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Couple transformed by weight-loss challenge
February 13, 2014 - Andy Flynn
This week: 436 lbs.
Last week: 446 lbs.
Start weight: 470 lbs.
Total lost: 34 lbs.
It’s hard to walk away from a conversation with Adam and Jennifer Friel and not be motivated to lose weight.
The couple travels 40 miles, from the town of Saranac in Clinton County to Lake Placid, to participate in Fitness Revolution’s first-ever 13-week weight-loss challenge, which ends this week. And they’ll be participating in round two of this Biggest Loser-style program starting in mid-March because it’s changed them for the better.
“One hundred percent,” Adam said Jan. 30 before a workout.
“It’s a whole different lifestyle,” Jennifer added. “And we want to continue it.”
That’s the kind of transformation I’ve been searching for with the Lake Placid Diet. I’ve already made great strides, but I’m still at the beginning of this journey and I have a long way to go before reaching my eventual goal of 220 pounds.
At Fitness Revolution, I’m looking forward to learning new exercise techniques so I can get stronger and healthier and work toward walking a half-marathon and marathon without injuring myself. Based on my recent conversation with the Friels, however, I’m not looking forward to day one of the weight-loss challenge.
“Walking in here the first day was the hardest thing,” Jennifer said.
“They bring you to the studio, and they basically break you down, to see where you’re at,” Adam said. “You wake up the next day, and you feel like you fell down a mountain.”
“But if you think about what we did the first time and what we’ve done now, it’s so different,” Jennifer said.
“If we did that first class now, we’d be like, ‘That’s it?’” Adam said.
While I’ve made some changes in my lifestyle already, I don’t expect the weight-loss challenge to be easy. Knowing it gets better after the first week is comforting. It’s just a matter of getting through that initial wall of pain and emotion. I think about the time commitment to exercising and monitoring my calorie intake. I think about being embarrassed while working out with others in this large body. I think about the pain I’ll endure the day after a strenuous workout.
Then I think about the results Adam and Jennifer are reporting, and their success motivates me to be first in line at Fitness Revolution to sign up for the next 13-week weight-loss challenge.
Jennifer is a 38-year-old housewife and weighed 235 pounds when she started the program. She’s lost about 25 pounds in 13 weeks. Adam is a 30-year-old cook at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ray Brook and weighed 297 pounds at the beginning of the program. He’s lost more than 40 pounds. Both feel they have more weight to lose.
“Before my pregnancy, I was 175,” Jennifer said. “So I have a goal in terms of weight, but I’ve also been lifting weights and feeling amazing and almost able to do a real push-up, which I never, ever in my life would have thought of. So it’s almost addictive.”
I was curious why the Friels joined the weight-loss challenge, especially since they have two young daughters (2 and 4 years old), live so far away from Lake Placid, and have a hectic schedule (Adam also works part time at the Mountain Lake Academy in Lake Placid).
“We are here to lose weight and get into shape,” Jennifer said. “Our oldest daughter has kidney problems, and she will eventually need a transplant. And I didn’t want to be disqualified (as a donor) because of health issues. So this was my chance to get it all together.”
Out of the two, only Jennifer is a donor match for their daughter. Adam took the weight-loss challenge to support his wife.
“He gained the pregnancy weight with me,” Jennifer said.
“We ate everything under the sun,” Adam added. “Fast food. Whatever’s there. We’d go to Plattsburgh at McDonald’s Wendy’s, whatever is the fastest thing.”
“We were all about convenience, quick and easy,” Jennifer said.
“I just didn’t want to be home eating a pizza when Jenn is here,” Adam said.
The Friels were the only couple in Fitness Revolution’s first weight-loss challenge group.
“Which is good and bad,” Jennifer said. “It’s good in a way that we have motivation 24/7. If he cheats, I’m going to see him. If I cheat, he’s going to see me. ... I’m happy with what I lost, but it’s also frustrating. It’s like melting off of him, and I’m busting my butt.”
Adam is justifiably proud of his achievement.
“He’s also a little bit of a smart mouth,” Jennifer said. “He’s the only guy in the program right now, so he feels the need to make that known and pick on all the other women, too.”
“I’m just being positive,” Adam said.
The pounds were melting off Adam so fast that his co-workers, including the FCI chaplain, approached him about his health. They thought he was sick.
