Leo Frett was not just up and out of his Severn home before the birds awoke. He was on an elliptical trainer in the gym by 5 a.m., putting in a couple of miles.
"I got my routine," said Frett, ticking off an exercise schedule that kept him on the move for a few hours before he arrived at work at 9 a.m., and a healthy diet.
Frett, 31, a civilian pet care employee, won the men's division title this month in Fort Meade's Dump Your Plump contest.
The two-month competition at the start of the year, open to service members, their families and people who work at the military post, is Fort Meade's annual battle of the bulge that's now in its fourth year. This year, 207 finishers lopped off 1,527 pounds, said Caitlin Harrington, who keeps track of the numbers.
But more eye-opening than the 51 pounds Frett dropped this year is what preceded it. In the 2011 challenge, which Frett signed up for on a whim, he shed 65 pounds. That made him last year's overall winner.
He did more than keep the weight off.
Though he cut back a little on his workouts at the post's Gaffney Fitness Center from last March through December, he maintained his healthier lifestyle and lost about 21 pounds during off-season.
Frett signed up for this year's program to motivate him to rid himself of more pounds. "It's a free program," he said. "I got nothing to lose but weight."
At 183 pounds, he's nearly 140 pounds lighter than he was 14 months ago.
"I don't want to see that 200 again," Frett said. "I feel better, I really do. I feel better about my appearance. I'm proud of myself. I have more energy. I am stronger and faster now at almost 32 than when I was 22."
Frett said he overhauled his lifestyle. He doesn't starve himself, though he does pine for chocolate chip cookies. Making baked chicken, vegetables and a baked potato at home instead of stuffing himself with fried chicken and french fries from a fast-food window — combined with exercise — has made the difference.
"I didn't count calories," he said.
Frett and the women's division winner met in a 5:30 a.m. spinning class at a gym last year, a class Frett didn't start until after last year's contest. Frett nagged Maricela Perez who had nearly dropped out of the spinning class during the fall and winter holidays, until she caved in and signed up for the competition.
The stay-at-home mother of three said she watched her portion sizes and caloric intake, planned her meals better and quit after-dinner munching.
Perez, 33, knocked 22 pounds from her 5-foot-1 frame and weighed 128 at the contest's end — just 3 pounds over her goal.
"I made a promise to myself that 2011 was my last 'fat' year. I can never go back to that, I really can't. I'd be cheating myself," said Perez, who said she still exercises daily. "I just had blood work done, and my levels were beyond great."
Starting in January, Perez and Frett saw each other three times a week as they worked out on treadmills or elliptical trainers, then went to spinning class. She added weight training, something Frett has adopted since the end of the competition.
He encouraged her at midday, sending snack-time "don't eat that" texts.
"It makes the whole competition a little bit lighter and a little bit more fun," Perez said. "Plus, he took it seriously. I told him, 'I'm going to do this, and I am going to win'. I didn't believe it until I was in the lead."
Perez's husband, David, who is in the Air Force and whom she describes as "the epitome of fitness," supported her efforts at home, she said.
"My husband, he has great willpower. He is such a great motivator. He would say, 'Your legs are toning up really great,'" she said.
They didn't turn their lifestyle upside-down. When they went out, they selected restaurants where french fries — "They are my downfall," Perez said — were not on the menu or where low-calorie choices made fries less tempting.
The overall winner this year — an iPod Touch was the big prize — was Matty Wise, 32, a manager at the Youth Center on post. This was his third year in the contest, and he acknowledges his weight see-sawed between annual competitions.
That motivated him to try again, and this time he's vowing to keep the weight off.
The potato chips, midnight kitchen raids and greasy foods are gone, he said.
For the contest, he ate oatmeal for breakfast, nibbled on raw vegetables, warmed a low-calorie frozen meal for dinner and limited snacks to small portions of almonds and fruit.
He lost some 70 pounds, putting him at about 227 at the final weigh-in. But, he admitted, he didn't do it all in a healthy way, so he has lapsed and already has seen his weight creep up. That has prompted him to strive to eat a more balanced diet and get in shape to play rugby again at 225 pounds.
A few days ago, at a lunchtime party at work, he downed a small portion of pasta and vegetable salad and one piece of fried chicken. No pizza, no cake, no doughnuts.
"I can't carry the weight around like I used to," he said. "I'll get back down there."
Tips from the winners
1. Set a weight-loss goal — a realistic one.
2. Focus on the improvements in the way you feel.
3. Find supportive people, whether family, friends or work-out buddies.
4. Make a plan for exercise, and do your best to stick to that schedule.
5. Curb your caloric intake by eliminating unhealthy foods, controlling portion size, adding veggies and healthy snacks and making a piece of fruit your sweet treat.