Mayo Clinic Plan (Official)


The Mayo Clinic plan is the weight-management program created by the Mayo Clinic, a respected medical facility headquartered in Rochester, Minnesota. Unlike the fad diet erroneously bearing the clinic's name, the actual Mayo plan concentrates on longterm health rather than a quick weight loss. While the Mayo Clinic fad diet is a temporary program that promises the dieter will shed 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in about two weeks, people following the 12-week Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight plan generally lose 1 to 2 pounds (0.45–0.90 kg) per week. The diet, which is based on the Clinic's Healthy Weight Pyramid, allows unlimited consumption of fruits and vegetables. Exercise is also prescribed.


The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program was created by an organization with a long history of health care and research. The Mayo Clinic grew out of the medical practice of British doctor William Worrall Mayo and his sons, William James Mayo and Charles Horace Mayo. William W. Mayo came to the United States in 1846 and opened his first Minnesota medical practice in 1859. During the Civil War, he served as an examining surgeon for the Union Army. That work took him to Rochester, where he moved his family in 1864. At that time, his son William was three years old, and Charles was born in 1865. Their father opened a medical clinic in Rochester that flourished, and the brothers later practiced medicine with their father.

Mayo Clinic diet

Food group

Food sources

Daily servings

Calories per serving

Level 5 sweets

Candy and processed sweets

Up to 75 calories daily

Level 4 fats

Heart-healthy olive oil, nuts, canola oil, and avocados



Level 3 protein/dairy

Legumes (beans, peas and lentils), fish, skinned white-meat poultry, fat-free dairy products and egg whites



Level 2 carbohydrates

Whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain cereal



Level 1 fruits/vegetables

Whole fresh, frozen and canned fruits without added sugar; salad greens; asparagus; green beans; broccoli; and zucchini

Vegetables 4 (minimum) Fruit 3 (minimum)

Vegetables 25 Fruit 60

Physical activity: Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week.

The Center's obesity research during the 1990s demonstrated that a person's body shape affected the risk for conditions like diabetes and heart attacks. The Center defined the body types in terms of familiar shapes. People with the majority of their body fat stored around their waist had an apple shape. A pear-shaped person's fat was stored lower in the body, in areas such as the hips and thighs. Research showed that the apple shape, with fat in the abdominal area, raised the risk of health problems.

Clinical research also revealed that fidgeting—for example, movements such as shifting in a chair— burned calories. The process was labeled “non-exercise activity thermogenesis.”

In November of 2000, the Mayo Clinic unveiled the first food pyramid targeted at people trying to lose weight and keep the pounds off. The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid was based on scientific principles and research at the clinic, as well as at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The universities studied the effect of low energydense foods on weight loss. Energy density is related to the calories in food. Low energy-dense foods have a small amount of calories in a large amount of food, such as a fruit or vegetable. High energy-dense foods like a candy bar have a large number of calories in a small amount of food.

The universities' research demonstrated that people on low energy-dense food diets lost weight and kept the pounds off. Pennsylvania State University's research indicated that satiety, the sense of feeling full, was connected to the volume and weight of food consumed. A person starting a low energy-dense diet didn't have to eat less food in terms of the amount consumed. However, the type of food was changed, with high-energy foods restricted and the addition of more low energy-dense foods. The person ate the same volume of food, but consumed fewer calories.

In addition, the dieter would experience a sense of fullness earlier because low energy-dense foods frequently had high fiber and water contents. Those foods took longer to digest, causing satiety after the consumption of fewer calories.

Furthermore, the University of Alabama pioneered the use of an unlimited allowance of whole vegetables and fruits in diets. It proved a successful method for losing weight and not gaining it back.

The Mayo Clinic drew on that research and created the Health Weight Pyramid and the clinic's weight-loss program. The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program is a low-calorie, plant-based diet. The emphasis is on the low energy-dense foods in each food group. There is no limit on the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables allowed. Other low energydense foods include whole-grain carbohydrates like whole grain pastas, grains and breads, brown rice, and baked potatoes with skins.

Information about the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program was made available in the spring of 2007 on the Mayo Clinic website in the section titled “Mayo Clinic Diet: A weight-loss program for life.” The 12-week program was also detailed in the 2005 book Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight for Everybody. It was updated in 2010 and a Mayo Clinic Diabetes book and journal were added in 2011.

