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RANGELY I When Debi Pearson Tade went online to check on a birthday promotion at a grocer’s website, she didn’t know she was beginning a four-month journey toward better health.
But that’s what happened when the 1989 Rangely High School graduate and 41-year-old mother of four saw that H-E-B, the biggest food retailer in Texas, was sponsoring the Slim Down Showdown, a regional contest focused on improving contestants’ health and helping them lose weight.
“It was the last day to get the application in,” Tade said. “When I was chosen, I was completely shocked.”
Tade, who lives with her husband and children in Cypress, Texas, was one of 25 contestants selected from more than 600 applicants for the Showdown, which began as an employee competition in 2010 and opened to H-E-B customers this year. The contest is part of the company’s focus on improving the health of a state in which 75 percent of the adult population is projected to be overweight or obese adult population by 2040 if trends don’t change.
But radically changing your lifestyle, even if there’s plenty of motivation to do it, is no easy task. In mid-June, the Showdown contestants, who range from stay-at-home moms to educators to a television personality, spent the better part of a week at “Fit Camp” in San Antonio. They completed workouts with personal trainers and talked food choices with nutritionists. They underwent stress tests and EKGs and met with doctors who specialized in losing weight without surgery. They heard from people who’d taken weight off and kept it off over time.
“We got tired, the schedule was so full,’”Tade said. “At the end of five days, you start to miss your family. But I felt like a sponge, there was so much information to take in.”
Contestants then returned home to begin transforming their eating and exercise habits. They were given help to do it, including a Gold’s Gym membership, a calorie counter, a pantry filled with healthy food, and plenty of support from coaches, family and friends.
Now in week three of the 16-week contest, Tade knows that even these tools are no golden ticket to weight loss. Three years ago, she lost 70 pounds on the Weight Watchers program before gaining it back after the birth of her son Sterling.
“I am this way because of the choices I’ve made,” she says. “I think those of us in the contest have taken ownership of our weight and are willing to be open about it. It’s not the easiest thing to share this journey in such a public way. But we’re upbeat and positive and know we can change it.”
Making that change has meant understanding what a healthy body weight really looks like.
“I’ve always been told I should weigh 130-some-odd pounds, which I probably weighed when I was 12,” Tade says. “When I was 18 or 19, I was probably just where I should have been weight-wise, yet I always thought I was 40 or 50 pounds overweight. I was letting what I needed to look like revolve around what I had seen, which surprises me now because I wasn’t really somebody who cared what other people thought about me.”
Motivated by the Showdown, Tade’s now focusing on healthy eating and exercise as a permanent lifestyle, not something she’s doing apart from her family and for a finite period of time.
“Family involvement is important,” she says. “My kids are chopping veggies and helping make meals. One of my daughters, who loves sugar, is realizing that not everything that tastes good is good for you. So we’re drinking smoothies with healthy ingredients in them and finding things that work.”
Other things that work are the Showdown blogs, where contestants write about their experiences, from discoveries about ingredient labels to cooking with new or unfamiliar foods. There’s also a private Facebook group where the contestants can share daily challenges and successes.
In August, they will return to San Antonio for weigh-ins and blood tests to measure progress and ensure contestants are following program rules. They’ll go back in October for the competition’s finale, where the contestant whose health parameters have improved the most will win $10,000. Another $5,000 will go to the “fan favorite,” or the contestant whose blog claims the most social shares, “likes,” and comments.
Though winning the contest would be nice, Tade says that her motivation for joining the Slim Down Showdown is broader than that.
“Losing the weight is nice, but it’s not the most important part,” Tade says. “At 41 years old, I have a two-year-old. I have more responsibility to be around for him, to take better care of myself for his sake.”
Her lasting connection to northwest Colorado is another motivator.
“Rangely will always be home in my heart,” Tade says. “I know it’s harder to get to food that ‘s healthy, living in Meeker and Rangely. But there are skills you learn from living there, like once-a-month shopping and meal planning, that can help make that happen. If you’re planning, your meals will tend to be healthier and cheaper.”
To learn more about the contestants or to follow Tade’s blog, go to http://hebslimdown.wordpress.com/ and click on the photos on the right side of the page.