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The Mayo Clinic Diet: Behind the Trademark Plan

The Mayo Clinic diet, created by the organization, stresses the importance of cutting calories, while including more whole grains, fruits and vegetables for weight loss.


Although many weight loss diets result in nutrient deficiencies, the Mayo Clinic diet is known for including a variety of vitamins and minerals, and keeping dieters full. The Mayo Clinic’s distinct food pyramid emphasizes eating mostly fruits, vegetables and whole grains — resulting in weight loss because of its caloric deficits. Beth Wyman, MPH, RD of Wyman Nutrition tells Woman’s World it was originally based on the heart-healthy DASH diet, and while it’s undergone a series of updates, it’s now flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of people.

“The current Mayo Clinic diet has expanded to offer different versions to meet different lifestyle needs,” Wyman explains. “They offer a behavior change focused approach with provided recipes and a variety of support methods: group, food tracking, meal plans and recipes.”

Related: The DASH Diet: What It Is, Why It Works and More

The Mayo Clinic Diet Promotes Quick Weight Loss

Woman wearing too large pants
The first few weeks of the Mayo Clinic diet often result in quick weight loss.Image Source/Getty Images

The first two weeks are part of a phase called “Lose It!” Dieters are required to exercise for 30 minutes daily, adopt five new “healthy habits,” drop five “unhealthy habits” and add five “bonus” healthy habits to their daily rituals. You are expected to cut 500 to 1,000 calories daily, eliminate refined sugars and alcohol, and stick to whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, lean dairy and lean protein.

If done right, the organization’s says it’s trademark diet will supposedly help dieters lose six to 10 pounds in the first two weeks. However, exact numbers can depend on various factors, including body type, age and how well one sticks to the diet. Lindsay Ferrara, MS, RD, CDN of Pinnacle Nutrition agrees this may vary person-to-person.

The scale doesn’t distinguish between body fat, water and muscle.

“[The initial weight loss] depends on the person and how poor their current eating and lifestyle habits are,” Ferrara explains. “One person might lose 10 or more pounds ,while someone else may not lose anything.  Someone who adopts a new strength training routine may build muscle which could lead to weight gain, but the scale doesn’t distinguish between body fat, water and muscle.  “

Long-Term, the Mayo Clinic Diet Aims to Change Habits

After the initial two weeks, dieters move onto the “Live It!” phase for maintenance. By adhering to the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid dieters determine what their caloric intake should be. No foods are off limits, but sweets are only allowed in moderation. You must also continue exercising for 30 minutes daily, which can include anything from a run, to a walk or even yoga. Until a goal weight is reached, dieters lose one to two pounds weekly, on average.

Longterm, the weight loss and learning healthy habits may help to stave off cancer, hypertension and cardiovascular issues. That’s why maintaining these habits is so important” “Making the behavior changes a part of every day life will help ensure the client continues to lose weight and are more likely to keep it off long term,” Wyman says. 

A “diet” is a pattern of eating, not a crash course to a number on the scale. The maintenance phase makes this a longevity focused eating pattern – helping clients adopt their new healthy habits long term.

Beth Wyman

Mayo Clinic Diet Has Physical and Mental Advantages

Woman makes a fruit salad
The wide variety of fruits and vegetables encouraged in the Mayo Clinic diet result in a surplus of nutrients.Jovana Stojanovic/Getty Images

The Mayo Clinic diet comes with a number of benefits for both the mind and body. Very Well Fit explains that whether or not it works for long-term weight loss, it encourages dieters to consume highly nutritious foods and to limit processed foods — which is good for anyone, no matter what. This surplus of nutrients often makes people feel more energized than usual.

“The emphasis in the Mayo Clinic diet goes beyond adequate macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat), but also promotes a variety of fruit and vegetable intake for increased micronutrient intake,” Wyman explains. “There is a focus on meeting all aspects of nutritional needs, outside of just calories. The foods included in the meal plans are all helping provide sustained fuel for the body.”

Related: Keto vs. Atkins Diet: Same Theory, Different Approach

Mayo Clinic Diet Encourages People to Exercise

Although many experts will stress that “abs are made in the kitchen,” the Mayo Clinic diet includes an exercise component. This is beneficial for heart health, bone density, muscle strength, balance and more.

“Exercise is another important key to full body wellness,” Wyman tells Woman’s World.

The Mayo Clinic diet suggests incorporating daily walking and resistance training.  Walking helps to burn fat mass – which will help with the fat loss most people are looking for when they talk about weight loss.  Resistance training helps to maintain muscle mass. 

We lose muscle mass as we age unless we work to maintain it.  Especially during weight loss, there is an increased risk of losing muscle if work isn’t done to maintain it. By incorporating exercise as able, clients can work to lose fat mass specifically and maintain their muscle (lean body mass).

