Fit Family Challenge, Part 2


Before the first Fit Family Challenge activity minute was ever logged at, Carolina Parent’s spotlight families were hard at work making healthy lifestyle changes. During March and April, the Ojalas and Gomez families met with fitness expert Evie Houtz, nutrition expert Tracy Owens and balance expert Gaye Esser. The advice our panel offered may just help your family, too. Follow along as we embark on a journey toward better health.

Evie Houtz
Program Manager for Be Active Kids
Fit Family Challenge Fitness Expert

Let’s face it, when it comes to making lifestyle changes, sticking with an exercise program is hard.

“It’s time and priorities,” Houtz says. “You have to prioritize your day so physical activity is one of those appointments on your calendar.”

The parenting years are especially difficult for maintaining an exercise routine. Both families are on the go constantly, and neither has found a way to make fitness come first.

Ben and Stacy Ojala have a good head start with their kids. Eight-year-old Julia and 6-year-old Andy take part in the neighborhood swim club and enjoy rollerblading. Ian, 5, is not quite as active, although he enjoys pretend play and would like to try soccer.

Recently, the Ojalas gave themselves another reason to stay active: getting a dog. Now they are committed to walking with their newest family member, but Houtz points out that it takes more to get real fitness benefits.

“Family walks are great and you’re burning calories, but you’re not getting the fitness gain from it,” she says. “In order to do so, you have to increase the intensity — walking up and down hills, walking a little bit faster.”

Ben works from home and keeps weights in the garage, so he has some flexibility to fit in a workout or get outside for a walk during the day.

But — “Exercise is not Ben’s thing,” Houtz says. “He’s still trying to find what he wants to do. He’s a morning person. He can get up and get it done, whether it’s cardiovascular or weight training. He knows how to do it.”

Stacy has a YMCA membership and belongs to a kickboxing facility she has never visited. Houtz says Stacy just needs a challenge to get her moving.

The Gomezes face motivational challenges as well. David and Katherine Gomez were once very active. Both ran marathons and participated in triathlons. But when Anthony, who turns 7 this month, and Andrew, 2, came along, their activity level slowed down.

“They want to have an event to train for,” Houtz says. “They need something to look forward to so they have a reason to be physically active.”

She has suggested events like the Big Muddy Challenge in Youngsville on May 2 and a charitable family beach volleyball tournament on May 23 sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club and Southern Sand Volleyball in Apex as ways to get the family excited about getting fit together. Often the hardest part is getting started, but Houtz says there is a long-term reward once you shake off the rust.

“With being physically active, you increase your energy,” she says. “People think it’s going to make you more worn out. In the beginning it may, but over time you will feel more fit and have more energy. You’re going to want more physical activity.”

Tracy Owens
Owner of Triangle Nutrition Therapy
Fit Family Challenge Dietician

Tracy Owens knows what she is up against when she counsels clients about their dietary needs. Many have fallen into bad habits over time.

“The biggest hurdle is helping people get in a position to do the right thing,” Owens says. “They know everything they’re supposed to do, they just don’t do it. The ‘why’ for each person is so different. But it ultimately comes back to a time issue.”

The Ojalas are doing some things the right way. They have a produce box delivered to their home each week and try to feed their children healthy foods. But sometimes, the mere thought of organizing a balanced meal can make busy parents look for convenient alternatives.

“The planning often seems like this huge dark cloud that hangs over your head,” Owens says. “When people do plan out meals, it becomes so elaborate that it saps their energy and they say, ‘There is no way I can even do this.’”

The Ojalas often keep things under control on weeknights, but weekends are another story.

“It all unravels for them on the weekend,” she says. “They do a whole lot more eating out on the weekends than they want to do. It also bothers them from a financial point of view because it’s expensive to eat out.”

Relying on restaurants for too many meals is an everyday issue for the Gomez family.

“They eat out a lot,” Owens says. “They both want to teach their children to eat healthy and make good choices. But Katherine said she has read so much stuff that she is completely overwhelmed and frustrated.”

Both Gomez children have been underweight through the years. Over time, David and Katherine became more concerned about making sure their children were getting plenty of calories. Eating out served as an easy to way to meet their needs. Now they want to reverse that trend. Owens says David and Katherine need to be clear about their intentions. She has encouraged them to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely) goals.

“Change is hard,” Owens admits. “It’s got to start with, ‘Are you ready to change? Are you just thinking about it? Do you want to do it one day? Or are you just fed up and you’ve had it?’”

Gaye Esser
Owner of Redefine Balance
Fit Family Challenge Balance Expert

Gaye Esser began working with both families by giving them a quiz. She asked the parents to look at how they actually spent their time, then compare it to how they would like to spend it. Esser says both families have an idea of what family life should look like, but not a lifestyle that matches it.

“We tried to pinpoint what is truly important to them and see how they are in and out of alignment,” Esser explains, adding that the Ojalas would benefit from shifting to a more realistic view of their priorities.

“The Ojalas have expectations that they aren’t living up to, so they have to be clear on whether those expectations are realistic,” Esser says. “Then they have to figure out what will support those expectations.”

She feels the Ojalas could better their approach to a healthy life by establishing more specific, long-term goals.

“Use a quantitative measure,” Esser says. “You need to have some wins along the way. You need to know that, ‘This week we did awesome. We’re really making progress and changes in the family.’”

The same goes for the Gomez family.

“Their values are really important to them, and they have ideals about family and balance, focusing on health and family,” Esser says. “But the life they are living is in contrast to that right now.”

She immediately touched on David and Katherine’s reliance on eating out.

“How much time does it actually take when you go out to eat?” she says. “You could spend less time and have more focused family time making a meal at home.”

Eating a healthy diet and exercising with purpose are difficult undertakings. They require the support of a proper emotional approach.

“Frame of mind is huge,” Esser says. “I ask them to listen to the negative things they are saying, like ‘I can’t lose weight’ or ‘I don’t have enough time.’ A lot of times, they’re things that are running in the background that we don’t even know we say and tell ourselves. They really do inhibit ourselves from being the best we can be.”

Esser sent both families positive affirmations to complete the process.

“Now they’re starting to have a different outlook,” she says. “If they shift what they think, then they will shift what they create.”

Kurt Dusterberg is a freelance writer who lives in Apex. He is the Carolina Hurricanes correspondent for and author of the book, “Journeymen: 24 Bittersweet Tales of Short Major League Sports Careers.”



Get Out There!


Stop by our Fit Family Challenge booth at these fun family-oriented events:

May 2 – Big Muddy Challenge, Youngsville;

May 2 – Meet in the Street, Wake Forest;

May 23 – Boys & Girls Club Beach Volleyball Tournament, Apex;


Info box:


Register for our Fit Family Challenge at and sign up for our Healthy Families e-newsletter at

Categories: Family Health, Fit Family Challenge, Health, Nutrition