CU Anschutz researchers develop long-term diet strategy
by Amy Vaerewyck | University Communications
Julie Bianco has been trying to lose weight for most of her adult life. Low-carb diets, calorie-counting diets, grapefruit diets—she’s tried too many diets to count. But now she’s on one that she’s convinced will work, permanently: the Colorado Diet.
“I’ve lost weight many times in my life, but I’ve usually gained it all back,” said Bianco, BSN, RN, CPEN, who works in the Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “The Colorado Diet focuses on keeping the weight off, and it’s scientifically based. That drew me to the program.”
The Colorado Diet combines nutrition strategy with physical activity—and a little bit of state pride, as Colorado has repeatedly been named the leanest state in the nation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The diet is based on years of research by Jim Hill, PhD, and Holly Wyatt, MD, who serve as director and associate director, respectively, of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. They’ve written up their findings in a book called “State of Slim.”
“We have learned so much through the National Weight Control Registry, which Jim developed, and with patients in my [20 years of clinical] practice,” Wyatt said. “We want to put the information out there where other people can use it.”
It’s not magic, it’s science
Unlike many popular diets that focus solely on immediate weight loss, the Colorado Diet takes a more long-term, holistic approach. It provides weight loss while also emphasizing the ultimate goal of maintaining a sustainable, healthy body weight.
Colorado Dieters go through three phases:
- Reignite Your Metabolism (weeks 1-2)
- Rebuild Your Metabolism (weeks 3-8)
- Reinvent Your Metabolism and Your Life (weeks 9-16)
“I’ve been using aspects of this program for many, many years in my clinic and seen success,” Wyatt said. “It’s not magic. You have to be committed, but we can set it up for you to be in a place where you succeed.”
The Colorado Diet has been shown to be very effective, not only with weight loss but with weight maintenance. After the initial weight loss, the program “rebuilds” the body’s metabolism to be in the best place to maintain that weight.
This process involves a lot of physical activity, which helps the metabolism to adjust to its fuel source. So, if you indulge in a rich meal, your body can burn the fuel without putting on pounds. Wyatt and Hill call this concept the “Mile High Metabolism.”
“You can’t be on a diet forever,” Wyatt said. “At some point, you’re going to eat something that’s not broccoli and chicken, so when you do that, you want your body to be in the best place to respond and not store that as fat and gain weight.”
Living in a state of slim
Wyatt and Hill drew inspiration for the Colorado Diet and “State of Slim” from the state they live and work in, where active lifestyles are more prevalent than in many other U.S. states.
“We are a very active state,” Wyatt said of Colorado. “We see a higher level of physical activity here, measured with step counter [devices] and compared to other states, and that’s critical in weight maintenance.”
The behaviors of those around you can have a big impact on your own behaviors, Wyatt said. In this way, many people in Colorado encourage one another to be more active—making plans to hike together, ski together, bike together, jog together. The Colorado Diet employs similar tactics of social support.
“Your social environment just rubs off on you,” she said. “If you’re wanting to create some new habits, you probably should try to get into some circles with people engaging in those habits.”
Wyatt would like this culture of physical activity to extend into other states around the nation. She’s starting by planting the seeds of growth with group diet classes on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
Now, employees and students on the Anschutz Medical Campus and throughout the University of Colorado can try the Colorado Diet through the State of Slim Campus Challenge—and have an opportunity to win $2,500 or more. There are also fee-based Colorado Diet group classes available to campus employees and Denver metro area community members. To register for these programs, visit the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center or call 303-724-9030.
12 people, 16 weeks, one diet
Bianco is one of 12 participants who worked together for the past 16 weeks in a Colorado Diet group class. Guided by Wyatt and two fitness trainers from the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, they attended weekly nutrition classes and committed to eating healthfully and exercising nearly every day—all in an effort to “rebuild” their metabolisms, lose weight and keep the weight off.
“I’m fully committed to sticking to the diet,” said participant Lizzie Costello, a writer and video producer at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “I didn’t expect to lose the weight so quickly.”
Costello blogged about her Colorado Diet experience to help promote the program and the book.
“One of most eye-opening things for me was learning that I don’t hate working out,” Costello said. “I haven’t been tremendously active throughout my life, but with this program, I don’t dread going to the gym.”
She also credits Wyatt, a professor at the CU School of Medicine, with making the program successful.
“Dr. Wyatt is unlike anyone I’ve ever met,” Costello said. “She is a natural leader who understands how to balance tough love and kindness. People want to do what she tells them to do.”
For Bianco, the practicality of the program was the biggest drawing point.
“The way they’ve laid it out is very doable,” she said. “It’s really based on science, and it just makes sense.”