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Diet’s Debunked: The GOLO Diet

Why Natural Supplements, Portion Control, and Calorie Counting are Just a Small Part of Successful Weight Loss

Key Takeaways:

  • The GOLO diet is a weight loss program designed to help people lose weight and improve metabolic health through portion control, daily calorie goals, and balanced meals. 
  • The patented dietary supplement, Release, is at the core of the program, but claims about its ability to fix your metabolism may be a little exaggerated and can pull too much focus away from the nutrition component.
  • The GOLO diet may not work for people who don’t respond well to cutting calories or restricting foods and prefer a more intuitive eating approach.  
  • A Mediterranean or Paleo diet is a less restrictive option that accommodates individual food sensitivities and protein requirements.
  • Supplements for weight loss and overall health can be a great tool once all of the other components of a healthy life, including a healthy gut, are in place.

When it comes to finding the right foods to improve your health and manage weight, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of fad diets and health trends. Today, in our Diets Debunked series, I am breaking down the popular GOLO diet—a plan that claims to help you meet your weight goals through balanced nutrition, portion control, calorie counting, and their patented metabolism-boosting supplement. 

In this article, we will dive into the foundations of the GOLO diet and examine its core elements. While there are certainly pros to the GOLO diet approach to weight loss, like its inclusion of healthy fats and focus on non-processed foods, its structured and restrictive nature may not work for everyone, especially long term. The GOLO diet definitely isn’t a one-size-fits-all program when it comes to supporting weight loss or general health, as many people require more personalized nutrition to meet their preferences and health needs. 

Interestingly, the GOLO diet places its nutraceutical supplement at the core of its program, touting it as nothing short of a miracle pill for healing metabolism. While the limited research on it is certainly promising, these claims seem a bit overinflated, and there are some caveats you should consider before jumping into GOLO and relying on a weight loss supplement. 

Let’s see what this diet is, who would benefit, what it gets right, and what lessons there are to be learned from the GOLO diet.

What is the GOLO Diet?

The GOLO diet was popularized in 2009 when a team of medical professionals and researchers came up with a diet plan to help people lose weight and keep it off [1]. GOLO—which is taken from the phrase “GO LOse weight, GO LOok great, GO LOve life”—has purportedly helped millions of people by offering guided meal choices, calorie goals, lifestyle advice, and a nutritional supplement designed for weight loss [2]. 

All components of the GOLO diet boil down to encompass a few main principles [1]:

  • Lose 1-2 lbs. per week without tracking calories or restricting certain foods. 
  • Adopt a diet that is built for sustainable weight loss.
  • Enjoy eating out without backsliding on your diet plan.
  • Gain control over self-sabotage by reducing emotional and stress eating, and other habits that inhibit weight loss effort.
  • Heal weight-related health concerns and minimize or eliminate the need for certain medications.
  • Save “thousands of dollars” spent on food.

To sign up, you must first buy their supplement, called Release, and then you will receive a booklet with meal plans and other instructions for how to follow the diet.

Balanced Nutrition, Portion Control, and Cutting Calories

The creators of GOLO don’t publicly release their eating plan or most of their program’s weight loss tools. However, our team of researchers managed to track down the template used in this plan to formulate balanced meals:

  • Two servings of proteins, such as:
    • 3 oz of lean meat or fish
    • 1 egg
    • 2 oz of natural cheese
    • ½ of whole milk or plain yogurt
    • 3 oz of tofu or tempeh
    • 2 oz of raw nuts
    • ¼ cup of quinoa, beans, or lentils
  • One serving of carbs, such as:
    • ½ cup of any fruit
    • ½ cup of potatoes
    • ½ cup of pasta
    • 1 piece of bread or a tortilla
    • ½ cup of brown rice
    • ½ cup of oatmeal
    • ½ cup of quinoa, beans, or lentils
  • 1–2 servings of vegetables, including:
    • 1 cup of any vegetable (can include ½ cup of peas, corn, or tomato sauce; 1 cup of tomatoes; or ¼ cup of avocado)
  • 1 serving of healthy fat, such as:
    • 1 tsp butter
    • 1 tsp–1 tbsp of olive, avocado, or coconut oil
    • 2 tbsp of homemade dressing
    • 3 tbsp of unsweetened coconut flakes
    • 8 olives
    • ¼ cup of avocado

Building a balanced meal is only part of the weight loss story on the GOLO diet, and, despite their main principles, cutting calories makes up a significant portion of the plan. The plan subtracts around 500 calories (700 for men) from your total daily energy expenditure, which you can calculate through various online calculators like the Mayo Clinic’s calorie counter [3, 4].  

