Last updated: December 24. 2013 9:42AM - 2937 Views
Amanda Moss Staff Writer

Submitted photoToni Byrd before the program, left, and Byrd the way she looks today.
Submitted photoToni Byrd before the program, left, and Byrd the way she looks today.
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It’s that time of year to start considering what goals to set for the new year.

Sarah Mammarella, a registered dietician and the family and consumer sciences agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Richmond County, has a program to help people gain a healthy lifestyle and potentially lose those extra pounds from the holiday season. The weight loss program is starting on Jan. 9 and will be held on every Thursday for eight weeks, but this isn’t the first time the program has been in session.

“I piloted the program this past January,” Mammarella said. “That was the first time it was ever offered. It lasts for eight weeks. I usually do one program, take a couple of weeks off and then start a new one.”

Even though the program has only been going for a year, it has gained in popularity.

“I have a limit of 50 new people for each session,” Mammarella said. “It is reserved for the first 50 that pay, but I always have a waiting list for each new session.

The program teaches various nutritional messages, Mammarella said. The program focuses on learning how to make eating well a lifestyle.

“It is not simply a diet,” Mammarella said. “It is about changing up your lifestyle completely so you can be healthier. We set small realistic goals that way people can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Plus the support within the group is amazing. I really think that is why we are seeing so much success.”

Since the program started there has been a total of 117 participants that have completed the entire class, Mammarella said. Altogether those participants have lost 686 pounds and 192 inches off their waistlines.

Toni Byrd has experienced major success with the program. She started the program on April 12 and has lost 91 pounds since. She went from a size 24 to a size 12. Her success has extended far beyond the eight-week range of the class.

“It has been such a life-changing experience for me,” Byrd said. “I’ve done a complete makeover from head-to-toe since I feel like a completely different person. It really is not just another diet. It is a lifestyle change and the things I’ve learned to do from this class I will do for the rest of my life. I was starting to have health problems and now all that has changed. My doctors have been really amazed in how I have improved health wise.”

Byrd has had past experiences with diets that have literally turned her off from the idea of doing yet another one. It was actually her father that paid for the first initial class with Mammarella.

“I didn’t go into it with very high hopes at all,” Byrd said. “In the first session I set a goal to lose 14 pounds, and I ended up losing 24 pounds. I was amazed. I have struggled with my weight since I was a young girl and now I weigh less than I did as a teenager. I would recommend the program to anyone now.”

Neil Parrisher, another participant in the program, has had similar success. He just recently completed his first eight weeks and lost 25.5 pounds and 5 inches off his waist.

“The thing I’ve really taken away from this class is keeping track of what you’re eating,” Parrisher said. “I didn’t even realize the amount of calories I was taking in until I started keeping track of them.”

Parrisher represents the smaller number of men who sign up for the weight loss class.

“Men are a hard-headed by nature,” Parrisher said with a laugh. “But losing weight and getting healthy isn’t just for women. It is important for a longer life to get healthy and that is what got me interested in it in the first place. That and my friend Toni (Byrd) who could only say good things about the program.”

Byrd has evolved from someone being self-conscience about her weight to being the poster child — literally — for the program. Her before and after photo now is shown to those that sign up for the class, and she also makes sure to be at the opening class to talk about her experience with the program.

“When I look at that picture of me before and me now, I have to do a double-take,” Byrd said. “To look at that and see where I was then to where I am now is very emotional for me. I couldn’t be happier.”

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