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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Medifast Diet: A Real Life Review

Back in 2010, Medifast approached me to try their diet as an aid in my weight loss. Back then, I thought it was just another diet, another "magic pill" type of approach, another weight loss program that was all hype and no results. Looking it over, though, I saw that there were no harmful additives or chemicals or anything risky in the foods. It seemed reasonable: just eat 5 Medifast meals and one Lean & Green meal every day and lose weight. So I figured I'd try it for a month just so I could do a real life review. I like writing about new products and figured it might help people who are researching the Medifast Diet. Here is my description of Medifast and why I decided to try it: What is Medifast?

What I didn't expect is how successful it would be, and how much I would learn from going on this plan. I could write pages and pages about my experience; in fact I already have and will link to those real-time blog posts below. But to summarize, I will say this: Medifast works, if you work it.

The Plan

On the Medifast 5 & 1 Plan, you choose *any* 5 Medifast meals to eat during the day. They can be anything from pancakes to chili, from brownies to shakes, from chicken soup to soft serve. All the meals are nutritionally similar, containing 90-110 calories, 11-15 grams of protein, 8-15 grams of carbs, 4-5 grams of fiber, under 4 grams of fat, and plenty of vitamins and minerals. You space your meals 2 to 3 hours apart to keep your blood sugar steady. You also get to eat one Lean & Green meal daily, which is something you make for yourself. It's composed of weighed or measured amounts of lean protein (chicken, beef, fish, eggs, low fat cheese, etc) and low carb vegetables (salads, cooked or raw veggies excluding starchy veggies like corn and potatoes) plus up to 2 servings of healthy fat like olive oil. You choose your protein, veggies, fats, and condiments from a list. You can be as simple or as creative as you like!

The packaged Medifast foods overall are pretty decent. They are not gourmet, but that is the point. If they were so yummy that they made you want to keep eating them, that would make it hard to stop eating at just one serving. But they are generally 'just good enough' to enjoy and satisfy without making you want to binge on them. Some of them do take some getting used to; they are not as salty, fatty, and sweet as you may be accustomed to, but the nice thing is that over time this retrains your taste buds to prefer and enjoy more plain foods... like meats, eggs, and vegetables.

My usual daily eating schedule was to eat at 8am, 10am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, and 8:30pm daily, with my Lean & Green meal eaten with my family at 6:00. You can also have one optional snack from a list each day if you are hungry. But the nice thing about this plan is that after the first few adjustment days, I was not hungry at all. This plan keeps carbohydrates under 100 grams per day, which induces a *very* mild state of ketosis for fat burning and less hunger. The plan also includes more than 72 grams of protein daily to prevent your body from using your muscles as fuel. It is a plan developed by doctors, and my own physician approved it for my use.

The Pros and Cons

I feel the pros far outweigh the cons, but here is the good and bad from my own experience.

Pros:
I lost weight as long as I stayed on the plan.
My stomach got used to small portions and after awhile I became physically unable to eat huge servings of anything. One normal serving of any food became quite filling to me, even weeks and months after stopping Medifast.
I learned how to prepare meals from healthy lean proteins and vegetables, how to order these in restaurants, and how to make lower carb substitutes for unhealthy things I used to crave, like pizza.
I became more adventurous with my vegetables, spending time at farmer's markets and trying lots of new things.
I was not hungry when I stayed on plan.
I felt great, slept better, and had more energy most of the time.
The food is simple, convenient, easy to prep; therefore my brain stopped thinking about food all the time and it seemed like I had lots more time for other things.
I was able to get off of the sugar-addiction roller coaster.

Cons:
Aside from my homemade dinners, I got tired of eating the same things. However, since then, Medifast has come out with a lot more meals in a wide variety of flavors and textures. It would be hard to get bored with it now.
It can be difficult to explain to people why you are not having a slice of their birthday cake, or eating the Christmas cookies, or having pasta, or whatever. But if weight loss and your health is important to you, this is pretty minor.
Some of the foods tasted awful at first (like the oatmeal) and were hard to get down. However, you do not HAVE to eat foods you don't like. Pick something else. And then in a few weeks try that food again. Odds are, your tastes will have changed and it will taste better to you. I like the oatmeal now!

