Getting Fit at Akkerman

Akkerman Inc. lost one employee this year.

There weren’t any layoffs or firings. No one quit.

Employees lost more than 200 lbs in their 12-week Biggest Loser competition — equivalent to one person (and one child).

The winner and competition director was Jordan Luinstra, an inventory coordinator at the company.
“We originated it for just a few shop guys. This was actually our third season,” Luinstra says. “The first two seasons were just a friendly competition. But Vladimir got wind of it a little bit, and he expanded it into a company-wide event.”

Vladimir Nikishov, Akkerman software engineer and IT manager, built a computer program that was more interactive than before and therefore more competitive for the participants.

“They had an idea, copying from the TV show,” Nikishov says. “We had a couple competitions before, but they were basically keeping it on an Excel spreadsheet. So this program gave them some motivation to beat other people. At the final weigh-in, you had to have some proof to what you did.”

Nikishov’s program had participants enter their starting weight and goals. Whenever they were weighed, the data was entered and showed how much total weight had been lost, how much had been lost since the last weigh-in and what their body mass index was.

Fourteen men took part in the competition, battling as individuals and as randomly chosen teams of two. They lost an average of 15 lbs each. Luinstra says a few women did compete, but they did so anonymously.
“Some people did their own little competition on their own because they didn’t want to commit to it,” he says. “It really motivated about 20 people — about a third of our workforce. I think everyone was excited because of upcoming vacations and the summer and just getting healthy.”

Beginning in January, the men were encouraged to update their weights weekly.

“It generated competitiveness every week,” Luinstra says. “If someone lost 10 pounds in two weeks, you would say, ‘Wow. I need to kick it up a notch.’”

Akkerman’s Biggest Loser had its final weigh-in in April. Nikishov says the 12-week program might have been too audacious.

“We learned that three months was a little too long,” he says. “At two months, people were still in to it, but by the third month they were a little bit slacking.”

“Even I lost interest,” Luinstra says, “and I was the winner.”

Luinstra lost 33.5 lbs and won prize money pitched in by the other competitors. The winning team also received prize money.

Luinstra didn’t lose the most weight, but he had the largest percentage of weight loss. The two men on the winning team lost almost 70 lbs.

“There are some big guys here,” Luinstra jokes.

Nikishov says he didn’t have much weight to lose, so he provided support as the group’s cheerleader.

“Everybody was very excited, especially when our management jumped in,” he says. “It’s something that no one likes to talk about — their weight. But once you see the managers are in then it becomes fun.”

Luinstra says the competition really helped build some new friendships among the employees.

“I think it boosts our morale a bunch,” he says. “Any time there is competition, there’s a little bit of bonding, and you get a chance to get to know the people you don’t get to work with as much. You have something in common — everyone is trying to get healthier.”

The company moved to a new building in February which houses its own exercise facility open during normal work hours. Rob Tumbleson, sales and marketing director at Akkerman, says the exercise facility is difficult to use during the day because the workday is busy, but people do take advantage of it. He says they are exploring the option of adding a similar workout facility in the manufacturing plant on the same property.
Tumbleson participated in the Biggest Loser competition and says Luinstra beat him by a measly half-pound.

“It was a lot of fun, it was a great morale booster,” he says. “Everybody could keep track of everyone, and we’re talking about doing it again.”

Akkerman will continue its weight loss programs by completing another Biggest Loser event this summer. Nikishov also has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

“We’re starting a new program called Akkerman Walk. It’s a virtual walk,” he says. “It logs miles on a daily or weekly basis, whether it’s walking, jogging, biking. We’ll see how far we can get. Maybe in a week or two we’ll make it to Chicago, and then to New York, and then maybe even London.”

Nikishov’s new program will keep track of miles completed by employees and measure those miles onto a map of the world. Starting from Akkerman’s headquarters in Brownsdale, Minn., they want to see how far they can get by the end of the summer.

“We lost over 200 pounds,” Nikishov says of April’s competition. “It’s like losing one-and-a-half persons. And this is only the beginning.”

Kelly Pickerel is an assistant editor for Trenchless Technology.

Diet Without the Diet

These tips were offered by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD for her online article titled “10 Ways to Lose Weight Without Dieting.”

1.Eat Breakfast Every Day. One habit that’s common to many people who have lost weight and kept it off is eating breakfast every day. Try a bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with fruit and low-fat dairy for a quick and nutritious start to your day.

2. Close the Kitchen at Night. Establish a time when you will stop eating so you won’t give in to the late-night munchies or mindless snacking while watching television

3.Choose Liquid Calories Wisely. Sweetened drinks pile on the calories, but don’t reduce hunger like solid foods do. Satisfy your thirst with water, sparkling water with citrus, skim or low-fat milk, or small portions of 100 percent fruit juice.

4. Eat More Produce.  Eating lots of low-calorie, high-volume fruits and vegetables crowds out other foods that are higher in fat and calories. Move the meat off the center of your plate and pile on the vegetables.

5. Go for the Grain.  By substituting whole grains for refined grains like white bread, cakes, cookies and
pretzels, you add much-needed fiber and will fill up faster so you’re more likely to eat a reasonable portion. Choose whole-wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, bran flakes, popcorn, and whole-rye crackers.  

6. Control Your Environments. Another simple strategy to help cut calories is to control your environment — everything from stocking your kitchen with lots of healthy options to choosing the right restaurants.

7. Trim Portions. If you did nothing else but reduce your portions by 10 to 20 percent, you would lose weight. Most of the portions served both in restaurants and at home are bigger than you need.  

8.Add More Steps. Get yourself a pedometer and gradually add more steps until you reach 10,000 per day. Throughout the day, do whatever you can to be more active — pace while you talk on the phone, take the dog out for an extra walk and march in place during television commercials

9. Have Protein at Every Meal and Snack.  Adding a source of lean or low-fat protein to each meal and snack will help keep you feeling full longer. Try low-fat yogurt, small portion of nuts, peanut butter, eggs, beans, or lean meats. Experts also recommend eating small, frequent meals and snacks (every three to four hours), to keep your blood sugar levels steady and to avoid overindulging.

10. Switch to Lighter Alternatives. Whenever you can, use the low-fat versions of salad dressings, mayonnaise, dairy products, and other products.

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