PORTLAND – A doctor recently told Humberto Guevara that he had become so heavy, he was beginning to show early signs of developing diabetes.

It threw a scare into the 33-year-old Hollis resident but also provided some motivation. He and his wife, Heather, have an 18-month-old son. They want to be healthy to see him grow up.

So one recent morning, the Guevaras stood outside the Jacobs Chiropractic Acupuncture Center, waiting to sign up for Dr. Lou’s Weight Loss Challenge.

“We like the competition,” Heather Guevara said. “The possibility of winning money is motivating.”

As a new year dawns, an increasing number of Mainers are participating in weight-loss challenges, losely modeled after the television reality show, “The Biggest Loser.” Some programs focus on exercise. Others include special foods and eating plans. Dr. Lou’s program offers up a heavy serving of motivation.

One common theme is the element of competition, and the chance to win money for losing weight.

Lou Jacobs began his program four years ago on a whim, with 15 patients. Eighty-two people participated in 2010. The winner lost 50 pounds and won $2,050.

Jacobs expects more than 150 participants this year, each contributing $25 to the prize pool. Demand was so high this year, he extended the weigh-in period through Thursday during office hours.

Jacobs began the challenge with the recognition that 60 percent of Maine residents are considered overweight or obese. He knew the condition is linked to a host of painful and expensive health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

“The resolution is in our hands,” he said. “Our goal is to educate and motivate, so people can do it themselves.”

To check in participants, Jacobs takes their picture from the front and side and weighs them on a scale. On April 1, they’ll be weighed again. A panel of judges will decide who had the most-significant physical transformation. A prize also will be awarded to the person losing the greatest percentage of weight.

A weight-loss and fitness challenge that begins next Saturday at Portland Adult Education requires a $25 contribution for a prize pool. The program was so popular last year it developed a waiting list.

A program run by Kathy Napoleone, a personal coach and Herbalife distributor, takes financial motivation in a different direction. If you gain weight during a weekly weigh-in at the Riverton Community Center, you pay $1. Skip a week, you pay $2.

“People are competitive,” Napoleone said. “If they think there’s a prize at the end, it appeals to their competitive nature.”

The Dr. Lou program features free classes with motivational speakers, trainers and life coaches. That sounds good to Humberto Guevara, who said he needs help eating right and making time for exercise.

He weighed in at 291 pounds and would like to get down to 250 pounds by April 1. He hasn’t been there since high school, he said.

Making time to exercise also is hard for Russ and Denise Dyer of Biddeford, who have two small children.

Russ hit 312 pounds last January and dropped 70 pounds last year with exercise and Weight Watchers. But he gained back some of the weight and would like to lose 30 pounds by April 1. He thinks the group support and help from Denise will make a difference.

Denise Dyer isn’t too focused on the three-month challenge. She’s taking the long view, hoping to shed 30 pounds or more this year. She’d like to buy clothes off the rack in a regular clothing store, she said.

Jan Davis Jensen’s motivation goes beyond money or appearance. Her daughter, Raina Jensen, died in a car accident in November.

An aspiring humanitarian and world traveler, Raina, 27, had been working to promote ecotourism and economic development in Fiji.

Jensen wants to go to Fiji to scatter her ashes and start a charitable foundation on the island. A former athlete, Jensen is overweight now and wants to be in better shape to travel and help fulfill her daughter’s dreams.

“This is what motivates me, and I have to be physically fit to do it,” she said.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

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