Weight Loss

The Protein Pacing Trick That Helped One Woman Lose 137 Pounds

Lower your blood sugar and cholesterol, too.

“I think it’s time to consider gastric bypass,” the doctor said to Susan Zartman while glancing at the Ohio event planner’s chart. Susan’s cheeks grew hot as she tugged at the exam gown covering her 302-pound body. “I know I need to do something, but surgery?” she asked. “I’ve seen it fail for people.”

The doctor continued, “You could also try drugs. But you’ve been carrying a lot of extra weight for a long time. Unless you turn things around now, you’re heading for diabetes, heart disease, even a stroke or cancer.” Susan dropped her eyes. My mom has struggled so much since her stroke, and her weight is probably to blame, she thought, fighting tears. I don’t want to suffer like her. And I already have trouble walking on my bad ankles. But surgery or drugs? There has to be a better way, she told herself. I just have to find it.

Once home, Susan got on her computer. Her hope plummeted with each link she clicked. They all say surgery is the only option at my size, she realized. Truth was, she’d already tried every diet; she’d start each one with the best intentions but inevitably fall back into her fast food–loving ways. Soon, she could no longer hold back her tears. “I guess all that’s left for me to do is pray,” she said. So that’s what she did. In the months ahead, she would often whisper: God, please guide my steps…

Finding Hope

Soon after, Susan saw a post on Facebook by her old friend Lisa who had lost a lot of weight and became a coach. Susan scanned her page, watching videos she suggested. I like that everything is encouraging and science-based, Susan thought.

Eventually, the pair connected by phone, and Susan learned more about Lisa’s program. “The goal is creating healthy new habits that’ll last for good,” said Lisa, who worked with a company called Optavia. “There’s lots of support — a free coach and a huge online community.”

As for food, it sounded like nonstop eating. “Every two to three hours, you fuel your body with high-quality protein and other nutrients to get your body in a gentle fat-burning state,” Lisa explained. It was convenient too: There were prepackaged, protein-spiked “fuelings” she’d order from Optavia.com — options like pancakes, soup, even cookies and cake. She’d have five a day, then make one home-cooked meal with protein and veggies. I don’t even know if I’ ll like the food or if I can stick with it, Susan worried. But she went for it anyway.

When everything arrived, Susan tried oatmeal first. She didn’t love it. Let’s give this a chance, she said. Her next fueling was a peanut butter crunch bar that was very tasty. She also liked the mashed potatoes, ziti and pudding she had at intervals after that. She sipped water—aiming for 64 ounces a day—and felt relieved. Dinner was chicken breast over bagged salad. She was full and content. It was a good day, she thought at bedtime.

She kept at it. Whenever she felt hunger, it was already time to eat again. And she was surprised by her new stamina. After a month, she was already 19.5 pounds lighter.

Her Happy Ending

Susan was exhilarated by her progress — 50 pounds gone in four months! — when her ailing mom injured herself. Packing for the first of many road trips to help out, she wondered if she could stay on track with her own health. The fuelings are actually easy to travel with, she thought. And even at her mom’s house, it was no problem to make meals like healthy stuffed cabbage or steak with broccoli. Pounds kept coming off. “One day it hit me: I’m not going to fail this time.”

All told, Susan shed 137 pounds in a year and half. “At times it went quicker or slower. I was never perfect. But even when I’m not perfect, I make healthier choices than I used to,” she says.

“Looking back, I really felt that God led me to Lisa.” Susan, 58, has become an independent Optavia coach herself, even helping one client drop 179 pounds in a year. “I always tell people: No matter where you’re standing right now, you’re not that far away from where you want to go. For decades, I struggled and dieted and kept looking for a quick fix. But when I finally started looking for a permanent solution — that’s when my life got so much better in such a short time.”

Working Wonders with Protein Pacing

Susan used an Optavia eating plan that delivers six moderate doses of high-quality protein spread through the day. Why is it a winning formula? Turns out, few of us get the ideal amount of protein to maximize weight loss, alternately skimping and then overloading, according to Florida-based weight-loss expert Caroline Cederquist, M.D.

Research shows that a healthy diet providing moderate protein more often actually has a magical effect on muscles, helping them grow stronger as they rapidly burn excess blood sugar and fat.

Getting Lean and Healthy

In recent Skidmore College studies, folks using a “protein pacing” approach not only lost up to 72 pounds in 12 weeks, they also “cut levels of the hormone insulin in half,” a factor that slashes diabetes risk, reports nutrition scientist Paul Arciero, Ph.D. He says other benefits include better energy, cholesterol levels, mood and more. No wonder folks using the Optavia approach report that they feel amazing as they shed pounds!

Protein Pacing on Optavia

Our twist on protein pacing makes the powerful approach a breeze. Enjoy 5 protein-rich mini meals (about 100 to 150 calories and 10 grams protein apiece, like the examples here) at two to three-hour intervals each day. Then, a dinner made with 7 oz. lean protein, at least 2 cups non-starchy veggies, a little healthy fat and low-cal seasonings. As always, get a doctor’s okay to try any new plan.

Protein Boost #1: ½ cup cooked oatmeal mixed with 1 Tbs. vanilla protein powder

Protein Boost #2: 1 mini protein bar

Protein Boost #3: 1 cup low-cal, protein-rich soup

Protein Boost #4: 1 heaping cup of microwave-heated edamame or 2 low-fat cheese sticks

Protein Boost #5: 1 single-serve container low-fat vanilla Greek yogurt

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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