Some diets can be difficult to stick to, causing people to lose motivation.
Unlike many short-term options, the Mayo Clinic Diet aims to be a sustainable plan that you can follow for life.
Rather than banning certain foods, it focuses on replacing unhealthy behaviors with ones that are more likely to support weight loss.
This article reviews whether the Mayo Clinic Diet can help you lose weight.
RATING SCORE BREAKDOWN
- Overall score: 3.5
- Fast weight loss: 3
- Long-term weight loss: 4
- Easy to follow: 3
- Nutrition quality: 4
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Mayo Clinic diet is a balanced meal plan that focuses on healthy foods and regular exercise. Because it significantly cuts calories, it’s probably helpful for weight loss. That said, it may be restrictive and hard to follow.
The Mayo Clinic Diet was developed by weight loss experts at the Mayo Clinic, one of the top hospital systems in the United States.
It’s based on the original Mayo Clinic Diet book first published in 1949 and most recently updated in 2017. A separate journal and a membership website are also available.
The Mayo Clinic Diet uses a pyramid to encourage exercise and illustrate quantities of particular foods you should eat while on the diet.
Fruits, vegetables, and physical activity make up the base of the pyramid. Carbs comprise the next layer, followed by protein, fats, and finally sweets.
While the pyramid defines carbs as breads and grains, note that certain starchy vegetables — such as corn and potatoes — count as carbs in this diet.
The diet encourages you to limit your portion sizes and teaches you how to plan your meals around its food pyramid.
Summary The Mayo Clinic Diet relies upon a pyramid emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and physical activity as the basis of a healthy lifestyle. This pyramid limits fat and sweets.
There are two phases in the Mayo Clinic Diet:
- “Lose it!” — The first two weeks are designed to jumpstart your weight loss.
- “Live it!” — The second phase is meant to be followed for life.
The first phase of the diet focuses on 15 habits — 5 you should break, 5 new habits you should form, and 5 “bonus” habits to optimize your results.
You’re encouraged to do the following to break certain habits:
- Avoid eating added sugar.
- Refrain from snacking, except for fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t eat too much meat and full-fat dairy.
- Never eat while watching TV.
- Avoid eating out — unless the food you order follows the diet’s rules.
You’re advised to develop these habits:
- Eat a healthy breakfast.
- Consume at least four servings of vegetables and fruits per day.
- Eat whole grains like brown rice and barley.
- Focus on healthy fats like olive oil. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats.
- Walk or exercise for 30 minutes or more every day.
Bonus habits to adopt include keeping food and activity journals, exercising for 60 minutes or more per day, and avoiding processed foods.
How Does It Work?
The first phase, which lasts for two weeks, is designed to result in weight loss of 6–10 pounds (2.7–4.5 kg).
Afterward, you transition to the “Live it!” phase, during which you follow the same rules — but are allowed occasional breaks.
While the diet’s promoters claim that you do not have to count calories, the Mayo Clinic Diet still restricts calories. Your calorie needs are determined based on your starting weight and range from 1,200–1,600 calories per day for women and 1,400–1,800 for men.
The diet then suggests how many servings of vegetables, fruits, carbs, protein, dairy, and fats you should eat based on your calorie goals.
For example, on a 1,400-calorie plan, you’re allowed 4 or more servings each of vegetables and fruits, 5 servings of carbs, 4 servings of protein or dairy, and 3 servings of fats.
The Mayo Clinic Diet defines a serving of fruit as the size of a tennis ball and a serving of protein as the size of a deck of cards, or approximately 3 ounces (85 grams).
The diet is designed to reduce intake by 500–1,000 calories per day during the second phase so that you lose 1–2 pounds (0.5–1 kg) per week. If you are losing weight too quickly, you can add more calories.
As you reach your desired weight, you should eat the number of calories that allows you to maintain your weight.
Summary The Mayo Clinic Diet starts with a two-week jumpstart phase, which is followed by a gradual, long-term weight loss phase.
The Mayo Clinic Diet may help you lose weight for several reasons.
It encourages exercise alongside a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — all of which may aid weight loss.
Eating foods high in fiber may boost weight loss by decreasing hunger and making you feel more full.
In one study in over 3,000 people at risk for diabetes, a diet high in fiber from fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat was linked to a lower weight after 1 year compared to people who did not increase their fiber intake (1).
Additionally, studies show that exercising while on a lower-calorie diet is more effective at promoting weight loss than dieting alone.
For example, a review of 66 studies found that combining low-calorie diets with exercise — especially resistance training — is more effective at promoting weight and fat loss than dieting alone.
The only research on the Mayo Clinic Diet comes from the Mayo Clinic itself and has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Thus, no independent studies exist on the effectiveness of the Mayo Clinic Diet.
More research is necessary to determine whether it’s effective for weight loss.
Summary The Mayo Clinic Diet is high in fiber, low in fat, and encourages physical activity — all of which may aid weight loss. However, more research is needed.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is based on several habits which may benefit your health.
Firstly, it encourages consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Second, the Mayo Clinic Diet recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, which can reduce your risk of certain chronic conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
Exercise may help prevent diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, resulting in lower blood sugar levels (4).
Finally, the Mayo Clinic Diet focuses on behavior-based changes, such as exercise and adding fruits and vegetables to your routine. Behavioral-based weight loss interventions may result in greater weight loss compared to other diets.
In a large review of 124 studies in over 62,000 people, participants in behavior-based weight loss programs lost more weight, regained less weight, and had a lower risk of diabetes than those in control groups (6).
