What Is the Mayo Clinic Diet?

In This Article

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If you are considering the Mayo Clinic Diet to lose weight, be careful. There are different versions of this diet plan available online and some of the advice is bogus. Before you start any weight-loss plan, make sure you're getting expert advice that is healthy and medically sound.

What Experts Say

"The Mayo Clinic diet is based on eating balanced portions of healthy foods and limiting or avoiding less healthy foods, without too many additional rules. To succeed, preparing and planning what you’re going to eat goes a long way."
Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

Background

There are some Mayo Clinic Diets found online that are not recommended or approved by the actual Mayo Clinic, and not considered nutritionally sound by experts. These fake Mayo Clinic Diets have been around for more than 30 years.

Almost all versions of the fake diet suggest you eat unlimited amounts of high-fat and high-cholesterol foods and limit the number of vegetables you consume. The most unusual rule is that you are required to eat a lot of grapefruit and eggs. The plan claims that eating grapefruit burns up fat.

The fake Mayo Clinic Diet promises you can lose up to 52 pounds in just a couple of months if you follow the plan perfectly. This statement should set off warning bells. Weight loss at this rate is generally not possible and usually not safe. Real Mayo Clinic dietitians, nutritionists, and media personnel have tried to inform the public that this diet is not, and never has been affiliated with the medical organization.

Perhaps to counter the fake diet, in 2006 the Mayo Clinic developed "The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid." It provides healthy eating recommendations and in no way resembles the diet plan that falsely uses the clinic's name. The organization also provides an online program and a book to teach its healthy approach to weight loss.

How It Works

The real Mayo Clinic Diet is a slow, steady and reasonable approach to weight loss. Lose six to 10 pounds during the first few weeks of the plan (the "Lose It!" phase), and then one to two pounds per week after that (the "Live It!" phase). During the Lose It phase, followers "learn how to add five healthy habits, break five unhealthy habits, and adopt another five bonus healthy habits," according to the Mayo Clinic. These habits include avoiding snacks (except for fruits and vegetables) and cutting back on meat and full-fat dairy products. The Live It phase is a transition and maintenance period, during which followers "learn more about food choices, portion sizes, menu planning, physical activity, exercise and sticking to healthy habits."

What to Eat

Compliant Foods

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Whole-grain carbohydrates

  • Proteins and dairy products

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Sweets (in excess)

  • Fats (in excess)

  • Refined carbohydrates (in excess)

Fruits and Vegetables

Eat as many of these as you want on the Mayo Clinic Diet. These nutrient-dense (high in nutrients and fiber, lower in calorie) foods form the base of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid. The only exception: If you have diabetes, you may need to limit fruit because of its natural sugars.

Whole-Grain Carbohydrates

Nutritious whole grains (such as brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread) form the second tier of the pyramid. They should be consumed in moderate amounts.

Proteins and Dairy

These are the third tier on the pyramid, meaning they are fine to consume in moderation—fewer servings than carbs, but more than healthy fats, which are the fourth tier. Proteins should come from lean sources, such as legumes, fish, and low-fat dairy products.

Fats

This is the second-to-smallest category on the pyramid. Good sources of healthy fats include avocados, nuts, and olive oil.

Sweets

Sweets and treats are allowed on the Mayo Clinic Diet (in the Live It phase only), but should be limited to 75 calories a day—or about 500 a week, which can be an easier way to look at your options: Have a 150- to 200-calorie treat one day, then skip a day or two before having another one. Alcohol is considered a treat and is not permitted during the Lose it phase.

Refined Carbohydrates

No foods are off-limits on this diet, so it's okay to have the occasional refined carbohydrate food (such as bread or pasta made from white flour). But in general, choose whole grains, because they are more nutrient-dense.

Recommended Timing

Daily meal plans include a snack, but the diet's guidelines include nixing habits such as eating while watching TV. It aims to teach more mindful eating.

Resources and Tips

The "Mayo Clinic Diet Book" is a handy reference, and you can also purchase an accompanying journal to help plan and track meals and progress. Mayo Clinic also has a cookbook devoted to compliant recipes. The online subscription program ($52 for 13 weeks) provides recipes, meal plans, interactive apps and trackers, and personalized workouts.

Modifications

This eating plan can be modified to work for vegetarians, people who avoid eating gluten, or those who keep kosher. The Mayo Clinic also offers a "Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet" book for people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. As with any weight-loss program, discuss the Mayo Clinic Diet with your doctor prior to starting, particularly if you have diabetes or another health condition, such as heart disease.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Emphasizes nutritious foods

  • Incorporates lifestyle advice

  • Teaches healthy habits

  • Little calorie counting

Cons

  • Restrictive in initial phase

  • Can be time-consuming

  • No in-person support

Pros

Nutritious Foods

The Mayo Clinic Diet's food pyramid reflects solid nutrition standards and recommendations. And the diet also advises limiting processed foods, sugar, and salt, which is a healthy habit for anyone, whether or not weight loss is the goal.

