Big Winners in Healthy Families Challenge


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Carolina Parent kicked off 2013 with a challenge for Triangle families to eat healthier, be active and adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Parents tracked their family members' physical activity and healthy habits online, competing for the grand prize of $1,000 and other giveaways during the challenge.

Grand-prize winners adopt new attitude

By March 31, the Zimmer family of Sanford (pictured) had logged more than 19,000 points in the Healthy Families Challenge online tracker, winning the $1,000 grand prize in addition to improving their lifestyle.

Mom Constance Zimmer read about the challenge in the January magazine - and stepped on the scale a few days later. She says she didn't like what she saw, recognized she wasn't feeling her best, and decided something had to change.

As a certified nursing assistant in home health care, Zimmer says she also felt hypocritical talking with patients about their health. So she signed up for the challenge, along with her husband, William; daughter, Logan Gay, 21; and two stepsons, Billy, 11, and Harrison, 10. (Her two older sons, Joseph Gay, 19, and Nicholas Gay, 23, supported their efforts, but didn't participate in the challenge.)

Zimmer focused on incorporating nutritious food, replacing processed favorites with fresh or organic choices. "Small differences can reap long-term rewards," Zimmer says.

Constance and William joined a gym partway through the challenge, along with Joseph and Nicholas, and they encouraged the younger boys to play outside more, especially before playing video games. William, a firefighter for the Town of Cary and a captain for Carolina Trace in Sanford, regularly incorporated exercise into his day.

But the family didn't stop there. They also eat less red meat, adopted a whole-food approach and planted a garden.

"I'm more mindful of what I put in - and on - the body," says Zimmer, who lost almost 20 pounds during the challenge.

She has noticed positive changes in the younger boys' behavior when they are more active, and Logan, who has autism, has also benefited from their healthier diet.

"It's a different lifestyle now, not just a three-month change," Zimmer says.

Expert assistance for families

Two Triangle families, the Steeds of Apex and the Carrs of Wake Forest, received personal assistance from a team of experts during the three-month challenge: Meredith Dolan, a registered dietitian with Be Active Kids; Cindy Goulding, a licensed behavioral counselor and health and wellness coach; and Kara Lockhart and Beth Mosher-Blount, trainers at the YMCA of the Triangle.

Tina Steed and Elizabeth Carr shared their families' challenges and successes through blogs and as reported by Carolina Parent in articles. Triangle health and wellness experts also provided tipsand advice for all families through blogs, newsletters and articles.

Help for healthier eating

Steed and Carr both focused on healthier eating as part of their healthy lifestyle changes. They tried new recipes and cooking techniques, assisted by Dolan, who provided several resources, tips and ideas.

Steed and her daughters, ages 10 and 8, often ate out or ate the same things at home. Dolan went grocery shopping with her, pointing out new foods to try and ways to cook them simply but healthfully. Dolan also provided several recipe websites to try.

A change in Steed's approach was just as important as the tips and resources. "You need to have the knowledge of how to do the right things," Steed says, "[but] you also need to have the mindset."

She now makes better choices regarding what she eats. "I can see as a result of all of this, the choices I'm making are different," says Steed, who has lost about 15 pounds.

Carr credits Dolan for helping her "think outside the box" regarding food. She appreciates the assistance figuring out her family's roadblocks on the quest for a healthier lifestyle and having support to reach their goals.

For example, Goulding helped Carr curb her chocolate craving by identifying her triggers and initially substituting a 90-calorie Fiber One brownie bar for her previous handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips.

"I don't eat chocolate that often now," she reports. "I don't have the craving anymore."

She has also learned creative ways to cook vegetables, tempting her husband and sons, ages 6 and 3, to try new dishes, and easy substitutions speed up meal preparation. Carr's favorite recipes sites include Enjoy How to Cook, especially the vegetable section, and Let's Fight Fat.

Trying new activities

Steed knew from the start that she wanted to try a variety of things to see what would work for her family. She and her girls were already active, but the Healthy Families Challenge helped them branch out and find new ways of exercising. They tried Zumba, yoga, Friday night family classes and Kid Fit classes at the Cary Family YMCA. They also incorporated exercises at home that their trainer, Mosher-Blount, showed them. Ten-year-old Day even made up her own routines.

Steed says her girls learned "you don't necessarily needs weights and gimmicks. You can exercise on your own."

Carr's family also tried classes at the YMCA at The Factory and worked with their trainer, Lockhart, to find exercises they could do together. Since Carr home schools, she incorporated exercise breaks into their school day and plans to continue these.

"We want to keeping working out and eating healthier," she says. "It's a lot more a part of our lifestyle now. It was on the back burner covered in dust, and now it's on the front burner."

Congratulations to the following Triangle families who also won prizes during the Carolina Parent Healthy Families Challenge:

-       Jessica Jones won a kid's bike from Performance Bicycle.

-       Sheinita Hawkins, Sandra Wallace, Kelly Lynch and LeeAnn Plumer, and their families, won healthy living prize packs.

-       Marcy Bauer won a $100 Harris Teeter gift card.

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