Summary The Mayo Clinic Diet recommends high consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases. It also encourages healthy behaviors, which may improve its effectiveness.
The main downside of the diet is that it can be demanding and labor-intensive.
You are responsible for planning your meals, grocery shopping, and preparing your food in accordance with the guidelines — so you can expect to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
Furthermore, the diet discourages some foods that may provide health benefits and important nutrients, such as egg yolks.
Additionally, following the Mayo Clinic Diet may not be convenient. Eating out can be difficult — and snacks are restricted to fruits and vegetables.
Summary Meal planning and cooking are mandatory on the Mayo Clinic Diet, as your options for dining out are limited. The diet also discourages some nutritious, high-fat foods.
The Mayo Clinic Diet’s food pyramid allows you a certain number of servings from various food groups.
For example, a 1,400-calorie plan includes 4 or more servings each of vegetables and fruits, 5 servings of carbs, 4 servings of protein or dairy, and 3 servings of fats.
While no foods are strictly off-limits, some foods are recommended over others.
The diet recommends:
- Fruits: fresh, frozen, or canned in juice or water — including up to 4 ounces (120 ml) a day of 100% fruit juice
- Vegetables: fresh or frozen
- Whole grains: cereal, oatmeal, whole-grain bread, pasta, and brown or wild rice
- Protein: canned beans, low-sodium tuna, other fish, skinless white-meat poultry, egg whites, tofu
- Dairy: low-fat or fat-free yogurt, cheese, and milk
- Fats: unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts
- Sweets: up to 75 calories per day of sweets, including cookies, pastries, table sugar, and alcohol (only during the diet’s second phase)
Summary The Mayo Clinic Diet includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, unsaturated fats, and — during the second phase only — a small number of sweets per day.
No foods are completely banned on the Mayo Clinic Diet plan.
During the “Lose it!” phase, alcohol and added sugars are prohibited, but after the first two weeks, you can have up to 75 calories of sweets or alcoholic beverages per day.
Foods you should limit or avoid on the Mayo Clinic Diet include:
- Fruits: fruits canned in syrup, more than 4 ounces (120 ml) a day of 100% fruit juice, and juice products that are not 100% fruit
- Vegetables: starchy vegetables, such as corn and potatoes — which count as a carb choice
- Carbohydrates: white flour — such as in white breads and pastas — and refined sugars, such as table sugar
- Protein: meats high in saturated fats, such as ground beef and sausages
- Dairy: full-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Fats: saturated fats, such as those in egg yolks, butter, coconut oil, and red meats, as well as trans fats found in processed foods
- Sweets: more than 75 calories per day of candies, pastries, cookies, cake, or alcoholic beverages
Summary During the first two weeks of the diet, sugar and alcohol are prohibited. In the second phase, no foods are eliminated completely — but you should limit refined carbs, fatty foods, sweets, and alcohol.
Here is a 3-day sample menu for a 1,200-calorie plan. Higher-calorie plans will include more servings of carbs, protein, dairy, and fats.
- Breakfast: 3/4 cup (68 grams) of oatmeal, 1 apple, and black coffee or tea
- Lunch: 2 cups (472 grams) of mixed greens with 3 ounces (85 grams) of tuna, 1/2 cup (43 grams) of low-fat shredded cheese, 1 whole-wheat toast slice with 1 1/2 teaspoon (7 grams) of margarine, and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of blueberries
- Dinner: 3 ounces (85 grams) of tilapia cooked in 1 1/2 teaspoon (7 ml) of olive oil, 1/2 cup (75 grams) of roasted potatoes, and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of cauliflower
- Snacks: 1 orange and 1 cup (125 grams) of baby carrots with 8 whole-grain crackers
- Breakfast: 1 slice of whole-wheat toast with 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) of margarine, 3 egg whites, 1 pear, and black coffee or tea
- Lunch: 3 ounces (85 grams) of grilled chicken, 1 cup (180 grams) of steamed asparagus, 6 ounces (170 grams) of low-fat yogurt, and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of raspberries
- Dinner: 3 ounces (85 grams) of shrimp cooked in 1 1/2 teaspoon (7 grams) of olive oil, 1/2 cup (75 grams) of brown rice, and 1 cup (150 grams) of broccoli
- Snacks: half a banana and 1 cup (100 grams) of sliced cucumbers with 2 rice cakes
- Breakfast: 3/4 cup (30 grams) of oat bran flakes, 1 cup (240 ml) of skim milk, half a banana, and black coffee or tea
- Lunch: 1 slice of whole-wheat toast with 3 ounces (85 grams) of sliced turkey, 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) of margarine, and 1 1/2 cup of grapes
- Dinner: 1 cup (100 grams) of cooked whole-wheat pasta, 1/2 cup (120 grams) of low-fat tomato sauce, 3 ounces (85 grams) of grilled chicken breast, and 1/2 cup (58 grams) of green beans cooked in 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 ml) of olive oil
- Snacks: 1 pear and 10 cherry tomatoes
Summary A sample menu on the Mayo Clinic Diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole-grain carbs, and healthy fats.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is a balanced meal plan focused on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. You’re meant to cook your own meals from scratch and exercise daily.
The diet possibly aids weight loss, but no comprehensive studies exist.
While it does not require you to count calories, it recommends servings of various food groups based on a target calorie level.
If you’re looking for a diet that you can maintain for life, the Mayo Clinic Diet is a balanced option.