ChangeOne Diet


The aim of ChangeOne: Lose Weight Simply, Safely, and Forever is to provide a simple, straightforward plan for gradual, permanent weight loss. The book features a twelve-week eating plan that outlines portion sizes, recipes, and meal suggestions designed to achieve weight loss. A major distinguishing feature of the ChangeOne plan is its emphasis on making lifestyle changes gradually over a three-month interval, rather than advocating a complete, abrupt transformation of existing eating patterns. The diet is based on everyday foods, both home-prepared and available in restaurants, and does not require purchase of special foods or supplements.


ChangeOne is published by the Reader's Digest Association, a New York–based company that also owns and operates Reader's Digest, the best-selling consumer magazine in the United States. ChangeOne has been dubbed “The Official Reader's Digest Diet.” The lead author is John Hastings, a senior staff editor for health at Reader's Digest. Co-authors are Peter Jaret, a health journalist, and Mindy Hermann, a registered dietitian.

The principles underlying this diet reflect the influence of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These guidelines emphasize moderation, portion control, and the use of plant foods—grains, fruits, and vegetables—as the basis for meals.


The cornerstone of this diet is the progressive, gradual nature in which it promotes behavior change. Readers are advised to approach weight loss one meal at a time, one day at a time, beginning with a weeklong focus on breakfast. The reader starts out by completing a quiz assessing readiness for permanent lifestyle changes.

Meal plans are designed to meet the following daily intakes:

A key idea underlying the ChangeOne plan is that all foods can fit within a balanced plan for long-term weight management. The authors recognize that food restrictions tend to intensify cravings; for this reason, no foods are forbidden on this plan. The crux of the diet lies in portion control. Household items such as tennis balls, golf balls, and checkbooks are suggested for gauging portions. The reader is not required to count calories, but must adhere to the recommended food types and portion sizes. Presumably, if the portion sizes are followed correctly, the day's total calories will fall within the targeted range.

The ChangeOne program advocates eating at a slow pace, both to enhance enjoyment of meals and to help the body properly assess hunger and satisfaction levels while eating. The authors recommend a high consumption of water and other calorie-free beverages for their satisfying effect. For the same reason, an unlimited intake of non-starchy vegetables, such as those used in salads and stir-fries, is allowed. Alcohol intake is allowed but limited to one standard serving of beer or wine per day. Each chapter features recipes to complement the meal plan, as well as “Fast Track” suggestions for accelerating progress, such as increasing minutes spent on physical activity or using a journal to keep track of foods eaten. Readers learn to use rewards to reinforce positive behavior changes until the weight loss provides the necessary reinforcement.

The Program at a Glance

WEEK ONE: BREAKFAST. Eating a morning meal is cited as being crucial to weight management. The authors refer to data from the National Weight Control Registry that suggest that eating breakfast every day is associated with losing weight and keeping it off. The ChangeOne breakfast plan encourages a balance of starchy foods, fruit, and a calcium-rich food. High-fiber foods are promoted for their satisfying quality and nutrient density. Sample recipes include vegetable frittata and dried cranberry scones with orange glaze.

WEEK TWO: LUNCH. The second week of the program has dieters planning ahead for both home-prepared and purchased lunches that are satisfying and portion-controlled. The mid-day meal is comprised of a small portion of lean meat, fish, or a vegetarian alternative, along with a starchy food, one fruit, and unlimited vegetables. Restaurant meals can fit the plan as long as recommended portion sizes are honored. Readers are encouraged to anticipate the difficulty of making healthy restaurant choices by creating a list of ChangeOne meals that can be ordered in restaurants. This chapter provides an overview of best options in fast food restaurants. Sample recipes include grilled turkey Caesar salad and roasted vegetable wraps with chive sauce.

WEEK THREE: SNACKS. On the ChangeOne regime, dieters plan for two snacks each day. The authors point to scientific evidence that eating frequently throughout the day can assist with weight management by regulating blood sugar levels and warding off cravings and intense hunger. This chapter teaches readers to properly interpret hunger cues and encourages an awareness of emotional eating. It offers strategies to manage hunger and appetite. Sample recipes include chocolate snacking cake and multigrain soft pretzels.

WEEK FOUR: DINNER. The fourth week of the program places as much emphasis on how to eat as it does on what and how much to eat. The author provides an overview of the principles of effective goal setting, advising that goals have clear deadlines and be realistic, inspiring, and measurable. This chapter provides plenty of practical suggestions for meal preparation, including tips for low-fat cooking, such as the use of marinades to tenderize lean cuts of meat and the use of seasonings and herbs to add flavor without calories. The dinner meal plan features a small serving of lean meat or another protein-rich food, paired with a starchy side dish and unlimited vegetables. Sample recipes include Thai noodle salad and red snapper with Spanish rice. By the end of the fourth week, dieters should have all three meals and two snacks under good control.

