All those miles on the treadmill and the sore muscles from lifting weights are an important step in improving fitness.

But the secret to short-term weight loss and a long-term healthy lifestyle depends more on proper diet than any other factor.

With help from Anytime Fitness owner and trainer, Bryan Seibel, the Fitness Challenge participants are making positive changes to their diet.

Both challengers, Jeff Carrel and Jessica Lyons, have a daily calorie goal. But just as important, is fueling their body with the right kind of calories.

“I’m allowed to be in the 1800-2000 calorie per day range,” said Jeff Carrel. “Staying under that number isn’t hard for me at all. What is tough is Bryan wants me to stay at or below 40 grams of sugar per day. I love to eat fruit, and when a banana has 14 grams of sugar, that makes staying under 40 hard.”

Changing the way you think about food is a key part of eating healthy.

“I have changed my diet up quite a bit from what I was eating before,” said Jessica Lyons. “I have a goal of about 1200-1300 calories a day. My only struggle right now is sometimes eating enough calories. I pretty much skip the whole middle section of the store and stick to meat, veggies and fruit. There are times I miss some of the things I was eating before but I try to think of food more as “fuel” now than as a comfort for me.”

Only three weeks into the Fitness Challenge, the positive changes in nutrition are already leading to lost pounds and better-fitting clothes. An added benefit for both challengers: the healthy eating habits are being passed on to their families.

“My family is starting to follow suit a little more as the days go by and I like that maybe we are instilling some better eating habits for my two sons,” Carrel said. “Grocery shopping is a little harder, just because this is new to us. Normally, we buy stuff for casseroles, quick stuff like frozen pizza, snack stuff like Doritos and Nutty Bars. Now it’s fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat, not much bread, and we’re looking at more labels.

“My doctor also wants me to limit my sodium, so anything processed is almost a no-no! ‘Real’ food is what Bryan stresses. Look at your plate and you know exactly what you are eating.”

Positive change is also taking place in the Lyons’ household.

“I have a goal that I want to achieve, and I feel that I truly have motivation and support behind me,” Lyons said. “Our family is also basically following the same diet as me. They enjoy what I have been making (except for Brussels sprouts). My husband’s blood sugar went from being in the 300s down to 110. How amazing is that?”