Marlene Biesboer recently returned from a trip to Wisconsin. She leaves soon for Walt Disney World. In August, she heads to Branson, Missouri.

The summer travel season is upon us. It's a challenging time of year for people in a weight-loss program, people like Biesboer, a participant in The Times' Lose 17 in '17 contest.

At Disney, she will be staying in a house with 15 family members and friends, each of whom will switch off preparing dinner. Luckily, she said, her loved ones are health-conscious. The true test will come when she's wandering the park.

"I'm such a Chicago-dog, Polish-sausage person. I struggle to eat the right kind of food at a place like that," said Biesboer, 81, a Lansing retiree who has lost 8 pounds in the contest's first six months. "When I referee volleyball in Chicago, I know every good Chicago dog place. I have to take different streets so I don't pass them."

She and her fellow Lose 17 in '17 participants will have to be vigilant this summer to resist the enticement of barbecues and turning into beach bums. But fitness experts said it's possible.

"When the summer starts to heat up it is easy to become dehydrated and tempting to indulge in sugary drinks like pop, lemonade, sweet tea, or alcohol," said Leah Okner, fitness manager for Franciscan Omni Health & Fitness in Schererville. "All of these drinks contain extra calories that your body doesn’t need."

She also advises not overdoing it on appetizers at summer barbecues.

"It is easy to consume a half a day’s worth of calories before you have eaten your meal," she said. Rather than standing at the appetizer table snacking, she recommends grabbing a small plate of food and not going back.

When you're on vacation, she said, be cognizant of your portions. Restaurants often double or triple the recommended portion sizes, so she suggests splitting your meal with a family member. She said a serving of meat should be the size of your palm or a deck of playing cards, a serving of pasta about the size of a clenched fist.

A recent vacation to Tennessee made contestant Jim Sharp realize he needed to step it up. He and his girlfriend would lose their breath as they hiked mountainside trails, shopped for souvenirs and climbed the stairs of their cabin.

"The cabin we stayed in we were on the upper level. It was 14 stairs to our level," said Sharp, a government leasing agent from Crown Point. "We took those stairs and we'd be dying by the top of them. We thought, 'This shouldn't be this hard. We're only 52.' "

He now intends to start planning his meals and going to the gym more consistently. He hopes to be in better shape for his next vacation, to Michigan in the fall.

"We kind of made this pact," he said. "We're committed to it. We're not going to do it halfway."

Contestant John Galambos, of Munster, believes an upcoming visit to his sister's house in Houston actually will help him lose weight. Like him, she recently went through some medical challenges that reinforced the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.

"If you're around people that encourage you, such as my family members, I think that makes it a lot easier," said Galambos, 61, who works in marketing and sales. "Instead of saying, 'Let's go out and get a big pizza,' we're conscious of our eating habits."

He has been dealing with some heart and back issues so far this year, but recently started walking more, gave up alcohol and re-evaluated his cooking techniques. During a phone interview with The Times this week, he was preparing to roast a turkey.

"I could have easily stuck this turkey breast in the deep fryer. But I'm going to take the time to rub it down and stick it in the oven," he said. "It's all about making the better choice."


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.