Zach and Vanessa Changed Their Lives, and You Can Too!

Vanessa_Maintain Don't Gain If you’re trying to get healthier and lose weight, you don’t need to do it alone.

The 2014 Get Healthy West Georgia Weight Loss Challenge starts this week. It’s the perfect opportunity to turn your New Year’s resolutions into real healthy changes.

Research shows that dieters who have support from a group or a friend are more likely to be successful.

The Get Healthy West Georgia Weight Loss Challenge provides plenty of support to help people reach their goals through a free, 12-week program in which teams and individuals compete to lose weight, increase exercise and improve nutrition. Healthy for Life classes, group fitness activities and convenient weigh-ins provide community encouragement and help participants track their progress. Participants can win weekly prizes, and there are a variety of different prizes for those who successfully complete the challenge.

Last year, more than 1,200 people joined the Weight Loss Challenge and together they lost more than 2,500 pounds.

IMG_0300Zachary Williams, who lost 30 pounds, was the winner of that weight loss challenge.

At the time of the weight loss challenge, Williams was a graduate student at the University of West Georgia working on a master’s degree in teaching with a very hectic schedule. He had a job, was doing student-teaching and taking classes toward his degree.

But he managed to squeeze in some healthy lifestyle changes, and he hopes other people in west Georgia will try to do the same.

A high school athlete in soccer and cross country who weighed 155 pounds upon graduation, Williams started to gain weight during college and in his early 20s. At 25, he weighed 232 pounds at 5’9” and had become relatively inactive due to all the studying and working. His eating habits had also worsened as he frequently grabbed food on the run.

Through participating in the Get Healthy West Georgia Weight Loss Challenge he began to understand that he wasn’t paying enough attention to his health and his body. And he made up his mind to change that.

“I started realizing all the things I had done that were causing me to gain weight,” Williams explained. “I was an athlete and I never really had to think about what I was eating, but that really changed.”

Williams, like many teens and young adults, had gone from a very active lifestyle with intense workouts to a much more sedentary schedule. Beginning in college, he spent hours and hours sitting at desks — studying, writing papers or listening to lectures. And he relied more on fast food.

photoThrough the Get Healthy West Georgia Weight Loss Challenge, he learned a lot about nutrition, calories and healthier eating. He read everything he could online about changing his diet, and made some major changes, including cutting way back on fast food. He started reading food labels and using to track his daily calories. He walks three to four times a week for exercise.

Those healthy changes made a big difference in his weight and overall health. Today he feels great and has kept almost all of the weight off.

Another success story is Vanessa Erikson, a 28-year-old who has struggled with her weight for most of her life.

Erikson and her husband are thinking about starting a family in the near future, and she was determined to get healthier and lose weight before she considered getting pregnant. The Weight Loss Challenge helped her focus on her goals.

“It helped me a lot that the Get Healthy, Live Well emphasis is on being healthier overall, not just on a number on the scale or your pants’ size,” Erikson said.

During the challenge, Erikson kept a log of her food and exercise, and she enjoyed the support of the other participants and the group morale.

Despite doing everything right in terms of diet and exercise, the scale didn’t budge much for Erikson during the challenge. She felt something was wrong, and finally saw a doctor who determined some of her glands were not functioning properly. After the doctor recommended a strict new eating plan with specific dietary changes to improve her glandular function, she immediately began to lose weight.

During last year’s “Maintain Don’t Gain” challenge, which followed the Weight Loss Challenge, she lost nearly 30 pounds.

She still follows the strict eating plan her doctor recommended and continues to gradually lose weight — even managing to lose a couple of pounds over the holidays.

But Erikson isn’t as focused on the scale anymore. She rewards herself for staying on her eating plan and sticking to her exercise routine — not for a number of the scale.

“It helps to reward yourself based on something you can really control, like sticking to your diet rather than losing a couple pounds,” she explains. “I reward myself with something little like a pedicure.”

Erikson still wants to lose more weight and she plans to participate in the 2014 Get Healthy West Georgia Weight Loss Challenge.

So, what’s her advice for those trying to lose weight?

“Stick with it and don’t ever give up,” she says. “Even if you don’t see results on the outside, lots of good things are happening on the inside.”

Anyone who lives or works in Carroll, Haralson or Heard counties can participate in the 2014 Get Healthy West Georgia Weight Loss Challenge.

Sign up today at, which also provides a free online fitness and nutrition tracker and group exercise calendar.

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