Turning 60 was traumatic for Linda Joiner, but not because of her age.
The Fairview Heights woman had gained weight for no apparent reason and was sporting a dreaded "muffin top."
"I had never had to diet," said Linda, an educator with the Illinois Department of Public Health.
"I ate anything I wanted, and I never gained. I was really never a junk-food eater, but I could have been without any fear of repercussions. If I wanted a Big Mac, I had a Big Mac."
But those days are gone. Linda's metabolism has changed.
In September, she signed up for the Healthy Lifestyle program at Belleville Health and Sports Center, operated by Memorial Hospital.
"I didn't want to start losing weight when I was 100 pounds overweight," Linda said. "Thirty pounds is enough. I wanted to nip it in the bud. I wanted to be proactive instead of reactive."
Three men and 20 women are enrolled in the 10-week program, which combines healthy eating with exercise to help with weight loss.
Students weigh in every Thursday night, get tips from a dietitian and try different forms of exercise, ranging from aerobics to zumba, tai chi to pilates, yoga to spinning.
"This is not a diet," said center manager Micki Classen. "It's a lifestyle. They're forming healthy habits. When they leave here, it's not over. It's something they should do for life."
The idea is not only to lose weight but to avoid medical problems associated with obesity.
The staff does blood-pressure screenings and body-fat analyses at the beginning and end of the 10 weeks.
"We have found that both will improve," Micki said. "The scale doesn't always show a big weight loss because they're lifting weights and developing muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat."
Just do it
On a recent Thursday, Micki demonstrated equipment in the aerobics room, including coreboards, steps, stretching cords and exercise balls.
Some students struggled to keep up with the step routine.
"All I can say is, go do it," said Micki, 59, of Belleville. "Be lost for about three weeks, and all of a sudden, it's going to click, and you're going to love it. It's so much fun."
Next came a lesson by dietitian Stephanie Day on how to make good choices when dining out. She invited students to share their own experiences from the week.
One woman had survived a baby shower without eating cake. Another packed a lunch every day to avoid the temptation of snack machines at work.
"I had nachos at the football game, but I didn't eat the whole basket," said Deborah Smith, 62, of Fairview Heights. "That was a big accomplishment for me. You walk in (the stadium), and you have all these smells. You're trying to be good, but it's hard."
Stephanie noted people can go to restaurant websites in advance and view menus to help with decision-making.
She suggested splitting meals with family or friends, choosing appetizers instead of entrees or ordering off the kids menu, if allowed.
"A lot of times, the meals they serve in restaurants can feed two or even three people," she said.
Stephanie also encouraged students to look for items that are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, roasted or poached instead of fried, battered, breaded, crispy or smothered in butter or cream sauces.
She discouraged going to restaurants with buffets or all-you-can-eat options.
"That's not the mind-set you want to get into when you're trying to lose weight," she said.
Joyce Stehl enrolled in the Healthy Lifestyle program because she was unhappy with her appearance and feeling "frumpy." Her cholesterol level also had spiked.
Joyce, 56, of Marissa, wanted to slim down and tone up in a healthy way.
"I was afraid my doctor would put me on medication," she said. "And I did not want that."
Joyce has a somewhat sedentary job as administrative assistant at Christ Our Savior Lutheran High School in Evansville.
In the past seven weeks, she has been going to the gym to use the stair-stepper and other exercise equipment.
"Every day, I walk three miles (across town) faithfully," Joyce said. "If I can't do that because of inclement weather, I will ride five miles on my stationary bike."
Joyce also has improved her eating habits. She tries to stay below 1,200 calories a day, avoid junk food and drink water.
Joyce stands at 5 foot, and her goal weight is 124 pounds. As of last week, she had gone from 134 to 127.
"I have found that I sleep better, and my thought processes are clearer, and I feel better," she said, noting a check-up also showed her cholesterol had dropped.
Like Joyce, Linda has made some big lifestyle changes. She walks 2 miles a day during morning and afternoon breaks from work. She lifts weights every other day and is taking a Pilates class.
Linda tries to avoid snacks and fast food. She has reduced portions at mealtime, replaced soda with water and stopped eating after 6 p.m.
"If I'm in a restaurant, I only eat half of (the meal)," Linda said. "I immediately tell the waitress to box the other half."
Linda hasn't eliminated all her favorite treats, focusing instead on moderation.
In the past seven weeks, she has gone from 172 to 163 pounds. She stands at 5-foot-3, and her goal weight is 142.
"You don't want to weigh what you weighed in high school because you're an adult now," she said. "Our bodies change. But I'm determined to get down to what I need to be according to the medical books."
You can do it, too
The next 10-week session of the Memorial Hospital's Healthy Lifestyle program will begin Feb. 6, 2014.
The cost is $95, which includes Belleville Health and Sports Center membership.
For more information, call Micki at 618-398-2778. To register, call 618-257-5649.