The other Mayo Clinic diet

During the 1940s, dietitians at the Mayo Clinic began receiving questions from the public about a popular diet falsely attributed to the medical facility. The clinic has no connection to the fad weight-loss plan, and the origin of the Mayo Clinic fad diet is not known. The diet requires the consumption of a half-grapefruit at each meal. Breakfast sometimes includes two slices of bacon, and dieters eat meat during other meals. Missing from the weight-loss plan are other fruits, breads, and some vegetables, and this so-called “Mayo Clinic” has nothing to do with the actual Mayo Clinic in any way.


The four cornerstones of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program are the Healthy Weight Pyramid, physical activity, setting goals, and motivation. Dieters use the pyramid to plan menus rich in healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. The pyramid calls for moderate amounts of other foods. Physical activity should be increased, with an ultimate goal doing moderate physical activity for 30 to 60 minutes each day for most days of the week.

Goal-setting is based on actions taken rather than pounds lost. Goals such as increasing the amount of fruit consumed or exercise performed could be set and tracked on a weekly and monthly basis. Motivation provides the incentive to start a program that is essentially a lifetime plan.

The Healthy Weight Pyramid

The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid is a nutrition guide that focuses on low energy-dense foods. The pyramid shows food groups in terms of amounts that should be consumed. At the bottom of the triangle are low energy-dense foods; at the peak are high energy-dense sweets. The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid consists of five levels:

SERVING RECOMMENDATIONS. The Mayo Clinic plan based most recommended food pyramid serving portions on daily calorie allowances. For the person trying to lose weight, the medically accepted calorie allowance is generally 1,200 calories per day for women and 1,400 calories for men. A diet of less than 1,200 calories per day could deprive a person of nutrients like calcium, iron, and protein. Because of that, diets of less than 1,200 calories should be medically supervised.

The Mayo Clinic program starts with a 1,200-calorie allowance, with higher amounts based on a person's weight. In addition, people who feel too hungry at one level or experience an extremely rapid weight loss are advised to follow the recommendations for the next level. In addition, the daily sweets allowance of 75 calories can be saved up so a treat with more calories is consumed on one day. However, the dieter must remember to budget the sweets in order to have a total weekly consumption of 525 calories.

The calorie allowances and serving recommendations from the Healthy Weight Pyramid are:

Physical activity

Physical activity is a key element of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program. The activity could be exercises like walking and swimming or actions involving movement such as gardening and house cleaning. Physical activity burns calories, which aids in weight loss.

The goal of the Mayo Clinic program is for a person to do moderate physical activity for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week. Moderately physical activities range from walking briskly to being constantly in motion while doing yard work. This type of exercise raises heart and breathing rates, according to the Mayo Clinic. The calories burned during an hour of walking at a moderate intensity range from 250 to 340. The range is based on the person's weight and fitness level, according to the clinic. Gardening for an hour would burn 272 calories for someone weighing 150 pounds (68 kg).

The clinic advises people to begin an exercise program gradually so that their muscles and joints can adapt. An inactive person may need to exercise 5 to 10 minutes per day and then work up to a longer exercise session. Walking is a popular exercise, and the book Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight for Everybody features a 12-week walking program. There is also information about a range of physical activities.

Goal setting

While losing a specific amount of weight is the ultimate goal, the Mayo Clinic plan calls for setting goals related to activities instead of measuring the number of pounds shed. Objectives should be specific, measurable, and realistic, such as increasing the servings of vegetables consumed or the distance walked. Weightloss activity could be entered daily in a food and activity diary. The Mayo Clinic book has a daily food and activity record that could be copied and used to track progress on weekly and monthly goals.


Motivation is the incentive that helps a person begin the Healthy Weight Program and continue to follow the plan for life. The Mayo Clinic book contains strategies for each of the 12 weeks of the program. These include avoiding treats at work by going for a short walk at break time. Other methods of motivation include concentrating on the positive aspects of weight loss and exercising with a friend or relative.


Once a goal weight is reached, the dieter's challenge is to avoid gaining back the pounds lost. The Mayo Clinic plan recommends that the person continue exercising regularly and use the Healthy Food Pyramid for meal planning. The Mayo Clinic set the average daily calorie allowances at:


The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program was designed to produce a gradual weight loss through the additive effects of forming healthier habits in a person's diet and exercise routine. The Healthy Weight Pyramid focuses on the consumption of foods with low energy densities that are generally low in calories. High-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, baked potatoes, and whole-grain products contain volume that causes a person to feel full. Also contributing to the sense of fullness is the fact that foods with fiber take longer to digest. Since the weight-loss plan places no limit on the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed, people satisfy hunger cravings with lower-calorie foods.