Calorie-Centric Dieting: How it Works

Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) reflects the number of calories needed to sustain your current weight and takes into consideration your current level of physical activity. However, if you choose to increase the amount you exercise after starting GOLO, your average calories burned will be added back into your daily allowance. 

For example, a 40-year-old, five-foot, five-inch woman who walks 3x per week signs up for GOLO and determines that her TDEE is 1,950 calories per day. The program subtracts 500 calories from her TDEE for a daily calorie goal of 1,450. However, she decides to start running instead of walking, burning an extra 100 calories per day and bringing her daily calorie allowance up to 1,550. 

Interestingly, the “diet” part of the GOLO diet isn’t the central part of this plan. Let’s take a look at where most of the focus lies—its neutraceutical standout, Release. 

GOLO’s “Golden Child”

The claimed benefits of the GOLO diet include weight loss, managing eating patterns and cravings, and supporting overall health goals by boosting your metabolism and stabilizing blood sugar levels [1]. While there seems to be an aspect of balanced nutrition in this diet (combined with cutting calories), much of the rhetoric on the GOLO diet concerns its patented nutraceutical, called “Release”.

The company’s website advertises it as a key part of the GOLO For Life Plan, and it’s purported to reduce hunger, target belly fat, increase energy, and improve various aspects of health (including metabolic, immune, glucose control, cardiovascular, and stress relief). Its 10 natural ingredients contribute to overall health by combating oxidative stress and inflammation and supporting cellular function.

There’s a lot of ground to cover in these claims, so I’ll start by breaking down the main ingredients in this supplement:

  • Zinc bisglycinate
  • Chromium nicotinate glycinate
  • Banaba (Lagerstroemia speciosa) leaf extract 
  • Rhodiola rosea root extract

Additionally, the complementary ingredients include:

  • Dimagnesium malate
  • Berberine (Berberis vulgaris) extract
  • Salacia reticulata extract
  • Gardenia jasminoides fruit extract
  • Apple (Malus domestica) polyphenol fruit extract
  • Inositol

This supplement is purchased for $60 (90-day supply) when signing up for the program, and the creators claim that it can “repair your metabolism” by taking one capsule with each meal. It’s often recommended that individuals consider a 3 to 6-month regimen with Release, gradually tapering its use as their metabolism improves and they approach their weight loss goals. 

While the suggestion is to phase it out, it’s implied that if further weight loss is desired, a continued intake of Release may be considered.

The primary ingredients have garnered recent research suggesting their potential to individually improve some of the health parameters that GOLO claims its supplement can address.

Table 1. Recent (past 10 years) randomized placebo-controlled studies showing the effects of GOLO’s “key” Release ingredients on GOLO’s health parameters of concern. 
Release ingredient
Health parameter GOLO says Release supports
Zinc bisglycinateChromium nicotinate glycinateBanaba (Lagerstroemia speciosa) leaf extractRhodiola rosea root extract
Weight lossmodest but uncertain effect [5]
Insulin sensitivity✓ [6, 7✓ [8] but not clinically significant [9, 10]✓ [11]
Immune health✓ [12]✓ [13]
Blood sugar regulation✓ [6✓ [8, 14]
Cardiovascular health✓ [6]maybe [13] and ✗ (very high-quality research) [9]✓ [11]✓ [15]
Stress relief✗ [16]✓, depression [17]
Antioxidant status✓ [6, 7]✓ [18]✓ [19]
Energy✗ [20]✗ [21, 22]
Reduced appetite and cravings
Cortisol balance✗ [23, 24]
Apelin** balance 

**Preliminary evidence suggests apelin seems to play a role in many functions, including fluid balance, blood pressure, stress response, heart function, blood vessel growth, and energy metabolism; may be involved in heart failure, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

As you can see, when used on their own, many of these ingredients have solid research backing their ability to positively impact certain aspects of immune, cardiovascular, and metabolic health, namely blood sugar regulation. 

However, they did not hold up well in the weight loss, stress relief, or energy-boosting categories, and there is no high-quality evidence that suggests they can reduce appetite and cravings. So can Release benefit aspects of metabolism? Sure. But it’s probably not a miracle pill that can completely fix your metabolism and make you lose weight.

