A Year of Weight Loss Maintenance

I started this blog a little over a year ago, after several months of successfully participating in the University of Kansas Weight Loss Program. When I last posted updates here early this year, I had lost over 70 pounds and was starting the weight loss maintenance part of the program. I’m happy to say that I’ve managed to maintain that weight loss over the past year. Right now I’m a few pounds under my transition weight. My weight this year has stayed within a range of ten pounds, so there were no serious backward steps up the weight mountain.

One of my goals this year beyond maintaining the weight loss was losing another 10 pounds, putting me in the 180 lb weight range. I was making slow progress towards that goal over the summer. but with the onset of cooler weather and the holidays, my weight has gone up slightly. I’m hoping to get to my 180 range goal within the next two months, even if that means serious self-restraint at holiday events.

Let me share some observations about my efforts this year to maintain the weight loss and adhere to a healthy, mostly plant-based diet.

Goals Not Achieved

  • 188 lbs or lower
  • Increase in aerobic exercise, including more rigorous activities like cycling
  • Weight lifting and strength training at a gym on a regular basis
  • More cooking from recipes
  • Improving kitchen equipment situation

Goals Achieved

  • Weight level maintained
  • Regular daily walking
  • Healthy plant-based diet
  • Get off prescription drugs
  • Stay clear of the “cheat day” mindset

One of the most significant achievements of all this has been going off prescription drugs. In May, after visiting with my doctor, I went off my blood pressure and pre-diabetes prescriptions. Haven’t experienced any subsequent problems or even warning signs. Another health thing worth mentioning is that I haven’t had a cold or flu in over a year and a half.

My dietary goal when I started the K.U. program was to eventually go on a plant-based daily diet during the maintenance phase (and long term). During the program, I adhered to the vegetarian options, although this included lots of dairy. The maintenance part of the program involves more freedom to vary your diet, within guidelines, while still consuming some of the diet program meals and shakes (and common grocery store frozen analogs).

This phase was supposed to last three months, but I went off of it around April, Mostly because I got tired of the crappy frozen vegetarian entrees from the store. I also stopped doing the shakes, which were my main way of getting fruit daily. I plan to resume the shakes in 2019 as a supplement. So when I dropped out of the recommended diet foods, I went to making my own food.

Ironically, switching to making my own food for most meals ended up making my daily diet plant-based and near vegan. For most of 2018, my dairy and egg consumption dramatically reduced. I do eat seafood once in a while, but usually no more than once a month.

My dietary weaknesses turn out to be chips and salsa at restaurants and cookies. The maintenance phase is pretty forgiving if you are doing the daily exercise and sticking to the diet most of the time. But yes, those pizza slices will put on the pounds quickly. That kind of eating is a rarity for me and frankly I don’t miss it.

One thing I discovered is that your body tells you quickly when you’ve eaten even a little more than usual. If you have seconds of a main dish, you feel full pretty quickly, so these days I’m trying harder to stick with smaller portion sizes at most meals.

One critical thing that helps you stay on maintenance is developing regular routines. This is what the K.U. program focuses on. Exercise is one obvious routine. My breakfast may be the same every day, but it’s a health routine that I don’t get tired of. Oatmeal and fruit. That’s even what most health conscious physicians and nutritionists eat daily.

Challenges and Obstacles

  • Friends and family who think I can go back to old ways of eating
  • Holiday meals
  • Restaurant meals and portion sizes
  • Inconsistent access to fresh fruits and vegetables

It’s no surprise that family events and holidays are the biggest minefield for healthy eating. The K.U. program spends a lot of time providing tips for managing these situations. Their advice to people in the middle of Phase 1, where you stick to prescribed entrees and shakes, to skip holiday meals, is smart advice. It’s really worth skipping holiday meals so you can be lighter a year later and enjoy the holidays in moderation. For me, the overeating focus of these holidays is a bigger challenge than dealing with daily or weekly cravings for snacks and junk food.

Oh, it’s also important to make sure that junk food never enters the house. While I may sometimes keep snacks and sweets around for guests, anything left over goes in the trash as soon as the social event is over.

