As Americans increasingly struggle with their weight, the number and range of weight-loss products and diets in the market have only grown. Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. And apparently, we know it. As of 2019, the weight-loss market totaled a whopping $72 billion in the U.S.
A portion of this market share belongs to commercial diet plans that enroll members or subscribers into programs or plans that are designed to educate them on the principles of healthy eating and weight loss that the company has developed. They typically include counseling and one-on-one support , and sometimes they sell supplements or food items to further support weight-loss goals.
A relatively recent entry into this niche of the diet industry is GOLO, the Newark, Delaware-based company founded in 2009 that offers a “metabolic plan” and supplements that are intended to help you lose weight. It’s an acronym for “GoLose Weight, GoLook Great, GoLove Life.” GOLO reports that 500,000 people have used the diet.
Jennifer Brooks, president of GOLO, says “GOLO’s Metabolic Plan is based on eating real, whole foods while avoiding processed and packaged foods. It’s not a ‘conventional diet’ but rather a healthy eating plan.”
Elena Gagliardi, clinical nutrition services manager in the ambulatory nutrition services department at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California, says the diet is “designed to help people who are overweight or obese obtain a balance of nutrients from conventional foods, eat defined portioned meals leading to gradual weight loss and participate in a low to moderate level of daily exercise.”
The plan includes directions on how to put together meals to support sustainable weight loss, and Brooks says one of its best aspects is that “nothing is off limits all the time. You can still enjoy a birthday dinner or night out and not ruin your progress. And, if you feel you over-indulged, you can get right back on track.”
Foods on the GOLO Diet
GOLO emphasizes eating real, whole foods, and Brooks notes that “you don’t have to look for unusual ingredients or things you’ve never heard of to follow GOLO.”
Recommended foods include:
— Proteins such as chicken, beef and fish.
— Grains such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and oatmeal.
— All vegetables.
— All fruits.
— Dairy products such as milk, cheese and butter.
“We don’t tell you specific things that you have to eat, but simply give you a guideline to follow,” Brooks explains. The diet does recommend limiting your portions and keeping total daily calories to less than 1,800. “Since you choose the foods you eat, you can personalize the plan to your own individual tastes and preferences,” and no food is strictly forbidden. “We find that this significantly increases the chances of customer success as it puts them in control.”
Correcting Insulin Resistance
One of the key factors that sets GOLO apart from other commercial diet plans is its “premise that individuals who struggle with weight loss do so because of hormone imbalances,” says Matthew Black, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. The idea is that these hormone imbalances will “eventually damage your metabolism, further preventing you from being able to lose weight.”
GOLO specifically targets the hormone insulin, with an eye to correcting insulin resistance, “a condition in which your body’s cells do not respond to insulin as efficiently as they should, and can serve as a precursor to Type 2 diabetes,” Black explains, a condition known as prediabetes.
“GOLO claims these hormone imbalances, including insulin resistance, can be ‘fixed’ with proper diet, activity and by taking GOLO’s proprietary supplement called Release.” Insulin resistance typically doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms, “and you would need to be evaluated by your primary care provider in order to be properly diagnosed,” Black adds. Plus, Gagliardi notes that the insulin hypothesis is not consistently supported by research.
Nevertheless, GOLO’s aim, Brooks says, “is to help people lose weight in a healthy, sustainable and realistic way and not be reliant on the diet industry. We offer a healthy eating plan based on sound nutrition, an all-natural supplement that is meant to be phased out as the user loses weight, free support and coaching, and discounts to our customers for re-orders for other GOLO products. We want everyone to be able to reach their goals and never have to ‘diet’ again.”
Leveraging a Supplement for Faster Weight Loss
A signature aspect of the GOLO plan is its proprietary supplement called Release. “Adding Release, our all-natural supplement, helps you to lose weight faster,” Brooks says, adding that “we know this because we tested it in a double-blind placebo trial.”
That trial compared the weight loss outcomes of a group of dieters following GOLO’s Metabolic Plan alone to a second cohort using the metabolic plan plus the Release supplement. “Both groups did lose weight, but the group that took Release lost 79% more weight and 209% more inches around their waists than the placebo group during the same period of time.”
The Release supplement contains a “patented formulation containing seven natural plant-based ingredients” and three minerals — zinc, magnesium and chromium. Black says these minerals “have demonstrated potential effects on improving insulin resistance, but studies are limited.”
The supplement also contains a number of plant extracts that are considered generally safe and have shown some effectiveness for improving metabolic processes in studies, including:
— Banaba leaf extract.
— Rhodiola rosea.
— Salacia reticulata extract.
— Gardenia jasminoides fruit extract.
— Apple polyphenol fruit extract.
With regard to the efficacy of the supplement, Black notes that the company only provides highlights of the studies that were conducted. “GOLO doesn’t divulge all the details of these studies, other than quoting random statistics when compared to placebo. As with any research study, it’s important to know all of the data, rather than trying to make conclusions based on favorable highlights.” The studies were not published in a peer-reviewed journal and Gagliardi adds that “since the author was funded by the GOLO company, there’s a conflict of interest and therefore the results are questionable.”
