In the past 2-1/2 months, Barb Swanson has been eating healthier, started working out religiously and shed more than a dozen pounds.

But she's most happy about the difference in her outlook.

"It's not just losing pounds. It's getting up and feeling good and looking in the mirror and trying on new clothes," the 68-year-old said. "I've lost 13.5 pounds. It's not a life-changing amount of weight. But it makes you feel like you're moving in the right direction. It impacts your whole lifestyle."

The Schererville retiree, a contestant in The Times' Lose 17 in '17 weight-loss contest, said she's felt more energized since making the changes in her life. She's been hitting the gym six days a week and getting most of her protein from seafood and Greek yogurt.

Fitness experts said Swanson has the right attitude: Losing weight is about more than simply losing weight.

"It's not just about that number on the scale," said Ashlee Johnson, programs supervisor for Franciscan Omni Health & Fitness in Chesterton. "That number can easily go up or down depending on water weight or the time of the day."

Instead, Johnson said to focus on how you feel.

Are you no longer winded or in pain when you walk up and down the stairs?

Are you sleeping better? If so, that could indicate that, through exercise, you're expending enough energy for your body to be tired at night.

Are your pants or shirts looser? "This is a great way to tell if you have lost inches without even using a measuring tape," Johnson said. "If your clothes are big on you now, you have definitely made some changes to your body." 

She said you also can measure your blood pressure, resting heart rate, measurements and body fat percentage. Depending on the results, your doctor may be able to adjust the medications you take for chronic conditions.

The Lose 17 in '17 participants have a private Facebook group where they encourage one another and share diet and exercise tips. Earlier this month, contestant Tiffany Wenrich, of Schererville, posted: "I will likely not have lost any weight from last month when I weigh in tomorrow morning, but my clothes are fitting better, etc. Non scale victories are important too!"

While she hasn't lost as much weight so far as she would have liked, she now fits into smaller pants. She has also inspired her 15-year-old daughter to be healthier.

After Wenrich, 34, told her daughter she was selected for The Times' contest, her daughter decided to become a vegan. Wenrich, a corporate communications manager, said having to prepare all those fresh fruits and vegetables has forced her to eat healthier.

"After so many years of struggling with numbers on a scale, these things are more important," she said. "It's more about the way you feel."

Contestant Barb Coggins, of Valparaiso, has been eating more natural food, stopped drinking pop and bought an exercise balance board. She said she's "bummed" she's only lost 10 pounds thus far. But that's likely because she's making lifestyle changes rather than doing a crash diet, like she had in the past.

"I noticed my core was stronger a little bit ago when I was pulling the garbage cans in," she said. She said she's also felt quicker lately when she's had to run to stop students trying to leave at the special-needs school where she works. 

Swanson, the Schererville retiree, said being a contestant in Lose 17 in '17 has helped motivate and keep her accountable. When she returned from a recent vacation having gained 5 pounds, she didn't let it set her back like it would have before. She got right back to the gym and eating healthy.

"Having this group of 17 people has been a big deal. I've never had a support group," she said. "This is such a public deal. Everywhere I go, people are cheering me on, asking me how I'm doing, reminding me I'm doing this.

"Talking to people on Facebook, I now recognize the value of a support network. All that together has honestly made this almost fun. I won't go full boat and say fun. I almost enjoy the whole weight-loss challenge of it. It doesn't feel like drudgery now."

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Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.