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Nutrition » Diets » Cereal Diet: Is It Too Good To Be True?

Cereal Diet: Is It Too Good To Be True?

how to eat well on a diet of cereal

Cereal Diet

In recent years more and more new diets have been revealed by scientists, nutritionists and even so-called bodybuilding experts. Popular examples of such include the ketogenic diet, low-carb diet, whole 30 and the Atkins diet, among others. What about the cereal diet? Have you heard about it? Can this popular breakfast food be the key to losing those stubborn pounds?

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Does the cereal diet weight loss plan work?

Yes, it does. Research indicates that when done right, ready to eat cereals can help people lose weight (13).

What are the origins of the cereal diet?

Dubbed as the ‘Special K challenge’, this weight loss diet was popularized in the late 2000s by a cereal company that claimed that its consumers would lose up to 6 pounds (2.7 kilograms) in just two weeks (19).

What is the cereal diet?

Unlike what the name suggests, the cereal diet plan does not mean that you should eat nothing but cereals all day, every day for two weeks. Instead, you should replace two meals of the day (preferably breakfast and lunch) with the cereals while having a healthy meal at dinner time. You are also allowed to have snacks, preferably fruits or vegetables, throughout the day (17).

It should be noted that, if you choose to try out this specific diet, make sure your cereal of choice is high in protein and fiber. This combo will stave off hunger pangs and squash your cravings for unhealthy food.

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Is cereal good for diet? How does it work?

It is a commonly known fact that your calorie intake plays a huge part in either losing, maintaining or gaining weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. And if you eat fewer calories and burn more calories through physical activity, you lose weight.

The recommended amount of calorie intake is not only determined by gender, but also by the age and amount of physical activity done by the person (8). While on this diet, you are bound to significantly cut down the number of calories you ingest simply by replacing your meals with cereal.

When on the cereal diet, you are required to only eat the serving size that’s indicated on the label, which more often than not, is much lower in calories than your average breakfast or lunch meal.

Pros and Cons of the cereal diet weight loss plan

Like every other diet out there, there are some advantages and disadvantages of choosing to partake in it.

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Pros of this diet:

Reduced calorie intake

As mentioned above, a calorie deficit diet is quite effective in helping trim off those unwanted extra pounds. Healthy cereal options that have high amounts of whole grains and fiber while also low in sugar (3) are great for this.

Reduce stress

At the heart of it all, this is a pretty simple and straightforward diet. It means that you do not have to constantly think of what meal to have throughout the day or the next morning. The convenience of just having your favourite brand of healthy cereals ensures that you only have to worry about making one meal a day (18).

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Increased intake protein, fiber and whole grains

Most people today live a fast-paced life that does not leave much time or space for elaborate meals or a chance of self-care. This means that even when it comes to food, we are most likely to reach out for fast foods which are detrimental to our health and weight loss goals.

While meal prepping is also an option, it can be quite a tedious task. Healthy cereal options fit into our busy schedules and are able to provide us with proteins and fiber that we would not otherwise get if we chose to pop into our favourite fast food eatery.

Cereals also have some positive effects when it comes to the reduction of the amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol consumed throughout the day (16).

Reduced hunger throughout the day

Research published in June 2018, proved that a high-protein, high-fibre drink taken before a meal helped to greatly reduce the desire to eat and hunger when compared with drinks that were low in both protein and fiber (4). You can find the same satiating nutrients in healthier cereal options.

The higher the amount of protein and fiber in your cereal, the less hungry you will feel throughout the day.

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Disadvantages of taking part in the cereal diet plan:

In spite of the above-mentioned advantages, some people believe that the cereal diet is not one that people should partake in. Some reasons include:

Not a sustainable long-term solution

When thinking about short-term goals, replacing some meals with cereals sounds like a fantastic idea. You will quickly shed off the extra kilograms, and you will easily slip into that beautiful dress that’s been collecting dust in your closet. However, when thinking long-term, there is no sustainable way to keep it up.

After a while, you will begin to get bored with the monotony of these breakfast foods, and your body and mind will begin to crave other foods. Since you have deprived yourself of these other foods for so long, you are most likely to cave and eventually overeat thus adding all the lost weight (and possibly more) back.

This diet also may not be nutritionally adequate, making it potentially dangerous over the long-term. We need to eat a variety of healthy foods to make sure we get in all the nutrients our bodies require. Replacing two meals a day with cereal may not include enough variety to provide a nutritionally complete diet.

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Fatigue, decreased focus and mood swings

A controlled trial in 2019 proved that a very low calorie intake can affect people negatively. At the beginning of this dietary program, you might feel fine, and even energized at the possibility of looking and feeling slimmer. However, as the days go by, the calorie deficit diet is bound to affect you in some negative ways, especially if you work at a high demanding job or are always on your feet.

