Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss: Is It Effective

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Rachel Sacks

Published 04/17/2024

Following a Mediterranean diet is a healthy way to manage your weight. It might even help you shed a few excess pounds. But losing weight on the Mediterranean diet isn’t a guarantee.

To help you lose weight (and keep it off) it’s best to think of the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle — like being a vegetarian. You’ll still need to watch your calorie intake and make sure you're getting plenty of physical activity.

Research has consistently shown that the Mediterranean diet has numerous health benefits, like reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. But you can use the Mediterranean diet for weight loss too.

Keep reading to learn how this diet can help you achieve your weight loss goals.

The Mediterranean diet is a flexible plan that focuses on whole foods. It’s based on the dietary customs of the Mediterranean region, including countries like Italy, Greece and Spain.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based foods, including:

  • Fruits

  • Vegetables

  • Whole grains

  • Legumes and beans

  • Nuts and seeds

It also stresses lean proteins and fats like fish, seafood, and olive oil.

To keep to a Mediterranean diet, you should consume dairy, eggs, and poultry in moderation — maybe a few times a week. While red wine is fine in moderation, you’ll want to avoid excess consumption of alcohol. Other foods to avoid on the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Saturated fats (like butter)

  • Red meat

  • Processed foods

  • Refined carbohydrates

  • Sugary foods and drinks

Research shows that the Mediterranean diet can help people lose weight and maintain a healthy weight over time.

A review of studies looked at how the Mediterranean diet compares to a low-fat diet, a low-carb diet, and the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). The review found that, after 1 year, the Mediterranean diet led to greater weight loss than the low-fat diet.

People lost roughly the same amount of weight on the Mediterranean, low-carb, and ADA diets.

What really sets the Mediterranean diet apart from other weight loss diets, is that it appears to be more sustainable over time.

In one study, people who ate a Mediterranean diet for 5 years were less likely to gain weight than people who didn’t. They were also less likely to develop excess abdominal fat.

The study also found that good adherence to the diet reduced people’s chances of developing overweight or obesity over 5 years.

But what is it about this diet that makes it easier to sustain long-term? It may be because the Mediterranean diet is all about moderation, rather than deprivation. Unlike low-carb or low-fat diets, which encourage you to restrict your intake of certain foods, the Mediterranean diet embraces flexibility.

This helps us avoid some of the psychological pitfalls of dieting, like giving up when we feel like we’ve failed.

The Mediterranean diet wasn’t designed specifically for weight loss. This means it will be up to you to combine this healthy eating pattern with what you know about the science of weight loss.

For example, you know that to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. This fact holds true regardless of whether you’re counting the calories in your protein shake, your low-fat yogurt, or your marinated olives.

Weight loss requires a holistic approach. This means the key to success is to approach it from a variety of angles. Here are a few tips on how you can use the Mediterranean diet to lose weight:

1. Decrease your calorie intake

To lose weight, you’ll need to eat fewer calories than you’ve been eating. As you begin exploring the Mediterranean diet, pay attention to the nutritional information on food labels or consider using an app on your phone to look up calorie content. You won’t need to pay attention to fat content on the Mediterranean diet (yay!), but cutting down those calories will be key.

2. Get plenty of physical activity

Physical activity and movement are important in any weight loss journey. The more calories you burn during activity, the closer you get to the calorie deficit you’re shooting for. Any movement you can get in during the day will help, such as walking more or taking the stairs. But you should generally aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week.

3. Keep a record

One of the best ways to keep yourself on track is to gather some data on yourself. Use a journal or your phone to record what you’re eating. Not only will this help you be more mindful about what you’re eating throughout the day, but it’ll also help you keep track of excess calories. Don’t forget to track any snacks, even if they’re super healthy!

4. Take a whole-body approach to weight loss

Weight management is a lifetime journey. It involves many aspects of our lives, including our mental, social, and physical health. High-stress levels, loneliness, and lack of sleep are all potential roadblocks. Consider talking with a doctor about ways to support your journey, such as weight loss medications and medications to improve your mood and overall well-being.

5. Enjoy your food, mindfully

In the Mediterranean, large plates are meant to be shared with loved ones and savored over time. Try to employ your diet in a similar spirit. As you become more familiar with your diet, try learning to “eyeball” your portions. For instance, you might divide your plate into four quadrants — fruits and vegetables in two quadrants, protein in one, and starches the other.

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Weight loss treatment that puts you first

There’s a reason the Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest eating plans in the world.

Some research suggests that people living in these regions tend to be healthier than Americans and have a lower risk of many chronic diseases.

Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet may include:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease. Studies suggest the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure and heart failure.

  • Fewer heart attacks. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that eating a Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of cardiovascular events in participants over the age of 55.

  • Reduced risk of diabetes. Research has also suggested that the Mediterranean diet can prevent type 2 diabetes, a condition where blood sugar levels are too high.

  • Decreased salt consumption. Sodium consumption goes down thanks to eating fewer processed foods, which often contain high levels of sodium. 

  • Help protect cognitive health. Following the Mediterranean diet may reduce your risk of cognitive decline and lessen your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

If you’re looking to lose weight, there are a number of diets you can try. Most weight loss diets emphasize plenty of fruits and vegetables, plenty of protein, and reduced sugar. But many diets can be strict, restrictive, and even dangerous.

Consider talking with a doctor about your weight loss goals. Are you looking to lose a quick 10 pounds before your friend’s Spring wedding? Or do you have longer-term goals — a hiking trip with your kids next year, less pressure on your knees and hips, improved heart health? These goals should factor into your plans and choices.

Other weight loss diets to consider include different combinations of the following:

  • Low-fat diets

  • Low-carb diets

  • Keto diet

  • DASH diet

  • Vegan diet

  • Paleo diet

  • Branded diets and delivery services

A universally acknowledged healthy meal plan with plenty of nutritional benefits, if you’re looking to manage your weight, the Mediterranean diet may be a good option for you.

Nutrition is just one part of the puzzle when it comes to weight loss or weight management. Others include regular physical activity, support and connection with loved ones and prescribed weight loss drugs like metformin, Ozempic® or other GLP-1 medications for some.

You can consult with a registered dietician to learn more about the Mediterranean diet health benefits. Or you can explore plenty of other safe and effective weight loss treatments.

Maintaining a healthy weight through healthy eating, physical activity, and, if necessary, weight loss medication, keeps you healthy now and as you get older.

13 Sources

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