Why the Mayo Clinic Diet Includes Quick Weight Loss

The venerable Mayo Clinic puts out its first official diet—and it includes a 2-week jump-start period.

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It's pretty much a given that sensible diet programs do not endorse quick results. "Slow and steady wins the race" is the usual advice, and 1 to 2 pounds the suggested weekly weight loss. That advice kicks in on Page 69 of The Mayo Clinic Diet (Good Books), but only after an initial "Lose it!" phase that promises a weight loss of 6 to 10 pounds in two weeks. Why is the venerable institution endorsing a quick weight loss in the first diet it has ever produced? U.S. News talked to Donald Hensrud, medical editor-in-chief of the book and chair of the division of preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine at Mayo Clinic. Here are edited excerpts:

Isn't there already a Mayo Clinic diet circulating online?

There have been many so-called Mayo Clinic diets over the years, starting in the 1940s. Since then we've been contacted by patients all asking about the diet. We don't know where all the diets come from. One year it was grapefruit; one year it was bacon and eggs. Many people thought that was the real Mayo Clinic diet, but it wasn't. This is the first time we've ever put our name on a diet and endorsed it. [5 Weight-Loss Websites That Work]

Why now?

Obesity is a huge problem in this country. We feel like there's enough scientific evidence done here and at other institutions that we feel comfortable—and the timing is right—to put our name on a dietary program. There's a lot of misinformation out there about weight management and a lot of programs and plans that include things I never learned in med school. This is evidence-based, safe, and effective, as well as practical and enjoyable. [6 Weight-Loss Tricks That Don’t Involve Dieting or (Much) Exercise]

So what's with the quick weight-loss phase? In addition to adding five habits, like getting daily exercise and eating whole grains, it has some fairly stringent rules like "No sugar except what's found in fruit" and "No eating at restaurants unless the meal fits the plan."

We ask people to add five habits, subtract five habits, and then offer five bonus habits [such as keeping food records and avoiding heavily processed foods]. That provides the initial motivation. Based on the feedback [we got from people who tried the two-week plan in a study], we learned that if people don't attempt to make broad changes, they won't get broad results. This empowers people and shows them what they're capable of. [4 Ways a Food Diary Can Help You Lose Weight]

So following those rules leads to a lower caloric intake?

Yes. The changes in habits appear to take care of calories, as evidenced by the weight loss we've seen [in our research]. We wanted people to focus on making qualitative changes in what they eat and not get bogged down with counting calories or other methods. This simplifies things, and it is also effective. This suggests that the calorie content of the foods [they take in during the two weeks] is much different than what they are usually eating. [Turning Your Workday Into Weight Loss]

How much of that initial drop in weight is due to water loss?

We haven't measured that, but part of it probably is, as it is with any weight-loss program. It is not a very low-carbohydrate diet, and vegetables and fruits are relatively high in water, so these factors actually contribute to less water weight lost [than in other diets]. So we feel comfortable that it is an expected but not excessive proportion of water lost. [Exercise and Weight Loss: What’s the Connection?]

How is the initial jump-start period different from the introductory phases in other diets, like Atkins?

We believe it is the healthiest way there is to lose weight quickly. [Looking at the five habits to add, the five to lose, and the five bonus habits], they all not only have some evidence supporting their effect on weight loss, but they are all health supporting as well. Also, there would be nothing wrong with sustaining these habits over time. Admittedly, it would be challenging for most people to do that with all the habits for practical reasons, but there would be nothing wrong with that if someone was able to. For many other programs, the methods to lose weight quickly are not healthy or advisable long term.