There will be more regular updates to this blog in the future. There weren’t as many updates in 2018 as I had hoped, but a goal for 2019 is to write more for this blog.

via the K.U. Weight Loss Program

 

Liquid Calories: Healthy Lifestyle Nemesis

One thing I commonly hear and read about from people who are struggling to lose weight is that “I’m not losing weight fast enough.” There can be many reasons for this (women tend to lose weight with more difficulty), but the most likely culprit for those who aren’t on a formal weight loss program, or adhering to plant-based lifestyle, is liquid calories. In fact, liquid calories are one of the leading causes of the obesity epidemic in the Western World over the past 40 years.

Around 5-6 years ago, I lost around 25-30 pounds, mostly by limiting the liquids in my diet to water and doing lots of biking and walking. Several years previous to this period, I had stopped drinking soda entirely, after several bouts with kidney stones. I had been a daily drinker of sodas and juices for all of my adult life. The kidney stone episode was the first significant health problem in my adult years, so I examined my lifestyle and found that I was frequently dehydrated because I drinking so much soda and juices. Giving up soda and juices seemed imperative if I were to live a healthy lifestyle. Giving up soda and juice was harder than when I stopped eating meat twenty years earlier.

I also was never a big fan of drinking water, but I had read that the tap water in Kansas City was among the best in the U.S. I started drinking tap water regularly, although on my own terms, which meant lots of ice cubes included in my drinks. I got myself some water bottles so I could have fresh water with me whenever I was out and about. This lifestyle change, combined with the exercise, led to a nice weight loss which stuck around for a year or so.

But this lifestyle wasn’t doing anything about calorie consumption, even though I was eating an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. My veg diet was an old-fashioned high calorie vegetarian diet that really wasn’t plant-based. So when my exercise routines started lapsing, I shot up to my average adult set weight.

I also got more sloppy about my liquid calorie intake. Was still drinking alcohol and my imbibing of high calorie craft beers increased during this period. I also started drinking more flavored almond milk and other juices. Around 2-3 years ago, I started drinking lots of Gatorade. Around two years ago, I decided that was bad for me, so switched to lemonade. Lots of lemonade.

In August of 2016, my weight started going higher, partly because I became very inactive due to heel pain in both feet (probably caused by my weight). That turned into six months of inactivity. A year ago (January 2017), my weight was at its highest level in my adult life. My doctor expressed concern, putting me on new medication and asking me to “lose 17 kgs.” She recommended that I exercise even with my pain, suggesting I get inserts. I told her about my diet and she said “why don’t you just cut out the lemonade and start drinking bottled water?”

It was very clear to me that significant changes were in order, so I switched to a water and coffee diet and started walking more. By the time I started the University of Kansas Weight Management program in June 2017, I had lost 14 pounds, mostly due to eliminating those liquid calories.

Eliminating your consumption of liquid calories is critical if you are trying to lose weight. This step can also provide more significant weight loss results, combined with food calorie reduction and exercise. You cannot aggressively lose weight, keep it off, and be healthy if you have a carefree attitude about liquid calories. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never enjoy beverages with calories again, but during the weight loss stage, you have to be consistent. On many structured programs, you will be drinking shakes, which are a structured way to get your calories while providing you tasty beverages at the same time. In the program I’m in, I can incorporate fruits and veggies into my shakes. One bonus is that these shakes can also address your cravings for sweets.

What About Alcohol?

Alcohol can be one of the chief sources of liquid calories, of you consume alcohol daily or often. While moderate consumption of alcohol is possible with a plant-based healthy lifestyle, it’s critical to eliminate, or cut back, alcohol consumption during a weight loss program. During Phase I of my program (the University of Kansas / HMR program), you are supposed to avoid any alcohol consumption. This can be a challenge for people who imbibe during social occasions, but if you are being strict about other food and drink, it’s worth giving up until you meet your goals.

Avoiding alcohol was not a problem for me during Phase I, because I had stopped drinking over three years ago, partly because of calorie concerns. Drinking alcohol is a sure fire way to sabotage any weight loss plan. You may think that you “will only have just one drink,” but then that first beer leads to that second beer. One 20oz craft beer is around 200 calories, which is a bit less than half of the calories you’d consume for a meal on a weight loss diet. Alcohol doesn’t fill you up, so you’ve traded away calories that you could have devoted to foods that kept you feeling satiated for liquid calories. Even a glass a wine can turn into a “few more small pours.” Better to just quit alcohol during the weight loss phase to make it easier to accomplish your goals.

