The McDougall Diet: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

The McDougall Diet is every keto and Paleo follower’s nightmare. You eat all the starchy foods you’ve been taught to avoid. Now that we’ve piqued your interest, let’s learn more about the McDougall Diet.

You often hear of a diet called the Starch Solution when researching what to try next to lose weight. The Starch Solution diet was developed by Dr. John McDougall with the help of his wife, Mary.

McDougall believes there’s a special diet for each animal that optimizes health. He claims that eating starchy food doesn’t only provide humans with optimal health but helps save the planet too. His wife shares a similar belief and has her own version of the diet.

Her diet branches off the Starch Solution but is meant for short-term dieting to lose a couple of extra pounds. Mary’s Mini was inspired by users that wanted a diet and not a permanent lifestyle change. It features starchy foods but with a twist.

In addition to the Starch Solution, the 12 Day Program features the diet but with added support. They reformatted it from inpatient-only to the comfort of your own home.

For years, health experts have advocated for people to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet. The Standard American Diet lacks a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and high-fiber content. Research shows the less of these in your diet can cause health issues we see today like heart disease and diabetes.

You may want to try the Starch Solution, Mary’s Mini, or the 12 Day Program but don’t know where to start. Do you want to make a lifestyle change or do you want to lose a few pounds? Do you need motivation and someone to work alongside you? These are questions you should ask yourself before you decide. To help you make the decision even easier, we created this guide that covers all the basics for each.

What is the McDougall Diet?

What is the McDougall Diet?

The McDougall Diet or the Starch Solution was created by Dr. John McDougall. He started recommending this diet to people after his observations with Asian immigrants. He found their health started to decline when they started eating more American foods instead of their traditional rice diets. He then began to research other culture’s diets where starch was the main focus of the meal.

He formed a hypothesis that stated: Cultures had better health when starchy foods were the focus. He started treating his own patients with a high-starch, vegan diet and observed their health. He found that they had improved health and published his findings. This was the basis for the McDougall Diet. 

His book states that protein, fat, cholesterol, methionine, and dietary acid are toxic. Starch detoxifies and promotes healing.

What do you eat on the McDougall Diet?

The breakdown of the diet consists of 70-80% from complex carbohydrates, 12% protein, and 8% fat. Remember the diet is vegan-based. 

  • Grains (whole grains)
  • Legumes
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Non-starchy vegetables (green, yellow, orange)
  • Mushrooms
  • Fruits
  • Foods that provide flavoring (bean spreads, jellies, jams, tofu, soy-based yogurts, club soda, unsweetened seltzer, Ener-G Egg Replacer, brown sugar, nutritional yeast, vegan milks. Fruit juice, pure maple syrup, soy sauce, miso paste, herbs, and spices)
  • Dr. McDougall Right Food soups, cereals, and cup meals
  • Snack foods (rice or wheat crackers, hummus, plain popcorn)

What Do You Avoid?

Since the diet is vegan-based, you do have to forgo many foods that other diets have you consume in abundance. 

  • Meat (beef, lamb, pork)
  • Poultry (chicken, duck, turkey)
  • Dairy (milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt)
  • Eggs
  • Seafood
  • Animal fats (lard, butter)
  • Vegetable oils (olive, corn, canola, safflower, flaxseed)
  • Processed foods (meats, packaged foods, meat substitutes)
  • Refined and sugar-coated desserts (cookies, cake, cereals, chocolate)
  • Sodas
  • White flour and rice
  • Mayonnaise
  • Isolated soy protein

You’ll want to limit your intake of these foods, especially if you have a chronic illness or want to lose weight. 

  • Artificial ingredients in foods
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • High-calorie foods 
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Olives and avocados
  • Dried fruits
  • Flours (white, all-purpose, whole grain)
  • Fruit and vegetable juice
  • Simple sugars

Can You Lose Weight on a Starch-based Diet?

Can You Lose Weight on a Starch-based Diet?

Can you lose weight on the Starch Solution? Starchy foods like rice, beans, and potatoes contain low fat. People often enjoy eating starches and many diets forbid them. This may make it easier to stay on the diet since you don’t have to give them up. They’re also a great source of nutrients. For example, sweet potatoes and potatoes are considered complete foods because of their nutritional value.

