The Fat Girl's Guide to Hosting a Community "Biggest Loser" Contest
Posted by Tee in Fun Stuff,Health + Beauty
Open call for Biggest Loser, by Pierre Lascott

We don't typically cover weight loss on FGG because, let's face it, you can't throw a Weight Watchers cookie very far without hitting a diet or weight loss web site. It's unoriginal, it's redundant, and in the end that stuff usually does nothing for our body image and self-esteem.

Instead, we focus on how to enjoy a fun, active, enriching and rewarding life now instead of waiting until you've achieved some magic, "when I'm ______" criteria. And it's in that spirit, not the deflating spirit of "self-correction," that I'm posting this guide. Stay with me.

I've seen five or six episodes of NBC's "The Biggest Loser," and I have markedly mixed feelings about it. On one hand it's inspiring and the human stories are fascinating. Who wouldn't be moved by those transformations, and by what they suggest about our own possibilities?

On the other hand, it's disconcerting. Losing that much weight in such a short a time period isn't healthy, the sequestered and intensive means by which they do it aren't sustainable in the long term for most people, and the show is set up to be as melodramatic as possible. During every episode I've gone through bi-polar spells of disgust and intrigue.

I mentioned to a friend a month or two ago that it would be fun to take what's great about the show, like the teamwork, the relationships and support, the mental rigor, leaving behind the drama, the backstabbing, the unhealthy obsessions - and create a small group of our own. We were in a rut, wanting to get back into shape but feeling uninspired. My friend said, "Why not?"

And that was all it took. Over the next few weeks I placed ads on Craigslist for people with at least 50 pounds to lose, set up a local web site and NING social network, got a gym to sponsor us with deeply discounted membership and other perks, and then waited until kick-off day on January 1, 2010. I crossed my fingers that at least 15 people would show up.

I walked through the gym doors that morning to a crowd of more than 30 very excited, motivated men and women ready to dig in. And dig in we have. The outpouring of support from sponsors and the gym staff has been incredible, and the group has already started bonding into friendships with a mischievous twist of healthy competitive spirit. I couldn't be more pleased.

Many organizations have started hosting biggest loser-like competitions for employees, but if yours doesn't, or you're not working,

We defined group criteria
My friend and I felt that to be most able to identify with each other's struggles and to feel most comfortable in a group, it made sense to recruit people who had a similar amount of weight to lose. We decided 50 pounds was a good number, and was doable and healthy in six months for a person committed to those goals. And we wanted committed: no wishy-washy, victim mentalities to drag down group morale allowed. Each member had to commit to attending at least one of two official monthly meetings (one of those would be a weigh-in). Those requirements, and being at least 18 years of age, were our only criteria.

We defined challenge parameters
Like the show, we wouldn't be relying on the highest number of actual pounds lost to determine the winner, but the percentage of body weight lost. Each month the biggest loser that month will receive a sponsored prize, and the grand prize goes to the person who loses the highest percentage of body weight overall by the final weigh-in.

We also decided we'd split the group into teams to get people fired up and accountable to a group. That turned out to be a good move: as soon as we started planning team challenges, the buzz and activity in the group went WAY up. Winning teams get prizes for the whole team - like dinner out, or free haircuts from a local salon.

We set the group up to revolve mostly around two things: a NING social network and the sponsor gym, with some extra activities like hiking, bowling and healthy dinner parties set up separately.

When setting member dues, we we needed to decide if we'd charge only what the gym was charging us - $25/month per member for full access - or upcharge to cover time and administrative details. Because there were few if any other expenses associated with managing the group, and because we wanted as many people as possible to be able to participate, we chose not to charge more than the $25. That made logistics easier, too, as the gym collects payment automatically and we just need to show up.

We spread the word far and wide
We drew up flyers and left them at libraries and on post office counters, we created a basic web site and placed ads in Craigslis's community groups section, then we emailed all our friends and family and recruited them to email theirs, too. The more the merrier, and we knew the more people we had involved, the less chance there was of the group fizzling out within the first few weeks.

We created a sponsor kit to get local businesses excited
The Biggest Loser is a national hit, and achievement against the odds for people in transformation is addicting to an audience. A local version of that combination with a well-thought-out plan and good materials was compelling to sponsors, and we've brought some great ones, including Subway, on board. We gave them each a sheet with the prize slots we still needed to fill, along with recommended values for each, and let them choose what best met their goals and budget.

For their sponsorship, they'll receive a linked logo on our web site, mention in all our materials and press releases, and an invitation to each weigh-in, including theirs, where they can present their prize to the winner in person.

We got busy getting busy
Nothing is more motivating than seeing other people in action and enjoying it, and energy begets energy in a bonded group. We injected lots of energy into the initial weigh-ins and "before photos" to be sure we didn't lose momentum during everybody's "ugh" moments.

Then we wasted no time getting our "gym legs" - setting up small group meets, signing up for classes together, showing each other how to use this piece of equipment or play that game. The more we work out together, the more we WANT to work out together - in fact, I've been to the gym every day this week and have yet to not run into at least a couple of other group members while I'm there. I predict big successes for this group.

It's now taken on a life of its own, and I'm loving it. I've made 30+ new friends, have new partners in crime for things I want to try but felt too self-conscious to do in the past, and have a whole team of people pulling me on, and vice versa, should the urge to give up set in. No matter who wins six months from now, in less than a week we've all changed course of our lives.

So if you're looking for an engine for your own efforts to get in shape, why wait? Pick up the phone or open up a blank email, recruit a good friend to help, and get busy planning your big win. And when you get sucked in and start having a great time, too, we'd love to hear all about it.

Ready...set? GO.