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Mayo Clinic Diet: What It Is & How It Works - TODAY

The Mayo Clinic introduced a diet in 2010 that became a New York Times bestseller and has been a popular weight-loss choice ever since. In December 2021, the Mayo Clinic launched a revamped version of this diet that includes a digital platform and app so that you can track your habits, food, exercise, progress toward your goals and more.

“This is a way to take a tried-and-true program that’s been around for a while and deliver it to more people in a digital-friendly way,” Donald Hensrud, M.D., the medical director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, told TODAY.

How does the Mayo Clinic diet work?

The Mayo Clinic Diet focuses on building new healthy habits and breaking old, less-healthy habits. It starts with a two-week, quick-start “Lose It” phase where you add five habits, break five habits, and tackle five bonus habits if you choose. This phase is designed to jumpstart your weight loss. “The more habits you change, the more weight you will lose,” Dr. Hensrud said.

Those habits could be things like eating breakfast, eating more fruits and vegetables, eliminating added sugar, not eating while watching TV or only watching TV for the amount of time you’re active in a day.

After the first two weeks, you transition to the “Live It” phase, focusing on lasting diet and lifestyle changes you can maintain in the long run. The initial program runs for 12 weeks, with the option to continue for as long as you would like the support. It’s based on the Mayo Clinic healthy weight pyramid, with vegetables and fruit dominating the diet.

“It provides evidence-based advice,” Dr. Hensrud said. “It’s not effortless, but it’s practical, realistic and enjoyable enough to be sustainable. It will not only help people manage their weight but improve their health in the process.”

What does the research say about the Mayo Clinic diet?

Dr. Hensrud said the changes to your habits the diet encourages are evidence-based and have some support for weight management. And eating more plant-based foods — which the diet encourages — is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Tracking, or self-monitoring behaviors, can also promote weight management. That’s because they keep you connected to what you’re doing and what’s working for you. For example, tracking what you eat can show you whether you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables, or whether your portion sizes are too big. “Those tools have been shown in multiple studies to be useful in helping people manage their weight,” Samantha Cassetty, a registered dietitian based in New York City and the coauthor of “Sugar Shock,” told TODAY. “These are all things that make you feel better emotionally and physically.”

Is the Mayo Clinic diet a good choice for you?

“This diet is focused on promoting healthful foods like fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and it’s also focused on helping you establish healthier habits,” Cassetty said. “It has a lot going for it.”

The two-week “Lose It” phase may feel restrictive, but it can also jumpstart your weight loss. “It’s a short enough time to see some success and start making long-term lifestyle changes,” Dr. Hensrud said. While the “Lose It” phase isn’t sustainable long-term, it can give people confidence. “At first, when people start changing their habits, they are intimidated. Once they get into it and see they are losing weight, they become empowered. They’re in it for the long haul,” he said.

So, if you want to push yourself for two weeks to see some progress, this diet might be a good choice for you. “There’s a good chance you’ll lose weight because your eating habits have changed significantly, and that can be motivating to get you to the next phase, where you can figure out what works for you long-term,” Cassetty said.

This diet could be challenging if it’s a complete overhaul of your eating habits. “It’s OK to feel like your health behavior is somewhat of a stretch,” Cassetty said. “But it still has to feel like it can fit within your lifestyle.”

And if the diet brings up any disordered eating habits, you might want to find a different approach.

You’ll pay from $20 to $50 per month for the plan, depending on how long you enroll. There's also a book based on an earlier version of the program.

What do you eat on the Mayo Clinic diet?

The original Mayo Clinic diet emphasizes vegetables and fruits, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado and includes smaller amounts of meat, cheese and eggs.

You can also select variations that focus on these diets:

  • Higher protein, which balances protein across your meals to help control your appetite.
  • Healthy keto, a high-fat, low-carb diet that highlights olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
  • Vegetarian, which includes eggs and dairy as well as protein from beans and soy.
  • Mediterranean, which is plant-based and includes fish and some meat.

In a typical day, you might eat:

  • Breakfast: Cheesy breakfast burrito.
  • Lunch: Italian chicken bread salad.
  • Dinner: Teriyaki salmon skewers and vegetables.
  • Snack: Fruit and veggies.

The Mayo Clinic diet is similar to:

  • Mediterranean diet, which also emphasizes whole, plant-based foods.
  • DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, which aims to reduce or control high blood pressure.
  • MIND diet, which combines the Mediterranean and DASH diets to help promote brain health.
  • Flexitarian diet, a primarily vegetarian diet that includes some meat.
  • Blue Zones diet, a plant-focused diet modeled after the food choices of the people in the world who live the longest.

Is the Mayo Clinic diet effective long-term?

The “Live It” phase of the Mayo Clinic diet incorporates healthy diet and lifestyle changes you can maintain for life.

Talk with your doctor before starting the Mayo Clinic diet or any other diet — your doctor or a registered dietitian can recommend the best eating plan for you, based on your health needs.

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Stephanie Thurrott is a writer who covers mental health, personal growth, wellness, family, food and personal finance, and dabbles in just about any other topic that grabs her attention. When she's not writing, look for her out walking her dog or riding her bike in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.