As noted, the Mayo Clinic program also emphasizes physical activity. The combination of regular exercise and nutritional eating could reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.


The benefits of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program are illustrated by the title of the book Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight for Everybody. The program shows people how to use the Healthy Weight Pyramid and exercise in order to achieve a lifetime of healthy living. People who follow the plan gradually lose weight. Once a dieter reaches his or her goal weight, that person follows the plan to avoid gaining back those extra pounds.

The plan described in the Mayo Clinic book could be used to create a self-directed weight-loss program. By following the 12-week plan, the dieter learns about nutrition, portion control, and the importance of physical activity. Quizzes in the weekly units allow the dieter to understand issues such as eating habits.

Furthermore, direction is provided through weekly shopping lists and information about topics such as planning an effective and enjoyable exercise program. There are also tips from dietitians and recipes based on the Healthy Weight Pyramid.


The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program does not pose an overall risk to people. However, some people may need to take any existing health conditions or required medications into account when making food choices.

For example, pregnant women should not eat more than twelve ounces (0.34 kg) of fish per week. People with diabetes should monitor their blood sugar while following the program, and people with other conditions like food allergies should make adjustments when planning their menus. In addition, some fruits should be avoided by people taking certain medications. Grapefruit products, tangelos, and Spanish oranges should not be consumed by people using some anti-depressants, anti-seizure medications, tranquilizers, immunosuppressant drugs, and the pain relief drug Methadone. In addition, those citrus fruits should be avoided by people taking some of the medications used to treat high blood pressure, HIV, high cholesterol, arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), and erectile dysfunction.

People with any existing diseases or conditions should consult with their physician before starting any diet or exercise program.

The nutritional term for a kilocalorie, the unit of energy needed to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree centigrade at sea level. A nutritional calorie equals 1,000 calories.
A nutrient that the body uses as an energy source. A carbohydrate provides four calories of energy per gram.
A waxy substance made in the liver. It helps form cell membranes and protects nerves, and produces hormones, vitamin D, and bile.
A nutrient that the body uses as an energy source. Fats produce nine calories per gram.
A complex carbohydrate not digested by the human body. Plants are the source of fiber.
A nutrient that the body uses as an energy source. Proteins produce 4 calories per gram.
Serum cholesterol—
Cholesterol that travels in the blood.
The generation of heat in the body.


There are no known risks for people who follow the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program. However, people with questions about health conditions or drug interactions or dosages as they are losing weight are advised to consult their physicians before starting any weight-loss program.

Research and general acceptance

The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program is the result of research by the clinic, the University of Alabama, and Pennsylvania State University. The clinic's Healthy Weight Pyramid is listed on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) list of sources of reliable weight loss information. In addition, the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 defines a healthy eating plan as one that:


The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends a half-hour to an hour of moderate physical activity on most days. The AHA's guidelines for weight loss are calorie allowances of 1,200 per day for women and 1,500 for men. This limit is intended to produce a loss of one to two pounds per week. The AHA believes that a weight-loss program should include nutrition education so that people “embrace a lifetime of healthy eating habits.” Their recommendations parallel those of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Program.

See also Diet apps ; eDiets .



Hensrud, Donald D., ed. Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight for Everybody. Rochester, MN: Mayo Clinic, 2005.

Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat Well, Enjoy Life, Lose Weight. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2012.


Rolls, Barbara. “Energy Density and Nutrition in Weight Control Management.” Permanente Journal 7, no. 2 (spring 2003). (accessed April 11, 2018).


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. “Low-Energy-Dense Foods and Weight Management: Cutting Calories While Controlling Hunger.” Research to Practice Series, no. 5. (accessed April 11, 2018).

Neighmond, Patricia. “Wiggle While You Work: Fidgeting May Fight Fat.” National Public Radio, All Things Considered (radio broadcast), January 27, 2005. (accessed April 11, 2018).

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library. “General Information and Resources for Weight and Obesity.” Food and Nutrition Information Center. (accessed April 11, 2018).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. December 2015. (accessed May 1, 2018).


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

American Heart Association, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX, 75231, (800) 242-8721, http://www.american .

Mayo Clinic, 200 First St. SW, Rochester, MN, 55905, (507) 284-2511, TTY: (507) 284-9786, .

U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC, 20250, (202) 720-2791, .

Liz Swain
Revised by Megan Porter, RD

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