Pass/Fail Fad Diet Plans Skip The Teachable Moments

Meal Replacement Shake Programs Need A Back-Up Plan -- Flickr photo by El Gran Dee

There’s No Learning Curve With Meal Replacement Shakes 

Nearly every day in the employee break room I encounter a co-worker that is on the Health Management Resources weight loss system.  Daily she mixes up shakes and makes pudding for her lunch.  She’s lost about 30 pounds on the program and has been on it for several months; maybe even close to a year.

The HMR Weight-Loss program is based on a very-low calorie meal plan where you have three shakes, two entrees (all provided by HMR) and five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  Total calorie intake would be around 500 – 600 a day.  The weight-loss program also provides some snacks that are introduced later in the program, and a multi-grain cereal.  My co-worker is pleased with how well she’s done on the program and says she could not have lost the weight without it.

My fear is that once she’s off the program and back to the work of browsing the grocery store isles, menu planning and meal preparation, the weight will slowly start to creep back.  The trial and error, ups and downs, and successes and failures of behavior change don’t take place on a pass/fail diet plan where no options are available to you.

That Oh So Elusive Thing Called Behavior Change

I recently completed the American College of Sports Medicine Wellcoaches course and it in no way makes me an expert on behavior change. It has, however, turned on my behavior change radar so that now, after months of reading, doing chapter reviews, listening to coaching modules, and working with practice clients, I’m finally in a place where I can understand that throughout the evolution of change, it’s critical to apply the one-step-back, two-steps-forward principle and to respect the idea that that one or two, or three steps back, however frustrating they may be, are a vital part of the process.

I was working with a practice client over the holidays that wanted to not just maintain, but lose five pounds before the New Year.  She thought that as long as she was able to keep up with her workouts three days a week she would be able to reach her goal. That seemed like a good plan.  But then the party invitations started rolling in.  One week she and her husband were invited to three holiday get-togethers. She was in a panic.  She couldn’t possibly attend these parties and snub the hostess by not eating the foods that had been prepared.  But she didn’t know how she could eat the party food and get to her goal. Then there was the alcohol that she would have to deal with.  Could she have a couple cocktails and still lose weight?

She got busy and put some strategies in place that would help her get through the parties without completely undoing the progress she had made so far.  She decided that at each party she would use a small appetizer plate and fill it only three times.  She would allow herself to have two glasses of white wine.  In between glasses of wine she would drink zero calorie fizz water or plain water.

The goals set were attainable and she reported back at the end of the week that she enjoyed the parties and didn’t feel as though she had made a huge sacrifice nor had she insulted the hostess.  Each week she continued to set goals based on what she knew she would be dealing with in the coming days.  Many of the goals were met, others were not.  We would take a few minutes to talk about why some of the goals that she set were or were not accomplished, what worked and what might be done differently.  It is the constant goal setting, testing and evaluating that builds insight so that we know how to tackle new challenges and conquer even bigger obstacles

What Have You Learned?

What Did You Learn?

This is one of the most powerful questions a coach can ask a client, not only when things don’t go as well as we would have liked, but when we’ve hit the bulls eye.  Finding out what works is as valuable as finding out what doesn’t.  It won’t take us long to give up entirely if our total focus is on the failures.

“What Did I Learn?” is a question that we can ask ourselves, not just in our wellness journey, but in our relationships, our careers and other aspects of our lives.  Asking the question and reflecting on the answer to sort out what we did that was effective and can use again, and where the break downs in the strategies are so that we can tweak them or throw them out entirely.

Setting specific goals to get through a series of holiday parties without gaining weight worked for my client.  By Janaury 3 she had met her five pound weight loss goal plus she had learned a new way to approach some of the events that will continue to come up in her life.

An Experiment In Behavior Change

What’s one thing you would like to do this week?  Notice I didn’t say stop doing this week.  What is something positive that you can start doing?  It doesn’t have to be huge or life-changing. Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Take a five minute stress-break each day.  Sit quietly and focus only on your breathing.  Try to clear your mind of everything that is troubling you. Each time your mind wanders back to your job, or kids, or cleaning that needs to get done, put the focus back on your breathing.
  • Put a quarter in a jar every time you say the word ‘try’.  This is a word that we can take out of the English language along with most of its synonyms.  Whatever it is you want to do, don’t try.  Just do it.
  • Sit for 60 minutes, move for three.  After you have sat at a desk, in front of the T.V., at a ball game, or anywhere, for an hour, stand up and move around for three minutes.
  • Eat an apple every day.  Apples are in abundance in the super market at this time of year and there may be some truth to the old adage that one a day keeps the doc away.  Not only are they nutritious, but they are low in calories, tasty, inexpensive, and easy to toss in the lunch bag for work.
  • Keep the positive energy going by writing a daily affirmation that you send to yourself via text message as often as you’d like.  You can do this on your phone by downloading the Positive Affirmation app for Smartphone or iPhone.

If none of these appeal to you click here for more suggestions, or decide on one of your own.  Determine if you want to do the behavior for five days, seven days, 10 days. At the end of the timeframe assess how you did. 

  • Was goal completion at 100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, 0%?
  • Give yourself a grade. Write down what went right and what didn’t.
  • What did you learn?
  • What will you do next time that will be different to secure a better outcome?
  • What can you use from this experience to help you reach some of your bigger goals?

Crawl Before You Walk

Babies learn to crawl and marathoners learn to run.   It takes practice to learn a new skill whether it be walking, running, or resisting the donuts at the morning meeting.  Each time you practice the behavior you’re learning new tactics that will eventually get you to your goal.  The two steps forward will always make up for the one step back.


  1. OMG, you are so right Karen, great article!!