There has been some popular thinking lately, based on some research, that moderate alcohol consumption enables a healthy lifestyle. This is the beer / glass of wine a day approach. While research results do support this amount, more recent studies suggest total abstinence should be the goal, as even moderate drinking leads to negative health impacts.

Do I need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?

The short answer is no. But you should be getting that amount per day from various liquids (water, coffee, tea) and from food sources (especially fruit). The KU program recommends 8 glasses a day, which I ignored given my understanding of the research, but they recommend increasing your daily water consumption for some critical health and dieting reasons.

First of all, most people eating a typical American (Western) diet do not get enough liquids every day. People are often dehydrated. This leads to serious health problems just from the dehydration. Upping your daily consumption of water addresses these health concerns.

Drinking water regularly also make you feel more full, which when combined with a whole foods, plant based diet, will lead to easier weight loss and healthy maintenance. If you are hydrated with low calorie / zero calorie liquids, you feel full when you are eating and it lessens your craving for sugary liquids and snacks. Your body will often mistake thirst for being hungry, which leads to between meals snacking.

Increasing your water consumption is also part of developing new habits, which reinforce a WFPB lifestyle. Your goal is an unconscious healthy lifestyle, which is more sustainable than being in diet mode, where you are always worrying about staying on plan.

Drink more water! But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t drink eight glasses.

Nutritional Yeast: An Appreciation

I call myself jokingly a “tofu vegetarian” because I became adopted the ovo-lacto vegetarian diet back in 1989, during the era where vegetarian cooking involved lots of tofu. That’s when I discovered nutritional yeast for the first time. Back then it was hard to find, usually in one of the bulk bins at some hippy food co-op. But it’s been my condiment mainstay for nearly 30 years.

My favorite uses for it involve pasta and popcorn. One of the quick, junk food lunch mainstays of my diet over the years was buttered penne noodles and nutritional yeast. It provides great umami flavoring to dishes. I eat less pasta now, but sprinkle it liberally on pasta entrees, popcorn, entrees that need a kick, and stir fry, It’s a good sauce thickener and binder like a healthier version of corn starch.

Nutritional yeast is popular among vegetarians and vegans, in part, because it’s an excellent source of vitamin B12, which can be scarce in these diets. But most people who aren’t vegans and vegetarians can lack B12. Nutritional yeast is just an excellent source and is delicious and versatile.

Starting Phase II of the KU Weight Loss Program

Yay for me! This week I officially started Phase II of the University of Kansas Weight Management Program. I’ve blogged previously about the program and shared more details in this blog’s FAQ and via social media. I’ve lost 70 pounds since last February with 57 coming from the KU program. I met all of my weight loss and exercise goals for the year before Christmas. My current goal is to lose another 10 pounds over the next few months to get me into the official “healthy” range. The doctors and medical people I’ve talked to this week say that I’m doing outstanding.

According to the KU program, I could have moved to Phase II several months ago, but they advise that if you want to keep losing weight aggressively, then you should adhere to the strict regimen of Phase I. The KU program is smart in that it has people set goals of 10% and 15% weight reduction, instead of some “magic” specified weight. These goals are about getting people into a healthier weight range and out of a more risky higher weight range.

Phase I of the program is based on HMR entrees and shakes, combined with classes, education, exercise and self-monitoring. The Very Low Calorie Diet is also known as the shake-only diet and is geared toward people who are extremely overweight. There were several people in my class who were on this plan and enjoyed significant weight reductions. I was on the Low Calorie Diet program, which recommends three 120 calories HMR shakes each day, two entrees, and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables. They give you a list of recommended foods and food to avoid. Basically, lots of fruit and vegetables. No alcohol, sugary drinks, bread, dairy and so on.

I prefer a daily vegetarian diet, so I was limited to 5 entrees. Folks who eat meat had around 13 entree options. My daily calorie intake was between 1000 and 1200 calories. The weight loss level for women is a bit lower. People hearing about the calorie level usually say something about feeling hungry, but the genius of this program is that it is designed to keep you feeling full, as well as taking meal decision-making out of your hands. If most of the work is simply making a shake and heating up an entree for your meal, the weight loss accumulates over time.