Some of the effects you can encounter include impaired mood states of tension, depression, anger, vigour, fatigue, and confusion (18).

Lack of exercise

While this is a simple and frankly economic diet, it does not incorporate or encourage an exercise plan to its users (17). For great and sustainable results, one should always try and eat healthy meals while also incorporating exercise in their routines. If you’re not consuming enough calories on this diet, finding the energy to exercise might prove difficult.

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Slow metabolic rate

Other than food and exercise, our metabolism rate plays a huge role in weight loss, gain and maintenance. A person with a high or fast metabolism burns more calories at rest and during activity, while the opposite happens for someone with a low metabolism rate (2).

While having a fast or slow metabolism rate is generally out of our control, some factors can influence how slow or fast this rate is. A clinical trial in 2012 found that excessively restricting calories can cause lasting metabolic changes that make it challenging to maintain weight loss (11).

The Bottom Line

The cereal diet has shown that it can be quite an effective weight loss plan in both men and women. However, it is not a sustainable plan for long term weight loss goals. If you choose to try out this cereal diet plan, bear in mind that it should be used as a stepping stone towards finding more healthier ways and foods. Healthier food options and exercise will not only help you shed off the extra pounds, but they will also help you keep the weight off long-term.

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FAQs

What is the best cereal to eat on a diet?

If you are wondering ‘What kind of cereal is good for diet?’ make sure to pay attention to the ingredients list of your favourite cereal. For great results, not only should whole grains be at the top of the ingredients list, but also, the recommended serving should include at least five grams of protein as well as three to five grams of fiber.

How much cereal for diet?

Just because you are allowed to have cereal and milk for your weight loss plan does not mean that you can go all out. After all, you should be on a caloric deficit if you plan on losing weight. For maximum results, be sure to have one recommended serving size per meal.

What is the best cereal to eat when in diet?

The best and most effective types of cereal to have when on a diet are those made out of whole grains. They should also have high quantities of protein and fiber in them. Make sure to stay away from any types of cereal that are high in sugar.

If you feel like you require more sweetness in your meal, it is advisable to add fruits such as bananas to your bowl. You can also opt for berries such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

For an added twist and crunch, be sure to top your cereal bowl with a handful of seeds and nuts such as almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, chia or pumpkin seeds.

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How to eat well on a cereal diet

If you choose to go on the cereal diet for weight loss plan, here are some healthy ways that you can incorporate it into your days without harming yourself.

  • Practice portion control

It has long been proven that the amount of food you eat directly relates to how much weight you gain, maintain or lose. In order to lose weight and keep it off after the diet, it is crucial to mind your portions (12). A great way to always eat the recommended portions or servings is to have instruments such as measuring cups and weighing scales.

With these, you are able to ensure that you are eating the right amount of food. Secondly, you can also be sure to meal prep. Since meal prepped meals are usually already measured out in the exact serving portions, it is quite easy and quick just to take out your food and eat without having to go through the process of measuring and weighing.

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  • A healthy third and final meal

After a hard and busy day where you had just cereal and milk, it would be quite tempting to look for greasy chicken wings or some pizza to end your day. Be wary of this. Instead of having this unhealthy, albeit tasty meal, pick something that is instead, healthy and filling.

Some healthy dinner options include

  1. Lean pork chop or chicken breast with boiled potatoes and a side salad. Your salad can be something as simple as cucumber and tomato, or it can have more ingredients such as thinly sliced carrots, peppers, sugar snap peas, radishes, fennel, celery, baby corn, onion, green beans and avocado.
  2. Lean grilled steak or lean bun-less burger with an oven-baked potato and steamed vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, artichokes, zucchini or green beans.
  3. For pasta lovers, opt to have some whole-wheat pasta with some chicken breast and some sauteed spinach. If you would like to skip pasta altogether, you can substitute it with things like spiralized zucchini carrots, turnips, beets and cucumbers noodles. Spaghetti squash is also a great pasta substitute.

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Healthy snacks

To be on track with your weight loss goals while on the cereal diet, you must make sure that all the snacks that you have throughout your day are healthy options. The trick to a good and healthy snack is picking one that has about 100 calories. It should also have a mix of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats (21).

Healthy snacks will help control your appetite throughout the day, increase your energy levels during tasks and exercise and increase concentration levels. They also help up your nutritional intake. Whole-grain snacks will increase your fiber intake while fruits and vegetables will help your immunity with a boost of vitamins A and C.

