Win by Losing: Be Fit Lehigh Valley Contest

Win by Losing: Be Fit Lehigh Valley Contest

By Ann Wlazelek

Stephen Vassallo considers himself lucky: He has never had a weight problem; he has always been active and eaten right; and he’s living his dream job, owning and operating a private fitness center.

The 42-year-old married father of four realizes, however, that not everyone is so fortunate or knowledgeable about keeping fit. He is astounded by the high rates of obesity in this country and still surprised by all the people who tell him they have been on a diet as long as they can remember. So, starting this month, Vassallo plans to help as many as 20 Lehigh Valley residents win good health by losing excess pounds, fat and unhealthy habits in a competition akin to TV’s “Biggest Loser.”

Like the popular NBC reality show, there will be one overall winner. But under Vassallo’s contest – called “BE Fit Lehigh Valley” – winning will be about more than the number of pounds and inches lost. Contestants will spend 12 weeks at Vassallo’s center, Body Elite (BE) of Allentown, learning safe ways to exercise, eat and relax to shed extra weight and improve their health.  It will be a holistic transformation, he said.

“When I opened the center 14 years ago, I wanted to have a positive effect on as many people in the Lehigh Valley as possible,” said Vassallo, a certified trainer with a degree in biology who lives in Upper Macungie Township. In that time, he said he has helped members lose as much as 100 pounds and keep them off. Now, through the contest, he is offering the same opportunity to anyone with a need and strong desire.

Contestants should be at least 40 pounds overweight, Vassallo said, not someone who wants to lose 10 or 15 pounds. “It should be someone who doesn’t know how to do it, where to begin,” he added. Each contestant should be cleared for exercise by his or her doctor. And, the only cost to them will be their time.

Vassallo plans to help as many as 20 Lehigh Valley residents win good health by losing excess pounds, fat and unhealthy habits in a competition akin to TV’s “Biggest Loser.”

Although on average it costs about $600 a month to belong to Body Elite, Vassallo has asked area businesses to sponsor BE Fit contestants by paying their expenses. As of the end of January, seven companies or individuals had already agreed to be among 10-15 sponsors and to contribute $1,800, according to Vassallo.

One of those sponsors is Ron Weber of New Tripoli, a financial advisor for Primerica who wants to help a part-time associate achieve her goals of weight loss and motherhood. Weber knows that Vassallo’s methods can work because he’s been a client for 15 years, lost 50 pounds and kept it off for three years. He believes that mind, body and money matters are all related, and if money issues can be resolved then stress and overeating can
be as well.

Millicent Himmelreich, the co-worker, tried out for the TV’s Biggest Loser three times but was never selected. She said doctors have told her and her husband that they would have a better chance of conceiving if she lost weight. For her 5-foot-2-inch frame, she said, losing 175 pounds would be ideal. “My husband and I want a baby,” Himmelreich said, thrilled that Weber would pay the cost of sponsoring her in Vassallo’s contest.

The money covers 36 hours of exercise training, counseling and group classes at Body Elite as well as a device that tracks each contestant’s sleep. Trackers will be used because Vassallo’s contest will not only judge a contestant on the amount or percentage of weight lost, but also on lifestyle changes, including getting proper sleep.

Points will be awarded for pounds lost, body fat reductions, regular sleep and attending educational seminars on subjects including nutrition and meditation. Contestants can even earn extra points for bringing a friend or family member along to the seminars to increase the learning.

Located in the Dorneyville shopping center, at 3243 Hamilton Boulevard, Body Elite is a 5,700-square foot facility offering personalized training and massage. “It’s not a gym,” Vassallo said, promoting the center as a safe, comfortable, non-competitive environment, open Mondays through Saturdays.

Vassallo believes almost anyone can lose unwanted pounds and excess body fat if determined and motivated. And a large part of that equation, he believes, is eating fresh, wholesome foods.

“Too many people are yo-yo-dieting, especially in our area,” he said. “We want to teach them ways to take it off and sustain it over the long haul… I can guarantee it if they follow my methods.”

Vassallo’s method does not involve counting calories or eliminating all snacks, desserts and drinks. He said he understands, for example, that many folks will eat more cookies and drink more wine over the holidays.

But the way Vassallo sees it, the typical commercial diet plan today sets up its followers for failure.  Either the diet deprives people of the foods they love, and followers eventually go back to those foods and gain the weight back, he said, or, the plan calls for eating packaged and processed foods that contain chemicals that can remain in the body and slow the metabolism, making it harder to
lose weight.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third (35.7 percent) of adults in America are obese, a serious and costly condition that can contribute to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.

Vassallo believes a better way to manage weight is to eat real, wholesome foods in satisfying amounts, then adding or increasing exercise to boost metabolism as needed. People who live and eat this way, he said, have a better chance of achieving and maintaining desired weights. He said he’s seen it work for members of his fitness center.

BE Fit’s 12-week contest should wrap up by the end of spring, transforming participants into slimmer, healthier, happier people.

“Everyone at Body Elite is very excited about the possibilities of this contest,” Vassallo said, but because it is the center’s first try for a Lehigh Valley “Biggest Loser” type of contest, the fitness center owner said he’ll be learning along with his contestants.

“We will just do it and work out the kinks and get better as we go,” he said, hoping the competition is successful enough this year to run annually and possibly involve other fitness centers, such as those offering boxing lessons or Pilates instruction.

For more information about BE Fit Lehigh Valley, call Vassallo at 610.770.0884.

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