What Is the Pizza Diet?

Pizza

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Close-up of pizza slice on spatula.
simonkr/Getty Images

Eating pizza every day for weight loss sounds like a dream come true. But there is actually a pizza diet that some people are using to try to change their bodies or lose weight.

Pizza does come in endless varieties, so it seems possible that it could be engineered for weight loss. But is dining only on pizza healthy or a sustainable vehicle for losing weight and keeping it off? Below we investigate how the pizza diet works, if it's effective, and how it stacks up nutritionally.

What Experts Say

"Several variations of the pizza diet exist, where people eat only pizza for all meals over a short time frame. Experts warn that any diet which focuses on just one food is not sustainable or nutritious. Pizza can fit in a healthy diet, but you should include a variety of other foods, too."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

Background

There are a few versions of the pizza diet. In one of the first, pizza shop owner Matt McClellan made headlines in 2010 with his 30-day pizza diet. He consumed eight slices of pizza every day for a month but kept the toppings relatively healthy.

Toppings like sausage and pepperoni were a no-go and toppings like broccoli, chicken, and skim cheese stayed on the menu. He also increased his activity level. He lost weight and then bicycled from Florida to New York City to promote the power of pizza.

Later, another pizza maker, Pasquale Cozzolino, came up with his own version of the pizza diet. He gave up baked goods and soda (he had been drinking two or three cans a day) and switched to a Mediterranean diet that included one Neapolitan pizza a day.

The pie was made with just a few fresh ingredients and a dough that was left to ferment for 36 hours, so the crust was naturally lower in sugar and easier to digest. Cozzolino lost almost 100 pounds.

A few magazines also reported a "pizza cleanse" trend. One writer, for example, gave up alcohol and sugar but ate as much pizza (and only pizza) as she wanted for a week. She reported that she lost five pounds.

How It Works

There are lots of ways to interpret the pizza diet. Doughy pies topped with lots of rich cheese and meat are one thing, while thin, whole-grain crusts laden with vegetables and a drizzle of olive oil are something else. The latter being much more likely to deliver weight loss, especially if you also include exercise.

If you want to try the pizza diet to lose weight, aim for pizzas that are filling and tasty but heavy on veggies and lighter on higher fat toppings.

However, meat and cheese-based pizzas don't necessarily have to be off-limits. You can certainly find a middle ground that works for you by picking pizza styles you enjoy that are also nutritionally well-balanced.

Compliant Foods
  • Pizza

  • Vegetables (on top or on the side)

Non-Compliant Foods
  • High-fat toppings

  • Sugar

  • Alcohol

What to Eat

Clearly, the bulk of this diet is pizza. Here's the lowdown on what to eat to have the highest chance of success with this diet.

Pizza

There's a big difference between the McClellan-style (all pizza) and Cozzolino-style (healthy eating that includes pizza) pizza diets. In either version of the pizza diet, you won't be eating ice cream, potato chips, sugary baked goods, or fried foods, which in of itself, adds up to healthier eating and may help you lose weight.

Also, when you limit your food intake to a single food, you're likely to get sick of it and eat less as a result. Eating pizza all the time sounds like a great idea on day one of the diet. But it's likely to get old by day three or four.

Any time you restrict your food intake, you're likely to see some weight loss. But use care with these restrictive diets as they are often limited nutritionally and difficult to sustain.

In contract, the one-pizza-a-day version of the diet allows for other healthy foods to be eaten at two meals a day, which may provide enough variety to combat pizza-fatigue and help you stick with the diet.

Vegetables

While pizza isn't usually considered a low-calorie food, you can make it healthy by topping it with vegetables and other low-fat ingredients. Both McClellan and Cozzolino used this approach. You could also make sure to have your slice with a side salad or bowl of roasted veggies.

High-Fat Toppings

Skipping the pepperoni and sausage can also make your pizza fit better into a nutritionally-sound diet. Aim to top your pizzas with lean meats, such as chicken or fish. Also, while it isn't ideal to drown your pizza in cheese, certainly feel free to use enough to make your pizza filling.

Make Pepperoni Compliant

If pepperoni (or another high-fat topping) is your passion, you could simply put on a half to a third of the amount you normally would use to cut back on calories without sacrificing flavor.