Those that wish to maximize their weight loss should eat 1/3 or more of non-starchy green, yellow, and orange vegetables. The rest of your plate should have starch. Dr. McDougall mentions that if you’re desperate, you can drop to ½ of your meal with low-calorie vegetables. However, he cautions against this because it’s not as healthy and you’re less likely to stick with the Starch Solution.

Eat raw as often as possible. Raw foods don’t break down in the body the same as cooked foods. Cooked foods break complex sugars into simple sugars. This will raise your insulin levels than if you were to eat them raw.

Eat more smaller meals throughout the day instead of one or two big meals. Aim for eight to 14 meals. The more frequently you eat, the less your body has to search for fuel. This lowers your insulin levels. It makes your body’s signal and reaction time much quicker too. One way to eat more slowly is to divide your meals.

For example, only consume a smaller portion of food and wait for 30 minutes. If in 30 minutes you’re still hungry, make a similar plate. The 30-minute break in between gives your body time to let your brain and stomach catch up with each other and send the signals. When you eat a large portion right away, your body won’t have time to catch up while you’re still eating. The next thing you know, you feel sick and bloated.

Eat simply. The more you increase the variety of foods you eat, the more you’ll consume. When you find a food you like, eat it repeatedly. You don’t need to worry about nutrition if you’re eating enough throughout the day, combine it with fruit and vegetables, and avoid refined foods.

Try to limit your fruit intake to one or two servings per day. Fruit is a simple sugar and because it’s labeled as healthy and takes good, it’s easy to overindulge. This includes fruit juices too. Most companies just use water, sugar, and added flavors to make them. Avoid canned fruits too. It might appear healthier because it’s portioned but it’s concentrated. You can eat 20 dried apples in the time it’d take you to eat two fresh apples.

Limit your salt intake. Salt is a substance we do need in our bodies. However, you don’t want to consume too much. Over time, your body gets tricked into thinking it’s hungry when you are just craving saltiness. Nutritionists suggest you drink water when you feel hungry because, in a Standard American Diet, you consume high sodium. After you drink a glass of water, salt cravings typically dissipate and if you’re still hungry, eat.

On the McDougall diet, you won’t cook with salt. The only time you’ll use any added salt is when a dish requires soy sauce or at your dinner table. This makes you consume less salt without giving it up completely. Keep in mind that research states it takes up to two weeks to adjust to a less salty diet.

Avoid high-fat plant-based foods, flour products, simple sugars, and restaurants. Why would you want to avoid nuts, seeds, olives, or avocados? These plants and nuts are certainly healthy, but it becomes too easy to overeat them. You also must eat less if you include them in your diet because of the large number of calories and fat. For example, a handful of nuts contains almost 200 calories and near 20 grams of fat. A handful of vegetables contains less than 100 calories and almost no fat. Keep nuts and seeds for special occasions like Christmas time or Halloween.

Oils lump in with high-fat plant foods since many are an extraction (olive, vegetable, safflower, canola, and flaxseed). These oils are full of fat and unwanted extra calories. Instead of using butter or oil to cook your meals, use water instead. When it comes it salads, you can usually find an oil-free version if you look hard enough.

Flour products are refined. This means they’re processed and can raise your blood sugar, which makes it very difficult to lose weight. Simple sugars like honey, maple syrup, or sugar (white or brown) spike your insulin levels. They’re also full of extra calories you don’t need.

Restaurants often use oils for cooking and aren’t typically catered to diets. Unless you can find a vegan or vegetarian place, it’s best to avoid them altogether. Even with those restaurants, you must take caution. They usually will make accommodations if you tell them prior what you can’t have (cooking with salt or oil). You may feel upset or want to skip events with others but it’s not necessary. It’s okay to not eat for a few hours.

Exercise at least 30 minutes per day. Exercise burns calories and will help you to lose weight. Dr. McDougall recommends you exercise before you eat instead of after. He recommends this to suppress your appetite longer.

