Does the GOLO diet work? Experts explain the pros, cons and risks

The company claims to have helped more than four million people lose weight and its slogan is “Go Lose Weight, Go Look Great, Go Love Life.” All this constitutes the “GOLO” diet, created in 2009 by the GOLO company. It’s gaining traction among those looking for weight loss, but there’s a lot you need to understand about this plan before considering it.

While claiming to “eliminate starvation diets for good,” the GOLO diet is restrictive – and therefore unhealthy. A typical diet day will see you eating between 1,300 and 1,800 calories, depending on gender. “That’s fewer calories than an adult needs just for daily life,” says nutritionist Maddie Pasquariello, RD, founder of East Coast Health. “When you add exercise to the equation, of course you will lose weight quickly.”

But such an approach is unsustainable and will put your body into fight-or-flight mode, says Pasquariello. It deprives your body of calories needed for immunity, digestion, skin health and organ systems. Even your brain won’t get what it needs to function optimally on so few calories.

Additionally, to access the plan, GOLO requires you to purchase its own “exclusive supplement,” which goes for up to $120 for a 90-day supply. It also brings a host of newsworthy claims.

“They make sweeping claims that the ingredients in this supplement will control cravings, reduce stress and anxiety, increase energy, support a healthy metabolism, balance your hormones, and much more,” says Pasquariello. “At the end of the day, none of this really means much: the supplement industry is very lightly regulated in the United States, and the claims made by supplement companies as a whole are usually just that.”

Pasquariello points out that despite the claims of the GOLO diet, “there are few, if any, foods that can actually change our metabolism in any meaningful way, and the same goes for ‘hormone balancing.’ For most people, unless they’re facing a serious illness or in intensive care, hormones are likely in balance, she adds.

Some things GOLO gets right are most of the foods on its “list.” Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seafood are generally good choices. He also recommends limiting processed meats like hot dogs, refined carbohydrates like white bread or white rice, and processed foods. Still, with an emphasis on animal proteins and no guidance on what types of seafood are recommended, Pasquariello has some concerns.

The GOLO site also lists several “studies” as proof of its validity. But reading between the lines reveals that the research was funded by the company and/or that these are pilot studies that scientists are undertaking to demonstrate the need for actual research. They are small and exploratory in nature and cannot prove a claim.

What to aim for instead

While diets like GOLO continue to enjoy popularity thanks to their appeal for quick fixes, a healthier approach is to take back control of what and how you eat. “When we were kids, we intuitively knew what we needed,” says intuitive eating coach Pam Moore. “Diet culture taught us this.”

Moore says that when we focus on calories, macronutrients and “forbidden” foods, people can lose touch with their bodies. “You may not even know when you need food,” she says. “You might be nervous, irritable or tired without realizing it’s because you’re hungry.”

To relearn how to meet your body’s needs, start by eating three meals and a snack if you’ve strayed from it, Moore says. “People sometimes skip breakfast and make up for it later in the day,” she explains. “Then they blamed themselves for being ‘out of control.’ Don’t let four or five hours go by without eating.

Also aim for foods that fill you up and don’t put certain foods on the restricted list. Moore cites eating frozen yogurt instead of ice cream as an example. “You might actually eat too much yogurt, end up dissatisfied and wish you had ice cream instead,” she says. “Trust that if you allow yourself the foods you consider bad, the novelty will wear off.”

Also find out why you have various food beliefs and whether or not they serve you. “We’ve all received a lifetime of messages about diet culture,” Moore says. “But we shouldn’t confuse weight with health. Measurements such as BMI and weight are not accurate measures of health.

There are of course limits to what constitutes a healthy body and body composition, but years of diet culture have not solved the problem and have in turn created many more. There is no quick fix or quick fix for eating healthy and losing weight.

If you have the symptoms that GOLO claims to cure, such as low energy, chronic stress, or a preoccupation with food or exercise, see your doctor, says Pasquariello. “There’s a reason you’ll never see dietitians promoting supplements as a means to an end,” she says. “At best, programs like this waste your money, and at worst, they can create eating disorders.”

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