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What is the Mayo Clinic diet 12 days on 2 days off?

The Mayo Clinic diet is a popular weight loss program that focuses on healthy eating through nutritional education and increased physical activity. The diet involves two phases – the Lose It phase and the Live It phase. The 12 days on, 2 days off approach is a variation of the Lose It phase of the Mayo Clinic diet.

Overview of the 12 Days On, 2 Days Off Approach

The 12 days on, 2 days off approach involves following the Lose It phase of the Mayo Clinic diet very strictly for 12 consecutive days, then taking a break and eating normally for 2 days before going back to the strict diet. This cycle is repeated until you reach your target weight loss goal.

On the 12 diet days, you would follow the Lose It phase guidelines very closely by:

  • Eating primarily vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.
  • Limiting calories to 1,200-1,500 per day for women and 1,500-1,800 for men.
  • Exercising and being physically active for at least 30 minutes per day.
  • Keeping a food journal to track calories and nutrients.
  • Controlling portion sizes using the Mayo Clinic’s unique plate method.

On the 2 break days, you can eat normally without tracking calories or restricting foods. The goal is to enjoy some of your favorite foods in moderation as a reward for your hard work during the diet days.

Purpose of the 12 Days On, 2 Days Off Approach

The purpose of alternating strict diet days with more flexible break days is two-fold:

  1. It provides a break from restrictive eating which can boost adherence to the diet on the stricter days.
  2. It may help prevent the metabolic slowdown that can occur with sustained calorie restriction.

By taking a break from calorie counting and food restrictions, you give your body a chance to get out of “starvation mode” and increase calorie burn. This potentially allows you to lose weight more effectively in the long run.

Does the 12 Days On, 2 Days Off Approach Work?

While no major studies have evaluated this exact diet method, some research suggests the intermittent approach could be effective for weight loss:

  • One study found that an intermittent calorie restriction plan (5 days on, 2 days off) resulted in about 7% weight loss over 6 months.
  • Another study looking at alternate day calorie restriction showed participants lost up to 7% body weight over 8 weeks.
  • Intermittent fasting, which shares similarities with the on/off diet pattern, has been shown to help people lose 3-8% of their body weight in studies lasting 3 to 24 weeks.

More research is still needed, but the current evidence indicates alternating between calorie restriction and more relaxed eating days could promote weight loss.

Sample Meal Plan for 12 Days On

Here is an example of what a daily meal plan might look like during the 12 diet days:

Meal Foods
Breakfast 1 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup blueberries + 1 cup skim milk
Snack 1 medium apple + 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
Lunch Tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat bread + 1 cup vegetable soup + salad with 2 cups mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, 1 tablespoon olive oil and vinegar
Snack 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup chopped mixed nuts
Dinner 4 ounces baked chicken breast + 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts + 1/2 cup brown rice + side salad

This provides balanced nutrition with lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, fruits and vegetables. It delivers about 1,400 calories, which is appropriate for weight loss for many women.

Foods to Eat

During the 12 diet days, focus on eating these healthy, nutrient-dense foods:

  • Non-starchy vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, etc.
  • Fruits: Especially berries, citrus fruits, apples, pears, etc.
  • Lean proteins: Chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, eggs, beans, tofu, etc.
  • Whole grains: Oats, quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, etc.
  • Low-fat dairy: Skim or low-fat milk, plain Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese, etc.
  • Healthy fats: Olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, etc.

Foods to Limit or Avoid

On the diet days, limit or avoid these high calorie, low nutrient foods:

  • Added sugars: Soda, juice, candy, baked goods, etc.
  • Refined grains: White bread, pasta, rice, etc.
  • Fried foods
  • Fast food
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Solid fats like butter, margarine, shortening, lard

Exercise Recommendations

The Mayo Clinic diet recommends getting at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Here are some tips for staying active:

  • Go for daily walks, aiming for 10,000 steps per day.
  • Try bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, pushups 3 days a week.
  • Take an aerobics or dance class 2-3 times per week.
  • Swim, bike or use elliptical 2-3 times per week.
  • Strength train major muscle groups 2-3 times per week.
  • Play sports or do physically active hobbies on your off days.

Varying your workouts keeps exercise interesting and builds overall fitness.

Tips for Success

Here are some tips to help you stick to the Mayo Clinic diet 12 days on, 2 days off plan:

  • Prep healthy meals and snacks in advance for the diet days.
  • Drink water before meals to help control appetite.
  • Weigh yourself weekly to track progress.
  • Get enough sleep and manage stress.
  • Enlist a diet buddy for accountability and support.
  • Keep tempting foods out of sight on diet days.
  • Focus on mindful eating when enjoying off days.
  • Track food intake and activity in an app or journal.

Pros and Cons

Here are some potential advantages and disadvantages of this diet approach:


  • Structured program is easy to understand.
  • No foods are strictly off limits.
  • Break days prevent feelings of deprivation.
  • Promotes nutritious whole foods.
  • Allows for flexibility and customization.


  • Very low calorie days may be too restrictive for some.
  • Frequent dietary changes can be difficult to adapt to.
  • May trigger binge eating on off days.
  • Hard to maintain strict diet every 12 days.
  • Need for strong willpower and discipline.

Who Should Try This Diet?

The Mayo Clinic diet with the 12 days on, 2 days off approach may be a good fit for people who:

  • Enjoy structure and rules to follow.
  • Don’t mind tracking calories and food intake.
  • Appreciate flexibility and some wiggle room in their diet.
  • Want to learn about nutrition and healthy eating.
  • Need help getting started and motivated.

This diet requires commitment and work, so it may not be ideal for people looking for an easy weight loss solution. But it teaches healthy eating habits that can lead to sustainable long-term weight management.


The Mayo Clinic diet with the 12 days on, 2 days off spin is designed to produce steady weight loss through calorie restriction and healthy food choices. The scheduled break days provide flexibility while preventing metabolic adaptation.

While research on this exact approach is limited, studies suggest intermittent calorie restriction and fasting can effectively reduce body weight. Overall, this diet encourages nutritious eating, portion control, and increased physical activity – habits that are the cornerstone of any healthy lifestyle.

As with any diet, discuss it with your healthcare provider first to determine if it’s appropriate for your individual needs and health status.