D Magazine intern Michelle Saunders is a vegan who enjoys healthy eating. Now I feel bad for stuffing my face with a cream cheese puff pastry as I was editing this post for her.
Okay, I’ll admit it. When I first heard about Genghis Grill’s Health Kwest, a 60-day weight loss contest centered on daily meals at the chain, I was more than a little bit skeptical. After all, this is the restaurant inspired by the legendary thirteenth-century Mongol warrior whose nomad diet purportedly consisted of large quantities of meat and dairy products – not exactly commonly recognized diet foods. I wasn’t sure how many (if any!) options they’d have for a no meat, dairy, or gluten enthusiast like myself, but I was reassured to discover the menu is not all meat. There are, in fact, lots of vegetables as well as healthier starch options such as steamed brown rice. They even have tofu if you’re looking for a meat-less protein substitute, so vegetarians, fear not – the Khan has not forgotten you.
I met 26-year-old “Khantestant” Michelle Gamradt at the Arlington location she represents with hopes that she could shed some light on the second annual Health Kwest. Since this was my first time eating at GG, I had her walk me through the process she goes through every day. Upon arrival we were seated and each given a surprisingly small bowl then encouraged to go through the cafeteria-style line and “build our bowls.” Michelle and I discussed the khantest over her mango bbq shrimp and sausage bowl (under 500 calories!) and my spicy veggie bowl.
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She first heard about the Kwest in January when she was signing up online for their free birthday bowl. Like many, the start of the new year found her trying to get on track with her diet and exercise but she had attempted to make changes before with little success. “January is the time you’re trying to get healthy,” Gamradt admitted. “But every time I’d start a diet it would just fizzle out.”
The idea of participating in a public weight loss contest appealed to her because she knew she’d be held accountable, so she decided signing up couldn’t hurt.
“If I got chosen I told myself I was going full-throttle,” she recalled. “You don’t get this opportunity often and I was not going to blow it.”
A couple of days later she was notified that she had been chosen to represent Arlington and on February first she joined approximately 78 others on the journey to “a healthier Khan.”
The competition rules are fairly simple. The contestants are required to eat one meal a day at any Genghis Grill and as Gamradt put it, “just try to lose weight.” The daily meal is complimentary for participants and they are otherwise free to diet and workout as they see fit. They are also required to maintain a personal blog on the Health Kwest’s website that they update regularly with their progress. They must spread the word about the challenge to as many friends and family members as they can who can then ‘like’ each post two different ways by visiting their blog directly. Each ‘like’ counts as a vote and the winner is determined by the highest number of votes received (25%), most blog posts (25%), and highest percentage of weight lost (50%).
So where does Gamradt stand? At the time of our interview last week, which was exactly halfway through the competition, she was in approximately thirteenth place and had lost about 14 pounds, which is, she says, the most weight she’s ever lost in one period.
Far more important than her rank, however, are the drastic changes she’s made in her diet and lifestyle. “You don’t realize how much you put into your mouth until you stop doing it,” Gamradt confessed. Since starting the Kwest however, she has begun eating smaller meals throughout the day. Breakfast typically consists of oatmeal and water, lunch is a GG bowl, and dinner consists of a lean protein served with a side salad and wholegrain carb. Between meals she snacks on fresh fruit and she has given up all alcohol and refined sugar for the duration of the contest.
She has also begun working out regularly, recently joining Camp Gladiator and using the Couch to 5k app to prepare for the annual St. Patty’s Day Dash Down Greenville. With less than a month left in the competition and the top competitors leading with more than 70 thousand votes, Gamradt knows her chances of winning the 10 thousand dollar prize are slim. She is not fazed, however, and claims to already be reaping the rewards for her efforts. “I know [winning] will be a long shot,” she says. “But [the contest] has given me the motivation to change my life. I’m already a winner.”
After the contest is over she plans to maintain her new and improved lifestyle, saying, “I want to use the momentum from the weight I’ve lost to keep me going after this ends.”
Although I won’t be hurrying back to GG for more “Mongolian Stir-Fry” any time soon (it’s not exactly fine dining or memorable Asian cuisine), I stand corrected on two points. One, Mongol warriors apparently did not consist entirely on meat, and two, the Khan may actually know a thing or two about inspiring healthier lifestyles. And for that, I say the khantest is a success.
To vote for Michelle Gamradt, visit her profile.