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Two Northeast Georgia women walk off the weight
Both drop pounds with exercise and healthier food
Joy Boling walks around her Alpharetta neighborhood for 30 minutes after work each day. The Forsyth County woman attended the Walk-A-Weigh program in Cumming to lower her body mass index and improve her lifestyle. - photo by J.K. Devine

In a world full of “get thin quick” schemes and extreme weight-loss programs, a course offered through Forsyth County Extension Office is aiming to promote healthy living and reasonable weight management.

At its core, Walk-A-Weigh is a program designed to educate participants on healthy living, which includes proper eating habits and exercise, with a research-based approach and welcoming attitude.

Joy Boling and Linda Chipko took the class at the beginning of the year. Nearly three months after it ended, both have successfully lost weight and kept it off, all while living a healthier lifestyle.

“I hear those commercials for quick weight-loss clinics,” Boling said. “I did Weight Watchers years ago, but I feel that we have learned from this class the way to eat for life.

“It is not a fad. It is what we need to be healthy.”

Each class in the eight-week course is split into two sessions: an educational portion and a physical exercise portion. Though weight loss is an important aspect, the program stresses living healthy and losing weight the right way, said Michele Melton, a family and consumer science agent and course instructor for the Forsyth County Extension Office.

Boling took the class to improve her body mass index, which is a measurement calculated from weight and height used to determine if someone is overweight, and possibly eliminate the need for her blood pressure medicine.

“Michele brought in some play dough and we measured out grams of fat from different foods with it,” Boling said. “It was very eye-opening to see just a big clump of fat and realize that is what you were eating.”

Another important aspect stressed keeping food logs and planning out meals. Participants learned about the nutritional content of food, how they should plan out meals and what aspects are important to consider when buying groceries. This goes hand in hand with having reasonable expectations of slimming down.

“Don’t expect immediate weight loss,” Chipko said. “We fill out daily food logs, and I had to really go back and analyze those logs to see what I was eating.

“Sometimes you just pop stuff in your mouth and eat without really thinking about it.”

The other part of the class is the physical exercise portion. For about 45 minutes participants walk around a track. It’s designed to be social and accessible to those who may not be able to withstand vigorous exercise.

For Chipko, the exercise portion was exceptionally important. She used to be an active person, regularly working on the two acres of land where she lives and going to the gym several days a week. That changed in 2011 when she shattered both femurs in a skydiving accident. After several surgeries and many months of being confined to a wheelchair, she gained 30 pounds.

“(When I started the class) just walking was difficult,” she said. “I realized I wasn’t walking correctly because I was tripping all the time, but by the end of the class I was done tripping and picking up speed.

“It really made a difference. The walking piece of the class was just as important to me as the nutrition piece.”

The program was designed based on available scientific information, something that Melton said separates it from the many weight-loss fads.

“The goal is for participants to leave the session equipped with the knowledge of all the basic core research-based information to make healthy nutritional and meal planning choices for a lifetime,” she said. “It is just about being healthy and balanced.”

Though Walk-A-Weigh is all about encouraging participants to live healthier and maintain an appropriate body weight, Melton strives to provide an encouraging environment and not a stressful one. Those who attend the class have the option to seek greater accountability, but are not forced to do anything.

“I offer the opportunity to weigh in, in front of me, but it is optional and private, and a lot of people appreciate that accountability,” Melton said. “Sometimes that is enough of a nudge to keep them going in the right direction.”

Chipko and Boling consider their experiences with Walk-A-Weigh a success. Chipko successfully lost 4 pounds and hopes to lose the 30 pounds she gained while wheelchair-bound. Boling lost more than 10 pounds and successfully reduced her body mass index from 27 to 24, moving her from overweight to normal.

Melton plans to offer another Walk-A-Weigh class in the fall. For more information, contact Melton at 770-887-2418.

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