What Is the Pizza Diet?

Pizza diet

 Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

What Is the Pizza Diet?

One of the first cited examples of the pizza diet was from pizza shop owner Matt McClellan. He made headlines with his 30-day pizza diet, in which he consumed eight slices of pizza a day but swapped toppings like sausage and pepperoni for broccoli, chicken, and nonfat cheese.

Later, another pizza maker, Pasquale Cozzolino, gave up baked goods and soda and switched to a Mediterranean diet that included one Neapolitan pizza a day. The pizza dough was left to ferment for 36 hours, making the crust naturally lower in sugar and easier to digest. Cozzolino lost almost 100 pounds.

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

The 7-Day Diet Plan

A McClellan-style pizza diet would look pretty much the same every day. You get much more variety in a Cozzolino-inspired plan, as in this example.

What You Can Eat

There are several versions of the pizza diet. While there are no "official" rules, many who have claimed to succeed on the diet shared some of the same approaches.

Pizza

There's a big difference between the McClellan-style (all pizza) and Cozzolino-style (healthy eating that includes pizza) pizza diets. The one-pizza-a-day version allows for other healthy foods twice per day. In both cases, toppings on your pizza and foods included in your other meals should consist of nutrient-dense choices, such as vegetables and lean proteins.

Fruits and Vegetables

While pizza isn't usually considered a low-calorie food, you can make pizza healthier by topping it with vegetables and other low-fat, nutrient-dense 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.

Lean Protein

Lean proteins can be included in other meals or as toppings for pizza.

  • Chicken
  • Unprocessed pork
  • Sirloin steak

What You Cannot Eat

In either version (McClellan's or Cozzolino's), you won't be eating ice cream, potato chips, sugary baked goods, or fried foods, which does create healthier eating habits and may help you lose weight.

High-Fat Toppings

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

Sugar and Alcohol

A big part of some pizza diets is a ban on alcohol and sugar. Avoiding these items cuts a lot of calories and carbs, leaving you room to consume more pizza while still potentially losing weight.

How to Prepare the Pizza Diet & Tips

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

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, cauliflower, or even flax meal crusts; meat-free toppings; and less (or no) cheese. These variations can help make your pizza more nutrient-dense, so you get more nutrition and fewer calories.

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.

Pros of the Pizza Diet

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

  • Appetizing and accessible: Pizza is popular because it's delicious, readily available, portable, often inexpensive, and varied in a million ways.
  • Healthy options: With no "rules," there's nothing to stop pizza diet followers from loading their pizza of choice with a wide variety of healthy toppings (think broccoli, fish, sweet potato, or squash) to help bridge any potential nutritional gaps.
  • Avoids sugar and alcohol: There are health benefits associated with reducing your sugar intake and cutting out alcohol, which some pizza diet followers do. Depending on what they ate before their version of the pizza diet, these two changes alone could be the driving force behind short-term weight loss success.

While pizza isn't really a weight-loss food, you can make it healthier by choosing whole grains for the dough and piling on produce like tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, and artichokes.

Cons of the Pizza Diet

While there are no common health risks associated with a short-term pizza diet, evidence generally points to pizza as an unhealthy food choice for most Americans.

  • May lack nutrition: The pizza diet doesn't have much place for fruit (except the tomato sauce), fish, or grains other than wheat. That could mean missing out on essential nutrients such as fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • May not be sustainable: Any diet that includes only one food or eliminates entire groups of nutritious foods is generally not healthy or sustainable for more than a few days. Your body will not get the nutrition it needs from this unbalanced diet unless you work very hard to create well-balanced pizzas.
  • May increase cravings: Often, eating salty 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 salty foods with little or no nutritional value, like fried or breaded foods.
  • May cause water retention: You might lose weight on a pizza diet due to reduced food intake. But an increase in your salt and starchy carbohydrate consumption could also cause you to retain water, which could produce weight gain instead.
  • May cause body fat gain: You may also put on more fat, particularly if you opt for high-calorie pizzas. You probably won't see significant changes to your body composition if you follow the pizza diet for a few days. Still, if you increase your fat consumption by eating more sausage, pepperoni, and cheese, you might end up gaining weight over time.
  • May cause food boredom: No matter how you slice it (or top it), eating the same meal after meal, day after day, is just dull. Variety is not only more enjoyable, but it is also more nutritious because you get different benefits from different foods.
  • May lead to long-term health problems: Even margherita pizzas, despite being a healthier, less greasy pizza option, still lack essential nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and vitamin C. A long-term pizza diet is not recommended since it could lead to weight gain, obesity, and even chronic disease.

While a short-term pizza diet may help you lose weight, it isn't a solution for long-term weight management. Loading up your pizza with vegetables could help offset calories from unhealthy options like processed meats, but would not ensure that you're getting enough servings of veggies a day.

Is the Pizza Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The pizza diet is similar to other mono diets (single-food eating plans) out there. Most are lacking in important nutrients, and don't meet recommended guidelines for healthy eating. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines suggest filling your plate with a balanced mix of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy.

The number of calories you need varies based on age, sex, and physical activity level. The pizza diet doesn't have any associated calorie count, although Cozzolino says his custom-made daily pizza clocked 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.

A pizza can adhere to USDA dietary guidelines, especially if you choose healthy toppings. However, an all-pizza diet is not a balanced diet for the long term and is not the whole food approach that many nutrition experts recommend.

A Word From Verywell

Can you include healthy pizza in a weight loss plan? 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.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. HuffPost. The pizza diet: Matt McClellan, cyclist, loses 24 pounds eating only pizza (video).

  2. Chef Cozzolino. The pizza diet.

  3. Combet E, Jarlot A, Aidoo KE, Lean MEJ. Development of a nutritionally balanced pizza as a functional meal designed to meet published dietary guidelinesPublic Health Nutr. 2014;17(11):2577-2586. doi:10.1542/peds.2014-1844

  4. Bobowski N. Shifting human salty taste preference: Potential opportunities and challenges in reducing dietary salt intake of AmericansChemosens Percept. 2015;8(3):112-116. doi:10.1007/s12078-015-9179-6

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025.

By Malia Frey
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.