Tears welled up in Tonya Thomas' eyes at The Obesity Summit after an official at BlueCross® BlueShield® of Tennessee announced that she'd won first place in the individual category for the most weight lost – 42.6 pounds – during the Healthy Church Challenge 100-day weight loss competition.
Thomas began her weight loss journey in January, when she tipped the scale at 274 lbs. On Feb. 2, she signed up for the Challenge and weighed in at 233.6 lbs., having already lost 40.4 lbs. in one month. She lost an additional 42.6 lbs. during the Challenge for a total weight loss of 83 lbs.
BlueCross® BlueShield® of Tennessee presented the Healthy Church Challenge and The Obesity Summit to educate participants and encourage them to eat a well-balanced diet, exercise and live a healthy lifestyle, both spiritually and physically.
"I really worked hard," said Thomas, who struggles with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In 2012, she was blindsided by a stroke. "I told the Lord, 'If you bring me out of this, I will take care of the temple you've given me.'"
A member of Mt. Sinai M.B. Church-Lauderdale, Thomas joined the Healthy Church Challenge to give herself that extra push she needed to work off the pounds. "If I hadn't won the Challenge, I would still be a winner, because I learned to eat healthy and exercise more," said Thomas, who plans to buy workout gear and exercise equipment with her $500 gift certificate.
Thomas' church team was just as happy for her as they were for themselves. They, too, were surprised when the names of two others on the team were called. Carolyn Quinn, who came in second, lost 34.6 lbs. and received a $250 gift certificate. Christopher Holmes, who finished third, lost 34.4 lbs. and received a $50 gift certificate.
In the church team category, Bethlehem M.B. Church in Millington won first place and received a $5,000 gift certificate. St. Andrew A.M.E. Church came in second to win a $2,500 gift certificate. And Fullview M.B. Church in Bartlett, which finished first last year, finished third and received a $1,500 gift certificate. Each gift certificate will be redeemed at Sports Authority.
Dolly Hurd still can't believe her church team beat out 32 other churches to win first place and a hefty check for sports equipment. The team lost a combined weight of 270.28 lbs., which was based on weight loss measured at the final weigh-in.
"When we entered the competition, we wanted to fellowship as a group and eat healthy," said Hurd, Bethlehem's team coordinator. "I gave them a diet to follow and some healthy eating tips to get them started."
A certified yoga and Zumba instructor, Hurd said she's trying to challenge church members to exercise more and prepare them for a church-sponsored 5k-run in September. "With the $5,000 gift certificate," she said, "we can get a lot of equipment."
At the Summit, internationally-renowned fitness expert Donna Richardson said men and women must be courageous, relentless and tenacious about taking control of their health. "If you take care of your temple, your temple will take care of you," she said.
Richardson encouraged participants to move their bodies and led a light workout from the pulpit of Breath of Life Christian Center, the Summit venue. She asked participants to join her upfront as she exercised to up-tempo, gospel music.
"Some of us don't appreciate good health until we experience bad health," she said. "You got to be active five days a week. What you have been doing is not working."
Richardson told the story about a friend whose four siblings died in their 50's because of bad health.
"Your body needs movement to stay healthy," she explained, adding, "There are consequences to bad health. There's a danger in doing nothing."
The Rev. Kenneth Robinson, M.D., pastor of St. Andrew AME Church and the public health policy advisor to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, topped off the Summit with a message he derived from the book of Daniel 1:8.
"This was a test, a 10-day trial...," said Rev. Robinson, equating Daniel's refusal to eat the king's food with the unhealthy foods that African-Americans tend to eat, which puts them at risk for any number of debilitating illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
"It's about changing how you eat and how active you are," he told the participants and added, "Daniel preferred to eat vegetables and drink water rather than defile himself by eating meat from the king's table."
He said Daniel and his brothers were going to be compared to others who ate the king's food to see who would be healthier and better nourished after 10 days. Of those who participated in the Challenge, he asked, "Can you keep it up?"
Leona Buchanan, a member of Fullview M.B. Church, plans to take what she's learned at the Summit and apply it to her daily life. "I learned how to eat healthy and exercise. Now I'm motivated," she said. "The Summit helped me a lot."
There was something at the Summit for everyone, including health screenings and breakout sessions.
Yusef Boyd, a certified fitness trainer and owner of BIOMechaniks in Germantown, talked to a group about the importance of working out. Jacqueline Daughtry, RD, LDN, clinical nutrition manager at The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, talked about healthy eating habits, while Chef Timothy Moore, a personal plant-based chef and wellness coach, demonstrated a few vegan dishes that participants can make at home.
Danielle Avery, a registered nurse at Methodist University Hospital, did not participate in the 100-day challenge, but she had this to say about the competition and the Obesity Summit itself: "I wanted to be supportive, to see what you're doing... and I'm impressed."