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Steve McAlister had always had an interest in fitness.
“From the time I was a child growing up in Hattiesburg, my mother bought me muscle and fitness magazines,” he said. “I knew that the stronger I could be, the better athlete I’d be in my sport of choice, which was basketball.”
Yet, while in college, McAlister gained 40 pounds and was borderline hypertensive.
“I felt bad, was self-conscious about my appearance and couldn’t run up a flight of stairs without being out of breath. I was fed up,” he said. “I read anything I could get my hands on about health and fitness and took classes and got certifications. I wanted to help people who were in the same spot I had been in. I realized that in Mississippi, we are at ground zero for the obesity epidemic. What better place to start a program to help the problem?”
After college where?, McAlister coached basketball where? and realized that his satisfaction came from seeing the “Aha” moment when kids understood what he was telling them, and it made a difference in the way they played.
“I knew I was meant to coach people, so in September 2009, my wife Keller and I opened Versus Strength and Conditioning in Hattiesburg,” he said.
Jamie Page started working at Versus five years ago, after the birth of her now 6-year-old son.
“Getting the baby weight off was difficult,” Page said. “I worked hard to do it and began blogging about the recipes I used to help in my own fitness journey. I shared the blogs with my classes at Versus and people really liked them.”
McAlister and Page knocked around the idea of a month-long fitness boot camp.
“Although we saw results, we realized that four weeks just simply wasn’t enough to create the kind of lifestyle changes and habits that are important going forward,” McAlister said.
“The fact that our first boot camp was scheduled in the fall just before the holidays didn’t help either,” Page said with a laugh.
The two put their heads together and decided to create a 12-week nutrition boot camp that would incorporate the habits that are vital to achieving and maintaining health for the long term. Those involved took the Precision Nutrition certification program.
“We took what we learned and mapped out how we wanted each week on the program to look,” Page explained. “It begins slowly, starting with drinking more water, then builds with new habits each week.”
The Clean Kitchen program is designed to be done online, with daily “habits” to check off. Participants have access to a personal coach who monitors daily progress.
“If a person hasn’t checked in for a day or two, we check in with them to see if they are OK and help them get back on track,” McAlister said.
As the program has evolved, it has been streamlined to keep everything contained and organized.
“We have had a phone app developed so that participants can do the program on the go,” Page said. “There are food logs that the coaches go over, as well as habit check boxes, a habit compliance score and a daily lesson that’s available either in text or as a short video.”
Page explained that some people just want to improve their overall health and hopefully avoid Type 2 Diabetes. Others want to be “ripped like Rambo. That’s where the coaches come in. They assess each person’s goals and work with them accordingly. This isn’t a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all program. We know each person is different and everyone has different needs.”
Since the program has kicked off, the coaches have gone on to complete Level II of the Precision Nutrition certification training.
“We are all hungry to help people,” Page said. “We want people to be inspired.”
They have recently launched a cookbook to provide additional support in the way of recipes and nutrition tips.
“The cookbook was an organic extension of this program,” Page said. “I had been blogging my recipes, and other coaches had been sharing their recipes with clients, so we put them all together into a beautiful cookbook.”
Page partnered with Keller McAlister, Steve’s wife, to co-author the book. Keller is also the co-owner of Versus, and she is a Level 1 Precision Nutrition certified Clean Kitchen coach. Steve McAlister said that a published author in Hattiesburg, Ben Morris, encouraged them to publish a book.
“Jamie had worked at a magazine, and she knew how to do layout and design. She designed the entire book, including doing the food photography,” he said. “She’s like MacGyver — give her some duct tape, a paper clip and a pen and she can create anything! Keller has so many great recipes and nutrition tips, so it was a great partnership.”
Morris did the editing and organizing for the book.
“He’s a structured, spreadsheet kind of guy, so that was great for us,” he said.
The book is available to purchase at Versus in Hattiesburg as well as on Amazon.com.
Hope Gustafson has been a participant in the Clean Kitchen program and said she’d suggest it to anyone, no matter their fitness level.
“I joined the gym about a year and a half ago, and I heard Steve and Jamie talk about the Clean Kitchen program, but I didn’t want to spend the money to do it,” she said. “Finally, a friend said she’d do it if I would, so we did it together. I’m super glad I did. At the beginning, it starts slow, which can be frustrating, but Steve said that it’s part of the ‘brain retraining’ that needs to happen in order to form good habits. Each day there was a little change and, by the end, I could really tell a difference.”
Gustafson said that it’s been a year since she has completed the 12-week program, and she still makes good choices without really giving it much thought.
“I have four teenage sons, and I recently went back to work fulltime, so I thought I’d stray a bit, but, actually, the habits I’ve learned have made the transition to working 40 hours a week in addition to all my other responsibilities quite easy.”
McAlister said nearly 600 people have completed the online program so far.
“The majority have been from Mississippi, but we’ve also had participants from California, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Alabama,” he said. “If we can change the nutritional habits of people in our home state and make a difference here, we want to branch out and do the same with people all over the United States.”
For more information, visit www.vsccleankitchen.com.