Five Workers at Bryan Doctor’s Office Compete to Shape Up, Win Free Trip

June 28, 2007

Junk food was frequently the meal of choice among the workers in the office of Bryan rheumatologist Dr. Nancy Scheinost. So last Christmas, she had a novel idea: a fitness competition among any staff members who wanted to participate.

As an incentive, she promised that the two showing the most improvement after four months would each get tickets for two on a cruise.

Now that the four months have passed, the women in her office said that not only have they lost weight, but also the mood at work is better, sick days are down, and overall they more productive and less stressed. The women lost an average of 15 to 20 pounds and 6 percent body fat.

To help the competitors, Scheinost provided important support.

Charlie Lima, a College Station-based personal trainer, carefully planned their meals.

Bruce Forsyth, a physical therapist, gave the women the use of his exercise facility, which is across the street from Scheinost’s office in the Physician’s Centre in Bryan. A physical trainer in Forsyth’s office, Duce Harper, helped the women maximize their workouts.

Scheinost also bought the five women pedometers to track their daily step counts and water bottles to encourage them to drink more water.

Scheinost said members of her family died before their time because they didn’t take care of themselves, so she considers her health initiative a labor of love.

“It wasn’t a sacrifice. It was a gift and a joy. I love each of them. I’m so proud,” Scheinost said. “The girls in my office are like my family.”

One would think that working in a doctor’s office would lead to a healthier lifestyle, but Scheinost said her staff had the same bad habits as personnel in any other office.

“Drug representatives came by the office all the time, bringing trays of junk food and sodas. Triple mochaccinos made daily appearances, and we had greasy food delivered a lot, too,” Scheinost said.

Of the eight women currently on her staff, Kris Clifford, Micki and Lisa Gutierrez, Gloria Juarez and Maggie Gray took up the boss’s challenge.

One rule was that only food in line with Lima’s guidelines could be brought into the office, and sales reps were told to bring fruit or salads instead of their typical fare.

Each month Lima met with the women and analyzed their meals and progress. The personal trainer re-educated them on proper nutrition and had to “brush away” all the misconceptions about dieting and fad diets. For instance, Lima told them to eat smaller, balanced meals every three hours rather than avoid any one food all together.

“Really we didn’t talk too much about exercise at first, but instead focused on establishing proper nutrition. After they improved their diet, they said they had more energy and then we incorporated muscle building and cardio exercises,” Lima said. “Initially they were skeptical, until they started seeing the results.”

He said what controls all three parts of his regimen for the women is their mindset, and staying positive and encouraged fueled their success. Their camaraderie was critical: They supported each other and held each other accountable.

“The real miracle is that we are into the fifth month, and everyone is still losing weight. They have kept each other motivated and are still improving,” Lima said. “To stick with it so long at this level of enthusiasm is rare.”

Clifford, 39, and Micki Gutierrez, 38, worked out together and said the hardest part was not eating as much of the food they’ve been accustomed to. Clifford’s family also grudgingly reaped the benefits of her newfound nutritious eating habits.

“My husband and kids have lost weight because of the new meals Charlie has helped me make,” Clifford said Monday as she sneaked a peek at Lima’s printout of the final results. “The kids complain that there isn’t anything sweet for them to eat, though.”

All of the women were clearly confident that their progress would continue.

David Gutierrez, Micki’s husband, has seen an improvement in his wife’s health and her outlook.

“I think it’s great. She has so much more energy and life after starting this whole thing,” David Gutierrez said. “I’ve enjoyed just watching her be happy and feel better about herself.”

And Gray pointed out that regardless of who would win a cruise, they have all benefited. “I’ve never felt better,” she said.

Another staff member, Amber Mick, praised the boss and congenial co-workers for their efforts.

“I have worked in every kind of business from aerospace to medicine over the years, and I have never seen a boss do something like this for his or her employees. Also, there are eight women in this office, and we all get along very well, with no backstabbing,” Mick said. “This is a great office. It’s wonderful.” Mick said she was too skinny to take part in the competition, but is amazed by the results.

During the four-month celebration on Monday in Scheinost’s office, the women gathered to learn who would win cruise tickets. Suspense built as Scheinost and Lima went over the data he collected up until his final measurements that day.

Based on his assessments, Lima said Clifford and Micki Gutierrez had shown the most improvement so they deserved the cruise tickets. This resulted in a slight fade of the smiles for a few of the women.

Lima, straining to hold back a grin, then said, “Nancy, what do you think?”

Now fully in Scheinost’s and Lima’s trap, Scheinost brought out envelopes containing coupons – to be exchanged for two cruise tickets – for all of them.

“I think you are all winners, so I’m sending all five of you on a cruise with your husbands,” Scheinost said. followed by cheers … and tears.

Juarez, moved by both the culmination of her hard work and her boss’s generosity, began to cry.

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