By Cecilia Chan GSN Managing Editor

With his wife going to school, a 5-year-old daughter and a job, Brennan Gerle had his hands full.

“I ate a lot of McDonald’s, a lot of fast food, anything that was convenient,” said the Queen Creek resident.

Earlier this year, the 34-year-old had a body mass index or BMI of 26.9 – considered overweight by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BMI measures body fat based on weight.

Today, he’s lost 21.7 pounds, reduced his BMI to 23.7 and dropped two pants sizes, thanks to a fitness challenge at his workplace, Isagenix International in Gilbert. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy for an adult.

The company, which sells dietary supplements and skin-care products, opened its world headquarters off Loop 202 in 2016 after operating in nearby Scottsdale.

Gerle not only won the challenge but took home $3,500 in prize money. The challenge included other categories that employees could compete in, including a maintenance pool, in which previous winners at the end of the competition must weigh within 3 percent of their previous winning weight.

A panel of five judges picked the employee who showed the most transformation of body and lifestyle, using before and after photos and essays.

In this year’s IsaBody Challenge, 383 of the 750 employees at the site participated, losing a total of 1,375 pounds, according to company spokeswoman Megan Dean. Isagenix’s regional offices included another 250 employees, with each location holding a challenge.

“Since health and wellness is the focus of our business, the health of our employees is extremely important,” Dean said. The annual challenge began in 2007.

Employees who signed up for the 16-week challenge in February, met one-on-one with the company’s wellness coach, who tailored a nutrition and exercise plans for each participant.

Of the 383 who started out in the challenge, 213 completed it, said Pav Manchik, a full-time wellness coach for Isagenix the last two years.

People dropped out for a number of reasons, including they left the company or life got in the way, Manchik said.

“I got one individual, he and his wife got twins midway through the challenge,” he said.

Gerle also hit a bump early on in the challenge, having to travel to Michigan for two weeks for the adoption of his newborn son. He had to rustle up the motivation to find a gym and healthy foods during the process.

At the start of the challenge, Manchik took pictures and collected data from each participant – weight and measurements of body fat, shoulder, chest, hips and glutes. The data was checked about midway and then again at the end of the challenge.

Manchik also held three 45-minute group exercise classes a day, totaling 17 hours a week for the participants.

The company’s cafeteria serves healthy meals at all times, and participants were encouraged to use the company’s products, which they could buy at a discount. People considered for the grand prize had to have used the company’s products, Manchik said.

Gerle said he’d drink at least two shakes a day, gave up fast food and introduced healthy eating to the family.

“I would make dinner each night, cooking chicken breast and having vegetables,” he said. “It was a lot different from the chicken nuggets and French fries my daughter was used to.”

This is the third time Gerle has participated in the challenge. But this time, he took it seriously, he said.

Manchik estimated that roughly 75 percent of the participants who completed the challenge will maintain their healthy lifestyle.

Gerle said he still eats healthy and goes to the gym four days a week.

“It’s weird,” he said. It’s to the point now that I really want to go to the gym. I feel lazy even if I don’t do it for a day.”

Gerle said because of the challenge, he and his family have adopted a healthier lifestyle and he has gained confidence.

“I’m a lot less timid,” he said. “When you exercise and make a lot of progress, you kind of get to the point to push yourself to be outside of what you know you can do.”

Manchik said the company is doing its part to encourage health and wellness in light of the rise in cases of type 2 diabetes, where one of the risk factors is being overweight.

The CDC reported 30.3 million Americans in 2015 had diabetes, of which 90 to 95 percent of the cases were type 2 and that 7.2 million Americans didn’t even know they had the disease.

And with the growing obesity rate in the country, diabetes cases are expected to grow as well.

In 2017, Arizona had the 29th highest adult obesity rate in the country, according to the State of Obesity, a collaborative project of the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The state’s adult obesity rate went up to 29 percent from 14.9 percent in 2000.

Other health risks associated with carrying around extra weight include stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The fitness challenge is just one of the many company offerings to keep employees healthy.

Manchik said a massage therapist is brought in multiple times a year to give free massages and a chiropractor twice a year to do evaluations and adjustments.

The company also offers gym reimbursements where employees can receive $3 for each time they hit the gym and recreational events such as on-site ping-pong tournaments and reimbursement for participating in Pat’s Run, a 4.2-mile race in Tempe.

While other companies have various ways of encouraging employees to stay fit, Manchik said, “I think we do it better than others because we have so much structure in our program. They offer services, we offer solutions.”