These days, it seems like there are just as many diets—from keto, to intermittent fasting, to the warrior diet—as there are shoes in Carrie Bradshaw’s closet.
One diet that seems to be gaining traction is the Mayo Clinic Diet, which has actually been around since the 1940s. Instead of purely focusing on *what* you eat, the Mayo Clinic Diet is more about encouraging an overall lifestyle shift to help improve your general health.
Meet the experts:
Christine Nguyen, DO, is a family medicine and women’s health expert at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
But, like many diets, some controversy also comes with the Mayo Clinic diet. While some of the benefits are that it’s supposed to help you feel good, increase your energy, and lower your risk of chronic diseases, Karin Evans, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching, notes that the lower calorie goals (especially in the first couple of weeks on the plan) might be troubling for some who have never dieted before.
Ahead, learn more about the pros and cons of the Mayo Clinic diet, its different phases, the menu and meal examples, how effective it is for weight loss, and its potential risks.
What is the Mayo Clinic diet?
The Mayo Clinic Diet is two-fold, having to do with changing both your eating and physical activity routines. “It follows eating plans that are low in calories, but still delicious and filling, while having you burn more calories through increasing your physical activity throughout the day,” says Christine Nguyen, DO, a family medicine and women’s health expert at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
The diet has its own “Healthy Weight Pyramid,” which establishes a hierarchy of food groups: The base is fruits and vegetables, next is carbohydrates, then protein and dairy, fats, and finally sweets.
In general, “half of the plate would be your vegetables, a quarter of it would be the carbs, and then the last quarter would be the protein—typically about the size of a deck of cards,” Dr. Nguyen says.
While there’s been a ton of buzz around protein recently, especially since it can help build muscle, she says the majority of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables because they’re low-calorie and filling.
“When you look at it from a health perspective, it hits all the markers for all the things that you would want to have [in] a healthy diet,” Evans adds.
Phase One: “Lose It”
The first phase of the Mayo Clinic Diet lasts two weeks, and is designed to help someone lose anywhere from six to 10 pounds, Dr. Nguyen says. You start by focusing on 15 habits that have been researched, studied, and tested by Mayo Clinic as the best for losing weight.
First, you’d add these five habits: eating a healthy breakfast, eating fruits and vegetables, eating whole grains, eating healthy fats, and getting daily movement in. Then, you would break these five habits: watching television while eating (it can encourage mindless eating and loss of portion control), eating sugar, eating at restaurants, snacking, and you’d limit meat and low-fat dairy. Last, you’d adopt five extra habits: keeping food records, keeping physical activity records, moving more, eating real, minimally processed foods, and having a daily goal for yourself, Dr. Nguyen says.
It “might seem like a lot, but with the weight loss that we typically see within those first two weeks, it gives people that extra motivation to keep going,” she adds. Evans, however, cautions that this type of weight loss may set unrealistic expectations for the future, as it’s not as sustainable.
Phase Two: “Live It”
The second phase is more about your own personal goals, and diving into the food and calories you’re consuming. The overall goal in this phase is to lose anywhere from one to two pounds per week, but depending on the individual and how much weight they want to lose, their plan will look different. However, for most people, their daily calorie consumption target is between 500 and 1,000 calories less than their normal intake, Dr. Nguyen says.
When comparing how much you would be shifting your eating and lifestyle habits, like exercising, it’s a pretty even split, she adds.
Phase Three: “Love It”
After six months on the Mayo Clinic diet, you’re in the third phase: “Love It.” Here, you’ll stay accountable for the positive habits you’ve developed by spending five days in the month back on the program. During those days, you’ll log into the Mayo Clinic Diet platform, track your food and drink intake, and record your habits to ensure you’re still on track.
How To Get Started With The Mayo Clinic Diet
If you’re interested, Mayo Clinic provides free quizzes to start out, like their diet assessment that can tell you whether it’s the right time for you to start the diet. “Some people have maybe some underlying factors or barriers, and we really want people to be successful on this,” Dr. Nguyen says.
They also have a weight loss calculator that assesses how much weight you might be able to lose on the Mayo Clinic diet, based on your current state, she adds.
