November 29, 2004

Student Teams Losing Weight to Win

On TV's The Biggest Loser, teams of grossly overweight adults are pitted against one another to see which gaggle can lose the most weight.

They try to survive grueling workouts and radical changes to their diets in the hope of winning $250,000.

At Results Fitness Studios in West Palm Beach, teams of students from Cardinal Newman High School and Palm Beach Lakes High School started dueling fat demons of their own this month.

Personal trainer Chris Adair selected four students from each school to participate. The overweight teens are motivated by their diabetes, dreams of playing sports and a desire for self-confidence that eroded with years of being teased. They work out regularly and have changed their diets for the next six weeks - and maybe permanently.

Unlike the TV show, however, they aren't choosing which teammates to knock off each week - they're in this together.

When they talk of why they are involved, it's about how good it feels to have more energy and willpower now that they're the seeing results of their dedication.

"Even if we don't win the challenge, we're still leaving here with something," said Chanel Brathwaite, a sophomore at Palm Beach Lakes. At the start of the program this month, Chanel weighed 227 pounds and her body fat measured about 50 percent.

Adair surveyed students from both schools, looking for motivated kids who really had health problems with their bodies. He gently molds students' arms and legs on machines and encourages them as they struggle through push-ups and other exercises.

Each team spends three days a week working out and getting measured. Although they may not look particularly plump, Adair pays less attention to weight loss and more to converting their fat to muscle. His gym wall is filled with photographs of adults who came to him to undo years of being sedentary and eating poorly. That spawned the challenge, which he hopes will right the course of his eight young charges.

"We're (usually) dealing with 40-year-old people with years of bad habits," said Adair, who also coaches high school sports. "We realize there's a huge problem."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified obesity as a key health concern, having reached an epidemic rate.

So John, Angel, Katherine, Charles, Chanel, George, Mario and Danielle are straining their willpower to drive past McDonald's, pass up the chocolate chip cookies and candy sold at school and to show up at the gym three days a week.

"Every single thing we put in our mouth, we have to write it down," said Angel Tesoriero, a student at Cardinal Newman who hopes to regain the body she had when she used to figure skate regularly. The petite brunette weighed about 142 pounds and her body fat measured 43 percent at the beginning of the challenge. When her second weigh-in showed a gain, she ultimately confessed to Adair about pizza she couldn't resist at an office party at her job.

"I won't ever cheat again," she pledged, admitting that part of her motivation not to eat any more junk food is just so she won't have to write it down.

During a recent workout, George Rodgers is cutting up instead of doing push-ups. The Palm Beach Lakes freshman was taken off the football team after one game. His muscle-less 218-pound heft and 40 percent body fat kept him from running as fast as the other players.

"How are you going to be able to play football like that?" Adair prods. "I'm going to put you on the treadmill until you remember how to do a push-up." George runs hamster-style while the others do jumping jacks and stomach crunches, and he finally earns a reprieve by flawlessly demonstrating an exercise called the mountain climber.

At two weeks into the challenge, phrases like "dietary fiber" are rolling off the kids' tongues. They have learned to use the aerobic equipment themselves. Panting and sweating, they don't stop until Adair tells them it's OK.

The students get a constant reminder of why they're in the program from the wall in their workout room:

"As a new plant breaks the ground, so must we sometimes push against difficulty in bringing forth our dreams."

To track the students' progress go to

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