Phase II of the program is basically about making the diet, exercise and lifestyle changes a habit. This is familiar territory to me, as an ovo-lacto vegetarian of almost thirty years. Making decisions as a vegetarian border on being an unthinking habit. In fact, I still get annoyed when family and friends attempt to point out vegetarian options on menus. But the wisdom of Phase II is tied to the research that has found that healthy eating and lifestyles are based on habits that are sustainable. Phase I is about educating and prepping people to ground their lifestyle in healthy habits. Phase I ramps up the amount of exercise, so people don’t get frustrated about not seeing immediate results from a flurry of intense new exercise.

Most of the famous weight loss fads and diets don’t work because they aren’t sustainable. Sure, you’ll lose weight if you eat nothing but grapefruit, but who is going to do that for years, or, the rest of their lives? Keto and Atkins diets may help people lose weight initially, but they are unsustainable for another reason: those diets are unhealthy over the long term. The KU/HMR diet program is highly effective in helping people lose weight initially, but it also educates and prepares them for long term sustainable lifestyles, like WFPB, plant-based, vegan, Mayo Clinic and so on.

An overview of Phase II

  • You start Phase II when you’ve lost 10-15% of the weight you started with at the beginning of Phase I.
  • I continued on Phase I for longer because I wanted to continue aggressively losing weight, which I did before my end-of-year goals.
  • Your diet on Phase II still consists of HMR entrees and shakes, but there isn’t a strict number that you must have each day. You are encouraged to have frozen entrees from the grocery store, as long as they meet certain calorie requirements (less than 300 generally) and fat content. The program proivides a list of recommended entrees
  • Phase II is about putting you more in charge of your meal-to-meal eating regimen, so that the lifestyle is sustainable and ingrained. I plan to do more preparation of my won vegan meals during this phase, because I want more variety than I had on Phase I and because I enjoy cooking.
  • You are expected to keep up with the exercise and activity levels, tracking of steps and tracking of meals and activity.
  • I asked the doctors and staff about daily calorie levels on this phase. They said the level will be slightly higher, but it depends on my genetics, activity level, day-to-day metabolism, and foods. Monitoring my weight weekly, staying active and exercise, are all key to sustainable calorie levels. Sorry folks, a daily 2000 calorie level, typical of the American diet, isn’t in the cards. I would feel sick anyway eating that many calories!
  • I plan to increase my aerobic exercise during Phase II, as well as getting a gym membership and starting new activities like jogging and cycling.
  • Phase II involves a new class and instructor. It’s no longer a weekly face-to-face meeting, but the meetings are now every other week face-to-face and via conference calls the other weeks. In months with five weeks, we have a field trip.

So what changes have I noticed after dropping so much weight?

  • I’ve always slept pretty well, but after the first few months, sleeping got more comfortable. Now it’s more uncomfortable, because I sleep on my sides and I have to put a pillow or blanket between ,my bony knees.
  • My plantar fascitis has gone away thanks to all of the walking and weight loss.
  • I get cold more easily. This was really weird noticing once the weather turned cold. I feel cold drafts at home more easily.
  • My energy level is excellent and I rarely feel the need to take naps.
  • I love being in a situation where I can worry about my health less, especially over the coming years.
  • General health is excellent. No colds or flu (yet). Blood pressure is excellent.
  • It’s weird how you lose weight all over your body. Starting out, you think that the weight will come off your tummy, waist, hips and so on. It goes away everywhere. Double chin disappears. Calves that you said were “muscular because of walking” are slimmer. Even my arms are slimmer, despite daily weight lifting.
  • If you eat more than normal at a restaurant or family/social function, you feel full and bloated right away. One thing I love about my new situation is that I can eat less and feel full and have energy.
  • Less food per meal = cheaper food costs
  • When I’ve gone off plan and had desserts or junk food, they aren’t as enjoyable as in the past.
  • My off plan weakness is still chips and salsa at any Mexican restaurant.
  • I’ve tried some new foods and recipes, but probably haven’t encountered the sheer level of new foods as other program participants, mainly because I’ve been a vegetarian for three decades, as adventuresome eater, and home cook.

