Losers win big

Weight-loss contest prompts dramatic lifestyle changes

If you want to win a local weight-loss contest, first think about what’s on your plate. A heaping cupful of motivation is essential. Dress that with a spoonful of self-awareness. Season liberally with a cash incentive. Finish the feast with a memorable “dessert” – the knowledge that others, too, can benefit when you remain disciplined in your quest to lose. It’s the cherry on the sundae when winners share their cash rewards with the unsuspecting.

Jennifer McMannis and Bryan McCoy have little in common except as frequent weekly winners of the battle to lose the bulge in the Durango Herald’s 14-week “Lose-To-Win” contest.

Because men and women compete separately, both McCoy and McMannis have been named “Top Man” and “Top Woman” several times at the weekly weigh-ins, and both intend to share their cash winnings with others.

The contest kicked off Jan. 30, when more than 100 locals showed up at the Herald for a mandatory initial weigh in by a registered nurse. The contest rules are simple – weigh in at Anytime Fitness on 14 consecutive Mondays. Whoever loses the largest percentage of weight each week wins a prize valued at no less than $50.

The photos and names of the week’s top male and female winners and eight runners-up are published each Saturday in the Herald. Actual weights are not revealed, only percentages.

On May 7, a final weigh-in will reveal which man and woman will win the $1,000 grand prize. The second- to fifth-place winners will receive cash prizes ranging from $50 to $200. The top losers also win free memberships at Anytime Fitness.

McMannis, 41, and a single parent of five daughters ranging in age from 11 to 21, works as a server in one of Durango’s busiest restaurants, East by Southwest. She also runs She Paints, a one-woman business that specializes in the application of artistic faux finishes.

There was a time when a busy work schedule and home life provided an excuse to eat pizza and fast food from the drive-thru. But not anymore.

Lately, McMannis has been working doubles. Lunch and dinner shifts worked almost back-to-back can amount to 12- to 13-hour days of staring at temptation while practicing self-restraint.

Every day, McMannis counts the calories she takes in and the calories likely to be burned that day. On some days, she starts her morning at the gym. Never mind that she wears a knee brace. Surgery right before Christmas was the coup de grace of 2011, a year filled with frustration and personal disappointment.

“I’ve had numerous hardships, a great deal of personal stress in a five-and-a-half-month period,” McMannis said. “I packed on the pounds. Plus, I made some poor choices.”

Even with physical-therapy appointments cutting into her day, the motivated dieter manages to do the math, making no excuses when the calorie consumption doesn’t precisely compute with the exercise plan for the day.

She knows that edamame is super high in protein and that turkey pepperoni and sweet potatoes can be fabulous treats. In preparation for a week’s worth of family meals, she stir-fries and steams veggies and grills chicken breasts ahead of time.

While her co-workers at East by Southwest may enjoy a late night treat of pot stickers, it’s a meal of grilled asparagus for McMannis.

McMannis is acutely aware that without a game plan every morning and the support of her daughters and co-workers, she isn’t likely to succeed.

“I leave the house with a bag of good food that includes oatmeal, Laughing Cow cheese, almonds, yogurt and cans of tuna,” she said. “I eat from my stash in 100-calorie increments.”

A wide variety of food choices is essential, she said.

McMannis said her goals for 2012 and her competitive nature seemed like a good fit with the Lose-To-Win contest objectives, even though it meant the end of a fast-food lifestyle fueled by her habit of eating for comfort.

“I realized that I needed to take care of myself. It was time for me to take charge. I needed the accountability of a week-to-week weigh in,” she said.

McMannis lost 32 pounds in the first eight weeks of the contest.

“The first week I ate a lot of soup and severely cut back my calorie consumption to kick-start the weight loss,” she said, admitting to some days of consuming no more than 500 calories.

“Just like interval training is good in exercise, it works for me in eating, too. It keeps your metabolism bouncing and guessing,” she said.

McMannis started out to lose 40 pounds but has upped her goal to 50 pounds in hope of winning the $1,000 grand prize to take her family to Disneyland.

“My girls have been super supportive. They are such great kids,”she said.

“Now I’m going to buckle down for the finish. Really crank down the vices and focus on the weight loss. I refuse to not be the winner!”

On the men’s side of the contest, 34-year-old electrical engineer Bryan McCoy lost 32 pounds in six weeks, not because he’s “on a diet” but because he decided to drastically change his lifestyle.

As a runner, cyclist and tri-ahlete in his 20s, McCoy weighed between 150 and 160 pounds. A stint in the military followed by college and 14-hour work days led him to pack on about 15 pounds a year, until he tipped the scales at 215 pounds.

“There was no time to work out. I drank a half pot of coffee every morning, and I ate plenty of fast food. That was followed by cans of Dr Pepper and Red Bull to stay awake at night,” McCoy said.

Late-night snacking while studying in college led to an office job at a Phoenix engineering firm, where he and his colleagues ate all day.

“If there was a doughnut, it was definitely for me,” McCoy said, describing a business culture characterized by coffee-drinking, socializing over lunch and snacking from a jar of treats in the reception area.

“The bowl of candy out front never emptied. Every time you passed it, you grabbed a piece,” he said.

Two and a half years ago, McCoy’s mother died, and he moved his young family back to Durango to be with his father during the adjustment period. Still with the same firm, he now works from an office in his garage when he’s not commuting to Phoenix.

McCoy still puts in long hours, but at least two or three of those work hours are spent at a “walking work station,” a treadmill fitted with a table-top that he designed with the help of his father, Wayne McCoy.

His most recent prototype incorporates a 5 percent incline and is ergonomically correct, allowing him to work efficiently at his computer while burning about 300 calories an hour. “I get to answer emails and then say, “Man, I can’t believe how many calories I just burned,’” he said.

Warning signs of high blood pressure and high cholesterol prompted McCoy to completely change his lifestyle and eventually join the Herald’s weight-loss challenge.

He’s given up sodas and caffeine, he said, instead drinking a half to three quarters of a gallon of water every day. He keeps a meticulous diary of calories and carbohydrates consumed, sticking to an Atkins-type diet that is high in protein and low in carbs.

“I figure input to output,” he said. “Because I’m an engineer, I usually solve problems that way, but I never thought of my body that way until now.”

Breakfast is high in protein. Lunch is a salad with plenty of vegetables, and dinner is lean protein with a tray of fresh vegetables.

“I eat as many vegetables as I can,” he said.

Along with the rest of his family, McCoy’s 64-year-old father is one of his biggest supporters. The two prepare and eat breakfast together every morning.

“He’s down about 30 pounds, too,” the younger McCoy said.

Consistently ranking among the top five male competitors, McCoy keeps track of his competition and his odds of winning the $1,000 cash prize.

If victorious, he intends to donate his winnings to a charity or nonprofit organization such as Feed my Starving Children, which provides nutritionally dense meals to children in need.

“For 25 to 30 cents a day, a child can be fed enough calories and nutrients,” McCoy said. “I’m making myself healthier, so why not share it (the cash reward) with others who need it?”

Janet McCoy helps prepare dinner for the McCoy family Saturday afternoon. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Janet McCoy helps prepare dinner for the McCoy family Saturday afternoon.

Daniel McCoy, 3, left, and his sister, Jasmine, 6, eat dinner at the McCoy table Saturday evening. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Daniel McCoy, 3, left, and his sister, Jasmine, 6, eat dinner at the McCoy table Saturday evening.

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