“They were worried,” Jennifer said. “They said, ‘Is there something going on that we need to know about?’”
The weight-loss challenge program is both structured and flexible, meaning that participants have to meet certain requirements but their extra workouts can be scheduled on their own time. There are two mandatory workouts a week, starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Participants must also work out two times a week on their own. Weigh-ins are performed once a week at Fitness Revolution. And food diaries — calorie counting — must be updated daily.
The Friels admit that juggling the weight-loss challenge with family time, two jobs and a big commute isn’t easy.
“At night it’s kind of rough when we get home at 10:30, quarter to eleven,” Adam said. “And getting up at 5:30. The first couple of weeks, you’re like, ‘This stinks.’ Then after weeks go on, your clothes start fitting different, and you don’t even see the bad food anymore.”
I wondered how they stay motivated.
“Seeing more and more and more achievement,” Adam said. “Every week, you’re always losing, even if it’s just a pound. Seeing how many calories you’re taking in in a day and watching what you’re eating.”
“It almost becomes addictive,” Jennifer said. “I started a Cross Fit class here, and I look for people to watch the kids so I can come.”
The simple act of leaving the house and doing something, other than sitting on the couch watching a movie, means the Friels are living a more active lifestyle. The fact that they’re going somewhere to exercise and socialize means that they’re improving their health while on this journey together. Their lives, including their relationship, have changed.
“If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably fill the furnace and go inside, relax and all of a sudden I’m dozing off,” Adam said. “You feel like junk. You’re just tired all the time.”
“And he has the kids hang off him,” Jennifer said.
“If you don’t want to cook, you call Big Daddy’s down the road, a restaurant, and grab something fast,” Adam said. “You don’t have to cook. Twenty minutes, pick it up, and go back to your chair.”
The Fitness Revolution experience has fundamentally changed the way Jennifer and Adam approach food. Their daughters still eat candy sometimes, but Jennifer now adds more healthy snacks to the mix.
“My kids now will eat kale chips instead of potato chips,” Jennifer said.
For meals, they spend more time at home instead of eating out, and they keep away from processed meals. That means an increase of homemade meals, including chicken a fish. The first couple weeks of the program were the toughest because they stopped eating junk food cold turkey.
“Which is not what they said to do,” Jennifer said. “We just wanted to do it ourselves. We really wanted to make the most out of it.”
Jennifer and Adam have tried to lose weight together in the past, but those efforts always fell apart after a few months.
“When we wanted to slack, we could slack together,” Jennifer said. “Here you have a really good support system.”
The Friels love Mexican food.
“And we were big pasta people,” Jennifer said.
So instead of cooking a traditional lasagna, they recently substituted the pasta with slices of zucchini.
“It sounds weird, but it almost tasted like noodles,” Adam said.
The couple even has a common exercise goal: running the Biggest Loser 5k race in Plattsburgh this June. I’m not sure why, but a lot of people like to run races. I never want to run anything. Walking is more my style, so I asked Jennifer why she’s running a 5k instead of walking a half marathon.
“The year we got married — we’ve been married almost eight years — I ran a 5k,” Jennifer said.
Her goals are all about getting back to a certain time in her life — a specific weight and level of fitness.
For Adam, who has no experience running races, it’s about supporting his wife.
So, for the people who are reading this story and are on the fence about whether to participate in the Fitness Revolution weight-loss challenge, what would Jennifer and Adam tell them?
“Do it,” Jennifer said.
“I’d tell them to do it in a heartbeat,” Adam said.
“It has changed everything,” Jennifer said.
On this Valentine’s Day, chocolate may not be on the menu for Adam, who is eating a lot more fruit now.
“And coffee,” Adam said. “I’ll get flavored creamer. Those are the only sweets I’ve had since we started.”
“The only thing we’ve really cut out are the sweets,” Jennifer said, “which was hard at the beginning because I am a chocolate girl. But I just buy (Hershey’s) Kisses, and every once in a while I have a Kiss for 22 calories.”
For more information about Fitness Revolution, call 518-523-4127 or visit online at www.placidhealth.com.
Next week: I explore the power of visualization.
Contact Andy Flynn at email@example.com.
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Jennifer and Adam Friel lift free weights at Fitness Revolution, 1991 Saranac Ave., Lake Placid. (News photo — Andy Flynn)