Photographer: Jessica Lewis

 

Satiety: The Art and Science of Feeling Full

It’s always seemed to me that one of the reasons people shun going on a diet, even when they know weight loss is critical for health reasons, is that they are worried that they’ll feel hungry while on a new diet. Over the two decades I’ve been a vegetarian, I’ve fielded similar questions from people. They ask if I’m always hungry on a vegetarian diet. Sometimes, they believe pop culture myths about vegetarians (and vegans). All we eat is salad. “Rabbit food.” When I’ve felt cheeky about responding to such questions, I’d point to my (overweight) self and say “Does it look like I’ve missed many meals?”

Before

Feeling full is one of the key components to successful weight loss programs and sustainable diets. One reason why many fad diets work initially and then don’t, is because people get tired of the restrictive food choices, and stop eating. They then start getting hungry and they go back to their regular Western diets. You cannot survive for years on just grapefruit.

If you look at the successful weight loss programs, such as Weight Watchers, Mayo Clinic, or the KU Weight Loss Diet, which I am on currently, they have you eating a daily diet that leaves you feeling full, while gradually lowering your calories. Most of the modern obesity and unhealthy diet crisis is caused when people eat too much (and consume too many liquid calories, see upcoming post on this). Any sustainable long term diet, which should be considered a lifestyle, is one where you feel full when you eat healthy foods. One of the objectives of this blog is to discuss the benefits of a Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet (WFPB), which is tasty, nourishing and leaves you feeling full.

Satiety is a core concept of the KU Weight Loss diet that I’m on. It’s built into the food, the program, and the educational program. The idea is that if you are eating healthy foods (and drinking water) which leave you feeling full, your body stops sending you signals that lead to snacking and unhealthy eating. Like most WFPB diets, the emphasis is on avoiding calorie dense foods (like soda, processed foods, burgers, etc.) and eating filling calorie light foods.

satiety ~ the quality or state of being fed or gratified to or beyond capacity. (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

How does this work on my diet? I’ve been on the KU Weight Loss diet for the past five months. I’ve been on the Low Calorie Diet Phase I plan, although I could have left Phase I weeks ago. They also have the Very Low Calorie Diet plan, which is colloquially called the “shake only plan.” It’s designed for people who are extremely overweight, where quick weight loss (over weeks and months), will create immediate health benefits. If you adhere to the guidelines for both diet, you won’t feel hungry very often. I know one person who has been on the shake-only program for five months–they’ve enjoyed a bug weight loss and report having few problems staying on the diet regimen.

After

The program “does most of the thinking for you.” On the Low Calorie Program, I’m supposed to have three 120 calorie HMR shakes per day, two HMR entrees, and at least 5 servings of fruit or vegetables. Most veggies and fruits are one cup = one serving. Potatoes, beans and legumes are 1/2 cup = one serving. Half an avocado is one serving.

People usually ask me: What about the calories from the fruits and vegetables? I think that one of the chief pitfalls of most diets is being too obsessional about every calorie. While this program does urge us to track most calories, including drinks and the 80 calorie/day max for condiments, fruit and vegetable calories are really not that much. The goal is to get people to shift to a lifestyle where fruits and vegetables are the center of the diet, which will end up being low calorie and filling. The KU program allows you to have more servings each day, but I’ve found that once the weight loss kicks in, I can’t eat more servings. More servings just make me feel stuffed and bloated.

While the caloric restriction built into this program is about weight loss, the serving sizes, especially when it comes to entrees, is about teaching people what normal food portions are on a healthy, long term diet. I will go into this more in a future post.

The core concept underlying the KU Weight Loss program (and similar programs), is calorie density. In other words, most of the processed foods that are the basis of the Western diet are high calories compared to how much they leave you feeling fed (satiety). Think about pizza, meat, pasta, fast food and sodas. How many Americans eat a 1/2 slice of pizza or a small bowl of past, which are normal servings sizes? I think that soda is the best illustration of this concept. Nobody would tell you that drinking a 16oz Coca Cola is a filling meal. It doesn’t even quench your thirst, often making you thirsty for more soda. If you have one 16ox Coke, that’s 140 calories, which is a little but less than half of the calories you should get FROM FOOD during a meal. Most people drink more than one soda a day (or beer), so those calories add up (more on this next week).

