Trying to lose weight safely can be tough. It’s widely been studied that crash diets with super restrictive calorie intake don’t work long-term, but following the tried-and-true advice of eating moderately portioned nutrient-rich foods can feel like a slow-going process. If you’ve tried overhauling your diet only to find that nothing seems to move the needle, you may have been left wondering why you can’t lose weight.
The company behind the GOLO diet believes that many struggle to lose weight and keep it off due to their hormones — particularly one called insulin, which plays a key role in metabolic function. The idea behind GOLO (which stands for Go Lose Weight) is that if your insulin isn’t properly managed, long-term weight loss will be very difficult to achieve. The diet aims to help followers take control of their insulin management through the program’s eating plan and daily supplement.
The GOLO diet dates back to 2009, but the program’s website doesn’t detail exactly who came up with the concept except to say that it was a team of doctors, pharmacists and researchers. Here’s what the site does reveal: The GOLO diet was the most Googled diet in 2016, a nod to how popular it’s become. What is the GOLO diet, why is insulin so important when it comes to weight loss and is this eating plan actually legit? We talked to several experts — both affiliated and not affiliated with the GOLO diet — to find out. Here’s what you need to know about the GOLO subscription diet and supplement service before diving in.
Editor’s note: Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to go on this diet, we invite you gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.
How does the GOLO diet work?
As mentioned, the GOLO diet is based on the concept that getting your insulin under control — rather than reducing caloric intake or cutting out entire food groups — is the key to a properly functioning metabolism; once your metabolism is working optimally, you can lose weight and keep it off more easily, according to the company’s website. It explains that being caught in the trap of weight cycling (a.k.a. yo-yo dieting) can slow metabolism down, disrupting hormones involved in weight control.
It also says that some people with a slow metabolism actually have insulin resistance, which is when cells in muscle, fat and the liver don’t respond well to insulin. This can lead to weight gain. While there are several hormones that are thought to be involved in appetite, metabolism and weight management, GOLO focuses on insulin, which is supposed to regulate your blood sugar. Simply put, when your insulin isn’t doing its job of distributing energy to your cells, the sugar stays in your blood and your body stores the extra as fat. The idea behind GOLO is that it’ll get your insulin and blood sugar levels where they belong, thus helping you use energy efficiently.
The GOLO diet has two main components: following the GOLO eating plan and taking the program’s Release supplement. When you pay to sign up, you receive a welcome kit, which contains two booklets: Metabolic Plan and Overcoming Diet Obstacles. They spell out in easy-to-understand terms the theory of the diet, how much you can eat, what foods you can choose from and what to do to stay on the plan when, for example, you have to grab lunch at a convenience store. It also advises on how to get started with exercise, if you’re not already in a routine.
The kit also comes with the program’s Release supplement. There are also details on how to sign up for a myGOLO account, which offers online support, access to more tips and recipes and other information.
What’s in the GOLO meal plan?
According to GOLO president and co-founder Jennifer Brooks (who is a holistic nutritionist), following the GOLO meal plan consists of mixing and matching permissible foods from the following categories: proteins, carbs, vegetables and fats. The GOLO booklet lists all the permissible whole foods in each category. The booklet also outlines guidelines of how much of each food GOLO dieters should have at each meal.
Brooks says that following the GOLO diet consists of picking one to two servings from each food category (again, that’s proteins, carbs, vegetables and fats) to create meals. This combo, she says, is designed to keep your blood sugar steady and stave off hunger. “We do have meal plans for people who want more structure, but this way people can eat the same foods as their families,” she says. You can also use “bonus” servings that are allotted based on how much you exercise, move around and your age and gender — that’s where you can include the occasional treat or extra portion.
You eat three meals a day following the GOLO diet, however you may have a snack if you go longer than four to five hours between meals or if you exercise. Something else that’s interesting about the GOLO diet is that breakfast and lunch are bigger meals than dinner. Below is what a sample day of eating following the GOLO diet looks like:
- Breakfast: two eggs (two proteins), a piece of whole grain toast with butter (one carb and one fat) and a fruit (another carb)
- Lunch: Leafy greens (one veggie) with three ounces of chicken (one protein), dressing (a fat) and a whole wheat roll (a carb).
