What Is The Mayo Clinic Diet?

Photo Courtesy: Fernanda Reyes/iStock

The Mayo Clinic Diet was created by a team of weight loss experts at the Mayo Clinic. It is marketed as being more than a weight loss program. It encourages long-term lifestyle changes designed to teach people to follow daily healthy eating and exercise habits. The purpose of the diet is to help people to lose weight and maintain their weight loss over a lifetime. Read on to learn more about the Mayo Clinic Diet.

How Does the Mayo Clinic Diet Work?

The Mayo Clinic Diet was launched in 2010 by a team of experts from the Mayo Clinic Medical facilities, a top-ranked health care organization. Recently, the program was updated and given a new name: the New Mayo Clinic Diet. The upgraded version includes new features such as a food and physical activity tracker and various meal plan options.

The diet works through a digital platform offered by the Mayo Clinic. It is a subscription service with monthly plans ranging from $19.99 to $49.99 per month. The digital platform also gives members access to a private Facebook group, where people can share tips and provide support.

Phases of The Mayo Clinic Diet

The Mayo Clinic Diet emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. People interested in losing weight through healthy lifestyle changes, lifelong habits, and long-term solutions may benefit from the diet.

The plan includes a 12-week program split into two phases. 

Phase One: Lose It

The first phase, “Lose it!” lasts two weeks and emphasizes weight loss, and the program states you can expect to shed six to ten pounds. The “Lose It!” phase focuses on habits and recommends 5 habits to:

  • Add (such as eating a healthy breakfast)
  • Break (such as no TV while eating)
  • Bonus habits (such as keeping diet records)

Phase Two: Live It

After the initial two weeks, the “Live It!” stage shifts to teaching you how to maintain your weight loss and continue to lose one to two pounds per week until you reach your goal weight. Once your goal weight is reached, following the Live It! phase helps you maintain your weight loss for life.

Who Should Try the Diet?

Anyone interested in learning the lifestyle habits designed to help them lose weight and maintain a healthy weight for life may benefit from trying the Mayo Clinic Diet. The diet encourages healthy eating habits, with lots of recipes, meal suggestions, and daily exercise.

Because the diet focuses heavily on preparing fresh food at home, people who enjoy cooking and trying new recipes and those who have the time and resources to prep and cook their food will likely find the diet more beneficial. Because the diet calls for daily exercise, anyone with underlying health conditions should check with their doctor before beginning the program.

What Can You Eat on the Diet?

There are no forbidden foods on the Mayo Clinic Diet. Instead, the diet revolves around the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid. This is a five-level pyramid, where the base is filled with fruits and vegetables (the category you are allowed to eat the most), followed by carbohydrates, protein/dairy, and fats. 

At the tip of the pyramid are sweets. Sweets are allowed on the Mayo Clinic Diet but should be eaten sparingly. By following the pyramid, the goal is to eat mainly lower-calorie, higher-fiber foods that are much more filling than the foods at the top of the pyramid. 

What Foods Should You Avoid on the Diet?

Even though there are no strictly forbidden foods, the Mayo Clinic Diet still recommends restricting certain types of foods, including:  

  • Processed meats and other sources of saturated fat
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Sweets (limited to 75 calories per day)
  • Processed foods

The recommendations in the “Lose It!” phase are more strict: all added sugars are artificial sweeteners are avoided. 

Benefits of the Diet

The Mayo Clinic Diet is based on the latest behavior change science. Behavior change science seeks to understand what drives your behavior, uncover what motivates you and allow you to set achievable goals and keep going even when you’ve had a setback.

Benefits of the Mayo Clinic Diet may include:

  • Emphasizing long-term health and lifestyle changes rather than promising unrealistic rapid weight loss. 
  • Being less restrictive than many other diets because there are no forbidden foods. It offers flexible plans that you can personalize.
  • Less chance of regaining lost weight than in other diets where you drop weight rapidly. Weight loss on the plan is slow and steady, which is recommended by the CDC. People who lose weight slowly rather than dropping pounds quickly are more likely to keep their weight off.
  • Putting a large focus on exercise, which is associated with many health benefits, including weight management, disease reduction, stronger bones and muscles, and brain health.
  • Increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables is the cornerstone of the diet. Fruit and vegetable intake has been linked to reduced risk of health issues such as cancer, heart disease, and premature death.
  • Trouble-shooting prompts and advice are offered throughout the Mayo Clinic Diet book to help people identify and work through common challenges they may face on the diet.

Downsides of the Diet

The Mayo Clinic Diet is not as restrictive as many other weight loss programs or diets, and focuses on long-term healthy lifestyle changes, but it still includes several rules and diet behaviors. For example, during the “Lose It!” phase, snacks are not allowed unless they are fruits and vegetables. 

Downsides of the diet may include:

  • It can be expensive. Membership for the plan ranges from $19.99 to $49.99 per month, making this one of the pricier diet plans out there.
  • It puts a large emphasis on weight loss. While this may be appropriate for some people, for others, it may create unnecessary stress and anxiety around their weight. 
  • Even though the Mayo Clinic Diet claims it doesn’t support calorie-counting, it still recommends daily caloric intake goals. Instead of tracking calories, they recommend tracking servings of their five food groups. Obsessive food tracking can have unintended consequences for your overall relationship with food and eating.  
  • It can be time-consuming. Following the diet plan involves shopping for healthy ingredients and preparing homemade meals, which can be much more labor and time intensive than grabbing takeout or eating a microwave meal. However, you can reduce time in the kitchen by trying meal kit services. And online grocery shopping makes bringing in healthy ingredients much more convenient.
  • Some people may experience digestive issues when first beginning the diet. The diet emphasizes whole foods full of fiber; sometimes, eating more fiber than you are used to can cause digestive problems until your body grows accustomed to it.
  • People with diabetes can follow this diet but should consult their doctor first. They may need to shift their diet plan to eat more vegetables rather than unlimited fruit, as fruit contains a lot of natural sugar.

Is There Any Research to Support the Diet? 

The effectiveness of the diet has not been tested in any scientific studies. However, there is at least one clinical trial underway. Many of the principles used to create the diet are based on evidence from weight loss and behavior change studies, including:

  • Prioritizing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Limiting added sugars and highly-processed foods
  • Incorporating regular physical activity
  • Using goal setting, problem-solving, and self-monitoring as part of healthy lifestyle interventions 

What’s Next?

Talk to your doctor if you think the Mayo Clinic Diet is a good fit for you. You can also take the Mayo Clinic Diet free diet assessment tool to gain insight into your motivations, identity, aspirations, and current healthy eating and physical activity habits.  

  • “The Mayo Clinic Diet: A weight-loss program for life” via Mayo Clinic
  • “The New Mayo Clinic Diet” via The New Mayo Clinic Diet 
  • “About Mayo Clinic: Quality and Mayo Clinic” via Mayo Clinic 
  • “Losing Weight” via CDC 
  • “Benefits of Physical Activity” via CDC 
  • “Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies” via Oxford Academic 
  • “Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid” via Mayo Clinic 
  • “Mayo Clinic: Weight loss for life” via Mayo Clinic
  • “Take the Mayo Clinic Diet Assessment” via Mayo Clinic