Examples of such healthy snacks (1) to have on a cereal diet for weight loss include:

  1. Greek yoghurt – It is high in protein and calcium while being low in fat and calories.
  2. Nuts – They provide protein and good fats. However, make sure that they are not overly salted.
  3. Boiled eggs – A great source of protein.
  4. Low-fat cheese – Yes, cheese is also a great option. The trick to it is to make sure. that you read the label taking note of the fat percentage. Cheese is an amazing source of calcium, protein, minerals and some vitamins.
  5. Celery sticks – This vegetable is primarily consists of water. Thus it will keep you hydrated. You can dip or top with nut butter or hummus for some added protein and fiber.
  6. Hummus or pureed chickpeas also make a great snack. It can be had with vegetables such as sliced peppers, radish slices, celery, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, cucumbers, and cauliflower, among others.
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A point to note is that not only will fruits and vegetables help with weight loss, but they have also been found to be effective in protecting people against lung cancer (especially in smokers(5)), Type 2 diabetes (6), and cardiovascular diseases (7).

Also, remember to consult your doctor before going on any diet. Diving head first into a new diet can be detrimental to your health, especially if you have any underlying illnesses that can be triggered by excessively and suddenly decreasing your calorie intake.

Can you lose weight by eating only cereal?

Yes, you can. As long as you pick the healthy options, control your portions and have a healthy dinner or lunch, you will shed off the extra pounds.

Does cereal make you fat?

If the cereal of your choice is high in sugar and low in fiber then yes it might.

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What are some effects of eating too much cereal?

  • Ingesting too much sugar

When it comes to sugary cereals, the negative side effects are endless, and some are even life-threatening. Some short-term effects of having too much sugar found in some unhealthy cereal include acne, weight gain and obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and insulin resistance, higher risk of cardiovascular disease, fatigue and tooth decay, among others (20).

  • Too much fiber can cause stomach upsets

The recommended amount of fiber intake is about 20 to 35 grams a day. However, most people tend only to consume 10 to 15 grams a day (14).

For people who eat foods rich in fiber, the cereal diet weight loss plan can be a smooth ride. However, some people might discover that their stomach can’t handle such high amounts of fiber on a day to day basis.

Since the cereal diet plan is quite high in fiber some effects one can expect are flatulence, bloating and abdominal cramps. Other than that, a high fiber intake may prevent the absorption of some important minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium (14).

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Is eating cereal at night to lose weight healthy?

Yes, it is. Having the second cereal bowl at dinner instead of at lunchtime will not negatively affect the diet (10). In fact, eating a small, nutrient-dense meal before bed may help boost muscle protein synthesis and improve cardiometabolic health, especially when a person exercises (15). 

Just make sure that your desired cereal is low in sugar, artificial colours and fat. Instead of having some regular dairy milk, you can opt for some plant-based milk instead.

The nighttime cereal might also help you sleep better thanks to tryptophan, calcium and magnesium found in milk, as well as the whole-grains.

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Talk to your doctor before starting a new diet

Now that you have seen both the advantages and disadvantages of the cereal diet, it is quite important to note that you should always consult a medical professional before starting a new diet or exercise plan.

If you are worried about how to broach this subject, here are some ways to do it (9)

  • Make an appointment to discuss your new plans.
  • Have a realistic goal in mind and ask your physician if they have any input on these goals.
  • Write down and bring in a food diary. This will give your doctor a clear picture of what you have been eating and what you intend to change.

Diets are great, but your body will thank you if you supplement your healthy nutrition plan with a good workout. Take up this 20 Min Full Body Workout at Home.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. 9 healthful snacks to eat for weight loss (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
  2. Does Metabolism Matter in Weight Loss? (2015, health.harvard.edu)
  3. Eating Wheat Bran Flakes for Weight Loss (2019, livestrong.com)
  4. Effect of a High-Protein, High-Fiber Beverage Preload on Subjective Appetite Ratings and Subsequent Ad Libitum Energy Intake in Overweight Men and Women: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  5. Fruits, Vegetables and Lung Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  7. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in US Adults: The First National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study (2002, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  8. How Many Calories Do You Really Need? (2018, webmd.com)
  9. How to Talk to Your Doctor About Your Diet (2006, webmd.com)
  10. Is Eating Cereal at Night Healthy? (2019, livestrong.com)
  11. Metabolic Slowing With Massive Weight Loss Despite Preservation of Fat-Free Mass (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  12. Portion control (2018, mayoclinic.org)
  13. Ready-to-eat Cereal Used as a Meal Replacement Promotes Weight Loss in Humans (2002, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  14. Side Effects of Eating Too Much Fiber (n.d, livetsrong.com)
  15. The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  16. The Nutritional and Physiological Impact of Cereal Products in Human Nutrition (1977, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  17. The Special K Challenge (2009, webmd.com)
  18. Two Days of Calorie Deprivation Impairs High Level Cognitive Processes, Mood, and Self-Reported Exertion During Aerobic Exercise: A Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  19. Want to Try the Cereal Diet? Here’s What to Know to Get It Right (2019, livestrong.com)
  20. What is the impact of eating too much sugar? (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
  21. Why Are Healthy Snacks Important? (n.d, livestrong.com)
Kristen Fleming

Kristen Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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