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What makes a winner: Weight Loss Challenge winners share their motivations

Doing what's best for yourself isn't always easy. Sometimes it's downright hard and throwing in the towel can seem much more appealing. However, as we come to the beginning of another new year when so many of us will resolve to improve ourselves in some way or another, there is intrinsic value in knowing that it can be done. Finding motivation in someone else's success can help us forge our own path to achievement.

This past month in our Weight Loss Challenge we had 31 winners across all eight locations lose the most weight in 6 weeks. These folks worked hard for their rewards, and found the motivation to succeed in their efforts. Below, in their own words, is insight into some of their experiences and what made them keep going when the going got tough.

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Angelica Gomez - West LoopAngelica Gomez - West Loop

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
I'm not from here but I'm currently living here. Seeing my family over New Year's is important for me but it's expensive to travel over this time of the year. When I learned about the challenge, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to make this a reality and buy the flights to see them. I wanted to loose weight but seeing my family kept me motivated until the end.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
I used the online program some days. I like the video exercises so some days I used them to do my workouts.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
First of all I had my main goal in mind (seeing my family). When I felt lazy or just didn't know what to do, I came to the classes at the gym. I love the classes that the gym offers I can say they are always my go to, with so much variety there's always something that I'm in the mood for to make my workout of the day.

What's next?
Seeing my family!!! And I still have some pounds I want to get rid off but I feel it's going to be easier after this challenge because I just have to keep doing what I was doing.

Nora Buganski - Webster Place

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
I am a competitive person so the drive to win motivated me. I also was thinking about how my clothes will look better if I dropped weight.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
I like working out so I am usually motivated to do that. I have more trouble with making good choices eating when I am tired or I am out with friends. I made sure I tracked all of my food and planned my meals and snacks accordingly.

What's next?
I would like to lose 5 more pounds. This was a great jump start to my goal.

Jessica Pohto - Lincoln Park

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
Honestly, just adding in the accountability of a competition encouraged me to make some healthy changes I’ve been putting off for a while. I just spent Thanksgiving week with my husband in Ireland. We hiked the highest mountain on the island (Carrauntohil) and although it wasn’t the easiest I know that losing over 20# and building up my cardio endurance really helped on the trek.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
I was traveling for a majority of the six weeks of the challenge and I have always had a hard time including workouts when away. Having the challenge to complete workouts while on the road was very helpful to motivate my continued journey.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
I really thought about what was challenging me. Most of the time the obstacle was something I was imagining.

What's next?
Keeping it up. I’ve already joined another RunBet to keep up with the cardio. I also plan on getting some more strength training in the mix. Working on finding foods that make me feel the best that I can.

Sean McCullough - Lincoln Park

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
I wanted to be in better shape for my wife who was pregnant with our first child. I also wanted to set an example for our soon-to-be-born daughter of what can be accomplished with mental and physical determination.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
I used Duke's jerky and Epic meat bars to help when the cravings for food were getting too bad. Mostly though I would just look at the picture of our ultrasound and think of our baby.

What's next?
Trying to keep the weight off and building muscle where the fat used to be. Our daughter came three weeks early (the day after weigh-in actually!). So now I'm just trying to focus on her and my wife and trying to not pig out or fall back into my previous lazy habits.

Kelly Hannenann - Lincoln SquareKelly Hannemann - Lincoln Square

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
My desire to feel comfortable in my own skin and I could really use the money.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
The online training program showed me exercises I wouldn't have otherwise known about.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
My go to when things got tough was to remind myself that I could really use the money.

What's next?
Try to keep the weight off and stick with my new routine.

Jaime Martinez del Rio - Lincoln Square

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
My trainer Erik motivated me to be healthier and to push myself beyond what I thought I could do and that got me to achieve my results.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
It was great to have it as an additional resource and it provided a sense of community.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
I periodically recorded my progress and when times got hard I would look at how much I had achieved. If it sucked I told myself to "embrace the suck".

What's next?
Keep pushing myself to reach my ideal weight and then focus on strength training. Thanks for the opportunity to participate.

Colette Gabriel - Lakeview

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
I started trying to lose weight earlier in the year but had stalled out. This challenge gave me the extra motivation I needed to rededicate myself to becoming healthier. I was not in the habit of working out regularly, but the past 6 weeks have motivated me to build a regular gym habit — weekly yoga plus 3 days of weight lifting.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
Watching the videos helped me with proper form so I could build strength without injury. The body weight exercises are also great when I’m away from the gym.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
Sometimes it helps to think only of the next meal or the current moment in a workout, not the big picture. Instead of focusing on how much weight I want to lose, I just focus on eating healthy at the next meal, or pushing myself to do just a few more push ups in the next minute.

