San Antonio Community Walk at Phil Hardberger Park. Courtesy photo.
San Antonio Community Walk at Phil Hardberger Park. Courtesy photo.

In less than one week, 34 individuals and I will celebrate the end to one chapter in our books and we will begin the next one in what will be a life-long journey with health and wellness. We came together back in January as part of the fifth annual H-E-B Slim Down Showdown, a 14 week competition focused on improving our health. Our relationship has gone from one of competitors, to a true support system, and I personally cannot wait to join them as we walk the runway at our finale.

Prior to the award ceremony, H-E-B will host a huge Health Expo, free to the public from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center (200 E. Market Street, Exhibit Hall A). At 1:15 p.m., the doors will open for the Slim Down Showdown Finale.

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Yes, the “winner” will be announced for the $10,000 grand prize, but the truth of the matter is we all won when we were selected for the program.

It was not too long ago that I submitted my application and video as part of what would become a full-fledged journey with the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown. At the time, I did not know what I was about to embark on. All I read was: Congratulations, you have been identified as a top candidate for the 2015 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown!  Over 1,500 people from all over the state of Texas started the application process and we have narrowed that down to our top 46 applicants.”

My heart skipped a beat. It skipped another beat when I found out I was selected as a finalist after interviews.

This was it. Time to finally take control of my health by getting the support I needed. I thought, “I’ll get to lose so much weight the right way.” Boy was I wrong to think it was that simple. The H-E-B Health and Wellness Team have completely transformed my life, and even that feels like an understatement. From the first day at Fit Camp, I knew this was different. We were charged with making this a lifestyle change as well as being agents of change in the community, to improve health and wellness awareness back home. It was truly alumni from the program, such as Ruben and Melanie Cavazos, who solidified things for me—this change was doable. It was not going to always be easy, but we would be set up for success.

Since moving to San Antonio in 2010, H-E-B has continued to be a company that stands out for their incredible commitment to our community, and their commitment to education is so clearly embedded with that as well. As an assistant principal and former teacher, H-E-B has impressed me with how much they do. You would be hard pressed to find a big event in our community in which they do not play a role. Simply put, H-E-B is so much more than just a grocery store. The Slim Down Showdown program has shown me a whole new side of H-E-B, and that has, in turn, allowed me to see a whole new side of myself.

I am blessed to be down 60 pounds since the beginning of the year, 52 of which have been lost with the program. I have gone from a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 38.8 to 32.1, only two points away from no longer being considered obese, something that has not happened probably since I was in high school. What has led to this substantial change? I was tired of having to buy bigger clothes and not fitting in them eventually. I could not take another restrictive diet. I no longer wanted to lose the weight only to gain it back. I knew obesity was not my destiny. Working with kids I have also seen that obesity does not discriminate and that students can be impacted by their weight in negative ways. More broadly, I am also hopeful that we can change health outcomes for people in our city, and that more of us will choose to start and stay on the path of health and fitness.

A change was needed and I knew it would have ripple effects into other parts of my life as well as that of others. Whether it was creating a Zumba series in my school district with my fellow assistant principals at Alamo Heights ISD, or organizing community walks with other San Antonio Slim Down Showdown participants (see top photo); people from all walks of life joined as we took on this challenge.

On an even more personal level, friends and family around me have reached out to learn about how I am changing my ways. I have helped people create meal plans for the week and then taken them on H-E-B store tours for grocery shopping.

With my dietitian ,Jennifer after the Alamo Run Fest. Courtesy photo.
With my dietitian, Jennifer Feise, after the Alamo Run Fest. Courtesy photo.

My dietitian, Jennifer Feise, and an incredible chef from H-E-B, Charlotte Samuel, came to my school to do a nutrition class for several staff members. People text me to ask how to make better choices when eating out. I have received countless texts, emails, Facebook messages, and I have had multiple in-person conversations about the inspiration people have gathered from watching our journey with this challenge. It is important to me that all of these things continue and grow once the challenge is “over.”

And what lessons have I learned from this experience that I want to share? Food is fuel. It is about building a healthy diet, not dieting. All foods can fit in moderation—cheating is not a word that exists in my vocabulary. Deprivation just simply does not work. Drink more water. Be mindful of your food intake. Ask for the help you need, and above all else, find people to lean on. What has helped me the most is to have a broad network of support that encourages me, helps me when I hit bumps in the road, and that believes in me. A big thank you to my family, friends, and colleagues—I could not have done this without them.

At our first Zumba Across the Heights class in AHISD. Photo by David Nungaray.
At our first Zumba Across the Heights class in AHISD. Photo by David Nungaray.

In the end, here is what I know to be true: being healthy is possible. There are so many resources out there. H-E-B hosts Second Saturday Screenings every month where you can get your numbers checked (glucose and blood pressure are free). In collaboration with It’s Time Texas, H-E-B created an easy-to-follow 10 week program with videos, meal plans, tips, and a fitness plan to get you jumped started on learning healthier habits. H-E-B offers multiple nutrition services such as group classes, and they accept most insurance providers for consultations with their dietitians, who are a wealth of knowledge and have the kindest hearts in the world. They are the true game changers, and if there’s one hope I have it is that H-E-B continues to grow their Health and Wellness Team because every Texan deserves to lead a healthier life.

I know I will continue on this journey and I am excited to start this next chapter. The chapter will include more community involvement, learning even more about health and fitness, and who knows, maybe even a marathon. I am dreaming big and hope you will join me by taking whatever small step you can to improve your health.

What I will leave you with is this poem, “The Dash” by Linda Ellis. Click here to read it. H-E-B Vice President of Communication and Engagement Kate Rogers, read it to us during our Fit Camp. The words ring true to this day and I am proud to say that I, along with my 34 new friends, will continue giving this journey our all. We have been blessed with an incredible opportunity and we are better for it. Now, onto making that impact even bigger.

With H-E-B Vice President of Communication and Engagement Kate Rogers during Fit Camp. Courtesy photo.
With H-E-B Vice President of Communication and Engagement Kate Rogers during Fit Camp. Courtesy photo.

*Featured/top image: San Antonio Community Walk at Phil Hardberger Park. Courtesy photo.

Related Stories:

Student Health: One Teacher Makes a Difference

Slim Down Showdown: The Road to Health and Happiness

Contestants Gear Up for H-E-B Slim Down Showdown 

H-E-B Adds Nutrition and Health Care Services at Select Stores

More than 1,000 Pounds Lost, More Than 30 Lives Changed

David Nungaray

David Nungaray is a bilingual consulting partner at The New Teacher Project.