lunch break.

As these weight loss challenge groups gain traction at APG, LaRoche is encouraging other individuals and organizations to participate.

She offered the following suggestions to kick start a program:

Designate POCs.

Establish challenge rules, including determining weigh-in dates. She said weight should be kept confidential, noting CMA's method in which loss is tracked by percentage points so that individual weights are not revealed. After a weigh-in, the person who lost the most percentage of weight loss is revealed in an e-mail. At PHC, participants came up with code names and weight lost was tracked in a spread sheet.

Identify measurers/speakers and create measure forms.

Obtain health promotion materials.

Offer a prize for the biggest loser. In the case of PHC, competitors were divided into two teams. The team that lost the most weight was treated to a special lunch by the other team. Another option is to ask participants to pay a small fee to join the competition, with the money used to purchase a gift card for the winner. For many participants, however, losing weight is its own reward.

CMA employee Laura Witting described the weight loss challenge as a life-changer.

"We talk about who has lost the most weight at meetings," she said. "It's is really fun. This whole process has been very beneficial, eye-opening, and I think it has brought us closer together."

KUSAHC Commander Lt. Col. Ellen Daly is participating in KUSAHC's weight loss challenge and said she is excited to see her teammate's progress.

"So many diseases--heart disease and diabetes--can be averted just by losing weight," Daley said.

She admitted that she struggles with healthy eating and taking time to exercise, so recording her progress in a journal that is reviewed by KUCAHC Community Health Nurse Sue Singh, has helped her.

Daly said after reading the journal entries, Singh provides feedback and support, and this has held her accountable for her choices.

Rebecca Branco, also from KUSAHC, said as a result of the challenge, she lost 11 pounds in one month and has decided to train for a 5K competition that will take place in July.

"I believe that exercise is the key to having a good life," she said. "I am doing this for myself. I am feeling better, and want to continue this active lifestyle."

LaRoche said that this spring the garrison will host a "Spring Into Wellness Challenge." Check APG News and the Community Health Promotion Website for more updates.

For more information on weight loss or other healthy living initiatives, call LaRoche at 410-417-2312.