SMU Biggest Losers shed pounds

Members of Saint Mary's University Biggest Loser weight loss program lose inches and gain confidence

Personal trainer Kaleigh Meisner leads the group stretch. (Photo: Kathryn MacDonald)

Michael Joudrey hasn't been to a gym in 30 years. He's a 50 year-old Saint Mary's student taking his MBA. He can't find a scale to hold him. He can't run. He can't climb stairs without effort. He buys a membership to the Tower, Saint Mary's gym. It's 2007.

This September, he joined the Tower's Biggest Loser program and made more progress in the seven-week weight loss course than in the three years before. "I was a big, big boy," says Joudrey. "When I first started out, when I walked 100 yards I thought I was going to die."

The Beginning

Kaleigh Meisner, a third year Saint Mary's student and personal trainer, created the program in October 2009. Only three people enrolled in the first class.

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The number of Canadian adults who engage in physical activity during their leisure time over three years. (Chart: Kathryn MacDonald)

Fellow student Leah Wofsy joined her later as a group fitness instructor. Wofsy studies nutrition and encourages members to log what they eat. She gives advice of what foods to stay away from and what to add.

The program's name comes from the popular reality TV show The Biggest Loser. Meisner says she used the name because it was already recognizable. Her boss didn't like it. "She wanted me to call it The Biggest Winner," she says and laughs. "No, just no."

Meisner says the class size has grown to around 16 people, with 12 "hard core" members, like Joudrey, that come every week. Most members work on campus. Only three are students.

There are three classes a week. Members do intensive cardio exercises and circuit training for 45 minutes. They pant and sweat, red-faced as they jump rope, do crunches on big rubber balls and lift weights.

On Mondays, Wofsy goes through the nutrition logs. On Thursdays they hop on the scales and measure their hips, waist and chest.

Joudrey lost 13 inches in the first seven weeks. He didn't lose any weight but Meisner says this is normal. "Your body composition changes, as you gain muscle and lose fat," she says. "You don't lose a lot of pounds but the inches just drop off."

Joudrey can run easily now. His clothes are looser. His belt was too big for him, so he bought a new one. That one became too big too, so he bought another.

Jamie Whynot, a university employee, noticed posters for the program around campus. She thought a structured program would help her lose more weight. "It's better than just going to the gym and doing whatever," she says. "I didn't know what I was doing." She lost 16 pounds since joining the class last November.

No complaining

Members say that the instructors keep them motivated. They laugh and joke around during the exercises. They also keep things fresh by changing up the routine.

"When you come to this class you don't think," says Meisner. "This is what you're doing today and I'll be here to push you and you're going to do it."

Meisner says success depends on your attitude. "You don't have to come, work out and suffer and hate every minute of it, " she says. "You can have fun."

Some members complain during exercises. "They normally call me names," Meisner jokes. "But I can take it."

Occasionally, a member won't stick around to complain. They'll just drop out of the program. In the first Biggest Loser class of the semester, instructors had members run up and down the stairs of Huskies Stadium. One girl walked out during the class.

Joudrey says that weight loss isn't instantaneous, but you can feel the results immediately. He says the work is worth it. "No it's not going to be easy," he says. His message to complainers: "Suck it up princess."

The program costs $55 per session for people with a Tower membership. Non-members pay $180 per session.

The class ends on Dec. 16 for the holidays. A new session begins Jan. 10. Meisner expects enrolment will climb because of people making New Year's resolutions. Last January the class was split into two groups to accommodate everyone.

Joudrey and Whynot will be coming back for the next session. They're lifers now.

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