AURORA — The week before Thanksgiving, the participants in the Colorado Diet program learned that over the past 12 weeks, they collectively lost more than 207 pounds, roughly the equivalent of athlete Usain Bolt.
That's 17.3 pounds per person, or nearly 9 percent of their collective beginning body weight.
It was the first time many of the dozen participants had managed to stick successfully with a weight-loss program for so long. The Colorado Diet, the lifestyle advocated in "State of Slim" by University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center authors James O. Hill and Holly R. Wyatt, concentrates on changing lifestyle instead of focusing only on austere menus.
The authors acknowledge that people who are overweight or obese do have metabolisms that are more sluggish than those of slimmer people. Obese patients may lose weight, but the pounds won't stay off unless they also adopt an exercise program and a new approach to nutrition.
Wyatt, who struggled with her own weight from adolescence to her internal medicine residency at the University of Colorado, points to herself as proof.
"Successful dieters can fix the problems that obesity inflicts on their metabolisms," she says.
The fix is, yes, diet and exercise — but also learning to think differently about choices, discipline and consequences. And it's working for the Colorado Diet participants.
"My goodness, I start getting so excited, because sometimes I still see myself as overweight, and then I glance in the mirror," said Karen Jackson, 56, a program assistant and part of the Colorado Diet group.
"Once I put some personal issues in their proper place, that was when it just started clicking. I was borderline on getting diabetes, and I had sleep apnea, and I just wasn't feeling healthy. I don't know how to explain it, but something inside told me I had to do something."
So she applied to be part of the 16-week Colorado Diet pilot group — participants must meet weekly, keep and share records of what they eat and weigh, and follow the Colorado Diet program as outlined in "State of Slim." (Three more Colorado Diet groups, 16 weeks each, will launch in January; to learn more, call 303-724-9030, or e-mail email@example.com.)
That commitment includes a two-week phase designed for fast, visible results with six meals a day and activity.
Those meals can be composed only of the leanest proteins (including nonfat Greek yogurt and protein powder), oatmeal, pumpkin, nonfat dairy or almond milk, a small amount of almonds, walnuts and olive or canola oil, and unlimited vegetables. The authors stress portion control, with exact specifications spelled out in ounces.
The first week also mandates a minimum of 10 minutes of activity —"walking or anything that gets you moving" — six days a week. In Week 2, activity time bumps up to 15 minutes per day.
"Expect to lose 8 to 10 pounds in Phase 1," Wyatt and Hill write in "State of Slim."
But a relatively strict diet isn't the only reason for the weight loss. The program also is designed to change the way people think about themselves, their choices, their environment and the changes they can make to boost their chances of losing weight and keeping it off.
The Colorado Diet program participants, for example, received a weekly challenge designed to "be outside their comfort zone," as Wyatt put it.
One week, it was eliminating TV for a week, with the exception of one Broncos game. The week before Halloween, the challenge was carrying around a resealable zipper storage bag of their favorite Halloween candy — "your candy-baby," Wyatt called it — as an exercise in temptation. Last month, the challenge was to seek out new friends or social connections that could support the participants' increasingly healthy, active lifestyle.
For that challenge, Jackson turned to her church. She testified there about her weight loss, and asked fellow congregates to help start a diet and exercise support group.
Another participant tackled the challenge by "repurposing friends." She persuaded her buddies to change their weekly happy hour meet-up from a bar to a park or mall where they could walk as they caught up.
Thanksgiving presented another potential roadblock. Wyatt spent part of a weekly session encouraging the group to suggest strategies for managing such a food-centric holiday. At this point in the Colorado Diet, the participants are allowed a weekly "indulgence meal" of normally verboten foods — but they also have learned to think carefully about how they indulge.
"You're going from eating healthy to the sausage and the ham and the beans and the grease in the hot wings, and now I feel like it's so not worth it," Jackson said.
Natalie Goldstein, another participant, said she was treating the Thanksgiving feast as her indulgence meal — but she'd asked guests to bring healthy versions of traditional foods.
"Not to put marshmallows on the sweet potatoes," Goldstein said, "and I'm going to send it all out with them afterward, so there are no leftovers in the house."
Claire Martin: 303-954-1477, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/byclairemartin
The colorado diet
"The State of Slim" advocates changing food choices and increasing physical activity, along with making a shift in environment and routine, to reboot your metabolism and help maintain a healthy weight.
"State of Slim" tips for maintaining your weight
Make a high-activity exercise part of your daily routine
"Just as you wouldn't expect your medication to work if you didn't take it, you can't expect to keep a Mile-High Metabolism if you skip your recommended dose of physical activity," authors Wyatt and Hill write.
Figure out how to make exercise part of your routine
Set your TV in front of a treadmill or exercise bike, and at your child's soccer game, walk laps around the field. To catch up with a friend, go for a walk instead of going out to eat.
If something stressful happens, go to the gym and take your frustration out on a stair-climber or treadmill, instead of heading for the kitchen.
Eat high-quality foods most of the time
It's OK to indulge occasionally, but if you know that you always overeat tortilla or potato chips, don't keep them in the house. Avoid the chips aisle when shopping for groceries.
"Eat a healthful diet 80 percent of the time, and give yourself permission to eat however you like 20 percent of the time," the authors write, like a "reasonable portion" of chips at a restaurant or at a friend's party.
Monitor your weight
Get into the habit of weighing yourself every day, at the same time, and on the same scale.
"Just as a person with diabetes needs to check his or her blood sugar, you'll need to monitor your weight. You may think you can detect weight gain by noticing how your clothes fit, but the scale is better. It's black and white. Your jeans may be kinda tight, but you do not kinda weigh 150 pounds."
Set a "take action" weight
"Even if you faithfully adhere to steps 1 through 3, it's almost inevitable that you will have times when you regain some of your weight. This might be during an illness, a holiday or vacation, a very stressful life event, a job change or even just when things get really busy. If you decide ahead of time that you will re-examine your eating and exercise when the scale reads 3 to 5 pounds over the weight you'd like to maintain, you can keep 5 pounds from becoming 15," according to the book.
"For example, if you weigh 175 pounds and want to maintain this weight, you need to take action if the scale creeps up to 178 to 180 pounds. However, don't worry if your weight fluctuates a little from day to day — as long as it stays below your take-action weight."
To take action, take inventory: Have you let your daily activity plan slip? Get back on the exercise program. If you're active but gaining weight, then engineer a rapid weight loss by adopting a structured eating plan, paying attention to portions and limiting your indulgence foods to no more than one per week.
Keep it off
Tricks for maintaining the weight you want include staying physically active, making thoughtful choices about what you eat, monitoring your weight, and taking immediate action when the number on the scale rises more than three pounds higher than your maintenance weight.