'The Biggest Loser:' Capitol Police edition

Under normal circumstances, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse would be thrilled to come to work to find a five-pound bag of Hershey’s Kisses left on his desk.

But not this month.

The bag of sugary chocolates now spells out only one thing: sabotage.

Morse and nearly 150 Capitol Police employees are halfway into the department’s annual weight-loss challenge, and the stakes are high: looking trim for the approaching swimsuit season, making good on New Year’s resolutions and, of course, securing bragging rights.

The rules are simple. Teams consist of four people. Each team member weighed in at the beginning of the challenge — Feb. 1 — and will do so again at the end — April 30. The team with the highest overall percentage of lost body weight wins.

But the tactics are complex.

Just ask Sgt. Jason Bell. Last year his team, “3 Guys & A Baby,” recruited a female teammate who gave birth during the competition. She was 20 pounds lighter by the end, and they took second place.

Or ask Laromacine Young, one of the Capitol Police’s administrative assistants. Young has participated in the competition for three straight years and has become known as one of the most benevolent gift-givers in the office. She brings in cakes, doughnuts and other sweets throughout the challenge to tempt the other teams.

“They eat it up, and I’m not a cake-eater, so I’m always winning,” she said during an interview in the Capitol Police headquarters’ fitness center.

The teams go all-out for the challenge, said Christi Trombino-Tonzi, the Capitol Police department’s fitness consultant and physical training instructor.

She oversees the friendly competition and has seen participants lose as much as 40 pounds.

Many teams try to be as heavy as possible at the initial weigh-in so that their final weight will be more stark in comparison.

“People were waiting in line for their initial weigh-in and they were eating sandwiches and drinking a ton of water,” she said. “And each year we have some people who say, ‘When are you starting the challenge again? Because I don’t want to start losing weight until I get weighed in.’ ”

In past years Trombino-Tonzi used different scales to weigh the team members. But before long word began to spread about which scales were lighter and which read heavier. So this year, all of the participants are weighed on the same scale, which sits under lock and key with Trombino-Tonzi in the Capitol Police fitness center so nobody gets any funny ideas about tampering with it when she’s not around.

And while the contest can bring out the most conniving strategies in people, by all accounts it also works wonders for building camaraderie and helping participants make permanent changes toward leading a healthier lifestyle.

“When you give someone a challenge like this and then they lose the weight, they see that they can,” Morse, the police chief, said in an interview in the department’s headquarters. “And then they want it to be a part of their lifestyle.