In today's hectic world, it's hard to live a healthy lifestyle.

But 59 area residents made the decision to stop making poor choices and change their lives as they participated in the third annual Biggest Winner Competition, sponsored by Blue Mountain Health System's fitness center, Healthworks Health and Wellness Center, located at the Carbon Plaza Mall in Lehighton.

The competition, which promotes healthy lifestyle changes, took place from Jan. 2 to April 2.

"I am very proud of all the contestants," said Tim Kocher, certified fitness professional and manager of Healthworks. "The contest was started to try and motivate people to live a healthy lifestyle. Hopefully the changes they made for the last three months will continue.

"Remember, slow and steady wins the race when it comes to weight loss."

He added that the participants lost a total of 497 pounds during the three-month period.

"I wish all of the contestants the best of luck in continuing to achieve their weight loss goals," Kocher said. "Healthworks (and its staff) is always here to help."

Contestants who entered had the opportunity to work with certified trainers, attend fitness classes, work out at the gym, learn how to read food labels, make healthier choices, and regain control of their weight. Some used this opportunity as a way to learn how to use the equipment in a gym to benefit their needs; while others decided they would find out how to lose weight at home.

For Norine Zehner of Lehighton, who lost 29.5 pounds, and Jim Clifford of New Ringgold, who lost 55 pounds, this competition was the motivation they needed to start working toward their health goals. Zehner and Clifford were this year's "biggest winners," having lost the most weight out of all the competitors.

Zehner's weight loss journey began when she decided that enough was enough.

"I joined because I didn't like the number on the scale," she said. "I thought it (the competition) would be a good motivational tool and would give me an incentive."

She noted that another reason she decided the Biggest Winner competition was something that would help her, was because her friend, Kim Cann, won last year's competition.

Zehner explained that her long-term goal is to lose a total of 45 pounds, but she says making smaller goals of losing 10 pounds helped her achieve her weight loss to date.

During her journey, the mother of two and kindergarten teacher attended a gym close to her place of employment.

"I worked it into my schedule," she said, noting that she went to the gym four to five times a week and did both aerobic and strength training exercises.

She also said her eating habits have changed.

"I actually enjoy heathier foods and I turn to them more than the traditional comfort foods," Zehner said. "I look forward to eating a salad now."

So what advice can she give people trying to lose weight?

"When you start, set long-term goals, but strive for a short-term goal first," she said.

Zehner and her husband, Scott, have two children, Gavin, 11; and Alyssa, 5.

Clifford's weight loss story is similar to one that many people experience over their lifetime.

Last year, he won the Biggest Winner competition, losing a total of 64 pounds over the three-month period.

But, after the competition was over, he let old habits creep back into his life and the scale numbers began to rise.

"Last year, I looked at April 1 as the finish line," Clifford said. "After that I wasn't disciplined anymore."

He explained that some personal issues also came up that took him away from his weight loss goals.

"I was a little embarrassed," he admitted, "But after talking to my wife (Patti), I thought that I could help people by showing them that I could do it."

He decided that joining the competition again would help him get the motivation that he needed and he was right.

"I had the same result," Clifford said of his 55-pound weight loss.

He used the same method to lose the weight as he did last year.

"I used the treadmill a lot," he said, noting that he walked an average of about 200 miles a month. "It was four to five miles at 4 a.m. and four to five miles in the evening."

He also cut out his weakness, junk food.

So does Clifford think he will move forward with his weight loss?

Absolutely, he says.

"My long-term goal is to keep it off," he said. "I have the motivation this year that I didn't have last year. I made my goal and I also joined a weight program in the hopes of building muscle."

His advice to anyone who has struggled with their weight is to keep at it.

"You have to keep trying," he said. "If you do it once, you can do it again. It's hard and a big change in lifestyle, but it can be done."

He added that he learned that losing weight is something that you must always work at.

"You have to concentrate," he said. "It (losing weight) has to be the first thing on your mind when you wake up. You have to make that effort."

Clifford and his wife have three children, Bryce, who will be 8 in May; Bryn, 6; and Baylen, who will be 2 this summer.

The Biggest Winner Competition is based on the hit TV show, "The Biggest Loser," and is designed to help area residents meet their weight loss goals and learn how to make healthy choices. It has become an annual event at the fitness center and will be held again next January.

For more information on membership rates or programs that are offered at the gym, call Healthworks at (570) 386-8080.