If you aren’t convinced, look to diets from other nations. None of their diets center around meat as the United States and Europe do. For example, you have the Asian popular that consume tons of rice or the Middle East with rice and chickpeas. African nations consume beans and grains, and Spanish/Mexican eat corn tortillas, rice, and beans.

12 Day Program

12 Day Program

In addition to the Starch Solution that’s done at home, you can try the 12 Day Program. The 12 Day Program promises to restore your healthy by lowering or eliminating medications and preventing medical procedures, which saves you time and money.

The 12 Day Program grants you access to personal medical care, live interactive lectures, one-on-one meetings with a support specialist, and continuous support. You will have access to other benefits like health assessments, Q&A sessions, virtual meetings with the McDougall family, meal plans, cooking classes, and a letter of completion.

Your medical care comes from the director. He meets with you in a private appointment and reviews your bloodwork and monitors your progress. Lectures are conducted by the medical staff, Heather McDougall, and Dr. McDougall. These lectures teach you about chronic diseases, nutrition, illness, exercise, meal plans, emotional eating, and habits.

Support Specialists will meet you daily to answer any questions you have. Your progress and any issues will get discussed by them during your meeting. The 12 Day Program isn’t meant to last until the program ends and you go back to your old habits. The program is meant to create lifelong lifestyle changes. Once you finish the 12 days, you will meet with your Support Specialist weekly for three months. Then, your meetings become once a month for the rest of the year.

This program follows the Starch Solution diet with some modifications if necessary based on the medical director’s guidance and observations. For example, you may already live oil and salt-free and don’t need to limit it more.

A typical day on the 12 Day Program will require you to change your lifestyle. You’ll have to wake up at 5 am daily to check in with your support specialist. They’ll go over any questions you have and discuss wellness with you.

After your check-in, you’ll speak with people who participated in the program in the past. Your breakfast will happen during this time too. From around 8 am to 8:45 am, you’ll have a Q&A session with Dr. John McDougall and Mary McDougall. You’ll get to ask him any burning questions you may have about your journey. From 9-10:30 am, you’ll have a lecture. These lectures will vary day to day. One popular lecture teaches you how to read food labels, what to eat and avoid, and product recommendations.

At 3-3:45 pm, a cooking class begins. You can chat, watch, and cook along with guest chefs. They teach you cooking tips and share tips for success. From 4-5:30 pm, you’ll have a final lecture. Lectures vary day to day. An example of a lecture could teach you about emotional emoting or behavioral changes that lead to changing your eating habits.

The program has listed statistics from participant’s results. They’ve found that 90% of their participants reduced or eliminated medications caused by being overweight or obese. Participants lost on average about four pounds by the end of the program.

80% of participants felt relief from chronic fatigue, indigestion, constipation, and chronic diarrhea. Many participants saw a drop in their cholesterol by 22mg/dL. Those who had heart problems like angina, felt relief and narrowed arteries.

Participants with diabetes or pre-diabetic saw lower blood sugar levels and relief from neuropathy. The type-2 diabetic participants saw a reversal of their diabetes. Those who suffer from arthritis and swelling saw a lessening of swelling and pain. Some had their pain eliminated. It may seem minor, but participants also experienced a reduction in oily hair and skin with an improved complexion.

100% of the participants reported feeling equipped to reach their long-term goals.

Mary McDougall Mini Diet

Mary McDougall Mini Diet

Many people that follow John McDougall’s version of the diet often want to share the concept with family and friends. However, it requires discipline and the desire to make a lifestyle change. Some people just want to lose weight and move on. For years, people have asked for a shorter, condensed version of the diet. Dr. McDougall’s wife, Mary, came up with the plans for a temporary ten-day diet called Mary’s Mini. Mary’s Mini is often used as a reset by those who follow the Starch Solution.

Mary’s Mini consists of you choosing a starch and basing every meal after that starch for ten days. Starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, or whole grains tend to be popular choices. However, keep in mind that whichever one you choose, you’re stuck with for the ten days duration. Once you have your starch, include as many green and yellow non-starchy vegetables as possible. Eat until you’re full.

