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Sollars Elementary School nurse Vicki Campbell, right, uses calipers on Sollars educational aide Therese Wood to measure body fat at the Potter Fitness Center on Thursday.

Sollars Elementary School nurse Vicki Campbell, right, uses calipers on Sollars educational aide Therese Wood to measure body fat at the Potter Fitness Center on Thursday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — In five months, Gina Guzman dropped 47 pounds, shrinking from size 20 to 12-14. She walked, kicked with Tae Bo, rode her bike and counted calories. The greatest thrill was playing football and soccer with her husband and three boys for two hours without tiring. One pair of pants will remind her of her former frame — the rest are gone.

“I’m never going back there, no way,” said the Sollars Elementary School kindergarten aide.

A number of Misawa base residents share her resolve. This spring, they took part in several weight-loss competitions modeled on the popular NBC show “The Biggest Loser.”

For some, money was a big incentive: Senior Airman Timothy Waters, Staff Sgt. Alana White, and military spouses Chad White and Amy Reid took home $2,000 by winning the team portion of 35th Services Squadron’s eight-week “Biggest Loser” challenge. They worked out daily, then upped the ante to twice daily, persevering through challenges including shin splints and pneumonia to lose a combined 141 pounds — 58 percent of their initial body weight.

A 53.2-pound-lighter Chad White said he and wife Alana “just really wanted something to motivate us.”

But now that there are no more bucks, no more mandatory weigh-ins, the contestants’ biggest challenge may lie ahead: keeping off the weight.

“If you’re not setting goals, it’s very easy to fall back into your old habits, ” said Staff Sgt. Michelle Fox, Misawa Health and Wellness Center diet therapist.

Goals should be realistic and can be as simple as bringing a nutritious “brown bag” lunch to work several days a week or increasing water intake, Fox said, adding that people should focus less on the scale and more on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Dawn Turner, a Sollars Elementary School kindergarten teacher, has kept off 46 pounds since July.

“It’s still scary,” she said. “You get disappointed, you get sad, but you just lean on your friends … and you let your clothes tell you when they’re getting too tight.”

Since Feb. 2, the Sollars group of 20 has lost 118.25 pounds, said school nurse Vicki Campbell. Members weighed in weekly, focusing on different monthly goals such as body fat or inches lost. Everyone chipped in a buck a week, an extra dollar for gaining weight. The best losers and maintainers split the pot each month.

Edgren High School’s “Biggest Loser” group also divvied up weekly cash prizes, with the winning team of three earning $360.

In six weeks, “we had 25 people lose over 215 pounds,” said teacher Missy Murphy.

But Murphy said she worries about sticking to healthy routines during a summer vacation typically loaded with dinners out, barbecues and home-cooked meals in the States.

Fox said finding “someone to keep yourself accountable if you find that you’re slipping back into your old ways” is important. The HAWC, she said, offers a weight-loss support group open to anybody at 4:30 p.m. Mondays.

“I think we’ll have a fighting chance of at least keeping the weight off,” Murphy said. “As soon as I start seeing the scale inch up again, I panic and start watching myself very, very carefully. I feel better in my clothes now and I don’t want to go back.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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