Sugar and Alcohol

A big part of the seven-day pizza cleanse was the ban on alcohol and sugar. This cuts a lot of calories and carbs, leaving you room to consume more pizza while still losing weight.

Once a Day vs. Every Meal

There are no real rules for a pizza diet. You can choose to either consume pizza for all three meals a day (and any snacks), or go Cozzolino-style and make one meal a healthy pizza and the others nutrient-rich with whole grains, vegetables, and lean protein.

Simply decide on a strategy, including how many times a day you'll eat pizza and the type of pizzas and other foods allowed, that you think will work best for you.

Consider that, except for the most devoted of pizza-lovers, eating pizza at each meal might get tiresome.

You'll also want to determine how many days you'll stick with the plan as well as to formulate a strategy for moving back into a normal diet. If you develop some healthy pizza recipes you love, you may decide to incorporate them into your post-pizza diet weekly meal planning.

Benefits

The pizza diet's biggest benefit is that you get to eat pizza, one of the world's most loved foods.

Popularity

Pizza is popular because it's delicious, readily available, portable, often inexpensive, and can be varied in a million ways. No wonder people are looking for ways to make it into a weight-loss method.

Make Your Toppings Count

While pizza really isn't a weight-loss food, especially not in an all-pizza diet as it doesn't easily include all the food groups, you can commit to piling up each slice with protein, fruits, whole grains, and veggies.

There's nothing to stop you from doing just that—loading your pizza of choice with a wide variety of healthy toppings (think broccoli, fish, sweet potato, or squash) to help bridge any potential nutrition gaps.

Pros
  • Tasty and cheap

  • Veggie and lean meat pizzas can be nutritious, filling, and low calorie

Cons
  • Too restrictive

  • Not sustainable or nutritious

  • Could increase cravings

  • Could cause weight gain

  • Could get boring

Drawbacks

There are multiple potential negatives to the pizza diet, including the following:

General Nutrition

The body just wasn't made to eat only one thing, even something that can change a lot. The pizza diet doesn't have much of a place for fruit (except the tomato sauce), fish, or grains other than wheat. That could mean missing out on important nutrients such as fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

If you are looking to include pizza in a weight-loss program or simply to improve the nutrition in your current diet, experiment with changes such as whole-wheat, gluten-free flour crusts, cauliflower, or flax meal crusts; meat-free toppings, and less (or no) cheese. These variations can help answer nutrition concerns.

Unsustainability

Any diet that includes only one food or that eliminates entire groups of nutritious foods is generally not healthy or sustainable for more than a few days. Your body will not be getting the nutrition it needs from this unbalanced diet unless you work very hard to create well-balanced pizzas.

Increased Cravings

Often, eating salty, starchy foods increases your cravings for those flavors. It's possible that during or after a pizza diet, you may become more tempted to add extra salt to your food and/or experience increased cravings for carbs with little or no nutritional value, like fried or breaded foods.

Weight Gain

You might lose weight on a pizza diet as a result of reduced food intake. But an increase in your salt and starchy carbohydrate consumption could also cause you to retain water, which could produce weight increase instead.

You may also put on more fat, particularly if you opt for high-fat pizzas. You probably won't see major changes to your body composition if you follow the pizza diet for a few days, but if you increase your fat consumption by eating more sausage, pepperoni, and cheese, you might end up gaining weight over time.

Boredom

No matter how you slice it (or top it), eating the same thing meal after meal, day after day is just boring. Variety is not only more enjoyable, but it is also more nutritious because you get different benefits from different foods.

How It Compares

The pizza diet sounds a lot like some other mono diets (single-food eating plans) out there. Most are lacking in important nutrients, and don't meet government guidelines for healthy eating.

Food Groups

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines suggest filling your plate with a balanced mix of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. A pizza can do that, especially if you remember that a tomato is a fruit. But it's not the whole food approach that so many experts recommend.

Calories

For weight loss, the USDA suggests cutting about 500 calories a day, on average; individual needs will vary. The pizza diet doesn't have any associated calorie count, although Cozzolino says his custom-made daily pizza clocks in at under 600 calories.

