Mindful of a family history of diabetes and obesity, Marion Loftin always managed to keep a good control over her weight.

But when the scales began creeping past a self-imposed critical weight level, she knew it was time to implement a lifestyle change, and she enrolled in a 12-week “Step Up & Scale Down” educational program developed through the Texas AgriLife Extension program.

“I learned a lot from it,” said Loftin, who took part a second time in the program.  “The first time gave me a foundation to work on; when I did it that second time it became a lot easier.”

The multi-discipline approach makes the class enjoyable, even comfortable, she added.

“You're very at ease (because) it's like you're sitting down with friends – they don't tell you have to do this or that, it's up to you to do it. And Wendi (Green, the Cherokee County extension agent who helped develop a pilot program) encourages you. She brings in speakers who also are very encouraging. They make it easy to stick to,” she said.

This, Green said, is the whole goal of the program: To create an environment that is supportive and fun while helping participants incorporate practical, yet healthy lifestyle changes and eating habits.

“If they feel like it's easy and fun to do, it's a goal they'll comfortable accomplishing,” said Green, herself a part of the pilot program when it launched last year.

She also helped write and develop the USDA-based curriculum, which was regional extension agents' answer to national surveys that revealed nearly two out of three adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese, as well as another survey revealed 66 percent of Texas adults were classified at obese.

“We ranked 15th in the United States, and thought we needed to do something” to get people to think of health and weight loss as something approachable, Green said.

“The connotation of ‘diet’ is something you're going to be doing for short period of time, (whereas) ‘lifestyle’ means you're making changes the rest of your life,” she pointed out. “Diet is really just what you eat, but people think when you are going on diet (it's something) short term, rather than (looking at) long-term health goals.”

But, when people view it as a need to make change by eating better, “they respond positively,” Green said.

“Most people when they think about it, realize 'it's how my grandparents ate, how my parents ate, how we used to eat before fast-food diets. Even the fast food restaurants are making changes (because) they see people are looking to do this and they still want to capture that clientele.”

The 12-week program begins Jan. 23 in Rusk and Jacksonville, intentionally planned to start at the beginning of the year, Green said.

“January is usually when people think about (getting into shape),” she said. “They've spent six weeks or more eating unhealthy, and they start thinking about New Year's goals or resolutions: 'I need to get fit, I need to make changes in health right.' Or maybe their doctor or someone in their family have been on to them (about a healthier lifestyle), or maybe it's because their clothes are getting a little tight.”

Whatever the reason, “we discuss all that in the very first class,” Green said.

“We help them figure out some goals. If they want to stay where they are, or however much they want to lose each week – it's not always about weight, though. Some want to learn to eat right. We have a formula they fill out and they figure out what weight good for them, we look at calories.”

There are also discussions about healthy and unhealthy foods, portion-sizing, reading food labels, how hydration plays a strong role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and exercise, which in turn, has an impact on “numbers” like cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugars.

“Everybody's goal is going to be individual, so we help set (that) up, and over next 12 weeks, each class builds on the previous one,” Green said.

The beauty of the “Step Up & Scale Down” program is that it is practical in nature, and therefore, easy to incorporate, she added.

“If it's something you have to do separately from everybody else, you're not going to stick to it. You're not going to eat (special meals) forever. Whereas you look at changing how you look at food, at an approach to a healthier lifestyle, you can take it everywhere with you. And that's the goal: You can take it with you wherever you go.  On vacation, when you eat out, when you go to a friend's house – you're not doing anything different,” Green said. “And now you're cooking healthier for friends and family because you learn to prepare things (differently), you're being a healthy eater.”

Loftin agreed.

“You get a lot of good information,” she said, describing how she now incorporates it not just into her own lifestyle but her husband's too.

“He asked me to help him (learn what to eat), and I want to pass on what I've learned. We're going to do this together.”

She said she highly recommends the program, which kicks off Jan. 23 in Rusk and Jacksonville, because of it's multi-disciplined approach.

“I still think about how it's my body and my life, and that if I don't take control, no else can. This program helps in so many ways; they're encouraging and the information is easy to understand,” Loftin said.

“For the amount of information she gives, it's worth way more than the little bit of money they ask for the class.”

A total of 79.6 pounds were shed by the 19 individuals in both classes combined, Green said.

“I thought that was good. It's what I expected (because) group keeps you motivated,” she said.

A Jan. 18 registration deadline has been set for the upcoming “Step Up & Scale Down” program, which runs from Jan. 23-April 10.

The Rusk class, held at the Courthouse Annex Building, 165 East 6th St., begins with an 11:45-12:15 weigh-in followed by class; in Jacksonville, weigh-ins are from 4:45-5:15 p.m., followed by class that concludes at 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 210 Philip Street.

Cost is $30 and includes notebooks and materials, although previous program “graduates” can continue the classes for $10, Green said.

Contact Green at the Cherokee County extension office at 903-683-5416 or wgreen@ag.tamu.edu for more information, or visit http://cherokee.agrilife.org/, under the tab for “Wendi Green” for registration materials.

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