NORMAL -- Rhonda Glan had struggled with her weight all her life.
"It's my deal," said Glan, a 45-year-old stay-at-home mom from Heyworth.
But her "deal" changed about a year ago when she read a story in The Pantagraph describing Illinois State University's kinesiology department, which has programs for students and the community at large to help them shed weight and get in shape.
Laura Wheatley, a top Ironman age-group competitor who runs the program, expects more people to show up about this time of the year looking for help with the New Year promises they made to themselves. They sweated and dieted at first, but might not be seeing the results they think they should when they step on the bathroom scales. They need help to reach their goals.
After coming to ISU, some people like Glan are surprised to find out they're working too hard at their biggest loser challenge. They may actually do better going slower and easier to get thinner.
"I find people are often exercising at too high of an intensity," said Wheatley, ISU's exercise physiology lab program coordinator.
Glan was one who was going too hard. She walked two miles on a treadmill each morning. But she thought only in terms of distance, not in terms of time spent on the treadmill. She sometimes went faster, eventually jogging, to reach her two-mile goal in less time.
"I hated it," Glan said. "But I was out of breath so I thought I was doing a good thing."
What she didn't know was this: if she exercised too hard, her body switched from burning more carbohydrates to fuel her body and away from burning the fat she wanted to lose.
Glan was tested at ISU in September.
"I learned I was going too fast and not long enough," she said. "I had the distance thing in my head, not the time."
After adjustments, she started to lose two pounds a week. As she got fitter, she could do harder work at the same heart rate so she raised the elevation on the treadmill and increased the time.
She changed her diet, bought a heart monitor and slowed her pace to stay in her target zone, which the testing determine would burn the most fat. The pounds started to come off.
She logs her food every day on a website. A phone app lets her check serving sizes and calories of foods before she eats. She can scan bar codes on packages to find out the nutritional breakdown of the contents.
"There is really no excuse for me not knowing what I'm eating," she said. "It's there in black and white."
She's lost more than 20 pounds and has only eight more pounds to shed to reach her goal.
ISU offers fuel testing using advanced technology to determine exactly what heart rate should be targeted to burn the most unwanted fat. First, body composition is measured in a machine called the BodPod. A person simply sits inside an egg-shaped chamber for a few moments while the BodPod uses air displacement to precisely measure body composition, including the percentage of body fat. The process takes just a few moments.
After multiplying percentage of body fat by total body weight, Wheatley can tell exactly how many pounds of unwanted fat someone should lose to reach a healthy weight. (Not all fat is bad. For example, endurance athletes are encouraged to carry about 10 percent body fat so they have something to fuel their exercise on long workouts when their carbohydrates are used up.)
ISU also offers Sensewear Armband analysis. A small monitor straps to an arm. After a client wears the device several days, ISU technicians can measure exactly how many calories someone burns during a day and when. They also can tell how close a person comes to reaching the recommended 10,000 steps a day. In addition, the armband measures the level of exercise intensity and even how well someone sleeps and for how long.
"If you are running on no sleep, the body must slow down the metabolism rate, which can affect the amount of calories burned when awake," Wheatley said.
Those measurements provide a baseline of how many calories someone needs to eat each day to maintain a healthy body can be determined. Add to that the calories burned through exercise each day and subtract 500 calories to have the target number of calories to eat. A daily calorie deficit of 500 times seven days equals 3,500 calories, the deficit needed to lose fat at a healthy, maintainable rate of one pound a week.
To find someone's best fat-burning zone requires a short workout on a treadmill or spinning bike while breathing through a tube that is connected to a computer-based metabolism analyzer. Software reveals what percentage of carbohydrates or fat the body is burning at each heart-rate zone. The result is a precise look at the optimum range for exercising to achieve weight loss. Even athletes can learn what zone to train in to do their best and customize a fueling strategy for endurance events such as triathlons.
Glan gave her mom a gift certificate for testing as a 74th birthday present. The three tests offered at ISU cost $210 to the general public, with discounts for ISU faculty, staff and students and to anyone buying more than one test at a time. If that seems like a lot, Glan takes another view.
"The cost of the testing at ISU was a bit of a deterrent in the beginning. But I want people to know it's worth every penny to have that information. I came around to thinking that I'd either pay for my health now or I'd pay for it later through medications and doctor bills, which I'm hoping to avoid," she said.
Food for thought
• 66 percent of American adults are overweight.
• 33 percent are obese.
• 70 percent of American adults lead sedentary lifestyles.
SOURCE: Illinois State University Kinesiology Department website