What Is the GOLO Diet Plan and Should You Try It?
You may have stumbled upon the GOLO diet after some late-night Google investigation on diet plans, but if you feel like you've heard the name before, you're right. The GOLO diet has been around for a while and saw increased interest in both 2016 and 2017. Now, it's back again and people are wondering: What is the GOLO diet plan and is it even healthy? (Related: What Is the Okinawa Diet?)
Here are the answers:
What Is the GOLO Diet?
The GOLO diet's tagline is "go lose weight, go look great, go love life," (yeah, we're rolling our eyes, too—don't worry), and was developed by a group of doctors and pharmacists. It was based on the idea that balancing hormones is the missing link to successful weight loss. "Hormone imbalances trigger stress and anxiety, cause fatigue, hunger, cravings, poor sleep quality, and other symptoms all which drive emotional decisions like overeating, bingeing, and cravings for fatty or high sugar foods," states the GOLO diet website.
One thing you should know early about the GOLO diet, though, is that it's not just something you can DIY. The GOLO diet is a purchasable plan. In fact, you are purchasing the "lifestyle plan" (i.e. the diet) and what the company calls the Release supplement. The supplement is supposed to be taken three times a day with meals, in addition to their proposed diet changes, and 15 minutes of daily exercise.
There are no "counting points, drinking shakes, or eating diet foods", according to the website. So what is the GOLO diet plan, or what is it exactly that you're buying? The answer is actually unclear: "Your body needs the nutrients from the right foods in the right portions and at the right times," says the GOLO diet website. Vague at best. Take a deeper look and you'll realize that's all the detail you get until you "swipe" your credit card charging $50 for a 30-day supply of the Release supplement, the GOLO metabolic plan (what to eat), and a myGOLO membership (support and coaching from the GOLO team).
What Are the GOLO Diet Benefits?
The diet was developed by a team of doctors and pharmacists, who say they believe that following the GOLO diet will restore balance to your hormones, which, in turn, will help you lose fat, improve glucose and insulin levels, and eliminate unhealthy eating habits. Bold claims.
"There are a variety of hormones that may trigger weight gain or make it difficult to lose weight," says Samantha Cassetty, R.D., director of nutrition at The Healthy Mommy. You should seek information and treatment advice for specific hormone imbalances that could be associated with medical conditions from your doctor and/or a registered dietitian, adds Cassetty.
Some possible conditions could include hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women who have PCOS may have high levels of testosterone or insulin; two hormones often associated with weight, she says.
The GOLO creators claim the diet plan meant to "keep insulin, the critical hormone that regulates the metabolism, steady all day, which means you stay fuller longer, with no hunger or cravings, and you can start to release fat instead of storing it." While the Release supplement is included to "balance hormones that affect weight and help to regulate blood sugar levels"—more of the supplement below.
But do these claims hold up to science? To investigate, let's take a step back and look at the role hormones play in your metabolism.
First, it's true that hormones do affect your metabolism. To keep your body's systems humming along smoothly, your hormones need to be in balance. If one shoots up too high or dips too low, your metabolism can get thrown out of whack, which can affect your workout, your mood, and your weight, Liz Lyster, M.D., an ob-gyn in Foster City, California, who specializes in hormone imbalances, told us previously. Identifying which hormones are elevated or reduced could be a key to stubborn weight as research has shown a correlation between weight-regulating hormones (like ghrelin, leptin, insulin, and adiponectin) and fat loss. Leptin, for example, is a hunger control hormone. When it's functioning properly someone can eat to the point of satisfaction, then be done. But when the brain struggles to detect leptin, cravings persist. This is known as leptin resistance.
Because we don't know all the details of the diet, such as the foods included or excluded and how they could impact hormones (not to mention, which hormones), it's nearly impossible to back up these health claims. The brand identifies the hormones cortisol, insulin, leptin, and ghrelin, as well as sex and growth hormones as those that affect weight and metabolic health, but it is unclear which (or all?) are being targeted with their diet and supplement. What's more, the correlation between these hormones and weight management does not equal causation of the GOLO plan working to help you lose weight.
The GOLO Diet Supplement
Wondering how the Release supplement fits into the GOLO diet plan? The creators recommend taking the supplement "to repair the imbalances that prevent weight loss". The supplement is listed as plant-based and containing zinc, chromium, Banaba leaf extract, and Rhodiola Rosea. But, keep in mind that the FDA doesn't test supplements for safety or effectiveness before they are put on the market. It's up to the consumer to do the digging and determine the trustworthiness of the brand and supplement. (Learn more: How Dietary Supplements Can Interact with Your Prescription Drugs)
The GOLO diet website says Release is a proprietary blend that balances hormones, regulates blood sugar, and increases energy while allowing the body to become more efficient at burning stored fat. While the supposed ingredients are listed on the bottle, the patented blend, and lack of regulatory oversight exempts the company from needing to disclose exact amounts. Plus, some of the individual ingredients, such as zinc and Rhodiola Rosea, have been shown to cause GI distress and dizziness, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
And while there is some research on the benefits of supplements, the lack of published research on Release specifically coupled with the lack of regulation by the FDA, prevents you from ~really~ knowing what you're taking. What's more, supplements are sometimes recommended by registered dietitians, but usually not for the purpose of balancing hormones or losing weight, explains Cassetty, who adds that she personally has never recommended a supplement containing any of the ingredients listed in the Release formula. (Important to know, as supplements send 23,000 people to the ER every year.)
So, Should You Try the GOLO Diet?
While there is some validity to the connection between hormones and weight, what about the fact that you can't be sure exactly what you're signing up and paying for until it's "too late"?
"We need real fat from healthy oils, whole milk dairy, and lean proteins for your body to function properly," says the GOLO website. "And your body needs healthy carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, beans, bread, pasta, and fruit to give the body an immediate source of energy." So, we'd hope those foods were allowed on the diet, but it still doesn't answer the question of whether the whole program is balanced or nutritious. Healthy is also a loaded word in the wellness industry and whether bread, pasta, or whole milk are "healthier" than other choices is a polarizing topic. (Related: The Truth About the Low-Carb High Fat Diet.)
"Until you buy the GOLO plan, you aren't given exact amounts or details about the food," says Cassetty. "My concern would be whether the amounts are appropriate for each individual or if it's a low-calorie plan. Anyone would lose weight on a low-calorie diet, but it wouldn't be a healthy or sustainable way of eating," she says. (See also: What is the F-Factor Diet—and Is It Healthy?)
"The supplement is the main concern of this plan," says Cassetty. She says she would especially caution anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding, has a hormone imbalance, or pre-existing health condition from trying this plan without first speaking with a medical professional. Bottom line: You don't have to pay for vague programs or plans promising big, likely unattainable results to feel better, lose weight, and have more energy. Consult your doctor, but in general, the answer is clear: Whole foods, more plants, and a balanced diet that includes your favorite fun comfort foods and snacks, is the sustainable and attainable way to health. Plus, ditch the muster supplements—period. Or best yet, ditch dieting altogether and adopt the anti-diet plan.