Long term sustainable diets, such as the versions of the WFPB diet, are centered around the idea of controlling calorie density and exercise. If you are routinely eating meals and snacks that are centered around fruit, vegetables and whole grains, then you will unconsciously start controlling the calorie density of your diet. Along with exercise, this will keep your weight at stable level for long term health and feeling well!

What about fasting?

The flip side of satiety might be fasting, but is it really? Most weight loss diets counsel against fasting, for good reasons, but more and more research point to occasional fasting as a component of a healthy diet and longevity. I’ll have to read up on this and write up something, but if you are fasting one day every few weeks, it’s not like your body is going to shut down or go haywire. On the other hand, fasting diets do not work, for obvious reasons. Your body requires food. Nutrients. Minerals. After a few days of a fasting diet, your brain has you thinking about food constantly, which just isn’t sustainable. The strength of the KU Diet (and similar) is that it does the thinking for you over the long term. Weight loss happens most effectively over weeks and months, not in the space of one week. But there are health benefits to fasting.

Detox and cleanses?

It’s hard to believe that this nonsense is still around when it was a fad back in the 19th century. Detoxing is an effective process for people with alcohol and drug problems, but for your average person, a detox diet of any kind is nonsense. If you adopt a WFPB or similar lifestyle, you will experience health benefits that are similar to what people think a detox diet does. All of us and the planet, need  to go to a system where ecosystems aren’t poisoned, where people eat healthy diets, and which sustains soils instead of mining the lands. Another problem with detoxes and cleanses is that they are like some kind of short term spa treatment. They may make you feel good for a short time, but why not just switch to a WFPB diet and feel better all the time?

A healthy body is also your best tool if you think you need to cleanse your system. It’s really amazing. Your best ally is your liver, which is your built-in cleanser. So, treat your body well and it will take care of the rest.

Photo: Brooke Lark

Phase 2: Some Clarification

In my first post, where I talked about the special diet I’ve been on for the past 5 months, I stated that Phase 2 of the program means that I can have relative freedom in what I eat each day. After checking my course book and talking to the instructor, I found that in Phase 2 of the program, they strongly recommend that you continue with the two special entrees and three shakes each day. They also give you a list of recommended frozen entrees from a variety of companies, which you normally can find at any supermarket. There is more latitude for eating out carefully and making your own meals. Phase 2 is supposed to last six months, with less frequent class meetings, the goal being the development of a sustainable lifelong diet. The idea about sticking with the special entrees and shakes is to help with the transition to diet habits that become ingrained.

I asked my instructor last week if it was time for me to move to Phase 2. He said that since I’d lost 20% of my weight, going past the 10% and 15% goals of the program, I could transition to Phase 2, unless I wanted to keep up the current weight loss rate. I told him that I wanted to stick with Phase 1 for another month, to lose another 10 pounds, putting me within 15 pounds of my healthy BMI range. My goal is to get to that range by next April.

Part of the transition involves a consultation with the dietician, who helps you come up with a daily calorie range for Phase 2. For a guy with my height, that daily range might be around 1900 calories. For the past 5 months during the weight loss phase, my daily calories range has been between 900 and 1200 calories.

I get asked if I ever get hungry on the plan. Feeling hunger has been rare on the plan and when I’ve experienced it, it has more to do with the timing of meals and how early I get up in the morning.

My Weight Loss Diet – Intro and Overview

I’ve been on the special KU Weight Management Program diet with the Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management since the start of June 2017. It’s been around 17 weeks now and I’ve seen dramatic, steady weight loss, thanks to their excellent program. This post will provide an overview of the program and my background. Future posts will go into more detail.

I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian since 1988 , but ballooned up to an unhealthy weight in early 2017. While a vegetarian diet has given me excellent health over the years, especially compared to my age cohort, the diet has been mostly processed foods and not very much Whole Foods, Plant Based (WFPB). I’ve been on blood pressure medicine for 4-5 years and was put on a pre-diabetes medication in February. Prior to 4-5 years ago, I never took daily pills of any kind.

I had been referred to the KU Weight Management Program in 2016 by my doctors, but couldn’t start it at that time. I’ve really enjoyed the program and results since finally starting it in early June 2017.

I’ve lost 42 pounds since starting the program, in addition to 13 lost early this year from switching to drinking only water and coffee. I’m still in the obese range, but a healthy weight is within sight.

