Lose weight or lose your career … it was an easy choice for Petty Officer 2nd Class Oscar Garcia.
The 10-year Navy veteran failed a unit-administered body fat test last November.
“I was told I needed to meet Navy standards or my career was going to end,” said Garcia, an administrative specialist for Naval Special Warfare Unit 2.
Sailors can receive an administrative separation if they fail a physical fitness assessment three or more times in four years. The November test was Garcia’s second time at failing.
“It’s three strikes and you’re out,” he said.
Garcia was determined to fight for his career. “All that I’ve been through — my career — it’s not just for me, it’s for my family too,” he said.
He decided to sign up for the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s Lose to Win Body Challenge.
The challenge, in its third year, is designed to motivate and educate participants to adopt healthy lifestyle habits and gain fitness knowledge.
It’s also a competition to see who can lose the most weight and body fat in 12 weeks.
Much like the reality television series “The Biggest Loser,” which the competition is loosely based upon, participants vie for prizes. Only instead of a $250,000 cash prize, AAFES gifts certificates in varying amounts are awarded to the top five men, women and teams of two.
This year, from Jan. 7 to April 1, 105 women and 70 men submitted to five weigh-ins and body fat measurements.
Garcia, with a recorded contest weight loss of 25.2 pounds and body fat loss of 10.6 percent, placed third in the men’s category.
And he hasn’t stopped. “Up through today, I’ve lost 37 pounds,” he said during the awards ceremony, held April 6 in the Patch Fitness Center.
The real news is that he passed the Navy’s body fat test on April 7 and physical readiness test on April 8. “It feels real good,” he said.
How did he do it?
“I watched what I ate. I cut out breads, pastas, German beer — basically my [simple] carb intake. I ate a lot of salads,” he said.
Garcia didn’t keep a food diary. “I worried about my calorie intake, but I didn’t count calories. In the supermarket, I looked at the labels and compared. It took me a longer time to shop because I was really comparing,” he said.
He also made sure to get in plenty of exercise.
Garcia cycled to and from work, from Patch Barracks to Panzer Kaserne, once the weather got warmer. “That’s six or seven miles each way. During lunch I do the elliptical,” he said.
On non-fitness training days, he plays basketball or works out in the Panzer Fitness Center.
Garcia is determined to drop more weight. “I want to see if I can get to 174. That’s my Navy standard weight. I figured I’ve already lost 30 pounds, I can do 20 more,” he said.
After months of hard work and discipline, there’s not much Garcia misses from his old lifestyle, except for maybe one thing.
“I miss the beer. I still have it once in a while; just not as much,” he said.
Now, when Garcia is out with his friends, he reminds himself that each beer is 300 calories, and considers what he will have to do to burn off the extra calories.
Small goals equal 15 pounds
For Air Force Master Sgt. Natasha Sanford-Carr, setting several small goals added up to losses of 15.8 pounds and 2.8 percent body fat, and earned her fifth place in the women’s category.
“I did things gradually, in moderation,” said the mother of two small children. “I made little goals for myself.”
She kept a food diary for the first several weeks. “When I realized how many calories I was eating, I started measuring my food, looking at labels for fat and calorie content, and started portion control,” Sanford-Carr said.
She decided to limit herself to 1,200 to 1,400 calories each day. It meant something had to go.
“I had to cut out chocolate,” she said. “That was a big sacrifice. The first week was the hardest. Every time I wanted chocolate, I gulped down water. It helped.
“After two weeks, you’d be amazed at what you don’t crave,” she added.
As she lowered her calories, she upped her activity. Sanford-Carr went from running two miles three times a week to running five or six times a week.
However, it took a toll. “I pulled a hamstring,” she said. She returned to running three times a week, stretched every day and did strength training on non-running days.
It’s a family affair
When times got tough, Sanford-Carr only had to turn to her husband, Dave Carr, for motivation.
Carr, now a stay-at-home dad after 28 years in the Air Force as a forward air controller, lost 32.8 pounds and 5.9 percent body fat for a fourth place finish.
“It was about time that I did,” he said.
His weight loss methods were simple. “I went back to the basics,” Carr said, explaining that he exercised in the fat-burning zone and watched what he ate.
“The first 20 pounds came off like that,” Carr said. “The next 10 took about six weeks.” He resorted to working out twice a day on some days.
“I’m in better shape now than when I was in,” he said.
Couple aims for the top
Staff Sgt. James and Gina Baker, aka “The Bakery Busters,” lost a combined total of 56.4 pounds and 13 percent body fat and found themselves in the top team slot.
Winning was the objective from the onset. “I’m competitive like that,” Gina said.
The couple, a year into their second tour of Germany, fell prey to the lure of German bakeries — the cheesecake, to be specific.
“Now that there is a bakery on Panzer, it’s too convenient to stop by and pick something up,” said Gina, the team captain.
“Both of us needed to lose weight,” she said, adding that even though their youngest son is 2, she still needed to lose her pregnancy weight, and James, assigned to Special Operations Command Europe, struggled to meet Army weight standards.
With their eyes on the prize, Gina said they both made a commitment to work out at least six days a week.
She was up at 5 a.m. to squeeze in an exercise video workout, or would run later in the day.
“I usually tried to get in 40 minutes. That’s about as much as the kids would tolerate,” she said, explaining that she ran pushing her 2- and 4-year-old sons in a double jogging stroller.
James committed to a 45-minute cardio workout. “He prefers the elliptical [trainer],” she said.
On weekends, they took turns going to the gym. “We didn’t see much of each other,” she added.
Gina said she weighed herself almost daily. She also wore an electronic monitoring system that tracked how many steps she took, how many calories she burned and how many calories she took in.
“It was motivating,” she said.
Her aim was to burn 3,000 calories a day. “I made sure my activity level was up,” she said. “I might take the dog out at 7 p.m. to make sure I hit my mark.”
She also kept her calorie intake between 1,400 and 1,800 calories a day, and tracked her husband’s calories.
“I kept him at 2,000 calories. He stuck to it 99 percent of the time. When his office celebrated a birthday, he would tell me if he had a piece of cake,” she said.
The Bakers tried to stay away from pre-packaged food as much as possible.
“We focused on avoiding processed foods. In the past, I would eat those 100-calorie packs of cookies. Now, I choose an apple,” Gina said.
Restaurant dinners were few and far between. “We avoided eating out,” Gina said. “Maybe we ate out three times [during the contest]. It was easier to make good food choices at home, instead of going out.”
In addition to exercising, eating clean and keeping a food diary, Gina said sharing the same goals was the key to their success.
“One of us wasn’t sitting down eating a piece of pie while the other was eating a carrot,” she said.
175 success stories
In the end, there were 175 success stories.
“We are so proud of every single participant,” said Dena Taylor, the USAG Stuttgart fitness coordinator, who oversaw the weigh-ins.
“This isn’t ‘The Biggest Loser,’ where each contestant has a trainer and nutritionist. These people did it on their own,” she said. “We were simply the check and balance.
“The program is not a weight loss or body fat loss program — it’s a lifestyle change program,” Taylor said.
Her hope is that all the participants will continue on with the changes they have made.
“The successes are not measured in pounds or fat … it’s in longevity,” she said.
If you are interested in acquiring healthy lifestyle habits, contact the USAG Stuttgart Wellness Center and Nutritionist on Patch Barracks at DSN: 590-1744/civ. 06371-9464-1744.
Participants in the Lose to Win 2010 Body Challenge dropped more than 5,400 pounds in the 12-week weight-loss competition.