Be realistic, here. This plan works if you follow it. That means eating all your meals, not skipping any, weighing and measuring your Lean & Green meal, drinking plenty of water, and NOT cheating. If you think you can eat some toast with your Medifast eggs, or have a few Oreos after dinner, forget it. That will not work. You have to stick to this plan fairly strictly to get solid results, in my experience, but it is not that hard and the results are great! Medifast states you can expect to lose 2 to 5 pounds per week for the first two weeks and 1-2 pounds per week after that. I've seen a lot of people lose more... usually women who are heavier when they start, or men. I lost 15 pounds the first month and about 7 per month after that.

Medifast has a structured Transition program to get you back to eating regular, healthy, 'normal' foods once you reach your weight loss goal. I have seen plenty of folks to follow it and then continue to eat healthy foods and maintain their weight loss for years! However, like any weight loss program, if you get to goal and go back to eating the way you used to... the way that got you fat... you will get fat again. You WILL regain weight if you go back to eating too much, eating sugary junk, being sedentary, etc. In fact I did that myself. I started eating too much again after Medifast and I regained some of the weight back. Not all, but some, and I am on Medifast again right now getting that weight back off.

You can read about my 2010 experience on Medifast starting here: Medifast Begins
You can click "Newer Post" at the bottom left of that page to keep reading how each day went for me.
You can see my results here: 100 Pounds Gone. Note that I lost the first 44 pounds prior to starting Medifast, and then lost another 59 pounds on Medifast.

Here are reviews of each Medifast product or meal, specifically.

Bars:
Chewy Bars (Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Chewy Bar, Cookie Dough Chewy Bar)
Crunch Bars (Caramel Crunch Bar, Cinnamon Roll Crunch Bar)
Fruit & Nut Crunch Bar
Strawberry Crunch Bar
Smores Crunch Bar
Chocolate Mint Crunch Bar
Oatmeal Raisin Crunch Bar
Peanut Butter Crunch Bar
Chocolate Crunch Bar

Brownies and Soft Bakes:
Chocolate Chip Soft Bake
Brownie

Smoothies (Triple Berry Smoothie, Pineapple Mango Smoothie)

Puddings and Soft Serves:
Chocolate Pudding
Vanilla Pudding
Peanut Butter Soft Serve

Shakes:
Ready-to-Drink Shakes (Dutch Chocolate and French Vanilla)
Dark Chocolate Antioxidant Shake

Soups and Hot Savory Meals:
Tomato Basil Bisque
Cream of Broccoli Soup
Cream of Chicken Soup
Hearty Vegetarian Sloppy Joe
Macaroni and Cheese
Homestyle Chili
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
Beef Vegetable Stew

Cold Drinks:
Orange Blend
Cranberry Mango Fruit Drink

Hot Drinks:
Chai Latte
Hot Cocoa
Cappuccino

Breakfast-type foods:

Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
Blueberry Oatmeal
Pancakes (Original and Chocolate Chip Pancakes)
Spiced Pancakes
Sugar Free Syrup
Scrambled Eggs (*Note: these have been reformulated since my review)

Bites, Puffs and Pretzels:
Bites (BBQ Bites, Cheese Pizza Bites)
Chili Nacho Cheese Puffs (*Note: these have been reformulated since my review)

Optional Snacks:
Garden Vegetable Crackers
Ranch Soy Crisps

Books and Gadgets:
Medifast Lean and Green Meal Cookbook
Medifast Meal Mug

If you have any questions or want to share your experiences on the Medifast Plan, please leave a comment below. I hope this review is helpful.

Disclosure: I received free product in order to evaluate and comment on my experiences on the Medifast Program. Medifast products and the Medifast Program are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or illness. Any medical improvements noted while on the program are related to weight loss in general, and not to Medifast products or programs. This review is my personal experience and opinion only; I am not a health professional. See your doctor before starting any weight loss plan.

*There is a new Medifast program called "Achieve." I have not tried this plan, but you can look into it and other Medifast plans via the link below. This is an affiliate link, meaning that if you purchase through this link, I get a small commission.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Plantar Fasciitis: A Review of Creams, Lotions, Treatments, Shoes, and "Cures"

It's no secret that I have suffered with a nasty bout of plantar fasciitis in both feet for over a year now. Basically, the main symptom is severe pain in the heel or bottom of the foot near the heel, especially upon getting out of bed in the morning or when getting up after sitting for a long time. It hurts so bad, like you have a sharp rock in your shoe or like someone is stabbing you in the heel. I am pretty sure I have tried every tip, trick, cure, and potion out there along with all kinds of therapies and medical treatments. I thought I'd give a review of the various things I have tried and whether they helped me or not. Be forewarned, mine is a bad case and has been very difficult to get any relief from. Remember, I still have it; none of these treatments has "cured" my plantar fasciitis. But some have helped more than others, so I do think that if you have a milder case, some of these things could be helpful.