- Dinner: Roasted cauliflower nachos made with cauliflower (a veggie), cheddar cheese (a fat), black beans (a carb and protein), shredded chicken (a protein), tomatoes (a second veggie) and avocado (a second fat).
Nothing is off-limits, says Brooks, but ideally you’re eating whole — not processed — foods. “We know it’s a transition for a lot of people,” she says, many of whom are coming off of meal replacements and processed diet foods, which the website says can “weaken” your metabolic health.
According to the plan, the “better” choice of a carb at any given meal, for instance, might be half a cup of brown rice over white. “But if you eat white rice once in a while, it’s okay. We want people feeling great, not going back to their old habits,” says Brooks. “It’s a balanced eating plan to teach people how to eat for healthy weight management.”
But what does a healthy eating expert unaffiliated with GOLO think of this diet plan? Caroline Apovian, M.D., a professor of medicine and an obesity expert at Boston University School of Medicine says that eating a moderate amount of whole foods is sound advice, but the idea of managing insulin resistance for weight loss and better health is not exactly a newsflash. “We’ve known for a long time that processed foods and too much sugar and simple carbs can make you store more fat and give you insulin resistance,” says Dr. Apovian. There are a number of weight loss plans that recommend portion control, whole foods and limiting foods that make your blood sugar spike.
If you want to lose weight but your insulin levels are normal, says Dr. Apovian, “studies show that any diet can help you lose weight.” Still, avoiding processed foods, sugar and saturated fat is a good call, even if you don’t have an insulin issue: “Something in processed foods could actually be causing hyperinsulinemia [too much insulin in the blood] and eventually insulin resistance,” she adds.
What kind of foods do you eat on the GOLO diet?
Here’s a list of what you can eat on the GOLO diet, broken down by the program’s food categories. It’s also important to note that some foods can fit into more than one category. For example, beans are both a protein and a carbohydrate.
- Beans and legumes
- Bone broth
- Dairy (including yogurt, cheese and milk)
- Whole grains (such as brown rice, oats, quinoa and barley)
- Beans and legumes
- Olive oil or avocado oil
- Nuts and seeds
The GOLO diet also advocates eating the following foods minimally:
- Processed meats (like deli meat or hot dogs)
- Processed meat substitute products
- Refined carbohydrates (such as white bread or white rice)
- Processed foods or drinks high in salt or sugar
What’s in the GOLO supplement?
The meal plan is just one part of the GOLO program. The other component is taking GOLO’s Release supplement every day. The GOLO website claims that Release “works fast to stop further weight gain and starts to repair the imbalances that prevent weight loss.” It contains a proprietary blend of plant-based ingredients and minerals the company purports “work together to regulate glucose and fat metabolism and keep insulin steadier longer” as well as “slow the digestion of fat and carbohydrates triggering the release of satiety hormones” and “help reduce stress and anxiety, the common triggers for cravings and emotional eating.”
Here’s what’s in Release, according to the brand:
- Rhodiola root extract
- Berberine HCl
- Banaba leaf extract
- Salacia bark extract
- Apple extract
- Vegetable cellulose
- Citric acid
But how important is it, really, to knock back a Release capsule every day? According to Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., a dietitian and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, you actually don’t need it. “There is no convincing evidence that any supplement can promote long-term weight loss,” she says. Dr. Apovian agrees, pointing out that a reliable study would be one that is randomized and placebo controlled; there is no research of that quality that has shown significant weight loss benefits from any herb.
While the GOLO website does point to studies they conducted to show the efficacy of taking the supplement while following the meal plan, Rumsey says to take them with a grain of salt — just because a company posts research doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s conclusive research. She adds that all of the studies were funded by the company and none are large-scale. “That makes it hard to know if we can extrapolate data to a larger group,” she says, adding that the studies were also short-term, so they can’t serve as evidence to the long-term results the company touts. One study, for example, started with 49 people but at the end of 26 weeks, there were only 35 left.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing in the Release supplement that will benefit your body. For example, Dr. Apovian says that zinc and magnesium, which are both in the supplement, are essential minerals the body needs. However, she says that there isn’t strong scientific evidence that they can help with weight loss.