The idea behind the diet is to make the next ten days boring, so you only eat when you’re truly hungry. We often eat when we’re bored, sad, stressed, or even happy! Many times, we aren’t hungry. The diet may come with some bonuses like craving loss and retraining taste buds for healthier foods.

Over the years, the McDougall couple has tweaked the rules based on user feedback and medical research. These are the most current rules to date.

Rule One: Choose one starch and cook enough to last you three to five days at a time. Yes, we mean one. If you choose potatoes, get ready to eat potatoes for each meal. The more variety you have, the more likely you are to overeat. Mary recommends you only stick to one, some dieters will choose up to three. Some dieters actually suggest you pick the one you don’t like. They say it may help you grow to love it. Others choose one they don’t like as much because they don’t want to grow to hate one they do love! Mary recommends you choose the one you love because chances are it’s easy to find in your grocery store and you will enjoy eating it.

Rule Two: Choose your side of green and yellow veggies with some fruit. Fresh or frozen doesn’t matter but fresh is ideal. The extra sides are a way to ensure you get enough macro and micronutrients. It should be noted that root vegetables are whole starches and can provide you with what you need. Grains and beans lack essential vitamins like A and C when eaten by themselves, so the added sides are necessary.

Rule Three: Meal prep! You may have to heat your food up or thaw it if you followed step one and made enough batches. You don’t have to separate by containers and store it all if you don’t want to. You can choose to make your side veggies and starch daily, but the meal prep will cut down on your time. It will also make you more likely to reach for it instead of another meal.

Rule Four: Use seasonings and condiments. The food doesn’t have to taste bland or unpalatable. You want to still enjoy what you’re eating. Use condiments like salsa, ketchup, Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods brand soups or products, and BBQ sauce. If it’s oil-free, you can add it.

If you’re a person that eats out often, we have some suggestions for you. The idea is you should stick to one starch daily. If you choose a starch like potatoes or sweet potatoes, you can get those baked with steamed veggies plain. Those that choose beans can ask for a black bean taco without the tortilla (unless corn is available). For rice lovers, you’ll have plenty of options. You can choose steamed rice with veggies or steamed rice with green papaya salad (Thai places will offer this).

Safety of Mary’s Mini

Is Mary’s Mini safe? Whole, starchy foods like sweet potatoes have enough macronutrients and micronutrients to keep you alive for the ten days you follow the program. When choosing your starch, remember you must couple it with veggies and fruits too. You also can’t choose squash as your main starch. It doesn’t have enough calories to sustain your body for ten days.

McDougall Diet Sample Menu

If you’ve always wondered, “What does Dr. McDougall eat for breakfast?” We have the answer to that and his other favorite meals!

BreakfastPancakes

Pancakes

Ingredients: ¾ cup of whole wheat pastry four, ¾ cup unbleached white flour, two teaspoons baking powder, a pinch of salt, one cup mashed ripe bananas, one tablespoon egg replacer in ¼ cup of warm water, one tablespoon lemon juice, one tablespoon Wonderslim fat substitute, one cup soy or rice milk, ½ cup sparkling water, 1/3 cup fresh blueberries or fruit of your choice.

Mix the flours, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Mash the bananas in another bowl. Mix the egg replacement with the water until frothy. Let it rest for a minute or two. Add the bananas and mix thoroughly. Stir in the fat substitute, lemon juice, milk, sparkling water, and mix thoroughly. Combine with the dry ingredients and stir. Add your blueberries or fruit topping and don’t over-beat.

Heat a non-stick pan or griddle over medium heat. Pour the mixture by ¼ cup onto the pan. Flip once you see bubbles on the surface and cook until brown on both sides. Serve!

LunchBean Soup

Bean Soup

Ingredients: two cups dried Great Northern beans, eight cups water, two onions chopped, two celery stalks chopped, two bay leaves. ½ teaspoon rubbed sage, ½ teaspoon ground oregano, two tablespoons soy sauce, a dash of liquid smoke if you have it.

Bring the beans to a boil in a large pot and let rest for one hour. Add the onions, bay leaves, celery, soy sauce, sage, and oregano. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cook for three hours until the beans are mushy. Add the liquid smoke and serve!

