JOLIET – People are trying to lose a ton – literally – at the Joliet Park District.
Six hundred and sixty-six people are participating in the collective effort to shed 2,000 pounds. In its second year, the Joliet Weight Loss Challenge, also known as the “Lose a Ton” project – invites people to come together to lose weight.
The goal was exceeded in 2014 when participants shed a little more than 2,312 pounds.
Natalie O’Connell of Joliet was one of the top 10 pound-shedders last year and said the group effort is a good way to get going.
“It’s fun,” said O’Connell, who from appearances does not look like she needs to lose a ton – figuratively – of weight.
But with a job that puts her at a desk most of the day, O’Connell said she needs to stay active. Natalie and her husband, Rory, are in a team of 12 in the Lose a Ton effort. They call themselves “Fat Mondays” to stay focused on their goals after weekends.
“We have a group text going,” O’Connell said. She gets reminders from a team member to do tummy crunches while at her desk and watch what she eats for lunch. “It’s fun because it gives us a chance to stay in touch all day, and we get together at night.”
Getting together at night doesn’t mean pizza. It means working out at the Joliet Park District’s Presence Inwood Athletic Club, although Lose a Ton participants do not have to use the facility. They don’t even have to live in the park district.
Participants showed up at the athletic club Jan. 19 or 20 to weigh in. The only requirement is that they return March 5 or 6 to weight out.
Will County obesity
The park district’s main goal is to encourage people to start moving, said Gina Rodriguez, fitness coordinator at the Presence Inwood Athletic Club.
She pointed to a Will County Community Health Status Assessment Report that came out in August 2013. The percentage of adults considered obese and overweight in Will County is higher than the Illinois and national averages, according to the report compiled by the Will County Mobilizing for Action Through Planning and Partnership Collaborative.
Will County’s obesity rate is 30.3 percent, compared to 27 percent in Illinois and 27.4 percent nationwide. The percentage of overweight adults in Will County is 38.1 percent, compared to 36.4 percent statewide and 36.3 percent in the United States.
“What this tells us is our county in particular has more obesity than the state as a whole and the country as a whole. What are we going to do about it?” Rodriguez said. “We challenged the community, thinking this may be a reason to start. Everyone is willing to start.”
The Lose a Ton project seemed a simple way to get people exercising and losing weight, said Carrie Anderson, park district membership coordinator.
“You don’t have to do anything,” Anderson said. “You can walk in and weigh in, and come six weeks later and weigh out. You don’t have to use our facility. You don’t have to attend any of our nutrition classes. We wanted to keep it simple.”
Keeping exercise simple helps, said Rory O’Connell, a high school physical education teacher. Walking helps, especially for people just beginning to exercise.
“A lot of people don’t realize it,” he said. “People will come to me and say, ‘I’ve got to start running.’ I say, ‘You need to start walking first.’ ”
Physical education programs are structured to help students learn exercises they can use throughout their lives, O’Connell said.
“The big goal now is to get kids moving,” he said.
The same can be said for the Lose a Ton program. Not everyone keeps up a diet and fitness routine when it’s done. But some do, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez called obesity “a big issue to handle.” But, she said, “I think awareness is starting to get better.”