Successful weight loss programs ARE NOT BASED ON HEAVY REGULAR EXERCISE. Increased exercise is key to this program and a sustainable long-term lifestyle, but monitored, controlled caloric restriction, with education is what works. Many people try losing weight by attempting extreme exercise programs. This is based on common perceptions about exercise causing weight loss. Recent studies have found that exercise really doesn’t cause steady, sustainable weight loss like people thought. But it is still important for health reasons and for maintaining a healthy diet. People go off weight loss programs so fast because the exercise levels are too high for people who haven’t been active.

The University of Kansas Program dates back to 1986 and is a medical program, so much of it is covered by my health insurance (thanks to pre-existing conditions). I get asked a lot about the program by friends and family. The principles of the program can be replicated even if you can’t do this formal program. The methods and principles are similar to other effective, healthy sustainable diets.

Phase 1

Let’s talk about the details of this program and the core principles and methods.  First, when you start the program, you decide which structured meal plan options you are going to adhere to. They allow you flexibility, but they strongly recommend adhering to one or the other, especially based on your body weight and health.

The Very Low Calorie Diet track is designed for people who are extremely obese. It’s also known as the “shake only” diet. The goal is to achieve quick weight loss for extremely overweight people so they get to a healthier condition as soon as possible. Like the other track, the main goal is a 10% weight loss in ten weeks (more about this below). This structured meal plan is based on flavored shakes which provide all of the nutrition a person needs daily. They make the person feel full while providing the right amount of calories leading to weight loss. When the doctors or nutritionists have determined that the person has lost enough weight, they can move to:

I’ve been on the Low Calorie Diet track since early June. It’s a highly structured diet involving pre-packaged entrees and the same shakes as the VLVD plan, albeit with less calories. I’m supposed to have three 120 calorie protein shakes a day and two entrees. They encourage you to have at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day in addition, but you can actually have as many fruits and vegetables as you want. This is an important component of moving people to long term, sustainable diets that revolve around fruits and vegetables.

Both plans involve exercise and other things which will be explained below.

People on both of these plans are generally expected to be in Phase 1 for six months, or as soon as they lose 10-15% of their weight. I reached the 10% goal after 6 weeks in the plan (10 weeks being to typical goal).

Program participants are expected to attend a weekly class.

Phase 2

When you have been in the Phase 1 plan for six months or have lost over 10% of your weight, you can move to Phase 2. This phase is about maintaining the weight loss and developing sustainable lifestyle habits. Sustainability is the key component of effective weight loss plans. Most weight loss diets, especially fad ones like low carb, aren’t sustainable. Nobody wants to eat grapefruit for the rest of their lives.

You are expected to keep attending meetings, which are less frequent and you can continue with the meal plan foods, but mostly you are expected to be cooking for yourself and eating/exercising smartly.

What Can You Eat?

On the Low Calorie Plan, I can eat the following:

  • Three HMR 120 weight loss shakes per day. The base flavors are vanilla or chocolate. I generally have one for each meal and I mix in most of my fruit servings. My breakfasts are usually just a vanilla shake with one banana. Other times, I like to mix in strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and mango. The program encourages you to have an extra shake if you are feeling hungry, as one of them is less calories than snacks or desserts. I’ve found that the fruit shakes eliminate most of the cravings I have for sweets.
  • Two HMR entrees per day. They have 16 entree options, but I stick with the vegetarian options so I have 5 in my rotation. Entrees range from 140 calories to 290 calories. Most are between 180 and 24o. I often cook additional veggies to go with an entree, or have a side veg dish or salad. Tonight I cooked an orange bell pepper to go with the Mushroom Risotto entree. Entrees I eat include: Cheese and Basil Ravioli with Tomato Sauce, Five-Bean Casserole, Mushroom Risotto, Lentil Stew, and Pasta Fagioli.
  • At least 5 servings of fruit a vegetables per day. You can have as many as you want, which reflect a core diet principle about eating foods that are low in calories, yet fill you up. Fruits and vegetables will fill you up more than processed junk foods. This also leads to the core of a sustainable diet, especially a Whole Food, Plant Based diet.
  • Most fruits and vegetables are acceptable. Avocados are on the margin–don’t over indulge.
  • One half cup of beans counts as one serving. Beans are healthy for you, but when you are losing weight, beans are one way that calories sneak in. A long term diet would use beans and legumes heavily.
  • No pasta or bread, other than what’s in the entrees. This diet isn’t anti-carb, but it recognizes that bread and pasta are a big source of calories and don’t always leave you feeling satiated. When I move to Phase 2, I will use whole grain bread and pasta sparingly. Of course, one main problem with the American diet (and the junk food veg diet I was on), is that it’s based on heavily processed flours.
  • No alcohol, no soda, no juice or sugary drinks. Probably the biggest causes of calories in typical diets. Alcohol is a huge source of calories and the main reason why I stopped drinking alcohol three years ago.
  • No nuts or dried fruit. Of course, these can be part of a healthy diet, but they don’t make you feel full, which is important during the weight loss phase. A grape fills you up more than a raisin.

