By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — They are losers for all the best reasons.
Staff members at Grinnell Elementary School are taking on their own “biggest loser” challenge to lose weight and feel better.
When school began after the holidays, about 24 staff members took on the good health challenge and began a regimen of better food choices, exercise and weekly weigh-ins to chart their success.
Participants are now about 160 pounds lighter. That’s an entire person, nurse Laura Bellochi said.
Bellochi is helping lead the charge. She said the process has given participants a new sense of camaraderie, shared experiences and spending more time together taking on after-school fitness challenges.
The new year always brings a new set of resolutions people hope to keep, she said, so Grinnell decided to make it a fun contest.
“We decided to get together to motivate people,” she said.
Every week, partcipants come to Bellochi’s office to weigh in; results are kept confidential.
Bellochi sends email progress reports to everyone. She charts the group’s and individuals’ progress.
The “biggest loser” will be the one who loses the biggest percentage of weight, not necessarily the most pounds.
In addition, a smaller subgroup took on a healthy cleanse challenge to boost the program, eating only vegetables and fruits on certain days to lose some extra pounds.
“We all have our pitfalls,” Bellochi said. “We work in an elementary school. We have Valentine’s Day, classroom parties, cupcakes.”
Participants cheer each other on, offering an orange instead of a cupcake, and giving friendship and moral support to keep each other going.
“We all support each other,” Grinnell secretary Staci Hartnett said.
Her goal is to fit in her clothing better and feel good in time for a cruise to Belize during school vacation week.
Bellochi has her own goal. She will be getting married that same week.
Hartnett said she is learning a lot about how to eat right.
“There is so much more to vegetables than just carrots and salad,” she said. “It’s certainly opened my eyes.”
Legumes, kale and Swiss chard are among her new favorites.
Bellochi has lost five pounds, but everyone has their own personal goal.
The program also helps the staffers teach students better ways to eat and stay fit. Hartnett said students are enjoying many healthy lunch choices and it’s good teachers and other staff members do as well.
“It’s nice for us to lead by example,” Hartnett said.