The Ibarra family from San Jose, Calif., is part of the Family Fitness Challenge. From left: Joseph Ibarra, Jose Ibarra Jr., Jocelyn Ibarra and Doris Ibarra. Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
(USA TODAY) -- The Ibarras of San Jose, Calif., are so busy it's no wonder that eating well and exercising didn't fit into their schedules.
Jose, 46, is a pastor at a local church and has a full-time job as a facilities supervisor for a commercial custodial company.
His wife, Doris, 45, is a human resources manager for the same company, and she runs the church's sound booth. Their children, Jocelyn, 20, and Joseph, 16, also wear multiple hats, including juggling school and church responsibilities.
They often skipped breakfast, grabbed fast-food meals while dashing between activities and rarely made time to exercise. That whirlwind lifestyle took a toll. A few years ago, Jose had a mild heart attack.
He also struggles with high blood pressure and high cholesterol and is borderline diabetic. He has had battles with gout. In January, he was carrying 299 pounds on his 5-foot-6 frame. He says he was so busy that he relied on fast-food meals, and "I didn't do any exercise whatsoever."
Doris says: "My husband and I have many poor eating habits that are now being passed on to my children. We love to eat, and we love sweets."
Trying to turn those habits around seemed "overwhelming," she says. So the Ibarras volunteered to participate in this year's Family Fitness Challenge, an initiative to help families across the country get more active - and lose weight. The ongoing project is being produced in partnership with USA WEEKEND Magazine and The Doctors TV show.
More than 400 families applied to take part in the challenge. Six families were chosen, including the Ibarras, and they were paired with a fitness expert with the American College of Sports Medicine and a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The Ibarras wanted to find time to exercise but didn't think they could squeeze it in to their already packed schedule. Then Doris had an epiphany: She suggested they take a brisk walk for a half hour around the church before the Wednesday night service.
On Sundays, Jose is also teaching church members at New Beginnings Christian Church one new exercise a week, such as squats and planks. And right after the church service, he has a group of guys playing basketball for 15 minutes.
"The whole congregation is cheering us on in this challenge," Jose says. "We created a Facebook page where we are sharing the information on menus we put together for meals at home, and the calorie counts on fast-food meals. This is especially important in a Hispanic congregation where we like all those rich foods."
Other physical activities they're doing:
• Jose takes the dog for a 30-minute walk daily. "I'm working on getting to the point where I can run again," he says.
• Doris is taking a 15-minute walk after lunch, and then she does 15 minutes of strength training at night. "I'm breaking it up into small segments. I've never been very disciplined about exercise. I really don't enjoy it, and I'm not very coordinated.
"My goal is to find some form of exercise that I can do well and enjoy. I want this to be an integral part of my life."
• Jocelyn says: "I love working out. I go to the nearest school and run the track or walk the dogs around it. On the weekends, my dad and I will go to the beach. I'll run a mile or two, and he'll walk a mile."
• Joseph says: "I work out almost every day. I work out in the garage with weights and a medicine ball. Right afterward, I run on the treadmill for 30 minutes. On Saturdays, I play soccer with my friends."
The Ibarras "are taking their family time and turning it into their fitness time," says their fitness instructor Liana Tobin, an ACSM member and a certified strength and conditioning coach. "They are taking advantage of every spare moment."
The family also worked with registered dietitian Judith Rodriguez, a past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "People can achieve healthy eating with small sustained changes. This is easier and more significant when families work together, as the Ibarra family has done."
Among Rodriguez's suggestions:
• Have grab-and-go breakfasts on hand, such as hard-boiled eggs, small bags of cereal or fruit and nuts to eat on the way to work. Says Doris: "We've all been working really hard on eating a healthy breakfast. I would say breakfast has become our new favorite meal."
• Work together to prepare more quick meals at home and dine out less. "We create a menu for the week so we have all the ingredients for the meals," Doris says. Adds Jose: "Our kids are helping out with cooking. We cut up vegetables on the weekend, and they last for the week."
• Select lower-calorie options - about 600 calories a meal - at fast-food restaurants and read the labels on grocery store foods. "We are starting to be conscious of calories and portion sizes," Jose says. "I never read the calorie count before - if it was good, I ate it."
Doris says making the diet changes has been easier than she thought. "We didn't do everything at once. We tweaked something different every week."
Still, this isn't a piece of a cake. "We still crave sweets," she says. "We're learning to be satisfied with smaller portions."
So far collectively the family has lost almost 40 pounds in a month and two inches around the waist for each of them. Jose has dropped 9 pounds; Doris, 7 pounds; Jocelyn, 11; Joseph, 10 pounds.
"This challenge has helped us realize that poor eating habits can be reformed one new change at a time," Doris says, "and yes you can squeeze in exercise in your day for five minutes here, or 15 minutes there."