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'Feel Great IU!' Challenge leads to weight loss and spin-off initiatives across campuses

June 8, 2016

Sarah Byrd was thinking of her two little boys when she chose to participate in the “Feel Great IU!” challenge, a university-wide health initiative. Byrd is an intake specialist in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid at IU Kokomo who has struggled with weight loss her entire life. 

“Of course sometimes I have been more overweight than others but still never considered a ‘healthy’ number on the scale,” Byrd said.

Sarah Byrd

Sarah Byrd,  an intake specialist in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid at IU Kokomo. | PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH BYRD

Byrd’s oldest son is 5, and her youngest was born in March 2015. Her new baby had health issues, and the additional stress had a domino effect on Byrd’s own weight-related struggles.

“My weight had caused health issues of my own, and the added stress just made things worse,” she said. “Over the next six months after his birth, my youngest started to improve, and I decided that I needed to do something about my weight.”

While Byrd started trying to lose weight in September, it wasn’t until IU offered the Weight Watchers program through the “Feel Great IU!” challenge that she really started to see a difference.

“I signed up with some other people from my office, and my husband signed up as well. We all started going to the meetings together, and I started shedding pounds like crazy,” she said.

Since Byrd started the challenge in January, she has lost a total of 75 pounds, and she’s continues to lose weight. It was her kids who gave her the extra momentum as she participated in the program.

“I wanted to become healthy for my little boys so that I am here for a long time,” she said. “I want to be able to keep up with them on the playground and have energy to chase after them. My kids mean the world to me.”

Byrd was among a total of 1,262 participants university-wide who got involved in the program for 12 weeks, and she far exceeded the average loss of 8.9 pounds for the 27 participants at IU Kokomo with weight-loss goals.

Sarah Byrd

Sarah Byrd's children Jakob and Noah. Byrd is an intake specialist in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid at IU Kokomo. | PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH BYRD

In addition to the Weight Watchers resource, the “Feel Great IU!” initiative included educational services, nutritional counseling and personal weight-loss tracking. Those who completed the 12-week challenge received a Fitbit Flex.

Since the Healthy IU initiative started, “Feel Great IU!” participants across all IU campuses have lost a combined 10,031 pounds, whether they completed the entire 12 weeks or not.

According to a survey conducted by Healthy IU about the program, 62 percent of those who got involved in the initiative said their energy level increased after the challenge, and 37 percent reported decreased stress levels.

Byrd is no exception.

“The best part of my experience is that I truly can say that I feel better,” Byrd said. “I could not have done this without Healthy IU and the support of my coworkers and friends.”

In her office at IU Kokomo, Byrd’s coworkers are finding ways to have fun and make healthy choices by opting for healthier options like fruit pizza when they have pitch-in meals and celebrations.

The challenge has also led employees on other campuses to continue staying healthy. 

At IU Bloomington, employees have formed their own Weight Watchers after getting started with the “Feel Great IU!” challenge.

They’ve met on Thursdays since April at the Kelley School of Business, and they’re holding a free Weight Watchers open house June 16 at Kelley’s Hodge Hall, Room HH 4016. Email Hannah Carroll at hbhc@iu.edu for more information. 

Updates from the School of Medicine's "Feel Great IU!" evaluation will be available on the Healthy IU website and adaptations to the fall programs will be based on input from the evaluation.

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