Learning to Read Labels, Ditching Processed Foods Were Keys to Success

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Byline: Gail Gaboda ggaboda@dailyherald.com

For the Fittest Loser contestants, nutrition comes down to three simple steps that make all the difference between success and failure.

It all comes down to "how you think, how you move and how you eat," says Dr. Paul Mikulski, chiropractic physician at Proactive Natural Medicine in Schaumburg who works in conjunction with Push Fitness to evaluate the contestants and develop a nutritional plan.

Mikulski's analysis tracks body composition, fluid distribution and phase angle, "a measurement of tissue health." Because the contestants take on such a radical lifestyle change, "it's nice to see what kind of changes, to be able to measure and quantify them," he says.

He also looks at basic values like blood pressure, heart rate, how well tissues are oxygenated, a full lipid panel and blood sugar.

Mikulski, who has worked with Fittest Loser contestants for each of the four years of the competition, says the unhealthy diet many Americans eat consists of carbohydrates, processed foods and those loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. "It's an abundance of calories," he says. "The big problem is we are overfed -- we overeat -- and we're malnourished. The quality of our foods is fairly poor if you're not paying attention," he says.

Contestants ate less sugar and fewer calories, but had more energy. "You can think of food as either fueling your body or causing harm to your body, says Push Fitness trainer and co-owner Joshua Steckler.

They "learned to eat more as a way to fuel their bodies rather than eating something because they think it tastes good," he adds.

Although many dieters use artificial sweeteners such as aspartame to reduce calories, "There's been a lot of research done on artificial sweeteners and people can't lose weight when they're on them," Mikulski says.

"I had no idea artificial sweeteners contributed to weight gain," says contestant Tom Hampson. …