WHILE YOU MIGHT think of getting “mono” as being a diet (you sleep all day and tend to eat very little), the “mono diet” is something totally different.
(And FYI—you shouldn’t want to ever contract mono as a means of weight loss, in case that was somehow a consideration.)
The “mono diet” or monotrophic diet involves eating just one food or food group for each meal of the day over the course of a few days or a few weeks.
And, beyond that? Well, there’s not much.
“There aren’t specific rules, but the foods frequently chosen for the diet are either bananas, apples or potatoes, but often eggs, or even chocolate,” says Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D.N.
“Sometimes people will just eat a single food for each meal—so for example they’d have only bananas for breakfast, only potatoes for lunch and then only bananas again for dinner versus having bananas all day long,” she says.
For people who choose to eat an entire food group for several weeks, it’s generally common to go with fruits, vegetables, legumes or meat, as the greater variety may help them sustain the diet for a longer period of time.
The mono diet involves very little planning or preparation, because you’re just eating the food or food group you pick and it’s often just prepared as is. Or you at least know what you are eating for the week ahead, as opposed to trying to create new recipes to try out.
You are simply just making sure you have the food or food group you choose to eat on hand, which you can grab from the store. You don’t have to measure portions, count calories or nutrients, or deal with real food and meal prep or tracking. It’s really just about eating that one food or food group and sticking with the consistency.
Still have questions? It’s okay. Here are some answers.
Who Is the Mono Diet For?
People who want to lose weight, primarily, though there are other supposed incentives.
“The diet proponents claim it is good for weight loss and they like that it’s easy, doesn’t require meal planning, counting calories or measuring portions or macronutrients,” says Lakatos Shames. “Some proponents say it helps digestion, but there is no research to prove this,” she adds.
Does the Mono Diet Work for Weight Loss?
Any time you eat fewer calories than your body requires, you’ll lose weight.
That said, the mono diet is not backed by scientific evidence and can be severely restrictive. “When you’re only eating one food all day, or one food group, it is likely that you could be eating fewer calories than you typically do (however if you eat a food like chocolate in an unrestricted quantity, the calories could add up quickly and you could actually gain weight on the diet),” Lakatos Shames says.
And then there’s muscle loss, which is weight loss, but not the kind you probably want.
“If you’re not providing your body with adequate protein (ideally 20 grams per meal), you’ll also lose muscle tissue, and this slows your metabolism,” she says. And that means you will burn fewer calories naturally, which can put your body at risk for adverse effects once you get off the diet.
“Eating only one food as you do on the mono diet, and typically a low-protein food or non-protein containing food, you’ll lose muscle tissue, and when you go to eat normally, you’ll quickly gain back all of the weight, plus more, due to a slowed metabolism,” she says.
Also, the diet is so restrictive, where if you go back to eating normally again you may feel so deprived that you start eating more unhealthy options to compensate for that loss in time.
Should You Try the Mono Diet?
Lakatos Shames doesn’t recommend it, but if someone wanted to follow it, the healthiest way would be to do a very short-term version of the diet and to not restrict the diet to only one food, but rather choose a healthy good group instead.
“Ideally, trying to get a different food group in at each meal may be the best way to get the largest array of nutrients and to prevent deficiencies, constipation, energy dips, etc.,” she says.
Although this would be far from ideal, it would help to prevent some of the side effects of many of the versions of the mono diet. “An example would be eating a breakfast of berries and citrus fruit for breakfast, a combination of sardines with bones (for calcium), salmon and other heart-healthy fish for lunch, and a vast array of fresh vegetables at dinner,” she says.
The Bottom Line
It’s impossible to get the nutrients your body needs for good health when your diet is as restrictive as it is on the mono diet, especially if the diet is followed longer term. “For example, if bananas are your food of choice, it would be difficult to get adequate protein and healthy fats, as well as nutrients like iron, calcium and B12,” she says.
“This could weaken your immunity, put you at risk for anemia, weak bones and more,” she adds. And if you choose to focus on only a food group like meat, you’ll fall short in fiber, antioxidants, calcium and vitamin C, which puts you at risk for impaired immune function, constipation and many chronic diseases.
So you do lose weight, but at what cost?
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