This is a pretty comprehensive list of plantar fasciitis treatments and products. None of this should be considered medical advice; it is just my personal experience and opinions. Please consult your doctor.

Doctors and Specialists

First, I saw my family doctor. He is the one who diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis. I'd been taking advil or Aleve with no improvement. He had me start taking 800 mg of prescription ibuprofen and stay off my feet for 6 weeks; I also had knee bursitis and wore a knee brace for it. He also did basic blood work to make sure my general health is okay; it was fine. When the rest and ibuprofen did not help, he sent me to a podiatrist, who did x-rays of both feet and found heel spurs. He said the heel spurs were not the cause of the pain; the plantar fasciitis is. The podiatrist prescribed oral steroids for about a week, but that didn't help either. He said I could get cortisone shots in my feet but I may want to wait on that because the fat pads in my feet were deteriorating, and the shots could make it worse. He also sent me to physical therapy, which I will describe below. When none of that helped, I was referred to a rheumatologist who did further testing to rule out autoimmune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. They found no cause for concern. He had me take a prescription called meloxicam for a month which was just wonderful and gave me my first pain-free days in months; however, when I stopped taking it, the pain was back, and it's not something I can take long-term. I then got a referral to an acupuncturist, who I saw for 5 weeks with some mild, but not permanent, improvement. You can read about my acupuncture experience here.

Stretches and Exercises

I started out with all the basic stretches that you can find online by Googling plantar fasciitis stretches. I did them before getting out of bed every morning and at various times throughout the day. When I began physical therapy, they told me to stand on a step and lower my heels gently to stretch out the muscles in the back of my legs. I also did the ones where you lean forward against a wall, as pictured here. None of this helped me much.

Massages and Soaks

I started rolling my arches on a frozen water bottle on the floor. This felt so good after a long day when my feet felt swollen. I liked this a lot but it didn't really provide more than temporary relief. But it's basically free, so it's worth a try.

Next I purchased a Foot Rubz Massage Ball for $5. This little ball has plastic nubs on it, which helps to break up little bits of scar tissue in the plantar fascia (according to my physical therapist). It feels really good to just sit on the couch and roll this ball under your arches. If you prefer a softer massage, a lot of people like this Thera-Band Foot Roller. I did not buy this even though it is highly recommended, because I had a section of styrofoam pool noodle that worked just as well. If you have an old pool noodle your kids aren't using, try cutting a section and rolling your foot over it.

My favorite massager for my feet was something I had purchased years ago: a HoMedics Foot Massager with Heat. At the end of the day it was pure heaven to sit with my feet on this thing for 15 minutes. I usually put one of the creams (below) on my feet first, then put socks on and turned on the massager with heat. It does feel great. Just don't put your sore heel directly on one of those metal balls!

As for foot soaks, my acupuncturist recommended that I soak my feet for 20 minutes every night in a simple Epsom Salts soak. You can buy Epsom Salts in a big bag at WalMart for 3 or 4 bucks and that works fine. I really like this Epsom Salt with Lavender (which is also super cheap) because it smells nice and is relaxing. I used one cup of salts in a plastic dishpan full of very warm water. He said to stretch before and after soaking, and then apply one of the creams listed below.

Therapies

My first physical therapist was trained in the Graston Technique. I went 6 times and the pain was getting worse, not better.

I then decided to switch to a new physical therapist trained in ASTYM. This is similar to Graston but has a lot more scientific backing. During the months of physical therapy, at the end of each session I also had ultrasound treatment on my heels, massage, e-stim with ice on both feet (hooking up little electrodes to the feet and turning them on). The therapist also taped my feet with support tape, pictured here along with a description of ASTYM. After ten visits with this PT, I was no longer improving and called it quits.

Shoes, Sandals, Splints, and Orthopdeic Inserts

After the first month of foot pain, I went to a special store that measures the pressure on each foot and its length and width and recommends specific shoes and inserts for your feet. I ended up with a pair of Brooks running shoes that I really like and still wear. They're very supportive and comfortable. I highly recommend finding a similar shoe store that does fittings, and I also highly recommend Brooks shoes. A fittings store can help you find the model that is best for your feet. I also bought some Oofos Sandals and I love these as well!  They are kind of like Crocs, but much more supportive. They are comfy and you can wear them in the water or in the shower. It is a very bad idea to wear flip flops or non-supportive sandals when you have plantar fasciitis, so they were wonderful for the summer. Crocs also work for some people, but they just made my foot pain worse.

