Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® Q&A

Updated June 22, 2021

Many are interested in our simplified version of the McDougall diet which often creates much interest and many questions. Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® is offered as a way to ease the learning curve for those just starting our program and to increase the efficiency of the regular McDougall diet by simplifying food choices.

Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® is based on simplicity and monotony and helps to reset taste buds and get back “on the wagon” to following the basic McDougall diet. You may lose weight on this diet but if weight loss is your goal, we recommend following the McDougall Maximum Weight Loss program which focuses on weight loss.

Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® follows the basic principles of the McDougall program: starch-based with the addition of vegetables and one piece of fruit a day, but limits food choices to one kind of starch and repetitive selections of green and yellow vegetables and fruits. The same starch and vegetables can be eaten every day. You can read more about the diet here.

Here are some answers to important questions about Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet®.

Is Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® for weight loss?

No, Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® is to help reset taste buds and is a diet based on simplicity and monotony. You may lose weight but if weight loss is your goal we recommend the Maximum Weight Loss program which focuses on weight loss.

Can beans be the main starch?

No, while we generally limit them to about a cup a day – and there is room for leeway – making them the main starch would mean a much larger increase in the amount and the protein intake.

How are winter and summer squashes different?

Winter squashes are round, elongated, scalloped and pear-shaped with flesh from golden-yellow to bright orange. Because of their hard, thick skins they can be stored for months in a cool basement and will last the winter (six months); as a result, they are referred to as “winter squash.” They are much higher in calories than summer squash, and therefore, can serve as the starch centerpiece of your meal plan. Acorn, banana, butternut, Hubbard, spaghetti and turban are some examples of winter squashes.

Thin-skin summer squashes were once only available in the summer, but now, due to worldwide transportation and hothouse growing, are available all year round. Common examples are zucchini, yellow (crookneck, straightneck) and scalloped (patty pan) squash. These are too low in calories to serve as the starch centerpiece of your meal plan and are to be thought of as non-starchy vegetable (side dishes) additions.

Can winter squash be the main starch?

No, while they are considered starches, they are too low in calorie density to fill you up and provide satiety. They average under 200 calories per pound. You can read more about squash on the McDougall Forum by clicking here.

Is fruit allowed and if so, how much?

Yes, we recommend one piece of fruit a day on Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® – again, to keep things simple.

Dr. McDougall states that if you want to lose weight you may want to limit your fruit consumption to no more than two servings per day because some people have a tendency to overindulge in fruit. That being said, fruit is very low in calorie density, and we believe that eating fruit is a great way to still achieve your weight loss goals; however, if you find yourself eating copious amounts of fruit every day and are not seeing the results you want, that is an indication that you may want to slow down on your fruit consumption.

What is the most important lesson I should learn from the Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® experience?

When describing the excellent health and youthful appearance of the Native Americans, Benjamin Rush wrote in 1776, “…the old proverb may well be verified: Natura paucis contenta—nature is satisfied with little…”  Most people believe a wide variety of foods is necessary for good health. This belief favors the food industry and helps sell the 20,000 products that line the supermarket shelves. Look at the consequences of eating a diet with a wide variety of foods—hundreds of millions of fat, sick people living in Western societies.

Why is this diet more efficient than the regular, or even the Maximum Weight Loss version of the McDougall Program?

Variety causes people to consume more food and more calories. Populations of people like rural Asians, Africans and Peruvians are known for being trim and avoiding disease common to Westerners, and their diets consist of limited kinds of foods – a starch and a few locally grown vegetables and fruits. Fortunately, the foods are designed to be nutritionally complete long before they reach the dinner table.

As a food is eaten, it becomes less appealing, but the taste and appearance of other foods remain relatively unchanged. As a result, more is eaten during a meal consisting of a variety of foods than during a meal with just one food, even if that food is a favorite. 1,2

So a simple way to decrease your intake of calories is to make your food choices the same – or in other terms, monotonous. This cuts way down on planning too.

Simple meal plans also have health advantages, especially for those who are highly sensitive. Simple diets result in fewer challenges from the ingredients, like proteins, of foods to the digestive and immune systems of the body – this is especially important for people with allergic and autoimmune diseases (like asthma and arthritis), and those with inflammatory bowel diseases (like gastritis and colitis).

Should I eat a different starch every day?

When we introduced Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet®, I did not make clear enough the importance of monotony. As a result, many people who tried the Mini-Diet introduced greater variety than I had planned by eating a different starch each day, rather than, for example, potatoes every day for 10 days. The fewer varieties of foods that make up the meal plan, the greater will be the weight loss.

