The Mayo Clinic Diet is not a fad diet that promises to help you lose stunning amounts of weight in a short period of time. This program, created by a team of experts associated with the renowned Mayo Clinic medical facilities, aims to help people learn to make smart meal choices and build healthy habits in order to lose weight and keep it off for a lifetime.
The Mayo Clinic is a highly regarded nonprofit organization that runs academic medical centers across the country focused on integrated clinical practice, education and research.
Here's a rundown on the diet, including its phases, foods, pros and cons.
Other diets with "Mayo Clinic" in the name are not actually affiliated with the organization at all, including the "Mayo Clinic Grapefruit Diet" and "7-Day Mayo Clinic Diet." If the diet's information is not found on the Mayo Clinic's website, it is most likely not endorsed by the organization and should be avoided.
What Is the Mayo Clinic Diet?
The experts behind the Mayo Clinic Diet include preventive health specialists, a psychologist, dietitians, a certified executive chef and a professor of medicine. Together, these professionals created a plan that can help you lose excess weight and develop healthy, sustainable habits around diet and exercise.
No foods are completely banned in the program. Instead, the focus is on educating participants on how to make quality food choices, eat appropriate portions and get regular exercise.
When you purchase an online membership, you'll get access to personalized meal plans and hundreds of recipes, as well as guidance on a variety of topics, from controlling portion sizes to staying motivated.
Membership also comes with access to a "healthy habit tracker," food and fitness journal and a weight and inch tracker. You'll also get personalized workout ideas, exercise guides and fitness tips for all levels.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is a balanced meal plan that also promotes healthy habits to help you achieve long-term weight loss. Most people lose weight when they stick to the plan.
Phases of the Mayo Clinic Diet
The Mayo Clinic Diet breaks down into two phases.
The first phase — called "Lose It!" — lasts two weeks and promises to help you lose up to 10 pounds. The idea is to jumpstart weight loss in a healthy way that doesn't involve deprivation, starvation or unhealthy exclusions.
During these first two weeks, participants are encouraged to recognize their poor dietary choices and other bad habits, such as:
- Eating products with added sugar
- Noshing while watching television
- Dining out often
- Snacking on foods other than fruits and vegetables
During Phase 1, the diet is structured to help you develop five healthy, long-term habits, all of which are in line with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- Eat a balanced breakfast daily
- Get at least four servings of vegetables and fruits each day
- Choose whole grains instead of processed carbohydrates
- Focus on healthy, unsaturated fats like olive oil and limit saturated and trans fats
- Exercise at least 30 minutes every day
The first phase also encourages you to avoid all processed foods and keep a food and activity journal.
During Phase 2 — or "Live It!" — you continue to embrace these healthy habits to continue to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week until you achieve your goal size. Phase 2 is also where you learn to maintain your healthy weight.
What Can You Eat?
The Mayo Clinic Diet is based on an expert-backed healthy-weight pyramid that helps you manage your energy intake so you achieve healthy weight loss without feeling overly hungry. It helps you eat the right balance of fresh produce, protein, low-fat dairy, healthy unsaturated fats and even a small amount of sweets.
The base of the pyramid is comprised of fruits and vegetables (and physical activity). As you move up from the base, carbohydrates — specifically whole grains and starchy vegetables — make up the next layer. These are followed by lean proteins and then unsaturated fats, such as nuts and olive oil. The tiny point at the top is reserved for sweets.
Healthy foods that generally fit into the pyramid are:
- Whole, unprocessed forms of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains like brown rice and oats
The message is to eat mostly foods that sit at the base of the pyramid and limit your intake of foods that sit nearer the top.
The pyramid looks a lot like the one encouraged by the Mediterranean diet. While there is no official source for that eating plan, a November 2015 paper in Nutrients defined the Mediterranean diet as including:
- Three to nine servings of vegetables
- ½ to 2 cups of fruit
- One to 13 servings of cereals
- Up to eight servings of olive oil
Foods to Avoid
While no food groups are completely off limits on this diet, followers are encouraged to avoid processed foods, such as:
- Snack mixes
- Cereal bars
- Fast food
- Packaged meals
- White and refined grains such as pasta and pizza crust made with white flour, white rice and packaged baked goods
- Flavored yogurts
- Foods high in saturated fats, such as processed meats (think: bacon, sausage, hot dogs)
Followers should also minimize their alcohol intake.