Water

The program encourages people to drink 8 glasses of water a day. Drinking fluids is very important in warding off all kinds of health problems and is key to being healthy. Water also makes you feel full, so your body isn’t mistaking thirst signals as hunger signals. I’ve found that liquid calories have been the biggest cause of my obesity over the years and that when I’ve gone to a mostly water diet, I lose weight easily. However, I do not adhere to this 8 glasses of water regimen because I know that the research (and history) has shown that 8 glasses aren’t necessary if you are getting fluids from other sources. When you are drinking three shakes a day and eating so many fruits and vegetables, those count as part of your daily fluid requirements.

Core Concepts

  • No thinking about your food choices. The program’s shake mixes and entrees are designed to reduce the number of decisions you have to make each day about what you are eating.
  • Weight loss takes time. There are no shortcuts. If you stick to a strict plan and later transition to a sustainable lifestyle/diet, you’ll see results. I only weight myself once a week, before the class, so I don’t have to fret about daily weight fluctuations.
  • Education. When you start the program, you get a big binder full of useful stuff to learn. The classes revolve around this material. Most people don’t know anything about nutrition, calories, food labels, or even basic cooking. You learn about goal-setting, mental traps, dealing with social situations, meal planning, smart shopping, sleep and stress, portion control, weight loss plateaus and more.
  • Support. Attendance at the weekly class is mandatory (you can Skype to it if you can’t physically attend). The class is very much like any self-help support group. Talking to other people in the program is encouraging, educational and inspirational.
  • Self-monitoring. You are encouraged to keep track of what you eat each day and how much you exercise. The program has come up with a simple form. I also use the MyFitnessPal app to track what I eat and Runkeeper to track my exercises. They also give you a pedometer.

Exercise

While this program puts lots of emphasis on exercise, it doesn’t make it the main method of weight loss. This is ironic, because the program has been around for so long and recent research has found that exercise is not the weight loss tonic that it’s always been presented as. During my participation in the program, I’ve mostly been walking a lot. I’m supposed to be doing more exercises, calisthenics, and weight training, but I haven’t been consistent. This is one of my priorities right now. I want to focus on this to build up my core muscle and skeletal system for my older years.

The program encourages people to gradually step up their level of exercise each day and week. The goal is to get people to develop sustainable exercise habits. It recognizes that overweight people need some time to increase their activity level. The goal is for people to be exercising at least 300 minutes per week.

Being more physically active is important too, so you get a pedometer to track your daily steps. You are encouraged to increase those numbers and your walking rate. Some of us, like this web developer, spend much of the day with a computer, while some of the people in my program have jobs where they are walking and standing all day.

Exercise becomes more critical in maintaining weight loss after you’ve lost a lot of weight. It makes more of a difference in keeping you toned, active and it balances out those times when you consume a few extra calories during a meal.

Long Term Goals

My ultimate goal is to transition to WFPB near-vegan diet. Phase 2 will include this, although I may rely on the entrees for several months in addition to my own meals. I’ve decided to include shakes in my diet long term, at least two per day, because they seem to be the best way for me to get my fruits and my liquids.

I’ve reached most of my immediate weight loss goals. I’d like to lose another 10 pounds by Christmas and get to my healthy BMI by my birthday next April.

I really need to increase the amount of workouts I do every day and include more weight and resistance training. I’d like to do more biking and maybe start running.

Thanks for reading this long introduction. Future posts will go into more depth on the topics outlined here.

Photographer: Jakub Kapusnak