The Profile Plan — previously known as Profile by Sanford — is a weight loss diet that usually focuses on low-carb, low-fat foods, especially at the beginning, and is best known for encouraging rapid weight loss.
Physicians and researchers at Sanford Health, the largest rural health system in the United States, based in Sioux Falls, developed the diet. Attorney Michelle Lounsbery and her husband Dr. Mark Lounsbery, an internal medicine doctor, launched the franchise with dozens of locations across the country, several membership options and a proprietary line of prepared foods and snacks. The first franchise location opened in Sioux City, South Dakota.
In 2017 and 2018, Profile by Sanford was named one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top New Franchises. However, Profile faced many layoffs in 2021, and in early 2022, Profile was sold to Ten Oaks, a private wealth management advisory firm in North Carolina.
What Is the Profile Plan Diet?
The Profile Plan diet markets itself as offering customized diets for individuals looking to lose weight. The plan nearly always — roughly 75% of the time, according to the company — begins with a modified ketogenic diet and revolves mostly around packaged foods that are purchased at one of the company’s centers or via its website. Once you sign up, you’ll have a virtual or in-person consultation with a health coach to determine your goals and develop an appropriate eating plan based on your individual needs.
There are nearly 100 locations across 32 states, although there are members in every state. People who don’t live near a center meet with their assigned “coach” virtually.
How Profile Works
Developed by Sanford Health physicians and researchers, the plan is based on the ketogenic diet and features high-protein meal replacement shakes and bars. However, the goal here is mild ketosis, and the diet is less strict than the traditional ketogenic diet, a restrictive, low-carb diet plan meant to shift the body’s metabolism into a fat-burning state.
“We describe it (the diet) as ‘modified’ because we do not reduce carbohydrates or increase fat to the levels that a traditional ketogenic diet does,” explains Alyssa Burnison, director of program and nutrition at Profile. “This allows for more variety of foods, more nutrients and more fiber. Those who have certain medical conditions including, but not limited to, Type 1 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and liver disease, as well as those under the age of 18, pregnant, nursing or have a high level of physical activity, would not be appropriate for this plan.”
At each weekly appointment, you’ll discuss your progress in the past week and overall, what challenges or problems you’re encountering and you’ll learn new skills to increase motivation and encourage weight loss.
“Our educational service, ‘Journey Mapping,’ provides each member a personal coaching plan and framework to empower them to build knowledge and develop skills that are essential to living a healthy lifestyle,” Burnison says. “Topics include mindful eating, self-compassion, exercise goal setting and consistency, sleep hygiene, stress management, social support, meal planning, goal setting and so much more.”
It’s worth noting that the coaches must attend a coach certification class and pass an exam, but the job requirements don’t specify a background in nutrition or counseling. The job description specifies that applicants should have a “bachelor’s degree or six years of equivalent and applicable work experience required.” According to the company, “Profile coaches come from various wellness backgrounds.”
DNA testing to see how your unique metabolism handles carbohydrates is part of the plan’s backbone — though it’s only available to members who live near a center. A saliva sample is collected via cheek swab at a Profile store and sent to a lab. In six to eight weeks, you’ll find out how much amylase, which plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, is present in your saliva. These results (described as a C-score) will be used to plan your diet. For example, if your body burns more fats than carbohydrates, your recommended diet will be rich in fats and lower in carbs. However, there is no scientific proof that eating a very low-carbohydrate diet is helpful for those who naturally produce less of this carb-digesting enzyme.
For people who live near a center, your program will also kick off with 360-degree imaging of your body shape, measurements, weight, percentage of body fat and other biometrics. This so-called Profile 3D Body Scan utilizes a 3D camera, infrared depth sensors and rotating platform to take your body measurements. A digital measuring tape is used to measure your progress. The whole process takes less than five minutes and can be scheduled ahead of time at your nearest Profile store.
The Profile Plan’s “promise” guarantees that each user will lose at least 15% of their body weight within one year on this low-calorie diet.
Phases of Profile Plan
The “Reboot” protocol refers to the entire diet plan, which is broken down into three phases — Reduce, Adapt and Sustain:
Reduce. This is a rigorous first phase, during which carbohydrates and sugar are significantly reduced, and calories are dramatically slashed, often to between 1,000 and 1,200 each day. You’ll remain in the reduce phase of the program until you’re within 15 pounds of your goal weight.
Adapt. In the second phase, once you’re within 15 pounds of your goal weight, some foods such as fruit and dairy products are gradually reintroduced into the diet.
