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UCLA Weight Loss Program: The Good, the Bad & the Costly

Author: Cecilia Snyder, MS, RD

It feels like weight loss plans are everywhere these days. It’s not unusual to see various programs being offered through workplaces, through churches, at the local health clinic down the street, and even now online. In some ways, this variety is a good thing since different types of programs might work better or worse for different types of people. But on the other hand, it sure can make it difficult to evaluate and choose which program is best for you and your personal circumstances.

One organization that seems to be making waves with its weight loss programs lately is the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. The center actually offers two separate clinical weight loss programs at their state of the art medical facility located in Los Angeles, California–the RFO Weight Management Program and the Healthy Weight Management Program. Each program was developed by UCLA’s own team of clinical experts, and considering that UCLA has a reputation for being one of the most renowned public universities in the entire US, chances are that you would be in pretty good hands there.

But let’s take a closer look at exactly what these two programs entail in order to determine whether or not they live up to the hype and to figure out for what types of people these programs are actually designed to work best. Then, let’s compare the UCLA programs to another weight loss option that has been making waves–the Noom app. The Noom app promises to help you stop dieting and lose weight for good. Could it be true that it is possible to receive the same type of weight loss education and behavior change guidance that you’d receive at a state of the art collegiate medical facility directly to your phone instead?

Let’s find out…

What to Expect from UCLA Weight Loss Programs:

I mentioned that UCLA offers two separate weight loss programs. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect with each:

RFO Weight Management:

  • The RFO Weight Management program tackles obesity from a number of different angles considering genetic, metabolic, psychosocial, environmental, and behavioral factors. Each participant receives an individualized plan of techniques and resources.
  • One of the main components of the program is a highly specific diet prescription intended to match your protein intake with the amount of protein in your body.
  • The clinical staff at UCLA will asses each patient using blood tests, electrocardiograms, and anthropometric, clinical, and dietary data. Patients will then be prescribed to a low calorie diet for which they will need to purchase nutritional products (supplements) and appetite suppressants in order to adhere to.
  • Physical activity is recommended, but not an absolute requirement of the program. Participants are educated on various types of activities and they also have the option to meet with an exercise physiologist if they want to learn more.
  • An optional behavioral modification program is offered to all RFO Weight Management participants. Those participants that choose to engage in the behavioral modification piece will receive this information through a series of lectures. In addition, they can discuss the information learned in more depth with psychosocial support groups.  

Healthier Weight Management:

  • As compared to the RFO Weight Loss Program, the Healthier Weight Management program is strictly a delivery of educational information to aid in weight loss. Participants are not prescribed to any specific diet plans, nor do they undergo any of the same type of assessments from the UCLA clinical staff as those participants in the RFO program.
  • The program is delivered in a group environment via an intensive 8-week course led by UCLA clinicians that specialize in weight management.
  • The Healthier Weight Management classes are often used as a way for RFO Weight Loss Program participants to maintain their weight loss even once the RFO program has ended.

The Pros of the UCLA Weight Loss Programs

Overall, UCLA offers a pretty comprehensive approach to weight loss, and for those people who are really struggling or feeling nervous about making such significant dietary changes, it’s comforting to know you’ve got access to so many different types of practitioners–physicians, nurses, dietitians, clinical psychologists, exercise physiologists, and even behavioral therapists. Not only have the the UCLA weight loss programs been developed by these practitioners, but participants actually have multiple opportunities to meet with these clinicians one-on-one to discuss their own unique situations. In addition, a large portion of the UCLA programs is centered around behavior change. And there’s really no question that behavior change is absolutely necessary in order to maintain weight loss progress long-term. But these perks certainly don’t come for free. Keep reading to see what I mean!

The Cons of the UCLA Weight Loss Programs:

Now even despite the access to UCLA’s practitioners and state of the art medical facilities, there are a few glaring downsides to these programs that must also be taken in to consideration.

  1. The Cost: Depending on exactly which low-calorie diet plan the UCLA team decides to prescribe you, your personalized plan could range in cost anywhere between $150 to $295 per month. And it’s important to note that this base price does not include any of the additional appetite suppressants or nutritional products that you will need to purchase in order to adhere to your diet plan. Even the maintenance will cost you at least $400 per month.
  1. The Low-Calorie Diet Plans: Should you end up deciding that the cost is worth, you’ll also want to take a really close look at exactly what you are signing up for. The diet plans prescribed by the UCLA team range from low-calorie to very low-calorie (or should we just go ahead and say “almost no calorie”). It’s possible that you will be prescribed a diet as low as 400 calories per day. And the absolute max amount of calories you’ll receive on one of the UCLA plans is 1500 calories per day. Oh yeah, and when they say “calories”… keep in mind that this will mostly be in the form of shakes and supplements like nutritional bars or soups. The most real meals that you’ll be eating in a day is one–other than that you’ll be ingesting most of your nutrients from shakes, supplements, and multivitamins.
  1. The Risk of Weight Cycling: Because the UCLA programs emphasize protein specifically, and because they are tailored to weight loss amounts greater than 100 pounds, they simply might not be right for everyone. And in fact, UCLA even mentions on their website that some patients return to the program as many as three or more times before they learn how to maintain their new behavior changes for good. While that might sound like a good thing up front, we’ve also got to consider how this type of weight cycling could actually end up being detrimental in the end. It’s hard to imagine how a diet comprised most of shakes and supplements could be sustainable in the long run.    

How Does Noom Compare?

So what can you expect to be different if you decide to try out Noom instead? For starters, you’ll still receive a custom weight loss plan, but you can rest assured that you will never be prescribed a diet that is less than 1200 calories per day. Nor will you be required to include or eliminate any particular foods. Instead, the Noom diet promotes learning how to include all foods in your diet with balance and moderation. And although you won’t receive access to a whole handful of different medical practitioners, you will receive access to two of your very own personal health coaches. Your coaches will be by your side day in and day out along your journey to help you brainstorm, to help hold you accountable, to help you overcome your challenges, and ultimately to help guide you towards your big picture weight loss goals.

So what if you don’t live anywhere near Los Angeles? That won’t be a problem! You can access the Noom app from the comfort of your own phone–literally from anywhere in the world where you’ve got a stable internet connection. And don’t worry… just because you won’t be visiting your health coach at a medical facility, that doesn’t mean that the Noom program isn’t supported by quality research– it is absolutely a science-driven weight loss program! And the best part is… you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg just to get started with the program, or even just to try it out. Noom offers a variety of different subscription options. And you can even sign up for one of Noom’s two-week trials for just $1.

So what sets Noom apart from other digital weight loss programs? That’s a topic for another day, but take a look here if you are anxious to hear more.