Imagine losing 150 pounds in one year and earning $1,500 in prize money because of it. That's what Autumn Ussery did with the help of Destin's Dwindling Divas — a group started by Destin resident Tami Scott last April.
With the money she earned, Ussery purchased a new wardrobe and put some away for the future. She focused on exercising and eating right, and in the end, she said it's the support and friendships that helped her along the way.
"If I can do it anybody can do it," Ussery said. "The best part was the amazing friendships that you make with the other women in the group."
Scott created the group as a fun incentive-based way for local women to get healthier and reach their weight loss goals.
Each month, members of the group pay $30 to contribute to the overall cash prize pot. They weigh in at Scott's house at the beginning of the month, and then at the end of the month, they weigh in again to see how much weight they've lost.
"When Tami does her weigh-ins, she’s always open. It doesn’t matter what time. She’ll meet us there in her pajamas. I need to have somebody to check in with, I need it for willpower," said Diva group member Margaret Markey.
The person who has lost the highest percentage of weight in 30 days often walks away with $500 or more and often, those who come in second, third, fourth, and all the way through ninth place receive some sort of gift certificate or prize.
Many of the members focus on making nutritious food choices while working out independently several times per week, whether it's walking the dog or lifting weights.
Markey, who is a teacher at Destin Middle School, has been so successful in her weight loss journey that her doctor recently reported her cholesterol is lower, her blood pressure looks great, and her pre-diabetes is gone.
"I was really surprised about that. My doctor said 'Wait a minute are you losing weight?' It's motivated me to keep exercising and now I'm at a maintenance stage, but I still need to check in with the group or I won’t be accountable," Markey said.
Markey has used her prize money from Destin's Dwindling Divas to travel to San Antonio to visit her new grandson and to fly to Colorado to visit her daughter.
"Last month, I came in second place and I used the money for a trip to New York City. My prize money covered our tickets to see 'The Lion King' on Broadway."
Scott stresses that the group is for women empowering women. Their Facebook group is full of supportive messages like "way to go" and "fantastic" underneath posts where members share their achievements, their workout for the day, or their healthy meal ideas.
Diva Tina Watson said she's thankful that Scott acted on her idea to create the support group.
"Tami is one of the busiest mothers I know, but she still found the time to create a club that helps women empower each other and encourage each other," Watson said.
At the end of the month after their group does their final weigh-in, they have a fun event to celebrate. This month, they're going to Splash Paint Party Studio in downtown Fort Walton Beach, and in previous months they have held dinners, clothes swaps for those who have lost weight and need some new wardrobe options, and skincare classes.
"Getting together and sharing stories and seeing people you haven’t seen in a month or two is always so fun. I love to see the excitement that everyone has for one another," said Watson.
The group has created a level of camaraderie and support that fosters accountability and the drive to continue working toward overall health. So far, Scott has given away $8,519 in cash and $1,085 in gift certificates to local boutiques, restaurants, and spas.
“I’m so proud of this group," said Scott. "I had no idea that people would be that interested in it. In this day and age, women don’t lift each other up the way that they should. It's about being there for each other and help each other out in general.”
Destin-based registered dietitian Anna Morelock said that "diet bets" like these tend to work well for people with weight-loss goals.
"Study after study has shown that a simple monetary gamble in circumstances like these will result in a significant increase in weight loss," Morelock said. "I think their idea is great and I would encourage any and all people trying to meet their weight loss goals to put some money on the line!"