Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor

Though one’s weight is often considered a touchy subject, some members of the Southeast Produce Council are trying to practice what they preach by losing weight and living healthier lives.

At this year’s Southern Exposure conference, scheduled for Feb. 27 to March 1 in Orlando, Fla., the council plans to host a “weigh-in” for a weight loss challenge.

On March 1, participants in the “Shed the Pounds” contest are scheduled to officially record starting weights.

For every month until the final weigh-in at the council’s fall conference in late September, participants are required to e-mail their weight to the council.

During the inaugural contest last year, about 30 participants shed pounds — including an incredible weight loss from winner Tom Coufal, salesman for Lakeside Produce, Leamington, Ontario. Coufal shed 75 pounds, ending the contest at 246 pounds.

Rick Murrah, marketing director of Birmingham, Ala.-based Flavor-Pic Tomato Co. Inc., who came up with the contest, said participants this year can look to Coufal as inspiration.

“I know there are more of us out here who could stand to lose some weight,” Murrah said.

“Since the first year, some people are probably a little apprehensive about jumping on the scales and exposing themselves to people and saying ‘Hey, I need to do something.’”

Coufal’s effort earned him $1,000. That wasn’t the motivation, however.

He said Jennifer Pierce, the East Ellijay, Ga.-based council’s office manager, kept pushing him in his monthly weight checks.

“I think I would have lost some weight, but seeing how close she and I were to each other, that gave me a little more drive because I didn’t want to show up as a failure,” Coufal said.

“It did give you extra drive because people were writing down your weights.”

Pierce came in second place and Murrah finished third.

“The change in the first-place winner was insane,” said Kathy McNair, the council’s administrative assistant. “For Jennifer, it changed her life.”

Coufal says his health improved in many unexpected ways.

He’s sharper, isn’t as tired, got rid of acid reflux and snoring and is able to fit into clothes he hasn’t worn in a decade.

“Before, I was lethargic,” Coufal said.

“When you sit at a desk doing sales all day, you need some extra energy. I felt my overall health got better. Once you lose some pounds and get in better shape, it was amazing how much better your health is and the way you feel.”

Murrah said the contest is a natural for those who spend their days selling fresh produce.

“Being out of shape and needing to get healthy was one thing, but looking at our council members, how we’re trying to promote healthy eating through consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, what better way to help that than to jump in it ourselves?,” he said.

“We can all sit at our desk and sell, sell, sell and promote healthy eating, but if we take a look in the mirror, we see how some of us are out of shape and overweight. It wakes you up and makes you want to do something about it.”

Murrah, who lost 30 pounds, said the council plans to promote the contest more at this year’s Southern Exposure.

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