If you visit the GOLO diet website, you’ll see a handful of healthy, happy people, one of whom is standing behind a pair of what were presumably his old pants that no longer fit. That is because he looks to be two-thirds of his former size.
There’s no missing the message: the pants are big; he is not, thanks to the meal plan and supplement that the company says has helped half a million people lose weight and keep it off, often leading to vastly improved health. Debbie, who, along with the other testimonials featured, has an asterisk next to her name indicating that her results may not be your results, lost 112 pounds in a year, and “feels great.” And a doctor whose name is listed as Dr. Paul (no second name, city, or affiliation) is quoted as saying he lost 110 pounds. “I am no longer type 2 diabetic, and my blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and heart rate have all come down.”
Intrigued? We were too, so we interviewed the plan’s co-founder, Jennifer Brooks. Then we talked to Caroline Apovian, MD, professor of medicine and obesity expert at Boston University School of Medicine, as well as Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CSCS, a dietitian and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness in New York City to get their opinions.
Here’s what you need to know about the GOLO subscription diet and supplement service before diving in.
How does the GOLO diet work?
GOLO is based on the concept that getting your insulin under control — rather than simply reducing caloric intake or cutting out entire food groups — is the key to a properly functioning metabolism; once your metabolism is working better, you can lose weight and keep it off more easily, according to the company’s website.
There are several hormones that are thought to be involved in appetite, metabolism, and weight management, and 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.
What do you get when you sign up for GOLO?
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 in a routine. Also in the kit is Release, the program’s supplement, and you can sign up for a myGOLO account, which offers online support, access to more tips and recipes, and other information.
What is the GOLO meal plan?
The meal plan itself is mix-and-match, according to Jennifer Brooks, the company’s president and co-founder. A booklet lists permissible foods (all of which are readily available whole foods like meats, vegetables, and fruits) with guidelines for how much you can have at each meal.
You then pick one to two servings from each category: proteins, carbs, vegetables, and fats to create your meal; 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 you’re allotted based on how much you exercise, move around, and your age and sex — that’s where you can have the occasional treat or extra portion.
You eat three meals a day; you may have a snack if you go longer than four to five hours between meals or if you exercise, and breakfast and lunch are larger than dinner. A sample breakfast might be two eggs (two servings of protein), a piece of toast (one carb) with butter (one fat) and a fruit (another carb); lunch might be a salad (a veggie) with 3 ounces of chicken (one protein serving), dressing (a fat) and a roll (a carb), she says.
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.
The better choice of a carb at a 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, even if it’s not the best choice. 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.”
Expert take: 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 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,” or too much insulin in the blood, “and eventually insulin resistance,” she adds.
What’s in the GOLO supplement?
GOLO also sells a supplement called Release, which claims to “work fast to stop further weight gain and starts to repair the imbalances that prevent weight loss,” according to the website. It contains a proprietary blend of plant 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:
- Rhodiola root extract
- Berberine HCl
- Banaba leaf extract
- Salacia bark extract
- Apple extract
- vegetable cellulose
- citric acid
Expert take: “There is no convincing evidence that any supplement can promote long-term weight loss,” says dietitian Rumsey. 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.
As for the zinc, magnesium, and chromium in Release, they are all essential minerals the body needs, but the evidence that any of them can help you lose weight is either thin or nonexistent and most people get enough from their diets. “You can take a multivitamin if you think you’re not getting enough,” says Dr. Apovian.
But there are studies on the GOLO website.
Indeed there are. You can read all of the studies here.
Expert take: Just because a company posts research doesn’t necessarily make it conclusive research. All of GOLO’s studies are funded by the company and none are large-scale, notes Rumsey. “That makes it hard to know if we can extrapolate data to a larger group. Also, all of them are a short timeframe,” and so don’t speak to the long-term results the company touts. This study, for example, started with 49 people but at the end of 26 weeks, there were only 35 left.
And this one, which did have a placebo and a control group, only held on to half its 68 participants — the other 34 didn’t complete the full 13 weeks (which, it’s important to note, isn’t a long time to begin with if you’re claiming your program keeps weight off).
This is not to say that GOLO will not do what it claims; just that we don’t have enough evidence.
How much does GOLO cost?
GOLO sells its supplements from its website, and with your first order you get all the specifics of the plan outlined above. One bottle (a one to two month supply, per the website) is $49.95, while three bottles (lasting 90-150 days) is $99.90. GOLO offers a 60-day money back guarantee and free delivery.
Expert take: You can eat a healthy, portion-controlled, whole-food diet without paying for the privilege, says Dr. Apovian, and there’s no convincing evidence that a supplement will speed your 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.
That’s not to say you should throw yourself on the couch with a Costco pallet of cheesecake, but focusing on weight is not the path to wellbeing, in Rumsey’s opinion. “Health is about your behaviors around food, movement, and stress — not about your weight,” she says.
If you do 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.”
While eating as Rumsey describes may not take you to two-thirds of your body size, it will help you feel a lot better. Plus, it’s free.
The bottom line: GOLO for Life is a simple, portion-controlled diet plan involving readily available whole foods. Part of what you’re paying for is the supplement, for which outside experts say there is insufficient evidence to prove it will help you control your weight.