Lifestyle Advice

Daily exercise is incorporated right into the base of the food pyramid, emphasizing the links between physical activity, weight loss, and wellness. The diet suggests 30 to 60 minutes of activity every day. It also points out unhealthy habits, such as eating while watching TV and reminds followers to curb those habits.

Portion Control vs. Calorie Counting

The Live It phase of the diet is about sticking with these food choices and healthy habits for life. Instead of counting calories, followers learn how to use portion size to eat healthfully.

The Mayo Clinic Diet is likely to be safe and effective for most people. But it does have some drawbacks to be aware of.

Cons

Restrictive

Especially in the first phase (Lose It), users must completely cut out sugars (except in fruit), alcohol, and restaurant meals. And calorie counts are quite low. However, this is meant to be a short phase to boost motivation through successful weight loss.

Time-Consuming

If you are not used to eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoiding refined or processed foods, you will need to learn new ways to shop, plan meals, and cook. It takes more time to chop and sauté vegetables than it does to throw a burger on the barbecue or pop a frozen meal into the microwave.

No In-Person Support

Sometimes the support of a group meeting or a diet buddy can make a big difference in the success of a weight-loss program. On this diet, unless you recruit a friend to join you, you are on your own.

How It Compares

The real Mayo Clinic Diet is a sensible option that mirrors several other healthy, lifelong strategies for nutritious eating. It also aligns with government dietary advice.

The 2019 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Mayo Clinic Diet number 6 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.8/5.

USDA Recommendations

Food Groups

The USDA's MyPlate guidelines suggest that each meal should have a healthy balance of protein, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and grains. This is comparable to the Mayo Clinic Diet plan, as are the proportions of macronutrients recommended. The USDA recommends 45 to 65 percent carbs, 20 to 35 percent fat, and 10 to 35 percent protein. In the Live It phase, the Mayo Clinic's proportions are roughly 57 percent carbs, 22 percent fats, and 21 percent protein.

Calories

Also in the Live It phase, the Mayo Clinic Diet comes out at the low end of the range suggested by the USDA for weight loss (1600 to 2000 for the USDA, 1200 to 1800 for Mayo Clinic). Since calorie needs are different for everyone, depending on age, sex, height, weight, and activity level, use a calculator like this one if you need to determine the right daily calorie goal for you.

Similar Diets

These diets are all based on sound nutritional advice and are designed to be part of an overall, long-term, healthy lifestyle.

Mayo Clinic Diet

  • General nutrition: This diet focuses on whole, nutrient-dense foods, and a balanced mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
  • Safety: The legitimate Mayo Clinic Diet is safe for almost all users. The fake Mayo Clinic diets are too high in fat and cholesterol to be safe.
  • Practicality: The diet doesn't require calorie counting or special foods, but could be time-consuming to comply with.
  • Effectiveness: This eating plan, especially when combined with its lifestyle advice on healthy and unhealthy habits, should be effective for weight loss for most users.

Volumetrics Diet

  • General nutrition: On the Volumetrics Diet, followers use a plan similar to the Mayo Clinic Healthy Food Pyramid to determine which foods to emphasize and which to limit. Both diets stress the importance of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and choosing whole grains over refined ones, for example.
  • Safety: This diet was devised by a professor of nutrition and is safe for most everyone.
  • Practicality: It takes some time to learn how to cook and eat the Volumetrics way, but its rules are clear and simple to understand.
  • Effectiveness: Research on Volumetrics has shown it to be effective for weight loss. The 2019 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks Volumetrics number 6 in Best Diets Overall, tied with the Mayo Clinic Diet.

DASH Diet

  • General nutrition: The DASH diet is a heart-healthy eating plan designed by medical professionals to help patients lower blood pressure. Like these other diets, it stresses the importance of eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Safety: The diet is very safe.
  • Practicality: This diet is relatively easy to follow. It does not eliminate any food groups or specific foods. Since it's not designed for weight loss (but for improved health), calorie counting isn't necessary.
  • Effectiveness: While the diet isn't set up specifically to promote weight loss, that is often a welcome side effect.

Mediterranean Diet

  • General nutrition: The Mediterranean Diet is also not designed for weight loss. It is a reflection of a typical, traditional diet consumed in the Mediterranean region, where residents tend to live long, healthy lives. The diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, seafood, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Safety: This diet is safe and often recommended by doctors.
  • Practicality: Since the diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish, it can be time-consuming and sometimes costly. But there is no calorie or carb counting, or any strict guidelines to follow.
  • Effectiveness: Like the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet is not meant to be a weight-loss plan, but a healthy lifestyle plan. Still, many people do lose weight eating this way.

A Word From Verywell

The fake Mayo Clinic Diet is a fad diet—one that promises quick results and isn't healthy or nutritious. But it can be hard to distinguish the fakes from the real deal, especially when a fake uses a recognizable name like the Mayo Clinic.

As a general rule of thumb, any diet that promises quick and massive weight loss is likely to be a fake. If you're not sure about the health or safety of a weight loss program, ask your doctor, a certified health coach, or a personal trainer in order to spot a weight loss scam. You can count on the real Mayo Clinic Diet to be based on sound nutritional advice, although it's still important to check with your doctor before starting any weight-loss program.

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