If you have any questions or concerns, or if you have an underlying chronic condition or are pregnant, definitely talk to your primary care or family doctor before starting the diet.
- Mayo Clinic Habit Optimizer: This chart helps you break down the 15 habits and the barriers to maintaining them.
- Mayo Clinic Diet Journal: This journal helps you track the two phases and offers bonus meal plans and recipes.
- Mayo Clinic Diet Cookbook: This cookbook provides recipes to help you follow the diet.
There are three different Mayo Clinic Diet payment plans: the 12-month plan for $19.99 per month, the six-month plan for $29.99 per month, and the three-month plan for $39.99 per month.
Each plan includes personalized meal plans and recipes, the Habit Optimizer, a food tracker, and other educational content and tools to keep you focused.
Mayo Clinic Diet Meal Examples
Mayo Clinic has six different diet plans that you can follow: The Original Mayo Clinic Diet, Simple, Higher Protein, Healthy Keto, Vegetarian, and Mediterranean. In Evans’ opinion, some of the meals can be tailored to your liking by swapping strawberries for bananas, for example, or adding a salad dressing to your bowl for more flavor.
- Breakfast: strawberry ricotta “cream” whole grain toast with almonds
- Lunch: Mexican buddha bowl with vegetables, taco seasoning, brown rice, black beans, and two eggs
- Dinner: garlic chicken zoodles
- Snack: vegetables and fruits
- Breakfast: banana berry smoothie
- Lunch: chicken and snow pea sambal salad
- Dinner: naked beef fajitas
- Snack: vegetables and fruits
- Breakfast: asparagus scramble
- Lunch: protein-packed avocado toast
- Dinner: leftover naked beef fajitas
- Snack: vegetables and fruits
How effective is the Mayo Clinic diet?
Of 20,000 Mayo Clinic Diet members surveyed by the Mayo Clinic, 69 percent said that they saw improvements in health conditions by following the diet. So while it’s not clear from this survey exactly how effective it is for weight loss, specifically, it does appear to have positive overall health effects, at least according to this report.
Additionally, the Mayo Clinic Diet helps enforce positive behavioral changes, Dr. Nguyen says, such as planning meals throughout the week and making exercise a more regular habit. And we do know those are habits that help with weight loss and maintenance in general.
Mayo Clinic Diet Potential Risks
With any diet, you’re eating less than normal and possibly consuming fewer carbohydrates specifically, which can become mentally and physically challenging. Evans specifically calls out that losing six to 10 pounds in two weeks (as is the goal in Phase 1) is quite a bit, and many experts recommend losing closer to one to two pounds a week. Phase 2 is aligned with this recommendation, and Phase 1 is meant to be more of a jump start, but Evans says some people would be better off sticking to a weight loss goal of one to two pounds a week from the get-go.
“Losing six to 10 pounds over two weeks, that’s a pretty significant amount,” Dr. Nguyen agrees. If you start to feel lightheaded or dizzy during any point in the diet, talk to your doctor to make sure you’re the right candidate, she says.
Evans also cautions that if certain people feel overly restricted on a diet, they may turn to binge eating. “If they have a rule in their head—I’m not allowed to eat carbs, I’m not allowed to eat chocolate, I’m not allowed to eat butter—all of a sudden that’s all they’re going to think about,” she says. So, it’s important to seek support if you need it.
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Dr. Nguyen says that for the most part, the Mayo Clinic Diet is safe. However, if you are pregnant or have an underlying chronic condition, like diabetes or heart disease, it may not be for you, and she encourages checking in with your doc before starting.
Bottom line: As with most diets, there are pros and cons to consider with the Mayo Clinic Diet, and the choice to try it (or not) is up to each individual and their health care provider.
Addison Aloian (she/her) is an editorial assistant at Women’s Health. When she’s not writing about all things pop culture, health, beauty, and fashion, she loves hitting leg day at the gym, shopping at Trader Joe’s, and watching whichever hockey game is on TV. Her work has also appeared in Allure, StyleCaster, L’Officiel USA, V Magazine, and Modern Luxury Media.