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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    

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Diet

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