Beth Wyman

It Encourages Long-Term Healthy Habits

A white bowl of fruit, yogurt and granola
A bowl of yogurt, fruit and granola is a perfect example of a Mayo Clinic Diet-friendly meal.Maria Dobrica / 500pxGetty Images

While gaining weight back after losing it is very common on most diets, the Mayo Clinic diet enforces healthy habits for a lifetime. Gaining 10 healthy habits and losing five unhealthy ones is something people should strive for when making healthy choices, in order to maintain their health.

“This diet encourages behavior change over restriction while many other diets will have you restrict entire foods or food groups,” Lindsay Ferrara explains.

The pyramid encourages you to eat unlimited amounts of fruits and vegetables because they are filling and low in calories and have beneficial effects on both weight and health. …You eat most of your food from the bottom of the pyramid, less from the top, and move more (30 minutes of daily exercise).

Lindsay Ferrara

Any Diet Risks Disordered Eating

Despite its advantages, there are drawbacks to the Mayo Clinic diet. Healthline warns that the diet’s restrictiveness can lead to disordered eating. Although this isn’t guaranteed, those who have struggled in the past may want to consult a physician before trying the regimen.

“With the help of the experts behind the diet, the meal plans are made to meet the full nutritional requirements of the client. Disordered eating is linked more to the “why” behind cutting out the food groups,” said Beth Wyman. “Hopefully, this is explored when new clients are brought on or during the habit and behavior focused group sessions.”

Any Diet Can Take a Toll on Your Daily Life

Woman does a plank while watching her baby
Between meal planning, exercise, and possible coaching, the Mayo Clinic diet can be somewhat time consuming.10’000 Hours/Getty Images

Even though the diet isn’t terribly restrictive, adhering to it can take additional time and effort. Healthline says that eating out may be challenging, and since drinking alcohol is prohibited, it may take a toll on one’s social life (if that is what you enjoy doing).

The lower caloric intake at the beginning may also make dieters feel more tired, though Beth Wyman says the added protein might boost energy.

“This diet includes meals throughout the day with a focus on adequate protein to help reduce cravings. On this diet people likely experience less brain fog and more energy,” she explains. “The small steps to create big change lead to a feeling of success, which then lead to continued use of the program and improved self-confidence.”

Related: The Whole30 Diet: A “Nutritional Reset”

Dieters Can Start On Their Own, or With Support From a Membership

Woman using her computer and talking on the phone
Many find the Mayo Clinic’s coaching sessions to be useful while adhering to the diet.Karan Mathur/Getty Images

Dieters can do the Mayo Clinic diet for free. However, those seeking out support can pay a membership fee, ranging between $20 to $50 monthly, depending on the level of commitment.

According to US News, the organization has an online program and app for support and guidance. Dieters can pick from specific meal plans, use a food tracker and access a private Facebook group. Those who pay membership fees can also take coaching sessions with diet experts, for additional support.

“Changing habits isn’t as easy as it sounds,” Ferrara says.

Support is needed for long term success, despite the dietary approach you take.  Whether it’s getting a friend on board, a family member, a work group or using the support of an online community like that of the Mayo Clinic Diet, being surrounded by positive, supportive people will be key in making sustainable lifestyle changes. ‘

Lindsay Ferrara

Why the Mayo Clinic Diet May Be Right for Some, and Not Others

The Mayo Clinic diet is mostly uncontroversial, but sometimes, restricting foods and cutting calories isn’t right for everyone. People should speak to their physician or a dietitian before trying the diet on their own. And upon starting it, support goes a long way.

How does the Mayo Clinic diet work?

The Mayo Clinic diet works by supposedly introducing lifelong healthy habits. Initial weight loss is largely due to caloric intake and eliminating processed foods. Dieters are also encouraged to eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and exercise. The second phase is meant to teach dieters to continue practicing these healthier habits, while continuing to lose small amounts of weight — the calorie restriction is lifted, sweets and junk food are reintroduced in small amounts, and new habits are intended to be maintained.

Is the Mayo Clinic diet better than Weight Watchers?

Dietitian Review said that, U.S. News & World Report rated Mayo Clinic diet as number one. However, last year, it tied with Weight Watchers. Results may vary from person to person.

Are there risks to the Mayo Clinic diet?

Potential disadvantages may include disordered eating as a result of food group restriction, fatigue from caloric restriction, and a higher grocery budget. However, speaking to a dietitian may help with eating habits, and there are ways to save while adhering to the diet (see “Budgeting” section above).

Is there support for the Mayo Clinic diet?

There is support for the Mayo Clinic diet, for anyone who is willing to pay a membership fee. Dieters can work with coaches, find a food tracker, or even meal plans in the Mayo Clinic app.

Who is the Mayo Clinic diet meant for?

It is intended for anyone looking to lose weight and pick up healthy habits. However, one should speak to their physician or dietitian before starting the diet.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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