KU Diet Project

ScaleWelcome to the website of the KU Diet Project. Our project has the official title  “Reducing the Incidence of Obesity in Adults with Developmental Disabilities in Kansas,” but our participants quickly shortened our name to the “KU Diet Project.” This project was funded by the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities, the U. S. Administration on Developmental Disabilities, and the University of Kansas.

It is not our purpose to advise you or someone you know to lose weight or to prescribe a weight-loss program or diet. Specific guidance should come from health care and nutrition professionals. If you don’t know whether you need to lose weight, you can go to http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/ . The chart found at this site can provide a general idea. If the chart indicates a likely problem with weight, seeing a physician is the next step.

What we can share at this site is what we taught individuals in our project and we can share what they taught us. We also can share the materials we used to support weight-loss efforts by our participants. We hope the information posted here is useful. 

Our project is complete and our participants were adults with a developmental disability. Each individual participated with informed consent and with a certification from his or her physician that it was safe to do so.

The approach to weight loss we chose was selected for several important characteristics: It is easy to follow, does not require calorie counting, or eating foods that are unappetizing.  Our approach also has an exercise game that is also relatively easy to play.

Dieters are encouraged to have each day:

  • 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables
  • up to 3 meal replacement shakes / smoothies
  • 2 frozen entrees of less than 300 calories each


Many of our dieters learned to remember the diet by remembering the numbers.

We supplied our participants with protein shake mixes that were donated by Health Management Resources. There are other makers of such mixes. Most of our participants purchased their frozen entrees (e.g., Smart Ones, Lean Cuisine, Lean Gourmet, Healthy Choice) in local grocery stores (see a current partial list) and a few ordered entrees from Health Management Resources, WeightWatchers, NutriSystem, Jenny Craig and so forth. There are many, many entrees to choose from and grocery storefrequently one brand or another is on sale at very affordable prices.

Our participants were also encouraged to drink lots of water and to look for other beverages, such as diet sodas, with low or 0 calories. For those who wanted snacks, we encouraged lower-calorie snacks or snacks in smaller amounts. The 100 calorie packages of popular cookies and crackers became a common purchase for many participants.

This diet is also referred to as one based on “volumetrics.” In such a diet, one tries to eat lower-calorie foods in high volume and eat higher-calorie foods in low volume. In keeping with that principle, we encouraged participants to eat extra servings of fruits or vegetables for a snack, rather than cookies, crackers, and candy. For example, it takes a lot of carrot sticks to get the same amount of calories as a very small serving of cookies.

We recommended to our participants that they bring an “advocate” to our initial teaching sessions and to monthly follow-up visits. We felt it was a good idea to have someone who could discuss our recommendations and help remember the dieting steps to follow.

An advocate also can act as a cheerleader. He or she can also help solve problems, like making sure that other people in the dieter’s life know that the individual is trying to lose weight and what their diet consists of.  An advocate can also help the dieter with using the materials described below. Clicking on the blue words will take you to that item and further information about how it could be used.

ChartAt this web site we provide a weekly food tracking chart. This chart can be used to keep a record of what foods and beverages are consumed each day. Using the chart is a good way to see how closely the dieter is following the diet. There is a food preference assessment that is useful in identifying what foods and beverages are preferred by the dieter.  The preference assessment forms the basis for constructing a stoplight chart (see Epstein & Squires, 1988). The stoplight chart becomes a guide to which preferred foods and beverages are low, medium or high in calories. We taught our participants to eat and drink a lot of green light items, to use moderation with yellow light items, and avoid red light items unless they were part of a low-calorie frozen entrée. We also suggested that our participants weigh frequently and to record their weight on a personal weight chart. The chart we provided makes a graph of progress that can be color coded to show the weight loss goal or BMI zones. You can make your own by copying a section from our master weight chart and pasting it into a word document. When our participants met their first weight-loss goal, we offered a certificate of achievement. Some participants enjoyed adding additional Jayhawks (stickers) to their certificates as they met additional goals. We purchased the stickers at campus stores, but stickers of another kind could work as well. In addition to the certificates and stickers, we provided bragging cards at our monthly meetings. Participants often asked for something in writing to show a parent, friend, caregiver or advocate who could not attend the meeting. We entered their current progress on the cards for them to take with them. We also offered the participants small amounts of cash or other prizes as incentives for keeping records of their diet and of their progress. These are discussed at the relevant links

Exercise can be an important contribution to efforts to be healthy. We encouraged our participants to continue whatever form of regular exercise that they were already engaged in. We also offered a walking game board. If they wanted to try and increase their activity levels by walking more, the game board gave them a way to track how many steps they were walking. We provided a step counter to each participant who wanted to use the game board. We provided an inexpensive laminated version of the “JustGo” game board (under $6.00).

As a partial guide when dining out, we also provided our participants with lists of menu items from area restaurants that were approximately 500 calories or less, as provided by the restaurants' websites.

Epstein, L., & Squires, S. (1988). The stoplight diet for children. Little Brown, & Co.

Points of view represented in the materials at this site do not necessarily reflect official Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities, Administration on Developmental Disabilities, or University of Kansas policy.

For more information about weight loss research projects at the University of Kansas visit ebl.ku.edu

To hear the January 28, 2008 broadcast of Dieting for Adults With Developmental Disabilites


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