A few weeks ago, Felicia Jackson was the last person on Earth who would reveal her weight on social media.
Now she does it daily.
In fact, Jackson not only posts, tweets and blogs about her weight, she shares her daily accomplishments online about how much weight she's losing.
Jackson is participating in the fourth annual Genghis Grill Health Kwest Challenge, a nationwide weight-loss contest sponsored by Genghis Grill restaurants. Rules dictate that the contestants eat one meal every day for 60 days at the restaurant. The meals are free, and the goal is to beat out other contestants by losing the most weight to win the $10,000 first prize. The winner will be announced in mid-April.
Genghis Grill is an Asian stir-fry chain with 110 locations in the U.S. Jackson is one of around 500 people in the country to apply but only 100 were selected to participate in the contest. She is the sole contestant in Chattanooga.
"It's an opportunity to lose weight while having fun," she says, noting that she "weighs in" once a week.
At 5-feet-2, Jackson weighed 212 pounds when the contest began in early February. So far, she's lost about 15 pounds and wants to lose 35 more. She's thrilled that she's gone from a dress size of 18 to 14.
"My goal is to stick with eating vegetables, lean chicken (or no more than four ounces of meat each day), and I never eat rice or noodles. I've lowered my carbohydrates and only drink water," she says.
In addition to eating healthier, Jackson goes to a weight-loss boot camp a couple days a week as well as works out daily at the YMCA.
Married and the mother of three, Jackson, 42, is a physical therapist assistant at Memorial Hospital. She says she let her weight slip out of control.
"My job is to help people get better and to teach them how to be healthy," she says. "It wasn't until one day when I was walking with a patient and the patient asked me if I was OK because I was sweating. I realized I needed to get myself in shape."
Jackie Heath, social media and public relations manager for Genghis Grill, says the contest was created by several members of the restaurant's marketing and culinary team. It has evolved over the years, she says.
"It used to be a 90-day competition that required contestants to blog daily about their healthy choices, diet and exercise," Heath says. "It has changed to a 60-day competition, and the contestants complete a variety of social media tasks to go along with their new healthier lifestyle."
The ultimate goal of the contest is to show the public that Genghis Grill has healthy options and can help support a healthy lifestyle, Heath says. "Dining out doesn't have to be an unhealthy choice."
Social media is a critical part, Jackson says.
"It's been good for me. It has helped me to talk to people and has encouraged me to go out in the community and make a difference. I've already touched so many people who keep up with my posts, tweets and my blog. I'm very serious about losing weight and this contest. When I posted on Facebook that I went from a size 18 to a size 14, I got a ton of 'likes.' That's encouraging."
Jennifer Berry, manager of the Genghis Grill in downtown Chattanooga, where Jackson is getting her meals, says the restaurant staff is proud of Jackson's progress.
"She's doing great," Berry says. "She's eating healthy food and never eats starches. She lost 5 pounds in the first week."
In addition to losing weight, the contestants are also given daily "tasks," Berry says.
"Some of the tasks are easier than others," she says. "For example, one task might be to take a photograph of the bowl of food you're eating that day and post it on Facebook. Another day, the task might be take a photo of you eating with someone and put it on Instagram. One task, that involved the restaurant staff, was to make a fun music video of us dancing and put it on YouTube. It was fun and we like to have fun here."
When it comes to her daily meals, Jackson has free range of the menu at Genghis Grill.
"I get to choose what I eat," she says. "People ask me if I get tired of eating there every day, but I don't. When the competition is over, I'll probably take a break from eating there every day, but I'll always go back. I love the food there."
Jackson eats lunch every week at the restaurant on Monday and Tuesday, and dinner Wednesday through Sunday. A display board at the restaurant records her progress.
"I know the entire staff," she says. "I sit at the same table every day and they always have it ready for me. I even have fans. One day I noticed this lady staring at me. She came up to me, pointed at the display, that includes my photograph, and asked me if that was me. When I told her it was me, she told me about the ton of weight she and her husband lost. And, she gave me weight-loss tips."
Participating in the contest is not only benefiting Jackson, but her family, as well.
"My husband has gotten involved and he's losing weight, too," she says.
Though the experience has been rewarding for Jackson and her family, there has been one downside, she says.
"If my husband had a gripe, it would be that I have not been cooking dinner for family like I typically do," she says. "I do feel bad about it."
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6396.