UM offers weight-loss class for credit

Posted Aug. 11, 2010, at 6:53 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Rather than packing on the dreaded “freshman 40,” students at the University of Maine this fall will be able to enroll in a new online course aimed at helping them lose weight while gaining academic credit.

“Vtrim Online,” developed at the University of Vermont, uses practical strategies to help students of all ages get more physical activity and eat a more healthful diet. Students who complete the course will be awarded one academic credit.

“The primary motivation for offering this class is the health of our students,” said Susan Sullivan, professor of food science and human nutrition at UMaine. “This is a nice opportunity for them to learn about healthy behaviors and to set some personal goals.”

The Vtrim class is open to all students and conducted entirely online, which means students can work through the classes and lessons at their own pace. The only exception is a group discussion every Wednesday evening, also online, that students must sign in to.

Students will be asked to keep track of their eating and exercise habits, set a realistic weight loss goal for the semester, and develop strategies for meeting that goal. Class facilitators will work with individual students to develop those strategies.

For example, Sullivan said Wednesday, a student might realize after reviewing her food diary that a standing Friday night pizza date with her girlfriends adds an unhealthy 1,800 calories or more to her weekly intake. The student would be encouraged to identify an alternative to that routine — perhaps going to a different restaurant that has more healthful menu choices, or even making new friends who have different social habits, Sullivan said.

Issues such as binge eating, eating under stress, and how to enjoy a party without consuming too much fatty or sugary food also are addressed in the course. A free sample lesson at the Vtrim website includes the following “survival strategies” for minimizing the caloric damage of a party:

ä Don’t come hungry; eat something healthy before arriving.

ä Stay away from appetizers and hors d’oeuvres.

ä Limit alcohol intake.

ä Bring a low-calorie dish to share.

ä Stay busy — and eat less — by helping the hosts.

Though generic strategies can help anyone lower caloric intake, the Vtrim program works best when students come up with their own solutions, Sullivan said. Those solutions will be guided by each student’s motivations, food associations and other circumstances, she noted.

Students who completed the Vtrim course at the University of Vermont last year lost an average of 1 to 2 pounds per week, and 83 percent of those students lost 5 percent to 10 percent of their body weight, according to a statement from UMaine.

In addition to individuals interested in weight loss, Sullivan said, she expects the course will attract students who are studying nutrition and health.

Vtrim Online is being offered through the University of Maine Division of Lifelong Learning and is open to both degree candidates and nonmatriculated students. The cost of tuition, materials and student fees is $456, but the class is free to Maine residents older than 65. For more information about enrolling, visit the division website at http://dll.umaine.edu/cd or call 581-3143.

More information about the Vtrim program is available online at http://www.uvm.edu/vtrim.

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