In addition, Black says that generally speaking, “using supplements isn’t typically recommended for weight loss, nor should supplements be used to treat insulin resistance, especially without guidance from a health care practitioner.” He notes that it’s possible to “reverse insulin resistance just by decreasing your caloric intake, losing weight and increasing physical activity.”
Gagliardi agrees that the supplement might not be necessary. “The diet alone is a positive shift in eating, such as eliminating processed foods, adding whole fresh foods, adding filling, fibrous foods, and portion and calorie control. The diet, coupled with exercise, should propel you towards weight loss, hormone regulation and improved insulin sensitivity without any need for pricey supplements.”
Beyond simple need, Black cautions about taking supplements for any condition, “especially those containing ‘proprietary blends’ because the FDA does not regulate them as long as ingredients fall into the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) category.” Many supplements on the market today “aren’t backed by sufficient research.”
Because they aren’t regulated, some supplements may not contain the amount of a specific ingredient that’s listed on the label or contain something else entirely. That can be a problem if the supplement interacts negatively with another supplement or medication the dieter is already taking.
Gagliardi also says that while the company’s website “states there are over 100 published independent experimental studies supporting the safety and efficacy of the ingredients in Release, keep in mind that they are referring to testimonials, not actual peer-reviewed studies.”
GOLO maintains that its Release product does not interact with any medications, does not contain caffeine and is entirely safe and effective.
How Much Does it Cost?
There are a few different options to choose from if you’re looking to get started with GOLO. All come with the GOLO for Life Plan, which “shows you how you can optimize gut health, digestion and restore your metabolism with food,” and access to an online support site that provides meal plans, health assessments and support from GOLO coaches. You also get the “Overcoming Diet Obstacles” booklet, which includes weight loss tips and tricks. All orders ship free and the company offers a 60-day money -back guarantee.
Plan options cost:
— $49.95 for the GOLO for Life Plan with one bottle of Release supplements (90 pills). This supply lasts 30 to 60 days and is intended for weight loss of 10 to 20 pounds.
— $79.90 for the GOLO for Life Plan with two bottles of Release supplements (180 pills). This supply lasts 60 to 90 days and is intended for weight loss of 21 to 40 pounds.
— $99.90 for the GOLO for Life Plan with three bottles of Release supplements (270 pills). This supply lasts 90 to 150 days and is intended for weight loss of 41 to 60 pounds.
In addition to the pills and the diet plan, you also have to factor in the cost of food, which you’ll be purchasing on your own. GOLO emphasizes inclusion of “whole, affordable foods like butter, eggs whole milk and cheese, meats, fruits, vegetables and grains, including bread and pasta.”
Does It Work?
Testimonials on the company’s website show several people who’ve had great success with GOLO, losing more than 100 pounds in a year or 20 or 30 pounds in a few months. The amounts and rate of weight loss advertised are in line with other commercial weight loss programs such as Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem.
Brooks says the plan is very effective, touting a 98.4% customer satisfaction rate. “Studies were conducted between 2009 and 2018, with consistent results observed across the studies. Study participants not only lost weight and inches but improved health risk markers.”
From her perspective, looking at the principles of the diet in terms of what to eat and how much, Gagliardi says, “it’s a good one. It’s a relatively simple concept, appears easy to follow and incorporates a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods while eliminating processed foods. While their meal plan might encourage whole foods, you would still just be following a calorie-restricted plan that won’t help you make long-term behavior changes.”
Black notes that the principles of the plan “are the same proven strategies as recommended for any healthy diet” — consuming fewer calories, eliminating processed foods and exercising more. The GOLO plan promotes keeping daily calorie intakes to between 1,300 and 1,800 calories. Because most adults are recommended to consume about 2,000 calories daily to maintain weight, a 200 to 700 calorie per day deficit should result in weight loss for most people.
Avoiding calorie-dense and nutrient-limited processed foods, as the GOLO plan does, can also promote weight loss. GOLO encourages increasing physical activity too, which Black says can help support overall health.
As for the supplement, Black says you may not need it. “The reversal of insulin resistance typically results as a by-product of weight loss, healthy diet and physical activity. Since these are requirements of GOLO’s plan, it would be difficult to conclude the effectiveness of the Release supplement” specifically in terms of its effect on insulin resistance.
Plus, “the Release supplement, which GOLO insists is a vital part of its weight-loss plan, appears to lack independent, peer-reviewed research and is costly, so you may want to consider this before making the expense,” Black adds. “The hard truth is, if you continue to consume too many calories and live a sedentary lifestyle, then you probably are still looking for a ‘magic pill’ solution to weight loss.”
Gagliardi recommends being wary of “supplements that say ‘proprietary blend.’ Never take a supplement from a company that does not disclose its level of ingredients. It may not be standardized and you may get a vastly different amount from one bottle to the next, or none at all. Also if you are on certain medications, this supplement may interact,” so be sure to speak with your doctor before starting this or any other weight-loss plan.