What's next?
I am enjoying this Thanksgiving week with my family guilt free, but I plan to go right back to my new healthy routine next week. I have more weight to lose, and the motivation I’ve gotten from this challenge will keep me going!

Meredith Strow - Lincoln Square

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
The challenge itself was enough for me to stay accountable. I told my friends and family about the challenge so knowing that they would ask about results was motivation in following through.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
The results, and the money. I've been wanting to lose more weight for a while but have been plateauing. The challenge gave me the extra umph to stick to my meal plan and get to the gym. I think establishing my metabolism in the first four weeks helped carry me through the last two weeks, when ice cream crept its way back into my life. :) I credit my meal plan with the majority of my success.

What's next?
I plan to lose the last 20 lbs of my 90 lb goal by next summer. I've been losing for 5 years now and this challenge helped me get back on track after the summer.

Victor Nunez - Lincoln ParkVictor Nunez - Lincoln Park

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
I wanted to lose some of my summer weight. I lost 10 and then gained it back. I saw the challenge as an opportunity to lose weight before the holidays and keep it off. My personal goal was at least a 10% weight loss or 215. Also, a shot at $1,000 was quite the motivator.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
I don’t think there was a point where it was hard to stick with the challenge. There were some days where workouts seemed to drag due to lack of sleep or some other factor. On those days I just kept the routine short or took a rest day.

What's next?
A burger and milkshake....then just planning on maintaining my weight within 5lbs or so. I do feel like I lost some muscle being that losing 29lbs in 6 weeks was a bit aggressive. My goal now is to gain a bit of muscle and build strength for a couple of months and continue to enjoy the process.

Robert Peterson - Evanston

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
Both improving eating habits and possibility of money.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
Reminding me I was suppose to lose weight.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
Nuts.

What's next?
Continue weight loss with improved diet and exercise.

Demi Naglestad - Lakeview

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
I would like to prove that I can do it. I have knee problems losing weight would help with that. Eventually I would like to be able to compete Triathlon again.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
I have support from my friends and family

What's next?
Continue to exercise and keep up with the diet.

Donald Davis - Lakeview

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
Health and vanity. The contest was a great opportunity to “hit reset” and focus on getting rid of bad habits like snacking too much and not exercising enough.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
It was helpful that I knew it was for a limited time frame and I was seeing results. I did it with my partner so we encouraged one another.

What's next?
My goal is not just to keep it off but to continue losing weight and maintain the healthy habits I established. One technique I'm going to try this time is to weigh myself weekly and if my weight goes above a set point to become extra strict with diet and exercise.

Connor Chelmecki - Lincoln SquareConnor Chelmecki - Lincoln Square

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
I have been looking to lose some weight for a while, but I never really found the motivation to continue a diet for more than a couple weeks. When I heard about this competition, I thought, “Hey, I can do any diet or workout routine for 6 weeks,” so I decided to join.

Other than this, something that really kept my motivation going throughout the competition was logging my results. I created a weight loss tracking calendar that I printed out and hung up on my front door. I created it with two checkboxes on each day each one signifying a workout, weight training in the AM and cardio after work. There was a great sense of accomplishment in crossing out two little check boxes before bed and seeing how they all added up over time. This physical illustration really encouraged me to keep pushing and finish strong.

Additionally, I would only weigh myself at the end of every week and record it on my calendar. This way I would only see significant reductions in weight which was a lot more encouraging than little fluctuations that I would see if I were to weigh in every day.

Finally, experiencing how my body was responding to a healthier lifestyle kept me going to the gym and eating right daily. Other than results in the mirror, I noticed improvements in ease of everyday activities, self-confidence, and overall wellness.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
I used the online training program to a moderate extent. I would reference it to see how to balance a workout routine for my own knowledge and to see what new exercises I could incorporate into future routines. I did find it very useful to modify my current 5-day weightlifting split with the number of reps/set per lift to still encourage weight loss while keeping my routine interesting.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
My main motivation was knowing that this was only going to last 6 weeks. There were some days at the gym where I was literally dreaming of sleeping in on a Sunday morning, crawling out of bed and gorging myself on a breakfast of cold pizza and ice-cream…but I would have to only wait another couple weeks to get there. I successfully cut out all alcohol, any food with added sugar, and meat for the duration of the competition so I spent a lot of time dreaming about what food I would eat when it was all over. When I saw that my efforts in the gym and in the kitchen were having a huge impact, I knew I couldn’t give in to any temptations.

For the record, within minutes of weighing in, I had a breakfast of freshly baked brownies, cinnamon rolls, and cookie dough followed by about half of a Pequod’s pizza and several pints of beer for lunch.