DinnerCreamy Pasta Primavera

Creamy Pasta Primavera

Ingredients: two cups vegetable broth, two cups walnut pieces, 1/3 cup packed fresh parsley, 1/3 cup packed fresh cilantro, three teaspoons lemon juice, two teaspoons chopped fresh garlic, two teaspoons ground chili paste, ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, 16 oz uncooked pasta, three cups broccoli florets, one cup of red and yellow bell pepper strips, one-pound mushrooms chopped, one cup halved cherry tomatoes.

In a blender jar, add the broth, walnuts, parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, garlic, and chili paste. Process until smooth. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Bring water to a boil and cook the pasta for five minutes. Add the broccoli and peppers with the pasta and cook for four minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for an additional two minutes, then drain. Pour the sauce you made earlier and toss. Add the tomatoes and mix again. You can serve this dish hot or chilled.

Tips to the McDougall Diet

Tips to the McDougall Diet

The McDougall diet becomes difficult for many when it’s time to travel outside the home. Unless you live near a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, going out is next to impossible. Social functions where it’d be impolite to bring your own meals will make sustaining it more difficult. You may get annoyed with the restrictions for meat or dairy. We have some tips to help you stay on the diet.

Stay Away from Junk Food – The Starch Solution allows for starchy foods. However, this doesn’t mean you can eat French fries, chips, or cookies. You must consume whole starches like oatmeal, fruit, or potatoes. Starchy foods won’t make you gain weight. The chemicals and processed junk will. When you consume whole starches, you won’t feel as hungry. These foods will satisfy you long term.

Follow the 50/50 Plate Method – The 50/50 plate method means you fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies and the other half with minimally processed starches. Include fruit as your dessert. This method gives you more satisfaction than if you were to only have one or the other. 

Eat – The Starch Solution teaches you to eat when you’re hungry but stop when you’re full. If you aren’t full, eat more. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, unlike food you eat on the Standard American Diet. When people make the switch, you’ll often hear them complain about hunger. That’s because they don’t eat enough. You must eat more and often sustain the body.

Side Effects of the McDougall Diet

Side Effects of the McDougall Diet

The diet itself doesn’t report many side effects. The main complaint people have is weight gain. However, the problem isn’t the diet, it’s themselves. They eat non-whole starches and processed food where they end up gaining weight. Another complaint is the restrictions. It makes it more difficult to attend social functions and some report feeling irritated when having to eat the same foods over and over. Others have to lose out on their favorite meals and become upset. However, no ill health side effects have been reported.

Dieticians heed caution with the diet because of its restrictive nature. It excludes healthy fats like omega-3s and 6s, and essential vitamins and minerals. These fats and vitamins have their own benefits for the body like anti-inflammatory properties and absorption of dietary fat.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

Dr. McDougall’s Diet was created after many years of observation and research. The main concept relies on other culture’s diets and how they manage to stay fit despite eating starchy foods. Most diets forbid these and claim they cause weight gain. Dr. McDougall and his wife Mary have made the Starch Solution their life and teach others that starchy foods are healthy.

The Starch Solution bases itself on a vegan diet. You don’t eat any animal products and avoid any unhealthy fats from oils. The diet also features a Mini version for those that don’t want to make the lifestyle change and just want to lose weight. It can help you get prepared for the lifestyle change too.

Overall, the Dr. McDougall diet does offer a healthy alternative to lose weight and make a lifestyle change. Studies have shown that starchy foods are healthy and safe to eat, so the major concept of the diet does have scientific backing. However, it does restrict many foods on the basis they’re “toxic”. This line of thinking causes concern to health experts. Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet regardless of the starchiness will benefit your health.

Start working on your weight loss goals


How would you like it if you

✓ Could be less dissatisfied with your body?
✓ Spend less time on your body and be able to do what you really care about?
✓ Learn to deal with that voice in your head?
✓ Stop letting your body image determine your day and emotions?
✓ Really change your relationship with food?
✓ Learn to appreciate your body, which will make you take better care of it?