Lighten Up Programs Use Small Steps
May 17, 2004
By MELISSA TRUJILLO, Associated Press Writer

MILWAUKEE - There are no complicated diets, expensive workout equipment or rigid personal trainers. For participants in Lighten Up Wisconsin, the lifestyle changes are much smaller — drink one more glass of water each day; eat colorful fruits and vegetables; take the stairs instead of the elevator.

The program, similar to those in 15 other states, is teaching people to make healthy choices in a state where almost 58 percent of residents were overweight or obese in 2002, and cheese, beer and sausage are practically their own food groups.

"It's not such a threatening thing anymore," Sandi Tritz said of dieting and exercising since joining Lighten Up Wisconsin. "They weren't so outlandish like I had to run a marathon."

More than 20,500 people are involved in some form of Lighten Up nationally, said Nicole Mueller, director of health initiatives for Wisconsin Sports Development Corp., a nonprofit sports management organization that runs the state's version.

In Wisconsin, more than 1,700 people lost an average of 4.9 pounds midway through the five-month program. That may not seem like much, but health experts say even the smallest improvements count.

"Starting and losing five pounds of weight is better than not starting and gaining five pounds," said Mary Kay Sones, a health communications specialist with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Lighten Up participants join in teams, which collectively turned in their weights in January and March. A final weigh-in in June will determine the three Wisconsin teams — out of 226 — that lost the most weight, earning them statewide recognition and medals.

"We never see their individual weight," Mueller said. "They don't have to feel so pressured as individuals."

Each week the program sends teams a challenge, such as parking the car farther away from the office or cutting out high-fat salad dressings.

Each challenge eliminates just a few calories at a time, but that adds up, registered dietitian Cathy Alessi said. Changing from a peppercorn salad dressing five days a week to lower-calorie Italian dressing cuts almost five pounds a year, said Alessi, a Nutrition Information Specialist for the Food and Nutrition Information Center within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Small changes do take longer, but most of the time people find them more effective," she said.

Melissa Surek has lost at least 10 pounds since starting the program, in part, she said, because she doesn't get discouraged.

"It's something easy enough where you can go, 'Oh, I can do that for a week,' " said the 31-year-old, who works in a Medford health clinic.

Other weight loss programs seemed to set her up for failure, she said, such as requiring 100 sit-ups every day.

"Well, I can never stay with those," she said. "The fact that it's happening little by little, I think it's a lot better."

Tritz, a 53-year-old office worker from Marshfield, appreciates the support she gets from her six teammates, all her co-workers. Her team lost 22 pounds by March, she said.

"I'm finding that we're able to connect with each other," Tritz said. "Sometimes all you need is a glance."

Sones said losing just a few pounds can give people the confidence to exercise more or further improve their diets.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Iowa, said Kim Nanke, special events coordinator for Iowa Games, the nonprofit organization that created the first Lighten Up program in 2002.

Last year, she said, nearly 12,000 Iowa team members completed more 2.6 million miles of activity and lost about 23.5 tons of weight.

On the Net
Lighten Up Wisconsin
Lighten Up Iowa
Food and Nutrition Information Center