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Success Story: Losing 90 pounds, he finds 'the better person inside'

ST. PETERSBURG

At 18, Joey Stagnitta seems to have it all — healthy good looks, a stellar academic record and a generous scholarship package to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

But two years ago, the math wiz at Lakewood High School's Center for Advanced Technologies was on a different trajectory.

Joey, a former junk food junkie and fan of video games, started packing on the weight in middle school. By his sophomore year, he was carrying 230 pounds on his 5-foot-7 frame.

"I was a bowling ball with a mustache and 2 feet of dark curly hair," he said.

He wasn't teased about his looks.

"I was too scary looking," he said.

And antisocial.

"My weight was starting to affect my relationships with others. I wasn't nice to people because I was feeling bad about myself," he said.

By his 16th birthday, Joey was ready for a transformation.

"I knew there was a better person inside — I just had to find him."

• • •

That summer, Joey took advantage of a free teen summer membership at Lifestyle Family Fitness and lost 15 pounds.

It jump-started his desire to lose more, but since he couldn't afford a paid membership, he started running and working out at home doing calisthenics and working with free weights.

He also cut out the cheeseburgers, fries and desserts and started eating salads — lots of them.

"I ate salad with fat-free dressing for every meal. I ate lots of vegetables. Sometimes I'd have grilled chicken. I cut out sodas and drank nothing but water," he said.

The pounds melted away.

He admitted the food routine got boring, but the declining numbers on the scale kept him motivated.

So did the compliments.

A year later he had whittled down to a svelte 140 pounds and gained tons of self-esteem in the process.

He cut his hair and started adding color to his formerly dark wardrobe, adopting a more clean-cut, classic look.

He was named "Most Changed" at a senior banquet.

Some of his former teachers said they didn't recognize him.

He's glad.

He'd just as soon forget about the big guy with the long locks, chains and quirky party hats.

• • •

These days Joey maintains his physique by making smart food choices and eating smaller portions. A typical dinner may include fish, broccoli and a side of pasta.

He runs a 7-minute mile and usually does 200 push-ups or 400 crunches a day. He's gained 10 pounds of muscle and now weighs 150 pounds.

His mother, Michelle Stagnitta, couldn't be prouder.

Her honor student, a National Merit Commended Student and a National AP Scholar, is leaving for college with a healthy mind and body.

"He's a very determined person," she said. "When he sets his sights on a goal, he goes for it.

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

Dodging the "Freshman 15"

Joey Stagnitta said he's so disciplined, he's not worried about gaining weight in college.

But he and other students are facing a real challenge, said Dr. Denise Edwards, director of the University of South Florida's Healthy Weight Clinic.

"The weight can just slowly creep on because college students are away from home for the first time and not making the best choices," she said.

Lack of exercise and unstructured eating and sleeping times often contribute, she said. Poor food choices at the campus cafeteria or fast-food restaurant are common. And many students keep snacks in their dorm room that are loaded with sugar, fat and salt, she said.

Alcohol can be another downfall.

"One beer a day for a month can put on a pound," she said. "And beer is one of the lower-calorie drinks compared to frozen and mixed drinks. People tend to eat more, too, when they're drinking because (alcohol) interferes with the signal that tells the brain when they are full."

Edwards offers these suggestions:

• Stick to a regular schedule of eating and sleeping.

• Don't buy cookies, chips, doughnuts and candy.

• Get a small refrigerator and stock it with fruits and vegetables, lean meats and dairy products like low-fat yogurt and string cheese. Buy pre-cut and prewashed bags of baby carrots, zucchini and celery.

• Nonrefrigerated snacks can be low-calorie bags of trail mix, nuts and "no sugar added" fruit cups and applesauce. Keep some in the backpack for when hunger strikes.

• Avoid alcohol (most freshmen aren't of legal age anyway!) as well as sugary sports drinks and high-cal juices.

• Eat small portions throughout the day.

• Walk, run or bike to class. Use the campus recreation center if available.

• If you can't make it to the gym, take study breaks and dance in the dorm room while listening to an iPod or watching a YouTube video. "I've known a lot of students who have lost a ton of weight dancing," Edwards said.

BEFORE

JOEY STAGNITTA,

18, of St. Petersburg

Starting weight: 230 pounds

Lost: 90 pounds

Current weight: 150 pounds

What worked for Joey:

Eating salads, vegetables, grilled chicken and drinking lots of water

Running and calisthenics

Quote: "I knew there was a better person inside — I just had to find him."

DO YOU HAVE

A SUCCESS STORY?

If you've lost weight, shaped up, or overcome some other health obstacle you'd like to share with the readers of Personal Best, please send us your story. We need to know your name, age, hometown, what you achieved, how you did it, and how it has changed your life. "Before'' and "after'' photos are helpful, too. Please e-mail your information to Personal Best editor Charlotte Sutton: sutton@sptimes.com (write Success Story in the subject line).

Success Story: Losing 90 pounds, he finds 'the better person inside' 08/14/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 14, 2009 5:30am]
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