A Nod to Minimalism

It can be tempting to see the research above and automatically extrapolate it to mean that blending these natural compounds into one supplement will produce the same effects (or better). 

Research on individual compounds, as seen above, is a great place to start building evidence to back a supplement. But it is essential that the final formula—with its unique blend and potencies—is tested at the company’s prescribed dosing. As we will see in a moment, the creators of the GOLO diet have ventured into research on Release, but with a few caveats.

That said, it’s not always necessary (or indicated) to bring every tool on board when healing your body. A targeted, “less-is-more” approach can be powerful when used alongside a holistically healthy lifestyle that includes an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise routine, and space for stress relief. Once you have a balanced lifestyle in place that can properly support getting the most out of your supplements, picking one well-researched supplement for metabolism is a great place to start.

You can listen to my research review on berberine, one of Release’s secondary ingredients, that acts as a powerful regular of blood sugar below:

It’s worth mentioning that, individually, the ingredients in Release appear to be safe for humans, but it hasn’t been tested for side effects at the quantities recommended by GOLO (one or more per meal, depending on weight loss goals) over an extended period of time. 

When it comes to supplements, more isn’t always better. And if you are interested in starting the GOLO diet, please speak with your nutraceutical-savvy healthcare provider before taking high doses of any supplement, long-term.

The GOLO Diet in Clinical Trials

The results from two GOLO-sponsored, peer-reviewed studies suggest that the GOLO diet, when combined with their Release supplement, may have a positive impact on achieving weight loss and improving metabolic health goals [3, 4]. 

However, the high potential for bias and lack of a placebo control in one of the studies make these findings challenging to interpret without additional, higher-quality research to supplement their results. There are also two less reliable ‘studies’—essentially PDFs of Word documents— on the GOLO diet that lack information about their publication status or peer review process [25, 26]. I’ll stick to covering their peer-reviewed trials in this review.

When Research is Too Good to be True

Their 2019 randomized controlled trial examined the effects of the diet, including the Release supplement, on weight and metabolic parameters in people with obesity. The study randomized 34 people with obesity and insulin resistance to take Release or placebo while following the GOLO diet and exercising for 13 weeks [3]. 

While both groups saw improvements in weight and other metabolic markers, the individuals who also took the Release supplement experienced a greater (and somewhat questionable) decrease in weight, waist size, triglyceride levels, and insulin levels [3]. 

For example, the GOLO dieters who took a placebo had a 19.47 mg/dl increase in triglycerides over the 3-4 month period, while those on Release had a -35.21 mg/dl decrease in triglycerides. Despite both groups dieting and exercising, this resulted in nearly a 55-unit difference between groups (greater than where they started).

The GOLO diet adjusts for caloric intake with increased exercise, but these are very general guidelines that make it hard to tease out whether the weight loss seen in both groups was more so related to exercise than diet. Additionally, the study did not monitor whether people adhered to their prescribed diet and exercise regimens, and it’s unclear if the five participants on oral medication for type 2 diabetes were evenly distributed between groups. All of these variables make it even more challenging to infer that the differences between groups were solely due to Release.

It also had a high dropout rate, with half of the initial participants having discontinued the study with no report of their results [3]. Another 2019 clinical trial saw similar improvements in weight loss and select metabolic markers[4], but it was subject to similar limitations as above, plus a lack of control. 

Regardless, there is some limited evidence that the GOLO diet plus exercise may be helpful for weight loss and improving metabolic markers, though much more research is needed to determine to what extent.

The “Diet” in GOLO Diet

Unfortunately, most of the GOLO diet’s nutritional advice, meal planning, and other tools used to combat weight-loss detractors like emotional eating and cravings are pretty locked down. Because of this, it is challenging to fully evaluate the GOLO diet, outside of their focus on portion control and cutting calories. 

With our small glimpse into the program, it appears to promote building balanced meals and eliminating many processed foods and sugar. They include healthy fats, which are great for blood sugar, but protein and produce are restricted, which may lead to eating too little protein and skipping out on the fiber and nutrients that fruits and vegetables have to offer. It also doesn’t account for food sensitivities and intolerances, like dairy, that may be contributing to symptoms and overall health.

