Opening a door to weight loss for UWM students

Trecia Coleman has found peer encouragement a key in in her effort to get in shape.

Losing weight and getting fit is tough.

Add to that the rising rates of obesity, and you have the inspiration for Stepping Forward.

Offered by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Recreational Sports & Facilities area in conjunction with Norris Health Center, the Stepping Forward program is designed for UWM students with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater.

Stepping Forward is an eight-week program that includes nutrition and healthy-behavior discussions, low-impact fitness class and a support group. (Students aren’t the only ones getting fit on campus. See Spring wellness programs for employees below.)

“We offered Stepping Forward in fall 2011 and spring 2012, and will kick off another session on March 11,” says Sara J. Schillinger, fitness program director, Department of Recreational Sports & Facilities. Stepping Forward meetings will be held Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m.-noon through May 9 in the Klotsche Center.

Space is limited to the first 20 individuals, and there is a charge of only $10 for the eight-week program. Interested students can register at, where they also will find a chart to determine if they have an eligible BMI.

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The program helps participants create a personalized action plan that enables them to start making important behavioral changes in their lives to achieve a healthier weight. A panel of UWM health and fitness professionals works with program members to help them learn fitness, nutrition and behavioral tools to improve their lifestyle and lose weight.

For spring 2013, that panel includes Colleen Bernstein, health promotion and immunization coordinator, Norris Health Center; Heather Henrickson, psychologist, Norris Health Center; Susan Kundrat, registered dietician, clinical assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the Nutritional Sciences program in the College of Health Sciences; Monica Verstegen, kinesiology student and group exercise instructor; and Schillinger.

“Although we’d like to have more students take advantage of the program, we’ve had really great feedback from past participants and a few success stories,” says Schillinger.

One of those success stories is Trecia Coleman.

Trecia Coleman has lost 59 lbs — and counting — in the Stepping Forward program.

Coleman says she felt “desperate” when she enrolled in Stepping Forward in fall 2011. “I had been trying to lose weight on my own and that wasn’t working. I thought this program might help, and it was a great opportunity at $10 for so many resources.”

She started the program at 248 pounds, is now at 189 pounds and is pushing ahead to her next target weight goal. She plans to enroll in the new session of Stepping Forward.

Asked what made this program work for her when other strategies didn’t, Coleman points to the support the program provided. “There was lots of encouragement from the students in the support group, while the panel could help facilitate our changes,” Coleman says.

“It helped that all of the other participants understood my weight struggles and what I was going through,” she adds. “The panel of health and fitness professionals was great because of their expertise – but they were all thin!”

In addition to working out, altering what she ate and portion size, Coleman points to the mental changes she made. “We are so critical of ourselves. I learned to be kind to myself and accept myself for who I am.” The Stepping Forward team urged Coleman to give herself some credit (and leeway). “If I miss a workout or eat French fries, I know I’ll hit the gym tomorrow and I don’t have to eat a pile of fries.”

Like many UWM students, Coleman is a full-time student and also works full time as a third-shift office assistant. Motivational quotes help her “get up and go.” A favorite is, “I don’t stop when I’m tired; I stop when I’m done.”

At the Klotsche Center/Pavilion, Coleman took the extra step of participating in free Group X classes as well as investing time and funds in personal-trainer sessions. She finds that another motivator is her newfound muscle strength and tone. “I’ve discovered that I really like weight-lifting.”

Spring wellness programs for employees

Students aren’t the only ones getting fit on campus. UWM employees are working on losing weight and have the opportunity to take part in fitness and walking programs this spring.

The Work/Life Balance group in Human Resources and Best Place to Work (BP2W) are collaborating on a number of spring wellness, fitness and stress-reduction classes.

The UWM Weigh, which started in January to promote healthy eating and physical activity, has 262 employees, including the chancellor, signed up. All participants weighed in at the start of the challenge and can voluntarily weigh in every two weeks. The final required weigh-ins at the end of the challenge are set for Monday and Tuesday, March 25 and 26. All results are confidential and are tallied in terms of percentage of body weight lost.

“We heard a lot of positive comments about the challenge from individuals when they came in to weigh in,” says Mark Mielenz, benefits manager and a member of the Work/Life Balance group.

The spring semester walking challenge for employees will start in early April. Participants in the fall challenge logged 23,000 miles between Oct. 12 and Dec. 10. Walkers can sign up as individuals or in teams of up to three people.

The low-cost stress-relief/exercise classes involving yoga, Zumba, Pilates and other activities are proving popular with employees, according to Alberto Maldonado, a member of the BP2W team working with Work/Life balance to organize these classes. A new eight-week Tai Chi class starts March 28, and a four-week Total Body Toning Class will begin April 24. Several classes will be offered over the summer.

Finally, a Wellness Fair for employees is set for April 9. Vendors and insurance companies will share programs and ideas for healthy living. The WEA Trust, Humana and United Healthcare will be doing biometric screenings for their members. The Arthritis Foundation, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association and Paws vs. Claws will also be among the organizations attending.

Additional information and sign-up instructions on all these wellness activities will be emailed to employees. Information also is available on the BP2W website,