What are the pros and cons of following the GOLO diet?
As with most diets, the GOLO diet isn’t all good or bad. Here are some pros and cons to following this program:
- It encourages eating more whole foods while minimizing overly processed ones. Scientific research has shown that this is, in fact, beneficial for weight loss.
- It’s not overly restrictive. There are still many, many foods on GOLO’s metaphorical table to create meals around.
- The program comes with healthy eating and meal planning tips. Figuring out what to eat can be a hurdle anytime you start a new eating plan. When you sign up for GOLO, you will have access to their recipes and meal planning guides.
- It lacks research. As Dr. Apovian and Rumsey explained, more scientific research needs to be done to really solidify a connection between the GOLO program and long-term weight loss.
- It comes with a supplement you don’t actually need. With the GOLO program, part of what you’re paying for is the Release supplement. As the experts we spoke to explained, there is no solid scientific evidence that any supplement can help with weight loss.
- It’s not free. Unlike some other eating plans, like following the Mediterranean diet or a plant-based diet, the GOLO diet comes with a fee to sign up, including for the Release supplement.
What is the monthly cost of the GOLO diet?
GOLO sells its supplements from its website, and with your first order you get all the specifics of the plan outlined above, including the GOLO for Life plan and access to myGOLO’s online tools and resources. One bottle (a one to two month supply, per the website) is $59.95, while three bottles (lasting 90-150 days) is $119.85. GOLO offers a 60-day money back guarantee and free delivery.
Is the GOLO diet a good choice?
Considering that there is no scientific evidence that a supplement can help with weight loss and that taking the Release supplement is a major part of the GOLO diet program, Dr. Apovian isn’t convinced that this diet will speed weight loss along. Rumsey takes it even further, arguing against signing up for any kind of structured diet at all. “It’s an externally based way of eating and doesn’t take into consideration your body or your history — it may work in the short term, but like all other diets, will not work long term for most people,” she says.
What do they recommend instead? Dr. Apovian advocates for eating healthy, portion-controlled whole foods. “Health is about your behavior around food, movement and stress — not about your weight,” Rumsey adds.
If you want to lose weight — or your doctor advises you to do so — losing even a small percentage of your body weight can reduce disease risk, according to the CDC. Rather than following a diet plan of any kind, Rumsey advises that you eat more intuitively: “Tune in to your body’s hunger and fullness signals and use these as a cue to begin and end eating. Tune into your internal signals around when (and why) you want to eat certain foods, in certain amounts, rather than listening to external signals — i.e. diets,” she says. Over time this will naturally help you to eat what your body needs. “By doing this you will eat enough to nourish your body and find your body’s natural set point weight.”
The bottom line: The GOLO diet program is a simple, portion-controlled diet plan that emphasizes eating readily available whole foods — but these are things you don’t need to sign up with any website or program to do. Part of what you’re paying for with the program is the supplement, for which outside experts say there is insufficient evidence to prove it will help you control your weight.
Emily is a freelance writer and certified health coach who specializes in writing about mental health, fitness, healthy food, and social justice issues. Emily spent six years as an editor and writer at Well+Good, covering everything from food trends to serious issues like the opioid crisis in America and gun violence. She has also worked at Seventeen, Elle, and Twist magazines. She regularly writes for publications including Forbes, Parade, Shape, and The Huffington Post. Emily lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her cat Evie.
Stephanie (she/her) is the deputy director of the Hearst Health Newsroom, where she writes, edits and otherwise creates health content for Good Housekeeping, Prevention and other Hearst titles. She has covered women’s physical and emotional health, nutrition, sexuality and the multitudes of topics they contain for national publications for decades, and she is also a bestselling author, a mom of twins, a dog mom and an intuitive eater in progress.
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