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Boonville's 'Biggest Losers' Win With Weight Loss

Kyle Norris

A popular New Year’s resolution for many people is to get in better shape by exercising and eating healthier. At the Boonslick Heartland YMCA, Assistant Director Vanessa Dorman wanted to bring those looking to lose weight together.

“I can’t tell you how I thought of it,” Dorman said. “But people are always concerned about their fitness in January, so I decided to make a program to make it official.”

Dorman created a program loosely based on the NBC television show “Biggest Loser.” But with Boonville’s “Biggest Loser,” participants are split into 8 teams. Each team has a captain, a fitness coach, and meets once a week. About 160 people are participating in the program. The YMCA will be giving prizes to team and individual that loses the most weight. Along with the weight loss program, the center has added many activities to accommodate the participants.

“I doubled the class load here,” Dorman said. “Spin classes, hot yoga, zumba, water aerobics and water walking; I added a lot of classes to be available.”

Cathy Gochenhour is the captain of the “Gutbusters” team. Her team of about 20 try to motivate each other in person and through social media.

“I created a Facebook page for our team,” Gochenhour said. “We do motivational posts, post daily classes at the Y, and we encourage them to meet.”

But one center’s program can only do so much for a bigger problem. Obesity is growing rapidly across the country, and according to the Trust for America’s Health, the adult obesity rate in Missouri has nearly tripled in 20 years. Today, about 30 percent of Missouri adults are considered obese.

“I would think that the rural population in Missouri probably dietarily is not as ideal as we would like to see,” MU Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Dan Smith said. “That can be a predisposer to obesity issues.”

Smith said that the easy access to fast food is also a major factor in the obesity epidemic across the country.

The show “Biggest Loser” features people with extreme weight issues and helps them drastically lose weight in a short amount of time. But what makes the show dramatic is actually unhealthy for its participants.

“They’re doing excessive amounts of exercise and they’re really watching what you eat,” MU Extension State Fitness Specialist Stephen Ball said.

Ball said that a healthy weight loss is about one to two pounds per week. He said a team mentality in losing weight, like the Boonville program’s strategy, can be beneficial with non-extreme cases.

“It’s always good to have support, and I always recommend having a partner you can be accountable too,” Ball said. “Along those same lines, if you have a team mentality, you might be more likely to adhere to exercise and watching what you eat.”

Smith agreed that there are benefits with people losing weight together.

“The more people that are involved and supportive, the easier it is to adopt new behavior,” Smith said. “There needs to be a strong educational component, reinforcement, support, and understanding.”

The results so far of Boonville’s program are promising. The participants have lost a combined total of more than 1,000 pounds in the first month. But for Gochenhour, it’s about more than getting to a target weight.

“I’m trying to make a lifestyle change,” she said. “That’s my main goal, to get healthier and just feel better overall.”

It takes more than a few months to make lifestyle changes, but Boonville’s “Biggest Loser” competitors are sticking to their New Year’s Resolutions. 

Kyle Norris is from Michigan and spent ten years as a host and reporter with Michigan Radio, the state’s largest NPR-affiliate. He lives in Seattle and works as a producer, reporter and educator.