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Weight-loss competitions help friends stay on track

Sheila Sprunk, 49, of Casselton, N.D., left, and Stahl, on Feb. 6 at Atomic Coffee in downtown Fargo. Meredith Holt / The Forum1 / 2
Janelle Stahl, 34, in summer 2007 at her Casselton, N.D., home. Special to The Forum2 / 2

CASSELTON, N.D. - At 270 pounds, Janelle Stahl ignored the salad bar at Pizza Ranch but loaded up on pizza, breadsticks and fried chicken.

Now 95 pounds lighter, the 34-year-old Casselton woman still enjoys family meals at the restaurant, but she starts with the salad bar and adds only a single chicken breast and slice of pizza.

"I think people aren't educated on calories," she says. "When I started doing this, I had no clue what I was doing. I honestly didn't think I was overweight."

For the first six months of her weight-loss journey, Janelle focused on better choices, portion control and calorie-counting. Then she got on an elliptical, which she literally wore out before her first 5K.

"I wanted to stop, a lot, but I just kept doing it. I said to myself, 'If I can go 45 minutes on an elliptical, I can run for a half-hour. Let's do this,' " she says.

Janelle wants to run 900 miles in 2013, including a half marathon. She's on track to reach her goal.

"I used to get winded just walking up the stairs, and now a 4-mile run is a short run for the day," she says.

With three young kids and running a full-time day care, Janelle is often asked how she finds time to exercise.

"I get up at 5 in the morning and I run 4½ miles. That's what I do, five days a week," she says.

Janelle's husband watches their children, ages 8, 6 and 14 months, while she's running. Nap time means push-ups and sit-ups.

"You don't find time, you make time," she says.

A few years ago, she started hosting "Biggest Loser"-style weight-loss competitions with other women from the area.

Each week, participants bring $10 to Janelle's home for a weigh-in - $8 goes to the weekly winner, $2 goes to the overall winner, and $2 is added to the pot for each pound gained.

The person with the highest percentage of weight loss that week gets the pot.

"We thought the most fair would be going by percentages; that's where 'The Biggest Loser' comes in," she says.

By opening up her home for the competitions, Janelle's helped others, like her friend Sheila Sprunk, lose weight and stay on track.

"We have been able to keep the weight off by continuing to do competitions and encouraging each other," Janelle says.

Sheila, who's been doing the eight-week competitions for a year, has lost 30 pounds, and she's looking forward to showing off her new figure at her son's October wedding.

"I want to keep doing it, but I don't really have a lot of weight to lose," says the 49-year-old Casselton woman. "I like doing it because it makes me stay on track."

Some women have been apprehensive about sharing their weights, but weigh-ins are done individually, and Janelle's the only one who sees the numbers.

Sheila's response to scale stress? "Who cares? We all have that problem. Nobody is going to know what you weigh. It's between us."

After her Thursday weigh-in at Janelle's, Sheila treats herself to something she really likes or wants.

"I don't go and blow it, but I just have something that I've been hungry for," like pizza, she says. "You have to treat yourself once in a while."

Janelle, who'd been struggling with her weight since fifth grade, also gives herself a break now and then.

"Over Christmas, I wasn't out of control, but I let myself have whatever I wanted," she says. "I think sometimes you need those breaks."

She's had two kids since changing her lifestyle and got right back on track after they were born.

"With my last baby, I gained 60 pounds. It was great, it was really fun to eat whatever I wanted, but as soon as she was born, I was like, 'I don't want to do this again. I don't want to be like this forever,' " she says.

For the same reason, Sheila decided to give something new a try.

The support she's found through Janelle's competitions has helped her reach new goals and build self-confidence after years of trying different diet and exercise programs.

"I'm happy with myself. When I started this, I was going into a size 14, and now I'm in a size 8," she says.

Do you have a weight-loss story to tell? Email me at

Forum reporter Meredith Holt has lost 105 pounds since May 2010. She will share stories of her weight-loss journey in her column, which runs the first and third Friday of each month in SheSays. Readers can reach her at (701) 241-5590.