What's next?
I am writing this about a week after the competition ended and I am for the most part keeping up with my routine from during the competition. There’s that saying that a habit is formed in anywhere from 20 to 25 days depending on who you ask, and the routine I jumped into lasted 40 days. I now find myself wanting to wake up early to get in a workout or stopping by after work for an hour to do some cardio while watching TV instead of sitting on the couch at home. I would say my major goal as of now is to maintain the healthy lifestyle I have been practicing but with a couple cheat days here and there.

Jeanette Kemble - Lincoln Park

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
6 weeks seemed like a reasonable amount of time to be able to stick it out and it was perfect for right before the holidays (when everyone tends to eat and drink more and typically gain weight)! the $1000 prize was a big motivator too!

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
I knew there was a finite date at the end for weigh-in and I was competitive enough that I didn't want to not finish something I started.

What's next?
What's next is 8 more pounds to go and carry-on my clean eating and increased work-outs because I feel great!

John Wesley Hughes - Lakeview

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
To be honest, my girlfriend and I have a dog that is in the middle of cancer treatments right now, so the prize money was a pretty big motivator in the challenge. But I'm definitely happy for my own health too that I lost 25 pounds!

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
My go to's were beef jerky, water, and the sauna was my best friend.

What's next?
Getting back under 200 pounds was my goal, and I did that! I plan on going back to more strength training again, but staying smart about portion sizes and cardio.

Patricia Swanson EvanstonPatricia Swanson - Evanston

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
My saving grace has been to start swimming again, after many years off. It was scary to get into a swim suit, but everyone at EAC is friendly and welcoming. In May, I started regularly attending swim exercise classes and swimming on my own at EAC. That along with eating more whole foods, and avoiding sugars/processed foods allowed me to lose 45 pounds by mid September. By mid October, I had gained back about 10 pounds. When the CAC announced the Weight Loss Challenge, it gave me that motivation and kick in the rear I needed to get back on track.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
I enjoyed the motivational posts and message boards on the online training page!

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
My membership to EAC has been instrumental in my journey to lose weight and get healthier. The variety of classes and extended hours at EAC are most helpful to me.

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Caitlin Csakai - Evanston

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
The prize! Also, I was really trying to get down to my pre-baby weight by the end of the year, which I’m very close to doing.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
I liked the online program but felt that some of the exercises needed modifications. I do think adding strength training in helped speed up my weight loss though.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
Having childcare at the gym was a huge help. I always just said to myself that I’d go for a bit and if I got sick or working out I’d go sit in the hot tub and read a book 😀

What's next?
4 more pounds to go by the end of the year!

Angelica Mendes - Bucktown

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
I have been in a personal challenge since June and my goal of having a healthier lifestyle is the motivation.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
During the challenge I didn’t change much of what I had been doing before but the online training taught me a lot of different exercises I didn’t know of.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
My friends!

What's next?
I hope to keep up the good work

Derek Becker - Wicker Park

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
Two main reasons - first I started a new job last year and ended up gaining a lot of weight (~20 pounds). My job can be very stressful, which makes it easy to come up with excuses to eat unhealthy or not workout. I wanted to prove to myself that I could still be healthy and perform at work. This mindset started a while ago; I've actually lost around 40 pounds (~200 to ~160) since May of this year as a result. Second reason - I really enjoy powerlifting and have wanted to gain strength and muscle through a clean bulk for a LONG time - I finally feel like I've earned the right to do so.

How did the online training program help you with your achieved results?
The program reconfirmed my belief that strength training is really the true key to weight loss. I incorporated a lot of the workouts in my existing regime to maximize calorie burn.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
The biggest thing I had going for me was that I had already lost ~15 pounds going into the challenge and was seeing results visually - I was able to see even more drastic changes throughout the weight loss challenge so motivation was never lost.

What's next?
I'd like to drop down a few more pounds (159) to achieve my overall goal. I then plan on finally doing a clean bulk supplemented by 5x5 compound lifting to put on a bit of mass.

Jerry Lambrinatos - West LoopJerry Lambrinatos - West Loop

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
Abs have been an elusive goal since forever. Someone once told me: you have them, they’re just underneath fat. That stuck with me and made it quite simple; lose the fat and uncover what you’ve wanted all this time.

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
I looked in the mirror and asked myself if I was happy with what I saw. Crazy fun playlists inside and outside the gym also kept me pumped up.

What's next?
Oddly enough, putting on the weight - BUT as muscle, not fat. I’m looking to focus on barbell exercises and build strength over time.

Raquel Eastridge - Bucktown

What motivated you to achieve your results during the challenge?
Definitely the money!

What was your go to when it got hard to stick with it?
I kept thinking what I was gonna do with the prize.

What's next?
Next challenge is to keep losing weight, exactly 15lb until January!

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