WEEK FIVE: DINING OUT. The authors recommend eating in restaurants at least twice in the fifth week of the program in order to gain practice navigating menus and making healthy choices. This chapter opens with an eye-opening discussion of how restaurant meals distort our understanding of sensible portions. The keys to sticking with the ChangeOne plan when eating out, the authors contend, is being both prepared and discerning. When possible, reviewing the menu prior to arriving at the restaurant is recommended. Readers are advised to keep a list of restaurants on hand that are known to offer good tasting options that are lower in calories. Dieters are encouraged to be assertive when ordering by requesting ingredient substitutions and smaller portions. Discipline is required to stick to the portion sizes recommended in the meal plans, leaving excess food uneaten. The chapter outlines best menu options for such favorites as Italian, Mexican, and Chinese restaurants; surf and turf; diners; and coffee shops.

WEEK SIX: WEEKENDS AND HOLIDAYS. ChangeOne is realistic in acknowledging that routines tend to change over the weekend. The authors advise against viewing weekends as vacations from the healthy eating patterns implemented during the workweek; to do so implies that the diet is merely a temporary effort to improve eating habits. This chapter encourages enlisting friends and family for support but warns against saboteurs and others who will apply pressure to abandon new healthy eating habits. Strategies are offered for staying on track during the holidays (for example, having low-calorie snacks on hand and directing activities that do not involve food). The recipe section features calorie-wise alternatives to traditional holiday fare, including a revamped turkey dinner and Sunday brunch.

WEEK SEVEN: FIXING YOUR KITCHEN. The challenge this chapter proposes is taking stock of the food supplies in the kitchen so that they support the reader's new healthy eating habits. The first step advised to get the kitchen diet-ready is purging the shelves of anything that might sabotage healthy eating efforts. The authors offer strategies for smart grocery shopping such as not shopping on an empty stomach, sticking to planned purchases, and spending the most time shopping around the store's perimeter, avoiding aisles laden with processed foods. The reader is advised to inspect foodstuffs and “read the small print,” but specifics on how to read and interpret nutrition labels are not offered. The chapter closes with a few recipes that feature basic ingredients found in most pantries.

WEEK EIGHT: HOW AM I DOING? This week serves as a checkpoint for assessing progress and provides an opportunity to reshape goals and renew commitment. The authors guide in trouble-shooting common stumbling blocks like portion distortion and lack of meal planning. Practical suggestions are offered for dealing with emotional stress and the temptation to quit. The authors advise their readers to revisit their expectations for what constitutes weight loss success. Dieters are taught to pace their long-term goals by setting more tangible milestones and rewarding small successes along the way.

WEEK NINE: STRESS RELIEF. In week nine, dieters are encouraged to consider the relationship between weight management and stress management. The authors explain how high levels of stress affect the body's hormonal balance, triggering food cravings and promoting fat deposition. Readers are advised to analyze the stressors in their lives and begin brainstorming solutions. The authors emphasize participation in physical activity and the support of friends as effective stress management tools. Readers are encouraged to try a step-by-step 20-minute daily relaxation routine to relieve tension and enhance coping. This week's featured recipes are calorie-reduced versions of traditional comfort foods such as meatloaf, chicken pot pie, and beef stew.

WEEK TEN: STAYING ACTIVE FOR SUCCESS. In the program's tenth week, healthy eating and active living are shown to be synergistic. The author presents research showing that dieters who exercise regularly enjoy greater success in their weight-loss programs than those who are physically inactive. Rather than advocating intense gym workouts, the authors highlight the calories expended in activities of daily living and encourage being active in ways that are enjoyable. For optimal fat burning, however, readers are advised to check their pulse and aim for an intensity equivalent to 60% to 80% of maximum heart rate. The chapter is consistent with the book's message of making changes gradually; it encourages starting out with 10- to 15-minute walks each day and slowly working up to 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

WEEK ELEVEN: KEEPING ON TRACK. This week's goal is developing strategies for monitoring progress and trouble-shooting areas of difficulty in order to avoid set-backs. Readers are advised to anticipate small weight fluctuations but to take action before a few pounds of weight gain become a full relapse. The authors provide a diagnostic checklist for identifying areas of difficulty. They advise weekly weigh-ins to gauge long-term progress. Dieters are encouraged to monitor and make a written record of mood states in order to uncover their relationship to emotional eating.

