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Brittney Payton eats with care to stay in shape for wedding

Brittney Paytraises weighted bar during side splits pilates exercise East Bank Club Friday March 15 2013 Chicago. | Chandler West~For

Brittney Payton raises a weighted bar during a side splits pilates exercise at the East Bank Club on Friday, March 15, 2013, in Chicago. | Chandler West~For Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT: CST1303181556002824

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Updated: June 10, 2013 6:02AM

Ask any bride-to-be what’s on her wedding countdown, and “getting in shape” is likely near the top of the list. But what’s a girl to do when her “day job” involves sampling calorie-rich sweets, cheese-covered creations, and deep-fried foods?

Brittney Payton, 28, is the co-host of WGN-TV’s “Chicago’s Best” (http://chicagos, a food and lifestyles show that sends her and co-host Ted Brunson around Chicagoland to chow down on viewer-selected favorites ( Over the past three years, she’s munched on caramel-covered popcorn, sampled over-stuffed subs, bitten into Red Velvet cake balls and put away her share of pies. But come July 27, she and fiance Jordan Benson are walking down the aisle — and Payton’s got to fit into her custom-designed Ines Di Santo wedding gown.

So just a few months before getting married, how does she balance all that noshing with maintaining her Size 2 shape? It’s all about eating thoughtfully — and staying in motion.

“I definitely was one of those girls who dreamed about my wedding since I was a little girl,” says Payton, the daughter of the late Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton and his wife, Connie. After getting engaged, she checked out trunk shows and visited upscale dress boutiques. Last fall, she chose a fitted style from Di Santo — an Italian-born designer who’s also dressed singer Carrie Underwood and E! News host and Chicago restaurateur Giuliana Rancic.

“Whether there’s a wedding or not, you have to balance eating and being healthy. That’s something I’ve always been focused on,” says Payton, who shoots episodes two or three days each week. “We don’t eat all the food you see [on the show]; you take a few bites. You really have to take it easy because we eat a lot of great food.”

Back in October, Payton — who had been a fish-eating vegetarian since her days at Barrington High School — started introducing meat “because I needed more protein in my diet.” Ironically enough, she’s lost nearly five pounds since then.

She also maintains her girlish figure by eating in. “I cook more for Jordan and me. That’s something I’ve really begun to enjoy,” says Payton, who likes pinning recipes on Pinterest. Their meals feature protein — such as chicken and asparagus, salmon and broccoli. Breakfast does too, with Payton nibbling on veggie sausage or an egg. Their weakness? French fries.

On “Chicago’s Best,” Payton’s fondness for treats earned her the nickname “Sweetness,” which also pays tribute to her legendary dad’s football moniker. (Co-host Brunson’s known as “Meatness.”) But this downtown Chicago girl prefers her sweets natural. “I eat a ton of fruit — even for snacks and dessert.” That means bowls of easy-to-eat strawberries and grapes in the fridge, or ready-to-go apple slices with peanut butter when she’s headed to a TV shoot.

Fortunately, Payton loves to keep it moving — and she does it at downtown’s East Bank Club (she joined during her college days at DePaul University) and in walks and runs along the Chicago River. A sprinter who ran track in high school, she also played tennis and keeps it up today.

“I’m not one of these people who loves to work out, so I like to do things I enjoy, like Pilates,” says Payton. “What’s great about that is it helps with your posture and creates that long line that keeps you lean.” She’s thinking ahead to her wedding gown fittings, which have just begun. But Payton’s workouts aren’t really about losing weight.

“I don’t weigh myself,” says the “5-foot-5 and something” Payton. “I feel like so many people focus and get fixated on a number. It’s more just to stay toned; it’s to maintain and keep the heart healthy and things like that.

“I have genetics to thank from my mom and dad,” adds Payton, who co-founded the “Youth for Life: Remembering Walter Payton” nonprofit campaign to educate young people about the importance of organ and tissue donation. “I tend to have more of a muscular tone, anyway. I can put on muscle quickly, which is why I tend to do more cardio.”

But leading up to the wedding, she’s adding more one-on-one and group Pilates sessions. “You work a ton on your core, your arms and legs. You leave that class and you’ve worked on every part of your body.”

And since Payton is headed to the Indonesian island of Bali for her honeymoon — where “we will be in swimsuits most of the time” — all that lengthening and toning will pay off.

“I just want to stay toned. As long as I fit in the dress,” she says, “that’s the key.”

Maureen Jenkins is a Chicago-based freelance travel, food and lifestyles writer. She recently returned to Chicago after a year in France and blogs about international travel at (

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