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The small collection of workers who sit in the back corner of the Tops Markets corporate office is all business when it comes to weight loss.

For two years running, the core of the group has used a strategy to best dozens of other teams in a “Lose to Win” competition against fellow employees, as well as a pair of other companies in Amherst. They’ve done so with a strategy that includes stern oversight, strict record keeping and mutual support, solid planning, appetizing prizes and a steady flow of cash.

“For us to be able to win prizes and get healthy was very motivating,” said Donna Tschantre, captain of the recent five-person “Thin It to Win It” team, which late last year lost an average of 13 percent body weight and walked away with a trophy from BlueCross BlueShield of WNY and other gifts Tops used to sweeten the competition.

Tschantre, pricing and data integrity manager with Tops, partnered with retail pricing manager Rod Bauer, promotions analyst Joe Walf and director of pricing Rick Greene during both competitions. MaryAnne Boncore, a supply chain operator, joined them during the latest effort. They bested more than 600 employees from Tops, AAA of Central and Western New York and the Superior Group. Tops teams were made up of more than 500 workers from across the chain.

Participants lost a total of nearly 4,000 pounds during 12 weeks; the winning team thinned from 1,115 to 968 pounds, a loss of 147 pounds. Team members – who shed an average of 29.4 pounds – shared their strategy as a way to encourage co-workers at other companies to plot their own roads to better health, as well as participate during this year’s competition, which will start in September.

1. Money talked: Financial incentives came from three corners. The Amherst Chamber of Commerce gave $1,000 to the winning team’s employer, which will go toward Tops wellness programs this year. Tops promised an extra day of vacation to each winning team member, as well as $100, and other cash incentives for second- and third-place teams. The winning team’s members also agreed to kick $5 a week into a pot that would go to the person who lost the highest percentage of weight each week. “That was a big motivator,” said Bauer. Everyone won at least once. Walf – who lost 72 pounds and nearly 18 percent of his body weight during both contests – won most often. They weighed in on a bathroom scale Tschantre set up in her office, above a spreadsheet that tracked each team member’s weight.

2. Planning: “We discussed at the beginning of the contest what it was going to take to win the thing,” Bauer said. They set a goal to lose 10 percent in weight as a team. “We were very goal-oriented,” Tschantre said. When she replaced Bauer as captain for the second contest, she sent every team member an email asking how they planned to lose weight. Team members said they planned to cut down on carbs, walk every day or exercise more. “When you write down your goals, you’re more likely to stick to them,” she said.

3. Strong words: The team motto was “Eat less, move more.” Bauer, an avid hiker, invited everybody to walk a half-hour during lunch, at a quick pace. “I made a commitment I was going to do it every possible day,” Tschantre said, “and I started using the treadmill in the morning at home. That was a big change for me. It’s been sitting there forever in my basement and now I use it every morning.”

Gail Marchese, Tops wellness coordinator, sent out emails of encouragement. One suggestion was change your workout program, and that helped. Tschantre sent team emails weekly with inspirational photos and sayings that included, “I wear black because it’s a funeral for my fat” and “Sweat is fat crying.”

4. Strong oversight: “This office is a food company, there’s always food,” Bauer said. “If nothing else, it was, ‘Hey, we’re not going to walk by the cabinet and grab a snack.’ ” But there was more. “We all sit near each other, so we were always watching and looking, keeping check on each other,” Tschantre said. “If a wrapper or bag of chips was opened, we knew. We’re brutal to each other.” Each team member was asked each workday what they were having for lunch, and if they were going for a walk.

5. Mutual support: “There was a lot of conversation among the team members,” Tschantre said. “We motivated each other a lot. We played off each other to see where the successes were.” If someone lost weight by walking on a treadmill, they were encouraged to walk more, or choose a different program, to keep burning calories. “Every week, we discussed different diet plans, what was working, what wasn’t,” Greene said.

6. Building on success: “At the beginning, I was walking 4 miles on the elliptical and at the end I was walking 7 miles on the elliptical,” Bauer said. “I got down to a weight that I hadn’t seen since high school (167.6 pounds).”

7. Variety counted: “I tried yoga for the first time and the yoga instructor talked about using a juicer to get more nutrition from vegetables, so I also tried that,” Tschantre said. She also joined a line dancing class: “I was looking for fun ways to keep moving.” Tschantre, Bauer and Boncore also started sitting on exercise balls at their desks. “It works your inner core,” Tschantre said. She said she’s had neck and spine issues that haven’t bothered her since.

One of the big payoffs of the winning strategy is that the contest also rubbed off at home. Boncore’s boyfriend, Cliff LiPira, started using a treadmill. Tschantre’s husband and Walf’s wife also lost weight.

“What’s in the house – as far as what’s in the fridge and in the cupboards – is different,” Tschantre said. “We’re more focused on vegetables and salads. There’s less going out for dinner, which is good for Tops. Definitely, your family notices. And I got to buy some new clothes, which is nice.”

Besting their co-workers and other companies feels good, the team captain said, “But just getting the weight off is probably the best thing for me.”

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To find out more about the Lose to Win program, email kubiak.robert@bcbswny.com.