Recently I have begun wearing Birkenstocks most of the time. In the winter I was wearing Birkenstock Boston Clogs with socks. They're super comfortable and warm; I had one pair for use in the house, and another for outside. When spring arrived, I switched to these cute Birkenstock Granada Sandals with a soft footbed, which is just heaven on sore feet. They come in lots of cute colors and feel great on my feet.

What didn't work? These Kuru shoes. They are supposed to be special shoes for plantar fasciitis, so I contacted the company and offered to do a review for them. *Disclaimer: Kuru gave me a $50 credit towards a pair of Kuru shoes in return for my honest review of their product.* I got the Mesh Chicanes and I am sorry, but I do not like them at all. My feet are perhaps a little *more* sore when I wear these shoes! So I almost never wear them anymore. I gave them several weeks and did not like the results. I may put them on again in the future just to be sure, and will update if anything changes. But as of right now, I wouldn't recommend them.

I also tried FitFlops brand clogs and Orthaheel slippers, but I hated them.

As for inserts, I found the Green Superfeet to be most effective. I tried a lot of other inserts, like Dr. Scholl's and other brands of gel inserts, heel cups, and arch supports, but nothing worked as well as the Superfeet.

Diet, Vitamins and Supplements

Early on, I went grain-free and sugar-free for months, because I had read that gluten and sugar can cause inflammation. I switched to a Primal/Paleo template and while I did feel better, it had no effect on my foot pain. I cut milk out completely for awhile, but that didn't help either. I continued to eat a relatively low carb diet (approx. 100g/day) for most of the time I have had this pain.

I have taken many supplements for general health, including:

fish oil and Turmeric Force for inflammation
Vegetarian Glucosamine, MSM, and chondroitin for arthritis
Especially in winter, I take Vitamin D-3 which helps Seasonal Affective Disorder and possibly bone/joint health as well

The acupuncturist recommended Zyflamend, but it didn't seem to do anything for me. I took it for a month.

Creams and Lotions

Finally, I have tried many different creams and lotions for pain and inflammation. My acupuncturist gave me something called Pain Terminator. It is an herbal cream and I hated it! I just could NOT get past the smell, which lingered on my hands for hours, even after several washings. It didn't seem to do anything for the pain, either. I also tried an ointment called Traumeel, which I liked much better (no strong odor and it did seem to help a little) and a roll-on pain reliever called Sub Zero, which I also liked. It helps about as much as the Traumeel but you don't have to get it on your hands. It dries quickly. But by far, my favorite lotion was one I was sent to review *Disclaimer: Grace Harbor Farms sent me a free bottle of MSM lotion to review on my blog.* This lotion is made from goat's milk with MSM added as well as a lot of healing herbs; you can read testimonials about the cream here and if you want to order some, you can do so here. The story of the owner's plantar fasciitis and how she developed the cream is fascinating; you can read it here. I absolutely LOVE this lotion. It feels warming to the skin and is the only one of the lotions I tried that gave me significant relief. It also just feels so good on the skin. I am going to purchase more of this for myself, both with and without the MSM. I highly recommend it.

So that's it, those are pretty much all the things I have done and tried for my plantar fasciitis. I hope these reviews have been helpful. If you have any exercises, therapies, or products you have tried for your heel pain, please leave me a comment and tell me how they worked for you... good and bad.

***UPDATE: AUGUST 2014: IT'S GONE!***

I wanted to give an update on what *finally* worked to heal my plantar fasciitis. It turns out I was hypothyroid and was diagnosed in July with Hashimoto's Thyroid, an autoimmune disease. This disease is diagnosed with a special blood test for TPO antibodies, which came back positive. I was put on Synthroid by my endocrinologist and within a month the pain was gone! I also started a special diet called the Autoimmune Protocol, but I have since been off that diet for months and the plantar fasciitis has stayed gone. So if nothing else works, get your thyroid checked! I've read studies that suggest that low thyroid hormones can cause inability to heal injured tendons, so I do think this is why my pain lasted more than two years. I wish you health and healing! It is SO GOOD to be pain free!




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