Michael Raczak
Still shooting for his goal weight

Daily Herald Health Writer

It’s a humbling experience, having someone pinch your fat in a set of calipers. When he made his New Year’s resolution to lose weight, Michael Raczak, a 54-year-old middleschool principal from Naperville, had no idea what his goal weight should be.

He was about to find out.

In a small conference room at Edward Health & Fitness Center in Naperville, trainer Heather Grier measured finger-fulls of fleshonRaczak’s chest,belly andthighs.Then she sat downwitha calculator to give him his prognosis.

It turns out Raczak’s body is 31 percent fat. For a man his age, it should be less than 20 percent. More bad news: His body mass index — a r atio of height toweight—is 28. A healthy BMI is 18.5 to 24.9. To get his BMI into the healthy range, Raczak, who’s 5 feet 11 inches tall, should weigh between 133 and 172 pounds.

On this day, he weighed 198. Raczak immediately nixed any idea of a 40-pound weight loss. “I’m not expecting to look like the ‘Men’s Health’ guy with the ripped abs,” Raczak said. “On the other hand, I know I’m overweight.”

Reality check

The lowest Raczak has weighed recently was 175, when he was training for a marathon eight years ago.

It’s unrealistic to think he’d be able to get to that weight and maintain it long-term, said Nancy Rodriguez, a registered dietitian at Edward Hospital.

“You’d have to be working out at the same level as when you were training,” she said. But she has some good news, too. Every notch Raczak can lower his BMI will lower his risk of disease. “Even if you don’t get into this range, you’re improving your health,” Rodriguez said.

Raczak already works out with Grier twice a week, and recently he added three additional workouts on his own. Grier pushes him; one of her favorite workouts is a series of lunges carrying a 45-pound weight.

“Heather just kicks my butt,” Raczak said. “I would never do this onmy own.”

Food is his weakness. Grier agrees.

“He definitely puts in the time,” Grier said, “but he needs to get his diet figured out. People shouldn’t think hiring a trainer gives them license to eat whatever they want, she said. “It doesn’t work like that.”

Diet review

That’s where Rodriguez comes in. After evaluating Raczak’s diet log, Rodriguez offered a few tweaks.

Raczak should be sure to eat breakfast, ideally something with a little protein and fat. A sandwich is fine if that’s all he can grab as he goes out the door. When he eats snacks, he should sit down and focus on his food, rather than eating on the go.

“If you’re going to eat it, at least enjoy it,” Rodriguez said. She suggested he go online to research healthy options at the restaurants he frequents, since he’s likely to rely on them occasionally. Looking up those calories was scary.

“Oh, my God,” Raczak said. “If you sit down at one of these places and you have a meal and a beer, you’ve got 1,600 calories.” To lose weight, Raczak is aiming for 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day. One restaurant meal can blow it. But he’s also learned how to make better choices. A small fast-food hamburger has about 250 calories and some protein, making it a decent snack.

Rodriguez also urged him to eat more fruits and vegetables. Before, he averaged two servings a day. Dietary guidelines call for at least five servings, but “more is better,” Rodriguez says. But Rodriguez doesn’t recommend wholesale diet overhauls.

“I’d rather take what you’re doing now and tweak it, because even though it’s going to result in a slower weight loss, it stays,” she said.

Raczak has taken that to heart. He follows the rules for most of the week, then loosens the reins for dinner on Saturday and Sunday. One weekend, he made filet with a gorgonzola cheese sauce.

“That was like death in a pot, and then it went on my steak,” he said. “The rest of the week, I’m really watching. But I allow myself those two meals. As long as I keep on losing weight, I think it’s OK.”

Raczak’s diet will come to a test over spring break, when he’s going to Florida. It’s OK if he gains a pound or two, Raczak said, as long as it’s not 12. Next month, he plans to begin running with some colleagues, with an eye to maybe entering the Chicagomarathon.

He’s happy with his progress so far. Besides the 14 pounds, Raczak had lost a little of his belly — enough to retire his fat pants.

“I’m not saying it’s easy, but I’mgetting closer and closer,” he said. “When you run the last story, you’re going to have a picture of buff boy.”