Sustain. In the third and final phase, the foods removed from the diet are added back to your menu.
“The first phase of our Reboot protocol is designed to provide enhanced nutritional structure and focuses on increasing vegetable intake and choosing lean proteins and heart-healthy fats,” Burnison explains. “Carbohydrate-containing foods such as fruits, starches and dairy are added to the meal plan in the second phase of the nutrition plan. The third phase of the nutrition plan closely resembles USDA dietary guidelines.”
According to Burnison, “We offer five different nutrition plans/protocols: Reboot, Balance, Mom, Perform and Coaching+. All protocols offer different meal plans based on goals, health status, lifestyle status and food preferences. Reboot, Balance, Perform and Coaching+ may offer the three phases — Reduce, Adapt and Sustain. The Mom plan is specific to the pregnancy or nursing stage the member is in to ensure adequate calories and proper nutritional intake.”
What Can I Eat on the Profile Plan Diet?
On the strict Reboot protocol, you can expect to eat a lot of meat, poultry, vegetables, eggs and some cheese, especially during the initial Reduce phase. You will also be encouraged to add healthy fats in the form of avocado, chia seeds, nuts and olive oil. Users are allowed minimal amounts of alcohol and are asked to moderately limit caffeine consumption. Members are supposed to eat no less than four cups of vegetables each day, which is a lot of vegetables for the average person considering that, according to a 2022 report published by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, most Americans eat vegetables 1.6 times a day. Members can also choose a variety of “Flex Foods” which are foods that contain minimal calories and carbohydrates like sauces, dressings, seasonings and salsa.
During the first phase of the program, most participants are asked to exclude carbohydrate-containing grains, fruit and milk products other than cheese, which contains minimal carbohydrates, from their diet. These foods are slowly added back once a member is within 15 pounds of their goal weight or decide that they are ready to move to the next phase.
Burnison explains that fruits, starches and dairy foods are added back to the diet during Adapt, the second phase, ensuring a balanced diet. The final maintenance phase closely resembles the Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines, while most members still incorporate one to two Profile foods such as protein shakes or bars as part of their plan.
A lot of the food is provided through the company itself, either at a Profile store or online, and includes shake mixes, soups and nutritional bars. In addition — because absolutely no grains or fruit are allowed during the Reduce phase — members have to drink a special powdered “fiber drink” that is mixed with water. The drinks come in flavors that include strawberry kiwi and mixed berry.
In addition, members usually need to purchase soups, shakes and bars supplied by Profile Plan. The shakes are supposed to taste like decadent desserts, including banana cream pie, maple pecan and strawberry cheesecake. The soups are not as highly rated by users and come in traditional chicken noodle, creamy chicken and vegetarian chili with beans. Other offerings include pizza crust, oatmeal and barbecue sauce.
Burnison explains that although many members purchase 75% of the food that they eat from Profile Plan during the initial phase of the diet, “as a member continues their Profile journey, more grocery foods are added, with some Profile foods complimenting the nutrition plan. Other plans have slightly different breakdowns, incorporating less Profile foods and more grocery foods in the initial phase. We also have plans that do not include Profile foods and are 100% grocery food/whole foods based.”
Sample Menu for the Profile Plan Diet
This is a sample menu to be eaten during the Reduce phase of the program. It provides 1,371 calories.
— Breakfast: Profile Plan chocolate brownie shake.
— Mid-morning snack: Profile Plan 10-gram lemon bar and a raspberry lemonade H2 Energy drink.
— Lunch: homemade chili cheese dip with 2 ½ cups of chopped veggies — one cup each of broccoli, carrots, celery and bell pepper.
— Midday snack: Profile Plan 15-gram caramel cocoa bar and a Profile Plan mixed fruit fiber drink.
— Dinner: homemade BBQ chicken burrito bowl.
— Evening snack: Profile Plan mint chip shake.
Pros and Cons of Profile Plan
Pros of Profile Plan
— Vegetables, a rich source of vitamins, minerals and fiber, are encouraged.
— Behavioral techniques, such as portion control, are incorporated.
— The sodium content is low, which will decrease high blood pressure risk.
Cons of Profile Plan
— Some dieters might have difficulty on their weight-loss journey once they aren’t being told what to eat and purchasing pre-packaged foods.
— If you don’t eat a lot of vegetables, your fiber and potassium intake will likely be lower than recommended.
— The calorie level is too low for many people, including active individuals.
