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Rick Conaway, of St. John, is on the Keto Diet, limiting his carbohydrate intake to fewer than 25 grams a day. He fasts on Mondays and Thursdays.

He's cool with his new nutrition routine. He says he has more energy, and just plain feels better. But there's one thing that's been difficult to give up.

"I'm an ex-cop, so the one thing I do miss is my doughnuts," the 65-year-old said. "I can eat half a dozen doughnuts in a sitting."

Conaway, a participant in The Times' Lose 19 in '19 weight-loss contest, has shed 21 pounds since the beginning of January. And he's aiming to drop another 60 before the year is over.

He and the other 18 contestants are off to a strong start. They have dropped 212 pounds in the challenge's first two months.

"I can cross my leg across my lap now. My pants have been baggy," said Carol Sterken, a 72-year-old contestant from Chesterton who is down 7 pounds.

"I can now get down on the floor and do a couple of pushups. Before I couldn't get down. I'm real excited. There's definitely improvement."

The retired accountant gets into shape by doing the BODYCOMBAT class at Franciscan Health Fitness Centers Schererville and the therapy-swim and strength-and-conditioning courses at the Duneland Family YMCA in Chesterton. She plans to walk and ride her bike more outside once the weather warms up.

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The Lose 19 in '19 contestants have been losing weight at varying speeds. Some people shed a lot of pounds when their bodies adjust to a new lifestyle, but the American College of Sports Medicine recommends losing 0.5 to 2 pounds a week, said Lisa Crowder, a personal trainer at Franciscan Health Fitness Centers Schererville.

"Studies have proven that when individuals do crash diets, or cleanses or intense workouts for short periods of time to lose weight quickly, it often comes back," she said. "For long-term health benefits, it is better to lose weight slower and safely."

Ashley Howard, a contestant from Michigan City, just ran her first 10K — in freezing temperatures, along the Chicago lakefront. She joined the Fleet Feet running program at the running-shoe store in Schererville.

"I was looking to get back into shape and needed a way to keep me a little more accountable," she said. "I wouldn't have been out there if it wasn't for the group saying, 'It's OK to be out in 18-degree weather.' "

She's also been cooking at home more, and monitoring her calorie intake with the MyFitnessPal app. And she intends to be more active in the spring and summer, walking her 6-year-old daughter to the park.

The 30-year-old project specialist exceeded her expectations in the 10K.

"I started in the run-walk program," she said. "I ended up running the entire race."

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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.