Lighten Up East Texas participants losing weight, gaining support

Flor Sanchez looks at her final weight for the Lighten Up East Texas weigh out. Ms. Sanchez has lost 16.4 pounds since the weigh in and has lost 48 pounds since beginning her journey to better health. She says that her weight loss has given her "more energy to focus on other goals." (Shannon Wilson/Staff)


Michael Durbin, 39, of Whitehouse, waited until the last minute to get weighed this past weekend. He wanted to make sure he gave it all he had before stepping onto the scale. Durbin joined hundreds others during the past week who flocked to various locations to weigh-in for the last time for Lighten Up East Texas, a regional weight-loss contest.

Durbin was once known as Big Mike, but people can't call him that anymore. In less than two years, he's lost 130 pounds.

While the weight-loss challenge, established by the Fit City Challenge Coalition, did not spark his weight-loss journey, he has found it to be encouraging.

He joined the local initiative with the hopes of connecting with other people going through similar experiences.

"It all boils down to accountability," Durbin said. "You have to surround yourself with people who have the same goals as you do to keep you accountable."

He lost most of his weight about a year and a half ago, with about 40 pounds lost since joining Lighten Up East Texas.

However, his journey hasn't been one without stumbling blocks. Sometimes he'd regain some of the weight. Durbin said he, like many others, struggles with consistency.

"If you add up all the weight I've lost, gained and lost again, I've lost about 350 pounds," he said.



Durbin, a father of two, was a support pastor at his church and had been married for 20 years when a series of events led him to where he is today.

"A year and a half ago, I was living a dream life, except for the fact that I was over 400 pounds," Durbin said. "In a two-week period, my whole life came crashing down."

His youngest son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, his wife left, he lost his job, and amid all of that, his car caught on fire.

Dealing with the effects of a life turned upside down, he went to a behavioral health center for help. A doctor there, assessing his physical health, bluntly asked whether his regular family physician had told him that he was eating himself to death.

"He said, ‘Has she told you you're going to die? … On the bright side, at least you know it's coming if you keep eating this way,'" Durbin recounted.

He said he would have taken offense to those comments a few months earlier.

"I was totally glad that he said it," Durbin said. "I was in a great place for him to say that. I know I didn't want to die."

Durbin said in the past, he'd self-medicate with food. When his father passed away, he gained 20 pounds within a month.  

"If I turned to food when I was losing everything, then I was going to be dead," he said.

The exchange at the behavioral health center immediately prompted a transformation in Durbin. He began educating himself on how to make healthy choices. He slowly transitioned from a fast-food diet to fresh, home-cooked meals.  

For exercise, he walks, jogs or runs and adds kettle bells for resistance training.  

Durbin, who at one time tired just from walking at the mall, began competing in major obstacle races across the country, vigorously chasing down his fitness goal.

Throughout his journey, he has found it's not always easy to adopt a healthy lifestyle. He also believes there should be more honest dialogue about the obesity epidemic.

"This obesity thing is an elephant in the room," he said. "Nobody wants to talk about it, but everybody's dying from it."



At the beginning of the weight-loss contest, Jan Lynch, 58, of Tyler, had already lost 45 pounds. She's struggled with the weight most of her life and this time, she said, it would be different.

So far, it has been. She lost another 15 pounds since weighing in for the contest, although she admits she expected to do much better. Nonetheless, she is 60 pounds lighter and feels good about her new lifestyle.

"I want to stay on the same path," she said.

She hopes that path will lead her to a Christmas gift to herself: to be a healthy, comfortable size. She's sticking to her exercise regimen and has been mindful of what she eats.

Ms. Lynch didn't like exercise before, but now, she can't go without it. She does Zumba, water aerobics and ballroom dancing.

"I've even started a free Zumba at church because I feel like everybody needs to exercise," she said.

She's celebrating simple, but significant milestones, such as being able to touch her toes and having improved flexibility and agility.

 "I was wobbling when I started," she said. "My knees don't hurt as much."

She's also enjoying shopping for smaller-size clothes.

Ms. Lynch has been the cheerleader for coworkers who joined her in the contest. Since it began, the holidays and illness presented a challenge for the group.  

"I'm telling them ‘Come on, let's keep going. We have an issue we need to take care of,'" she said. 

Ms. Lynch said drew strength to strive for her goals from the Lighten Up East Texas challenge, noting that it takes a lot of encouragement to tackle weight loss.

"I really think it was a great motivator," she said. "I really am impressed they came up with this idea."

If you'd like to share your weight-loss story, contact Coshandra Dillard at


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