By Betty Kossick
Two Jasper couples look a lot different in 2012 than they did a year ago. How does almost 250 pounds less sound? That’s how much four friends lost among themselves, since they formed a support group with other friends to lose weight.
Diana Garber, who facilitates CHOICES, an acronym for Choosing Healthy Options in Challenging Everyday Situations, said, “Some church members approached me about starting a weight loss program.” She shared that they combined ideas to come up with a challenging moniker, rules of participation, a pledge, logo and membership requirements. With a no-fee program plan in place, they opened it up to other church members and the community in January 2011.
Joe and Lezah Stevenson (right) “When we first started, Joe looked at me and said, ‘I want to lose weight and make healthy choices so that I can live longer - because I love you.’ Our love for each other is our motivation.”
Jon and Diana Garber(left) have found that a favorite walking spot is around the duck pond at Jasper City Park. They said the time zips by when they exercise together.
Diana and her husband Jon and Lezah and Joe Stevenson battled weight for years. They all tried to lose before. Joe noted that he never joined a group previously, nor did Lezah, but the Garbers have tried some of the best-known National and International programs. They all lost for a short time - then gained it all back. Why did they succeed this time? Their unanimous answer, “Accountability!”
Joe, who is the principal/ teacher at Jasper Christian School, pointed out that he can’t recall a time in his life when weight hasn’t hounded him -until now. “The group support and working (at the weight loss) with my wife made the difference for me,” he said. “We work as a team and give each other encouragement.”
Joe and Lezah attribute the fact that the group meets weekly and have a “weigh-in force,” as motivating factors. Jon and Diana agree.
Lezah, who is a lead pre-K teacher for Dalton Public Schools, said that it was hard for her to confess that she was a food addict. These days she noted that both she and Joe make intentional choices, enjoying breakfast as the larger meal, eating smaller portions and counting their calories. They plan meals together, though Joe is the family cook.
Diana made this observation: the other members of CHOICES count on each other to lose, “Everybody wants to succeed in life - and weight loss is no exception.” She said that there is one small fee, as well as a prize: if anyone gains weight, they pay one dollar and the biggest loser each week chooses a gift from a gift basket. Regardless, there is never any pressure placed upon anyone, the program is as voluntary as it gets.
For the Garbers, the bad news of finding themselves on the brink of poor health pushed them to do something, “We met with our physician who warned us that we were within two years of developing Type 2 diabetes if we did not lose the weight. Our blood sugar was borderline, our Vitamin D levels were extremely low.” Their physician encouraged them to lose the weight and gave them his blessing to do CHOICES, plus assisted them with Vitamin D and B12 injections and suggested a plan to eat six small meals a day to encourage their metabolism.” Diana added, “We encourage everyone to discuss weight loss with their primary physician.”
Lezah noted that she enjoys a big health improvement. With no more blood pressure meds and good cholesterol she feels energetic. “I don’t have to wear ‘tent’ dresses anymore,” she said. “I can wear stylish clothes - and I feel pretty.” Feeling better about themselves is the overall response from the both couples.
Jon, who is a truck driver, said that he loves it when people notice his weight loss, “and I’m able to tell my story.” Maintaining the loss is harder for him that the initial losing, he noted, but to continue feeling well, he’s committed to losing 25 more pounds.
He’s found that eliminating anything “white” from his food choices works best for him such as bread, potatoes, rice, sugar, flour and corn. An aid for him is drinking lots of water and choosing to exercise with Diana.
Not all the CHOICES members carried heavy baggage. Some only needed to lose a minimal amount of weight. But all wanted to learn healthy eating habits.
The group helps each other accomplish their goals by sharing what works and what doesn’t work for them. It’s an education-based program, where they learn about proper serving portions, low fiber, protein and how carbohydrates are stored by the body, fuel foods, healthy recipes, proper food preparation and exercise. Often professionals, who have a passion for proper nutrition and healthy living, also share pointers with the group. The program modifies easily to fit individual needs. “What works for one person does not necessarily work for the majority, since no two people are exactly alike,” Diana stressed.
CHOICES is not a diet program. It’s a lifestyle, all members emphasize. Part of that includes exercise. Walking is the favorite exercise of choice. Diana, who is marketing director for Appalachian Country Magazine, admitted exercise is the hardest of it for her but she’s vigilant because she knows it’s a must. She and Jon have found that a favorite walking spot is around the duck pond at Jasper City Park. They said the time zips by when they exercise together.
Better health, as well as better appearance is the reward. Joe said, for the times when he feels that he went to bed hungry (he didn’t, it’s just that old hankering for a late-night snack), “My joints hurt less and my blood pressure is down. I’m comfortable with the way I look – and I feel great. That gives me a self assurance and confidence to move forward with my life.”
Diana and Jon noted that their newfound stamina and energy are a boost to their well-being. She said, “I’m no longer taking many of the medications I once took. The pain has not completely vanished but it’s much more tolerable now that we’re exercising. Jon and I are able to do more things together now.” Jon added, “With reduced medications and pain and swelling gone, I can walk six to eight miles. We both feel 10 years younger.”
What was the most radical change for the Garbers? They no longer eat in front to the TV. Diana urged a point, “It’s not easy giving up the things you thought made you happy until you realize what a food addict you’ve become. Food addiction is very serious and can be as devastating to your health as much as alcohol and drugs.
“We serve a God who gives us the gift of choice. We don’t always make the right choices on our own, but if we ask Him, He will help us make the right choices.”
Lezah expressed their weight-loss journey poignantly, “When we first started, Joe looked at me and said, ‘I want to lose weight and make healthy choices so that I can live longer - because I love you.’ Our love for each other is our motivation.”
The overall total for the Jasper CHOICES group’s first anniversary is 336 pounds lost by eight people. The Garbers, the Stevensons and the rest of the “losers” invite area residents to join with them when they meet each Monday from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the lower level fellowship hall of the Jasper Seventh-day Adventist Church, 600 Burnt Mountain Road (next to Pickens County Library).