Fit Family Challenge, Part 3

Bothfamilies At Big Muddy

The Gomez and Ojala families entered the second half of the Fit Family Challenge armed with motivational support and a new way of thinking about meals and fitness. We checked in with them one last time to see how their participation in our Fit Family Challenge has motivated them to lead healthier and more positive lives.


Simple Steps Toward Better Health

Katherine Gomez began the 2015 Fit Family Challenge with lofty expectations.

She found a tasty-sounding recipe — shredded pork carnitas in the Crock-Pot — and headed out to the grocery store, determined to deliver a home-cooked meal that would put her family’s fast-food regimen to shame.

Then she remembered why so many of us often take the easy way out. It was already 9 p.m. and the grocery store didn’t have the pork shoulder she needed. They didn’t have the seasonings the recipe called for either.

“By then it was 10 o’clock,” Katherine says. “I got really frustrated and overwhelmed and I thought, ‘Forget it — I’m just going home.’ I was really discouraged.”

But her outlook improved the next day when she called Fit Family Challenge dietitian Tracy Owens, who suggested that Katherine think about five meals she is already comfortable preparing. A couple of tweaks to the Gomez’s Italian beef sandwiches (hint: leave out the bun) and the family was eating healthier.

Other simple adjustments followed. Katherine’s spaghetti got an easy makeover after she mixed in whole-wheat pasta and added veggies to her jarred sauce.

“Spaghetti at home is better than chicken nuggets and french fries,” Katherine says. “She reminded me that it’s all about progress. For some reason, I needed permission to have these regular home-cooked meals. I had this intention of it being Pinterest-worthy.”

By easing her standards, Katherine has taken a step toward cutting down the number of nights her family goes out for dinner. Prior to the Fit Family Challenge, they ate dinner out 80 percent of the time. Now it’s down to less than 50 percent.

But the biggest change has come in the mornings. Katherine now backs away from the McDonald’s drive-thru in favor of an easier alternative at home that 7-year-old Anthony and 2-year-old Andrew enjoy.

“Now we’re eating oatmeal with diced apples or scrambled eggs with ham and cheese,” she says, noting that her husband, David, is no longer drinking just coffee for breakfast. “That feels really good. Both of my boys will eat oatmeal, so I know they’re getting something that’s not a sugary cereal.”

A New Way of Thinking

As for the fitness portion of the challenge, Katherine’s progress has been slow, partly because she is dealing with plantar fasciitis. But that injury has had an unintended positive side effect. After working around the discomfort in her foot, she is now addressing it with physical therapy. And David, who was overdue for a physical exam, finally went to see a doctor.

“We say that our health is important, but we don’t really take care of our health,” she says. “This challenge has really helped us focus on our well being in general.”

All four Gomezes took part in the Big Muddy Challenge last month, an adventure race in Youngsville during which participants climb, run and crawl — and wind up wet and muddy along the way.

“The fun part is that we’re trying new things and enjoying that,” she says. “I’ve tried group exercises. I love to find a new park to take Andrew to in the morning, something new we can do. We’re keeping an open mind about activities.”

But getting into the swing of an exercise routine has been more difficult for Katherine’s husband.

“David is feeling overwhelmed. It’s a struggle for him,” Katherine admits. “This is a really busy time at work. He hasn’t joined the gym, but he is walking with us in the evenings.”

Katherine can’t claim any weight loss yet, but she can feel some changes.

“I don’t think the scale has budged, but my clothes are fitting a lot better and I’m moving around easier, so that’s a plus,” she says.

Baseball season is underway, which means Anthony is back on the field and David is coaching. Katherine and Andrew are enjoying a Stroller Strides exercise program for moms and little ones. The Gomezes haven’t just changed their ways. They’re changing the way they think.

“It’s been great,” Katherine says. “We’re taking inventory of what we value.”


Time — and Meal — Management

When it comes to maintaining a nutrition regimen, Stacy Ojala seems to have a grasp on one characteristic that trumps them all.

“Willpower,” she says. “We always made a menu for the week. When we would go out during the week, it was because we didn’t feel like eating what we were making. Now we’re sticking to the plan.”

And the plan seems to be working. Stacy looked at their habits and realized busy weekends were affecting their meal choices. The family was often outdoors or away from home on Saturday and Sunday, leaving no one motivated to cook at the end of the day.

The solution? Grilling out or preparing a meal at midday, leaving the evening open for simpler solutions.

“Now, if we’ve been out all day with the neighbors, we just come home and give the kids something small, and Ben and I eat something small, too,” Stacy says. “Sometimes it’s just cereal or cheese and crackers. That way, we’re not going out to a restaurant.”

This change in meal planning also helps the Ojalas manage their time better.

“If we went out to eat on a Sunday night at 6 p.m., we wouldn’t get home until 8:30 or 9 p.m.,” she says. “We would be rushing around getting ready for the week.”

The Ojalas have been trying new recipes, and organization has been a key. Ben works from home, so he often uses part of his lunch break to help prepare food. Interestingly, there has been no pushback from Julia, 8, Andy, 6, and Ian, 5, over the home-cooked meals.

“They don’t really care about going out,” Stacy says. “They’re fine being at home because it gives them more time to be with the neighbors and friends. They’re not the ones who push it as much as we are.”

Positive Perspectives

Now that they have a little more cash in the budget, the Ojalas want to double down on staying fit.

“We want to take the money we’ve saved by not eating out and use it for something like a trampoline park, or something that will be more active,” she says.

She admits there is still work to do. “But since we’ve started, every single night we have taken the kids on a walk,” she says. “We always take them to a playground. They’re all gated in so Ben and I walk the outside and continue to move while they play on the playground.”

Stacy would like to see the kids take the initiative for choosing ways to stay active, and Ian may have taken a step in that direction. He recently mastered riding his scooter, so now he tries to keep up with Andy.

For Julia, Stacy carefully presents the message of eating nutritiously and staying active. She knows girls in Julia’s age group are already aware of body image, so she has figured out how to make the point tactfully.

“It’s about feeling good and being healthy,” Stacy says. “I don’t tell my daughter, ‘I feel fat.’ I’ve been saying, ‘I feel better if I’m at a healthier weight.’ I try to talk to her about it that way, and I talk about how I’m feeling inside, rather than how I look outside.”

Like the Gomez family, the Ojalas participated in the Big Muddy Challenge last month. Fit Family Challenge fitness expert Evie Houtz attended the event to support both families.

“We would never have done a Big Muddy Challenge,” Stacy says. “(The Fit Family Challenge is) giving us an opportunity to try new things and share experiences with other people who seem to be going through the same thing.”

The Ojalas also credit Fit Family Challenge balance expert Gaye Esser with helping them steer clear of setbacks. Ben and Stacy tend to make big goals, only to get discouraged when they can’t implement several changes at once.

“Gaye has been really good about keeping us on track and celebrating small wins,” Stacy says. “It’s about accepting who you are and focusing on positive things, rather than getting discouraged and falling back into old habits.”

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.”

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Categories: Family Health, Fit Family Challenge, Health, Lifestyle, Nutrition, Work-Life, Work-Life Balance