Can the Mayo Clinic Diet Really Help You Lose Weight?

The Mayo Clinic Diet provides guidelines on what to eat, but participants must buy their own food and cook their own meals. (Image: yulkapopkova/E+/GettyImages)

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.

What Exactly 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.

Tip

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 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  • Eat a balanced breakfast daily
  • Consume 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.

How Much Weight Can I Lose?

You can expect to lose notable weight 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.

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 meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in February 2017.

By helping you lose weight, the diet can also reduce your symptoms of diseases associated with being overweight or obese, such as sleep apnea and high blood pressure.

Pros of the Mayo Clinic Diet

1. It's backed by science. 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.

2. It encourages exercise. Regular exercise is key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. In fact, lifelong exercise is associated with a longer health span and delays the onset of 40 chronic conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, per an overview published in Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine in July 2018.

3. It's relatively easy to follow. Unlike some diet programs, this one doesn't require any calorie counting, calculations of fat or carbohydrate grams or macro alignments.

On paper, the diet looks like a good bet. But it's not necessarily perfect.

Cons of the Mayo Clinic 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.

3. There's no "easy button." 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 $65 per quarter, 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 $25.

Foods Included on the Mayo Clinic Diet

The Mayo Clinic Diet is based on a healthy-weight pyramid devised by the experts who created the plan. This pyramid is a tool 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 vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, beans, fish and chicken. 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, the journal Nutrients published research in November 2015 that 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

The research affirms the Mediterranean diet as a way to improve cognitive health and reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. While it shares many of the same recommendations as the Mayo Clinic Diet, the Mediterranean Diet isn't always intended to spur weight loss — rather, it's designed to create good health.

A typical day following the Mayo Clinic Diet might start with a breakfast of eggs in a corn tortilla with fresh salsa. You then have cous cous salad made with chopped vegetables and chicken breast or black beans for lunch. At dinner, scallops sautéed in olive oil and served with greens and roast potatoes rounds out your day. When you're hungry between meals, snack on fresh fruit or cut-up vegetables with a small amount of hummus dip. You may have a sweet treat, such as frozen yogurt, once or twice per week.

Foods to avoid include processed foods, such as snack mixes, cereal bars, fast food and packaged meals. You'll also skip white, refined grains such as white flour pasta, white rice and baked goods or pizza crust. Minimize alcohol intake and your consumption of added sugars, such as soda, flavored yogurts, cookies and candy. Foods high in saturated fats are also mostly off limits.

Who Should Follow the Mayo Clinic Diet?

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.

Warning

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.

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.

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