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Before she goes to her nightly hip-hop cardio class, Kim Collins often has shrimp cocktail or grilled or baked tilapia for dinner.

The Merrillville law enforcement official used to eat her fish fried, consume a lot of bread, and drink pop.

But after entering The Times' Lose 19 in '19 weight-loss contest, she changed her diet.

"I did it gradually," the 41-year-old said. "With the pop, I just stopped buying it. As long as it's not in my house, I'm good.

"With the fried food, that's my weakness. I give myself two days out of the month. If I want something, I try to make sure I don't do more than that."

Her new eating routine, along with the exercise, has been paying off.

"My clothes are fitting differently," she said. "I've been wearing old pants that didn't fit before."

Experts say that mixing physical activity and healthy eating is the best way to lose weight.

"Your diet plays a large role to help create a calorie deficit. To lose weight, you must take in less calories than you burn," said Kristal Twardy, a registered dietitian with Franciscan Health Fitness Centers. "It is easy to over-consume 500 (kilocalories). However, to burn off 500 (kilocalories) is not quite as easy.

"Physical activity is essential to maintain weight loss, and it comes with additional health benefits," she added. "These health benefits are generally independent of body weight. So adults of all shapes and sizes can gain health-and-fitness benefits if they exercise regularly."

She recommends 160 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise every week (and more if you're trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss). She also suggests muscle-strengthening activities two to three times a week to maintain lean body mass.

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Some simple nutrition tips include eating three times a day, using smaller bowls or plates to control portion sizes, drinking lots of water, stopping eating before you feel full (it takes 20 minutes to realize you're full), eating lean meat, consuming low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and getting plenty of fiber by having a diet full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, Twardy said

Constance Stoneberg, a 62-year-old contestant from Westville, has been closely monitoring her carb intake and portion sizes, especially when she's dining out. 

"I'm trying to eat more veggies. I like them, I just haven't made a point of eating them more often," the retired caregiver and fitness center manager said Tuesday. "I really struggle with salty, crunchy snacks and this has been a struggle for me. Going out for Mexican food tonight and I won't eat tortillas or chips, just meat and veggies."

Andy Tylka, a Lose 19 in '19 challenger from Dyer, has altered his diet by consuming dense, low-calorie foods and practicing mindful eating.

The 36-year-old favors, say, grapes or oatmeal — foods that are dense yet low in calories.

With mindful eating, he tries to concentrate on what's going into his mouth, rather than watching TV or looking at his phone.

"Acknowledge the taste and texture, if it's hot or cold," the auto body shop owner said. "Now I'm actually feeling full, and sitting by myself, enjoying the taste and feeling full because of it, instead of gorging myself on something until I feel sick.

"Keeping fruit in my fridge now is a huge deal now. Instead of me grabbing that quick fattening or salty or carb-loaded snack, I'm grabbing fruit now. There's always apples, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe — snack foods the whole family enjoys ... so we're snacking on a bowl of grapes or cherries."

He's doing a 5K this year, on Father's Day, helped by the motivation of being in the contest, as well as his family.

"That will have special meaning, having my kids and wife there," he said.

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Health Reporter

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.