The creators mention the importance of a nutritionally balanced diet, healthy attitudes toward eating, and physical activity for achieving sustainable weight loss and a higher quality of health. However, we were unable to track down any of the tools they use to support healthy eating habits, leaving the program with fairly restrictive feels that may be unsustainable for long-term weight loss and quality of life. Ultimately, this is where things start to get a bit murky regarding the GOLO diet’s approach to weight loss.

The GOLO website claims that calorie counting, point systems, and weight loss apps are unnecessary for effective weight management. This is a little contradictory as the GOLO program provides guidance to eat 500 calories less than one’s daily maintenance calorie intake. They also claim that low-calorie diets don’t work, which contradicts not only their program but also the substantial body of research that shows calorie reduction to be a proven method for weight loss [27, 28, 29, 30]. 

They assert the same stance for low-fat dieting, which is also inaccurate, according to a 2020 meta-analysis that covered the effectiveness of various diets on weight loss and other health markers [31]. 

Aside from some mixed messaging, they appear to take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to weight loss that just isn’t realistic or necessary for many people. So this begs the question, what do we take home from this diet?

What to Take From the GOLO Diet…and What to Leave

Generally speaking, choosing a diet plan for our overall health, rather than just weight loss, is going to benefit you more in the long run. You want to look for something relaxed, something that can be sustainable for your preferences and your health. And, of course, a well-tailored diet can meet your general health and weight loss needs. So, with this in mind, where does the GOLO diet land?

Keep it balanced: While their research is primarily focused on their supplement, and their claims are a little exaggerated based on the current evidence, on the surface the GOLO diet does seem to promote a holistic approach to weight loss and overall health that we can get behind. 

Balanced meals that incorporate whole grains, plant-based foods, and healthy fats, and cut processed foods and added sugar are essential for health. However, you may want to skip the protein restriction and not limit nutrient-packed vegetables.

Relax your approach: Under the surface, the GOLO diet appears to have an excessive focus on its weight loss supplement and contradictory messaging about restrictive dieting that may not make this plan a good fit for everyone. Instead, borrow from their non-processed and generally balanced approach to find a more relaxed diet, like the Mediterranean diet, which has a ton of research-backed health benefits.

Skip the calorie-cutting: It doesn’t need to involve strict portion control or calorie counting to help heal your body—and for people who have a complicated relationship with the word “diet”, it’s probably best it doesn’t. Work on building a healthier, more intuitive relationship with food where you can naturally stop eating when your body is full rather than eating by numbers.

Lessons Learned from Release

When it comes to nutraceuticals for weight loss, taking one capsule at each meal is highly unlikely to “fix” your metabolism. But it’s worth noting that natural supplements can be valuable tools in supporting weight loss efforts, especially when part of a holistic approach that includes a low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory diet. 

But when used alongside an inflammatory diet and/or sedentary lifestyle—or when introduced to an unhealthy gut that can’t properly absorb and utilize these ingredients—you probably won’t get the full benefits you’re looking for from any supplement. 

Supplements like Release can complement a healthy lifestyle by providing essential nutrients that target specific metabolic aspects. But these tools should never distract from, or take precedence over, the foods that we put into our bodies.

Your diet is your foundation and should always come first. Get your gut into tip-top shape through a nutrition-packed, whole-food diet and probiotic supplements, if you need them. Research shows that intermittent fasting is a great way to lose weight [32], and doesn’t require you to log every food that goes into your body. 

If you are looking for something more tailored to your individual sensitivities and symptoms, consider a Paleo-style elimination diet, which can also be used in combination with intermittent fasting.

Getting an exercise routine in place (and it doesn’t have to be cardio) will help boost your metabolism, weight loss efforts, gut health, and overall vitality. Once these foundations are in place—don’t forget quality sleep and stress management—then consider reaching for a metabolism-targeted supplement. Natural compounds like berberine can help balance out blood sugar issues and reduce inflammation to boost your efforts to improve overall health. 

The “Best” Diet is One That’s Enjoyable and Sustainable

In your pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, opting for a dietary strategy that offers well-rounded and individualized nutrition is likely the most effective choice. While the GOLO diet has its merits, like balanced meals, choosing a less-restrictive and science-backed diet is often the one that will lead to the most weight loss and general health benefits.

A supplement shouldn’t take center stage in any diet plan. They can be valuable, but they are rarely your first step in a holistic healing journey and are most effective when your gut is healthy and functioning normally. You can learn more about optimizing your gut health in my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

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