No Gain, Maintain Challenge

This is the first article in a two-part series documenting my experience as a participant in MVP Health Care’s No Gain, Maintain Winter Challenge at Skidmore College. 

Every night at bedtime I read to my youngest son the same book (his choice) called Bear Snores On. Bear’s cave fills with animal friends as he sleeps during a winter day in this classic book from the New York Times bestselling team Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. Bear and I have a lot in common this time of year. Hibernation: a state of inactivity. All I want to do is hibernate in my house and watch Netflix. But, hibernating for the winter is dangerous. Without realizing it, while eating Christmas cookies, my birthday cake, and other comfort foods, the only thing going up besides my National Grid bill this winter might be the numbers on the scale. Not this year!

I’ll admit it, while I was eating a stale fun-size Snickers from Halloween at my desk on December 8 my email dinged. It was from Skidmore College’s Wellness Group with the title: “Go No Gain This Winter.” I was intrigued. The hook: “Did you know that the average person gains 8-12 pounds during the winter months?” I crumpled my Snicker’s wrapper and threw it in my trash can. Hm. I could see that. MVP Health Care is partnering with Skidmore College to offer employees its No Gain, Maintain Winter Challenge. The six week challenge: maintain my weight within five pounds of my initial weigh-in. Weight loss is allowed, but the goal is to maintain. There are no weekly weigh-ins. There are no food journals. There is no public humiliation. There are two weigh-ins: one at the beginning of the challenge and one at the end. Easy and painless. I signed up.

Dawn Larlee, a senior clinical account manager at MVP Health Care, is the face behind the No Gain, Maintain Challenge at Skidmore College. She weighed me in (she is the only one that witnessed the numbers that flashed on the scale) on December 13. She has sent weekly emails to encourage and inform participants since day one of the challenge. I asked Larlee what it is about winter that triggers weight gain, especially during a time of year when getting into shape tops most people’s New Year’s resolutions. She said there are a few reasons for the gain, including shorter days and colder weather. “The colder weather deters a lot of people from continuing with their active routines and it’s hard to stay active and motivated when it’s freezing outside.  Comfort foods and extra calories from holiday parties combined with the lower activity levels quickly leads to an increase in weight (and waist size) during the winter months.  Additionally, the lack of sunlight in the winter can actually have a significant effect on your mood and health and make it hard to stick with healthy behaviors,” she said. This makes sense. I am an avid walker after dinner most days in the warmer months. In December and January I am hunkered down in the house watching snow swirl outside my window in the lit streetlights at 5 p.m.

The No Gain, Maintain Challenge is not a biggest loser challenge. Instead, it is designed to “encourage healthy choices for proper diet and physical activity,” Larlee said. As for New Year’s resolutions Larlee said that the notion of fresh starts is great as long as the goals are attainable. “In other words, instead of making a vague resolution to lose weight, try “I’ll exercise at least 20 minutes 3 times a week and cut down on sugar beverages,” Larlee said. “Setting goals that are attainable help to create the healthy habits that lead to behavior change. Consistency is the key…try to stick to your goal/target most days of the week and before you know it, it will turn into a healthy habit that can last a lifetime!”

As a participant I like that this isn’t a quick fix. It isn’t a lose-as-much-weight-as-you-can challenge. “The No Gain, Maintain Challenge provides participants with tools and tips on a weekly basis to help them stay on track during the winter months,” Larlee said. “The goal of this challenge that makes it different from a weight loss challenge is that is does not focus on the scale and more on healthy habits and keeping a focus and awareness on making healthy decisions.” I am not starving myself to lose as much weight as I can in hopes of winning a prize. I like carbs too much. It is about living a healthy lifestyle that I can stick with beyond the challenge. If I do maintain when I step back on the scale on January 30 I am entered into a raffle to win a Fitbit with my fellow employees that also maintained their weight. Even if I don’t win, which I probably won’t because I never win anything, I’m already a winner because I am walking away from this challenge with something even better than a Fitbit: power. Do I need to eat that stale fun-size Snickers? No (although sometimes at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon it is needed). But, I need to own it. This challenge has prompted my own need for accountability.

Hibernation, like Bear in “Bear Snores On,” is an easy thing to do in the winter months. Bear, however, ends up waking up to his friends in his lair having a party which he soon joins (sorry if I spoiled the ending for anyone). I like the idea of dancing away the winter blues and burning off the calories in that Snickers bar.

Emily Marcason-Tolmie, a Saratoga native, is a writer, researcher, wife and mother. Emily and her husband, Ryan, are the parents to two wonderful little boys, ages 4 and 1.

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