To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, by burning more calories than you consume. (This is probably how McClellan's pizza diet worked; he increased his exercise level while also trimming the calorie count on the pizzas he ate.) To determine your own daily calorie target for weight loss, try this calculator.

Similar Diets

See how the pizza diet compares to other one-food-at-a-time diets, as well as the diet that was probably the real secret to pizza chef Pasquale Cozzolino's 100-pound weight loss.

Pizza Diet

  • What it is: The diet is open to interpretation, but at its heart is about eating a lot of pizza and limiting everything else.
  • Safety: In general, mono diets are not a good idea. And it would be unsafe to eat greasy, cheesy, meaty pizza at the expense of everything else. But since pizzas are so variable, it might be possible to put together a pizza-centric meal plan that meets basic nutritional needs.
  • Effectiveness: Whether you can lose weight on a pizza diet will depend entirely on how you do it: what kind of pizza you eat, how much of it, what other foods you eat or restrict, how much exercise you get, and so on.

Taco Cleanse

  • What it is: Like the pizza diet, this one went viral, because it sounds like an amazing bargain: Eat tacos and lose weight! But the diet isn't about eating fast-food tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Instead, it's based on a vegan taco cookbook called "The Taco Cleanse," which isn't a diet at all. It's just a fun way to package a bunch of taco recipes.
  • Safety: You can put a lot of different ingredients inside a taco, just like you can on a pizza. (The same goes for how you make a taco shell and a pizza crust.) So as with the pizza diet, the safety of this one depends on what you choose.

A daily diet of ground beef, flour tortillas, and taco sauce would be unhealthy.

  • But since the cookbook is vegan, following it could help you eat a plant-based, nutrient-rich diet.
  • Effectiveness: More than the pizza diet, this particular taco cleanse might help you lose weight. That's because it eliminates refined starches and fatty meats and cheese. However, it is also difficult to eat enough protein and fats on a vegan diet, which can aid in weight loss but is not nutritionally-balanced.

Egg Diet

  • What it is: This can be a mono-diet, in which users eat only eggs, and nothing else. Or it can be part of a keto plan of combining eggs with butter and cheese. Or a low-carb plan of eating vegetables, eggs, and other lean proteins.
  • Safety: Like pizza can, eggs provide protein, fat, and some important vitamins and minerals. But on their own, they're not nearly enough for a healthy diet.
  • Effectiveness: As with the pizza diet, you might lose weight on an egg diet because you're limiting other foods. But you will likely be miserable eating this way and unable to continue or to maintain the loss.

Mediterranean Diet

  • What it is: Based on the traditional eating patterns of people living in the Mediterranean region, this diet is full of healthy ingredients: whole grains, vegetables, seafood, olives and olive oil, legumes, and nuts. It focuses on whole foods, simple preparations, and lots of veggies, which makes it very rich in nutrients and fiber.

The Mediterranean diet is the actual diet that pizza chef Pasquale Cozzolino followed. He just made one of his daily Mediterranean meals a pizza engineered to be weight-loss-friendly.

  • Safety: This diet is much safer than a pizza-only diet. While it is not a formal eating plan, it drew the notice of the World Health Organization (WHO) because people in the region tended to live long lives. Research has shown it to be heart-healthy.
  • Effectiveness: Especially if you switch to this diet from a traditional North American one that's heavy on red meat and refined carbs, it is likely to help you lose weight. If you love pizza and want to lose weight, consider a Mediterranean diet with some thin-crust, veggie-laden pizza included, as Cozzolino did.

A Word From Verywell

Can you include healthy pizza in a weight loss diet? Yes! But should you eat it every day, all day for a week or a month? Probably not. For that reason, the pizza diet is not usually healthy or sustainable—unless you work hard to create well-balanced pizzas and eat a variety of other nutritious foods alongside them.

Pizza certainly can be part of a healthy diet. Pick one night during the week and experiment with healthy pizza recipes that include whole-grain crust (packed with fiber) and plenty of colorful vegetables. You'll enjoy the indulgence of comfort food and still gain the benefit of maintaining a healthy diet for long-term health and wellness.

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