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Sharon Sporman has always been active, in good shape.

But she still wanted to lower her cholesterol.

So she joined a new program at Franciscan Health Fitness Centers that teaches people how to exercise and eat well.

She was skeptical at first — journaling is a big part of the program and she doesn't like journaling — but she has found success with Your Weight Your Way.

"It's really not about losing the weight in and of itself," said Sporman, a 65-year-old retiree from Dyer. "It's really the benefits from losing the weight."

Franciscan designed the program to show that it's simple to have a healthy lifestyle — all it takes is dedication.

As part of the 12-week program, participants meet weekly to share success stories and learn about nutrition, with topics including micro- and macronutrients and how to shop for food.

Program leaders customize the meal based on such factors as the class members' activity level and gender. They get a fitness assessment at the beginning and conclusion of the course.

Participants also have the option of doing personal and small-group fitness training and receiving one-on-one health coaching.

"What we do is hold people accountable," said Ashlee Johnson, a program coordinator.

"We have them document their food, no matter what calorie plan they're on. We want to teach people about real food, about portion sizes — so they can maintain, not just lose weight now, but continue on once the 12 weeks are over.

"It's a healthy lifestyle. It's not for now, it's forever."

She emphasizes that being healthy is not going on a fad diet or starving yourself, but eating what you like, in moderation, and moving as much as possible. The program also has people document their eating habits, which Johnson said can be "eye-opening." And it's not just about dropping pounds.

"Even the people who don't lose a ton of weight, their numbers went down, their blood pressure. Their blood work improved. They lost inches," she said. "I think that's huge too for people to realize: It's not always about the scale, it's about how you feel, how your clothes fit."

Sporman, the participant from Dyer, said she initially "hated" journaling but it made all the difference for her. She exercises regularly and eats well, but has never tracked her food intake. She used the MyFitnessPal app.

"I only had about 1,200 calories to deal with," she said. "Those 1,200 calories can mount quickly." She could also see whether she needed to workout more or less in a given day.

After the 12 weeks, she said, her cholesterol dropped by 30 pounds and her blood pressure improved.

"I truly believe that food and exercise both are medicine," she said. "It really is now about sustainability: continuing the behaviors I picked up and now maintaining."


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.