Benefits of the Mayo Clinic Diet
1. It Can Help You Lose Weight
The Mayo Clinic Diet is rooted in solid medical and scientific recommendations for weight loss. The diet is balanced and nutritious, and it encourages an overall healthy lifestyle.
It doesn't raise any "fad diet" red flags because participants are not encouraged to fast, eliminate entire food groups or use supplements to achieve weight loss. Instead, the diet instills healthy habits regarding your diet and lifestyle choices while helping you nix unhealthy ones. And it advocates a slow-and-steady approach to weight loss, which is safer and more sustainable than quick weight loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You can expect to lose a notable amount of weight in the first two weeks — between 6 and 10 pounds, depending on your starting weight and commitment to the plan. Keep in mind, though, that much of this will be water weight, which is commonly shed at the beginning of a diet plan. After that, you should continue to lose fat gradually — about 1 to 2 pounds per week — until you reach your goal weight.
2. It May Decrease Your Risk of Disease
Beyond weight loss, the diet also aims to improve your overall health. Indeed, following a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables (like the Mayo Clinic Diet) can reduce your risk of serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death, according to a February 2017 meta-analysis in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
By helping you lose weight, the diet can also reduce your symptoms of diseases associated with having overweight or obesity, such as sleep apnea and high blood pressure.
3. It Encourages Exercise
Regular exercise is key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. In fact, lifelong exercise is associated with a longer healthy lifespan and delays the onset of 40 chronic conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, per a July 2018 overview in Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine.
4. It's Relatively Easy to Follow
Unlike some diet programs, this one doesn't require any calorie counting, macro alignments or calculations of fat or carbohydrate grams.
On paper, the diet looks like a good bet. But it's not necessarily perfect.
Potential Risks and Challenges of the Diet
1. You May Need to Adapt Your Tastes
Although the diet is quite sound nutritionally, if you're not used to eating a lot of fruits and vegetables (and you find them less-than-palatable), the Mayo Clinic Diet may be hard to stick with.
2. It May Cause Short-Term Digestive Issues
The extra fiber in the diet from added whole grains, fruits and vegetables could upset your digestive system temporarily. You may be a bit more gassy and bloated than usual as you adapt to your new food choices.
The Mayo Clinic Diet teaches you to become responsible for your own weight loss. This means grocery shopping for healthy foods, researching recipes and making your own meals. Plus, you're expected to work out most days, which may be a challenge if you're not used to it.
4. You'll Need to Learn Portion Sizes
Another possible drawback of the diet is the need to pay attention to portion sizes. You're not required to count calories, but the diet lays out specific servings of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates and proteins according to your starting weight. You're not counting specific nutrients, but you do have to pay attention to portions and can't eat all you want all the time — even if the foods are technically healthy.
5. It's Expensive
Membership costs between $20 and $50 per month, depending on the plan you choose, so the program is on the pricier side.
Plus, keep in mind that your grocery bill may be slightly more expensive, because healthier food sometimes costs more.
And participants are encouraged to buy the The Mayo Clinic Diet book, which will set you back about $13.
The Bottom Line
Anyone looking for a solid, nutritional weight-loss plan that will yield long-term results could benefit from the Mayo Clinic Diet. The program isn't for someone looking to drop a bunch of weight for next month's beach vacation, however. It's a long-term solution for good health and a normal body size.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is also for someone who's willing to put in some work in the kitchen. The recipes suggested by the diet plan aren't complicated, but they do require preparation.
And, because the diet plan calls for a good deal of physical activity, anyone who's been sedentary or who has underlying health conditions should check with his or her doctor before embarking on the plan. You may need to be extra conservative with your exercise routine at first and work up to the recommended daily amount over time.