WEEK TWELVE: AVOIDING BOREDOM AND MAINTAINING CHANGES. ChangeOne acknowledges that boredom with a set routine is a big obstacle in maintaining changes over the long term. The authors encourage their readers to break their routine slightly every week to foster continued enjoyment of eating. Suggestions include trying a new food every week, creating a salad bar at home for dinner and concocting signature flavor combinations for standbys like homemade pasta and pizza. Again, dieters are reminded to keep the process from becoming tedious by setting rewards for small steps taken towards the achievement of the ultimate goal.

Part Two of the ChangeOne book is a collection of resources, including meal plans, recipes, and an eight-week fitness program complete with color photographs of aerobic, strengthening, and stretching exercises.


The ChangeOne diet promotes a gradual calorie deficit by remodeling eating habits one meal at a time. Ultimately, three low-calorie meals plus two small snacks provide a total of 1,300 to 1,600 calories per day, which represents a significant reduction in calorie consumption for the average North American adult.

Meal plans are presented in a style that allows the reader to mix and match set amounts of preferred foods. This flexibility allows the reader to create enjoyable meals that are calorie-controlled, thus promoting weight loss.

Part Two of the ChangeOne book includes recipes and daily menus to support readers who desire the structure of a set meal plan.


The ChangeOne diet promises “no fads, no risks, no craziness.” It is based on nutrition principles that are scientifically sound, and it echoes the nutrient balance endorsed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Meals consist of lean protein, high-fiber starchy foods, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. No foods are disallowed, and no special foods or supplements are necessary. Meals can be prepared at home or purchased in restaurants. Varied meal plans and tasty menus, combined with numerous recipes and cooking tips, make the book practical and informative.

ChangeOne is written in a straightforward, engaging manner. Changes are promoted in a step-wise fashion, in contrast to the “all-or-nothing” approach sometimes espoused by other diets. Rather than simply providing guidance on what to eat, ChangeOne encourages exploration of the reasons for eating.


The ChangeOne program is a suitable weight loss plan for most adults. However, they should consult with their physician before beginning any weight-loss program. The upper limit of 1,600 calories per day may be insufficient for people who engage in regular physical activity. The use of artificial sweeteners is not appropriate for everyone. Readers should get clearance with their doctors regarding ideal exercise type, intensity, and duration before beginning any exercise program.


Because this diet emphasizes sound patterns of healthy eating, there are no significant risks in following its principles. Dieters should note that the program is not designed for rapid weight loss.

Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR)—
A range of intakes for a particular energy source that is associated with reduced risk of chronic disease while providing adequate intakes of essential nutrients. An AMDR is expressed as a percentage of total energy intake.
Emotional eating—
Eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, anxiety, boredom, sadness, and loneliness. Emotional eating can cause weight gain.
Registered dietitian—
A health professional who has a bachelor's degree specializing in foods and nutrition, as well as a period of practical training in a hospital or community setting. The title “registered dietitian” is protected by law so that only qualified practitioners who have met education qualifications can use it.
Trans fat—
A type of fat made by the process of hydrogenation, which turns liquid oils into solid fat. Trans fats have been implicated in the development of coronary heart disease and impaired cell signalling in the brain.

Research and general acceptance

The ChangeOne program echoes the principles of healthy eating promoted in the USDA Food Guidelines for Americans. In particular, the diet mirrors the National Academy of Sciences' Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) for fat, carbohydrates, and protein, which are 20%–35% of total calories, 45%–65% of total calories, and 10%–35% of total calories, respectively. The recommended intake of fat, as well as calories from saturated fat, trans fat, fiber, and calcium, also complies with the recommendations set by the National Academy of Sciences.


Lead author John Hastings notes that physicians served as advisors in the development of the eating plan. The diet was pilot-tested by volunteers, mostly from the Reader's Digest workforce. Participants lost an average of 17 pounds over the 12-week program. There is no mention of the number of participants involved in testing the diet and whether these results bear any statistical significance.

See also Dietary guidelines ; High-fat, low-carb diets ; Low-fat diet ; Protein .



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Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 120 South Riverside Plz., Ste. 2000, Chicago, IL, 60606-6995, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600,, .

British Nutrition Foundation, High Holborn House, 52-54 High Holborn, London, United Kingdom, WC1V 6RQ, 44 20 7404 6504, Fax: 44 20 7404 6747, post, .

Dietitians of Canada, 480 University Ave., Ste. 604, Toronto Ontario, Canada, M5G 1V2, (416) 596-0857, Fax: (416) 596-0603,, .

National Weight Control Registry, Brown Medical School, The Miriam Hospital Weight Control & Diabetes Research Center, 196 Richmond St., Providence, RI, 02903, (800) 606-NWCR (6927),, .

Marie Fortin, MEd, RD

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.