Can I eat more green and yellow vegetables and lose faster?

When weight loss is your goal you can introduce more of the principles of the Maximum Weight Loss Program into the Mini-Diet. Green and yellow vegetables, like summer squashes (zucchini), pea pods, lettuce leaves, broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts will fill the stomach with fewer calories than starchy vegetables. Use more of these low-calorie foods to encourage faster weight loss. But be sure to consume enough starch to satisfy your appetite and don’t go hungry by restricting the amount you eat.

Should I eat when I am hungry on Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet®?

Counting calories is a waste of mental energy. You have a highly efficient hunger drive that accurately regulates your food consumption—as long as the correct foods are placed into your intestine. Problems occur when foods not designed for the human body—foods too rich for our systems like candy, meat, milk, cheese, eggs, etc.—are consumed.

Grazing works better for weight loss and lowering cholesterol—which means snacks are fine. But snacks should be of the same foods as your meals, like boiled or roasted potatoes and dry-fried French fries with the diet described above of potatoes—not crackers and pretzels.

Shouldn’t I avoid potatoes because they have a high glycemic index?

Glycemic index is just one quality of food as discussed in the July 2006 newsletter article: Glycemic Index—Not Ready for Prime Time. Potatoes are high in fiber and have a low-calorie concentration. Potatoes have virtually no fat to wear (1% of calories). A large potato contains 150 calories. For a man, 10 potatoes a day means 1500 calories—for a woman 7 potatoes means 1050 calories—which translates into effortless, painless weight loss. Potatoes are the ideal “diet” food—low calorie, nutritious and tasty.

Can I do this part-time?

Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® is a “diet.” You should use this as a “tool” to knock off a few extra pounds quickly. When needed, use the Mini-Diet as a tool to improve your adherence to your usual low-fat, starch-based diet—a means to get you back on track with little thought and effort.

Are there salad dressings and other spices that I can use?

Adding salt, spices and low-fat salad dressings will make the diet more enjoyable and likely increase the length of time one will follow the Mini-Diet—and that is important. On the other hand, enhancing enjoyment of your meals will cause you to eat a little more—but the weight-losing health-enhancing powers of a simple diet are so strong that spice will not detract from the ultimate benefits. So make your simple meals taste good.

Is one cooking method better for weight loss than another?

Methods that more thoroughly cook foods will make more calories available for digestion. This may be one reason mashed potatoes are more delicious to me than are baked potatoes—I can eat more potatoes when they are boiled and mashed. However, in practical terms, the method of cooking will not detract from the ultimate benefits of a simple meal plan. Choose the method of cooking that brings you the most enjoyment (but stay within the rules—no deep-frying potatoes).

What do I do about coffee and alcohol?

Coffee enhances weight loss by increasing the body’s rate of metabolism. Alcohol slows weight loss by providing easily utilizable calories (alcohol). Alcohol also removes inhibitions causing people to eat more rich foods. Alcohol, itself, is not turned into body fat. Therefore, with weight loss as the only goal, coffee can be consumed and alcohol will likely slow the benefits from the diet. Neither one is a health food.

Is there a progression to this program, Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet®?

Not really, but if there were one, our dietitian, Jeff Novick, MS, RDN, recommends the following:

a) Start with the traditional McDougall Program of making your plate up to 90% starch with the remaining consisting of non-starchy vegetables.

b) If you are having problems losing weight and/or you are a volume eater, follow the Maximum Weight Loss program. There are only three main differences:

  1. Reduce starch down to 50% of your plate and increase non-starchy vegetables and fruit to make up the other 50%.
  2. Instead of limiting calorie-dense foods, high-fat foods and liquid calories, avoid them.
  3. Start your meals with soup, salad or fruit, then if you like to finish your meals with dessert, eat fruit as your treat.

c) If you find yourself caught in the pleasure trap, or your program got too complicated, use Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet® as a reset.


1) Spiegel TAStellar E. Effects of variety on food intake of underweight, normal-weight and overweight women. Appetite. 1990 Aug;15(1):47-61.

2)  Stubbs RJJohnstone AMMazlan NMbaiwa SEFerris S. Effect of altering the variety of sensorially distinct foods, of the same macronutrient content, on food intake and body weight in men.  Eur J Clin Nutr. 2001 Jan;55(1):19-28.