published Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Pierce: Memorial employees lose 2,800 pounds

Carolyn Hughes gets a kick out of running into friends she hasn't seen in awhile.

"They gasp and say, 'Oh my gosh! I didn't recognize you' or 'You've lost a small person! What have you done?'" she said, laughing about her weight-loss success.

Hughes, a referral clerk at Beacon Internal Medicine East, is one of Memorial Health Care System's employees who participated in the second year of Memorial's Active program. The company wellness program began in 2010 to encourage employees to lose weight, exercise more and live healthier lifestyles.

In 2010, Active's first year, Memorial associates lost 2,732 pounds and put in 72,888 hours in exercise, according to Brian Lazenby, who works in Memorial's marketing and media relations office.

In 2011, associates lost more than 2,800 pounds and exercised 146,000 hours. The third year's program kicked off in January with a goal of spending more than 175,000 hours in exercise.

Hughes said she participated in the exercise portion of Active in 2010, then added the weight-loss effort last year.

"I've always been heavy-set since junior high," she said. "The first year I didn't have the mindset to lose weight and chose just to exercise to maintain the size I was."

But after trying on some new scrubs and finding them tighter than she wanted, she vowed, "I'm over this," and her New Year's resolution for 2011 was lose weight.

"I was 237 pounds in January 2011, and now I'm 164," she said. "I would like to lose another 25 pounds. I'm not trying to be a Barbie size 2, but I would like to weigh around 140."

Hughes said she was one of two women in her office to participate in Active the first year. After seeing her success, this year there are 10 associates from her Beacon office participating as a team.

I really have to admire Hughes' willpower: She cut out the sweets and chips she loved, added exercise and stuck with it.

"We have three big hills in our subdivision," she said, "and when I first started this, I would be so winded after just the first hill. I did good to walk 30 minutes. Now I can do three laps of all three hills, and I often walk 45 minutes to an hour and not realize it."

Hughes said Active participants are asked to do at least 16 30-minute intervals of exercise a month. Those who do so throughout the program receive a reward incentive of $100 in an American Express gift card. Employees are on the honor system to record their exercise intervals and weight losses.

Additionally, gift cards in the amounts of $500, $250 and $100 are given to employees with the top weight losses. Hughes was third overall among associates' weight losses and won $100.

"You are given choices in exercises to do in 30-minute intervals, such as walking, swimming, biking, jogging, raking leaves/yard work, aerobics -- even playing tag with kids in the yard," she said.

As if $200 in the gift cards she won wasn't a good incentive to stay with the program a third year, Hughes said the excitement of buying new clothes sure was. She jokes she marked a first in this millennium: put on a size 10.

"Right now I am the smallest I've ever been. I was always one of those girls in junior high who had to go to Sears and buy the plus-size little-girl clothes. Yesterday I went to try on clothes, and I bought a size 10! It fit, and it makes me feel good about me," she said.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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