In addition, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the ketogenic diet is not recommended for anyone with pancreatic disease, liver conditions, thyroid problems, eating disorders or a history of eating disorders, gallbladder disease or those who have previously had their gallbladder removed. Since certain phases of Profile can mimic a keto diet, you should consult with your health care provider before beginning this diet.
Profile Plan Cost
The nutrition plan, including food and coaching, starts at $19 per day. Some people might be able to use their flexible spending account or health savings account to help cover the program’s costs.
Burnison explains that “members can start our Premium Plan by purchasing a $49 two-week trial offer. Our Premium Plan includes access to one-on-one health coaching, the Profile Journey app, a personalized plan and exclusive member-only food pricing.”
The bars, fiber drinks or standard shakes are $21.99 for a box of seven of the same item. Plant-based shakes are $23.99 for seven, and ready-to-drink shakes are $14.99 for four. H2 energy drinks, which contain caffeine and a plethora of supplemental vitamins and minerals, are $13.99 for 10. Subscription discounts are available online for 20% off when receiving products every 14 or 30 days. Discounts on in-store food bundles vary from location to location.
New members receive a kit including a smart scale to electronically transmit their body weight to their assigned coach. It’s up to the participant how often they want to weigh themselves, and their weight is transmitted to the certified health coaches via the Journey app that is synced with the scale. Members also receive a cookbook, resistance bands, a shaker bottle for mixing up the fiber drinks and shakes and a journal.
If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of meal planning, another option through Profile is Profile Fresh, which will deliver meals directly to your door, ready to eat. Each meal through Profile Fresh costs roughly $9 to $10. More than 15 breakfasts, lunches and dinner options are currently available for time-crunched consumers who want to stick to the Profile Plan without sacrificing time to meal prep.
Is Profile Plan Healthy?
A typical day following the Profile Plan diet provides a low number of calories — roughly 1,350. A 50-year-old woman who is 5 foot, 7 inches and 165 pounds and sits for a large part of the day requires roughly 2,300 calories to maintain her body weight. So it’s easy to see how someone would likely lose weight on this plan. In fact, in this example, this woman would likely lose at least two pounds a week during the Reduce phase of the program.
“I am concerned about the weight loss ‘guarantee’ of 15% of someone’s body weight,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, founder of NutritionStarringYOU and author of “The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook.” “Each body is different and despite best efforts may not healthfully be able to reach that goal, while for some a 15% weight loss may be medically inappropriate.” Harris-Pincus notes that she filled out the questionnaire with her real body weight and said she wanted to lose 15 pounds, which, she notes, because she is already at a very healthy body weight and could endanger her health by losing weight, “should be a red flag. I received an offer to sign up for their basic plan.”
“The calorie limit of 1,000 to 1,200 in the Reduce phase is unnecessarily low for most people and very low for active individuals,” she adds. “It’s certainly unsustainable and also extraordinarily difficult to meet basic nutrient needs with so little food.”
Still, the saturated fat content of this sample day’s menu is higher than many diet experts would recommend. On the daily menu that U.S. News calculated nutritional data for, the meal plan contained 21 grams of saturated fat — 14% of the total calories — while the American Heart Association recommends limiting the intake of saturated fat to 5% to 6% of total calories.
The carbohydrate content of this diet is quite low, only 33% of calories, while the typical recommendation is along the lines of 45% to 50%.
Sodium is low (around 1,500 mg), which should help to decrease your blood pressure if it tends to run high. On the flip side, potassium, which keeps blood pressure in the healthy range, is lower than encouraged, at 65% of the DRI. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration uses a Daily Value of 4,700 mg of potassium to help consumers compare the amount of potassium in foods and supplements.
Harris-Pincus adds that the “sample meal plan recommends several servings per day of Profile’s processed packaged foods that contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose and acesulfame potassium, as well as food dyes.”
Exercise on Profile
Users are encouraged to do at least 90 minutes of light activity each week, such as walking or light aerobics. In comparison, the government recommends no less than 150 minutes weekly to enjoy the health benefits associated with physical activity.
Will you lose weight on this diet? Yes, you most likely will.
Will you be able to maintain that weight loss? Where will you be without the bars and shakes, without the accountability necessitated by regular visits and weigh-ins? That’s the tricky part of any diet plan and especially one that relies so heavily on preportioned meal replacements and snacks. Even with great coaching, many people struggle to integrate what they’ve learned into the real world once the diet bubble has burst, so to speak.
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Update 06/21/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.