In September, 12 college women started a 12-week program called “Drop It” in an effort to reach a healthy lifestyle.
USF Campus Recreation Center staff members brainstormed the program, “Drop It,” into existence in the spring. It’s a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach to helping students make healthy lifestyle changes and is meant to help the participants “drop” every negative detail of their lifestyles - not just weight.
“We want them to drop the negative thinking, the yo-yo dieting, the high blood pressure,” said Aaron C. Craig, the USF Campus Recreation Center assistant director of fitness and primary director of the program.
To help achieve this, “Drop It” doesn’t only focus on fitness and nutrition, but on the behavioral change associated with making a long-lasting lifestyle change.
USF psychologist Arian Marquez, dietitian Katie Jones, and fitness coordinator, Jay Downing were all experts brought on board to flesh out each point, along with Craig.
“We want to make people understand it’s not just about weight loss, it’s about lifestyle change,” said Downing.
During “Drop It” participants meet two times a week for two hours in the USF Campus Recreation Center. In addition, participants have homework to complete. They must keep food logs and do take-home workouts three to four times a week. At the in-person group sessions, participants exercise and discuss homework and other relevant topics with their instructors and each other.
The cost of this program is $120 per student for the semester, not bad when considering the average monthly cost of a gym membership is $55. That monthly gym membership price comes without a psychologist, dietitian, or fitness trainer.
Over the summer, the group held a pilot. This makes fall the first true run of the program. For both sessions, Craig saw a fantastic response among students.
“We had 30 people come to the first meeting over the summer,” Craig said. “We weren't prepared for that. Ninety-nine percent of the people that came were the people we were targeting.”
To participate in “Drop It,” students must have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, 35.7 percent of U.S. adults have a BMI of 30 or more, making them obese. Craig said those are the people at higher risk for cardiovascular diseases and those are the people who need help the most.
Unfortunately, due to limited space for participants, not everyone who is eligible can participate.
“The flier made me think anyone who met the criteria could join, but it was more of a selection process,” Courtney Cunat said, a woman who attended the fall interest meeting. “Out of about 35 people who showed up, 12 were picked. I don’t think anyone knew about that until the meeting. I was nervous about not getting picked.”
An overwhelming majority of those who attended the meeting were female. Marquez, the psychologist, said females are more apt to seek help, while males are less likely to admit they need help and usually prefer to work things out on their own.
As noted by a previous Digital Bullpen article, in the spring of 2012, 90.4 percent of group fitness participants at USF were female.
The twelve chosen to participate in the fall were all female and they were all excited to be there.
“I really thought this was the program for me,” Cunat said. “I’ve always had a history of weight gain and loss. I think this program will help me alter my habits for good because there’s a psychological portion that will address underlying issues as to why you’re having a problem with nutrition and fitness, which is also why I think this will be different from any other program I’ve tried.”
Cunat said she knew she needed help when her boyfriend had to keep waiting for her while hiking.
“I want to be able to go out and have fun and not worry about how winded I’d get,” Cunat said. “I want to travel and see things in the world and you have to be able to get there to see it.”
Melanie Fisher first applied to “Drop It” in the summer, but applied again in the fall when she didn’t make it into the pilot.
“I would love to lose weight and feel good in clothes,” Fisher said,” but mostly it’s getting that lifestyle change done and actually making it a habit as opposed to just ‘I’m going to diet quickly and go to the gym a few days a week and then, falling off.’”
Fisher said she needs something to keep her accountable to making that lifestyle change. With a group expecting things of her, she said she would make more of an effort to go to the sessions and do what is needed.
This group dynamic is a huge part of “Drop It.”
During the first meet, the participants were scheduled to fast walk a half a mile.
“One person started running and the rest caught up,” Downing said. “It was really positive.”
The first meeting was fairly quiet. Conversation between the girls was limited. They responded to Craig’s questions in the conference room after their first fitness session and opened up, but not necessarily to each other.
A completely different atmosphere filled the room for the second to last meeting, as everyone prepared for the last 5K run. Everyone chatted, they smiled, they laughed.
“The best part about this program was that it was a very big support group,” said participant Anne Carre. “Everyone here is my friend.”
Seven exercise science students, six staff members and five student Rec Center employees helped with the 5K run that marked the end of the 12 week journey. They ran with students, drove photographers around, set up a small celebration and some, like senior Nick Asher, held motivating signs.
Asher, an exercise science major, is in Craig’s Theory and Practice of Group Fitness class.
“She’s always asking for volunteers,” Asher said about Craig.
Before the run, many of the participants seemed intimidated by the distance. But afterwards, their success elated them. All of them beat their previous 5K run times. They even wholeheartedly agreed to do another 5K run for a member who couldn't make it that evening, thoroughly impressing Craig.
“It really shows camaraderie, that the group wants to support each other,” Craig said.
Neither Fisher nor Cunat made it to the end of the program. Another participant had dropped out earlier as well.
“They couldn't continue due to financial reasons,” Craig said. “They had to work extra and didn’t have enough time, but all three have said what they learned up to that point changed them. That was one of the goals: not to create co-dependence, but to create a new lifestyle.”
Craig considers the program 100 percent successful. She saw participants completely change their attitude towards health, become more motivated and become more confident.
“I’m happy,” Carre said. “I went from not doing anything to being really active. I have motivation now.”
Carre would suggest the program to any student who needs to lose weight or wants to build the skills needed for a better lifestyle.
Despite the success of the fall session, “Drop It” will not be offered in the spring.
“We need to take a step back,” Craig said. “There are other factors that need to be addressed to enhance the program to make it the most beneficial to the group. “
These factors are all administrative, behind the scene details that do not effect participants, but need to be reworked so that as a whole, “Drop It” can run more smoothly.
The program may not be ready by next summer, but Craig hopes they will have a perfected program to offer by fall 2013.