Cereal Diet for Weight Loss

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
pouring milk on cereal

The cereal diet is just as it sounds -- consuming a large portion of your daily calories from cereal (with milk) in an effort to shed unwanted pounds. However, is this type of weight loss plan really effective?

What Is the Cereal Diet?

To follow the cereal diet, simply eat a bowl of cereal with low-fat or fat-free milk for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, have a nutritious meal containing lean protein with vegetables (like grilled chicken and mixed steamed veggies). Avoid alcohol when following the cereal diet. This type of diet is generally best for somebody seeking a heart-healthy meal plan who tolerates dairy (or other calcium-rich plant-based milks like almond or soy milk) and wants something simple and easy that doesn't require much cooking.

Which Cereal Is Best?

The diet originated from the Special K diet, and Special K is certainly a healthy breakfast cereal. The bottom line is to choose a cereal high in fiber and low in (or free from) added sugar when possible. Examples include:

  • Cheerios
  • Fiber One
  • All Bran
  • Shredded Wheat
  • Wheaties
  • Wheat Chex
  • Total
  • Kix
  • Plain oatmeal

What to Look For

When picking a cereal, look for 100 percent whole grains as the number one ingredient, at least 3 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, and 5 grams (or less) of sugar per serving. For example, Cheerios cereal contains 100 calories per cup, 3 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, and just 1 gram of sugar.

Does the Diet Work?

The cereal diet appears to work when followed properly, simply because it's a way to reduce your overall calorie intake. For example, if you're eating 1 cup of cereal and 1 cup of skim or low-fat milk for breakfast and lunch, you'll likely be getting between 400 and 600 calories for the two meals combined. As long as you're controlling calories at dinner and snack time, you should be able to shed pounds easily when following the diet. A 2014 study published in Advances in Nutrition found consuming breakfast cereal regularly is associated with lower risks for overweight and obesity and a lower body mass index (BMI).

Pros and Cons

As with any type of weight loss diet, pros and cons exist for the cereal diet. Cereal and milk are fairly inexpensive, so you won't break the bank when choosing this type of meal plan. Cereal plus milk is loaded with heart healthy nutrients, such as fiber, whole grains, protein, vitamins and minerals. And you won't have to spend hours in the kitchen preparing breakfast and lunch menus. A drawback of the diet is it's pretty restrictive, and you may get tired of eating cereal day after day.

Making the Most of the Diet

Tips for making the most of this diet for weight loss include:

  • Switch your cereals (or milks) regularly to prevent boredom.
  • If you're lactose intolerant, try protein-fortified almond milk, soy milk, or lactose-free cow's milk instead of regular milk.
  • Switch lean proteins for dinner regularly (choose from lean red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, tofu or eggs) and alternate veggies, as well.
  • Eat at the same time every day.
  • Drink lots of water throughout the day (aim for a minimum of eight glasses).
  • Work out most days of the week for best results.
  • If you're hungry on the diet, add an extra snack or two.

Sample Meal Plan

The following is a sample menu containing about 1,200 calories. The bottom line is to eat heart-healthy cereal with low-fat milk for breakfast and lunch and choose lean protein and veggies for dinner, plus nutritious snacks between meals.

Breakfast: 1 cup of Cheerios with 1 cup of low-fat milk

Snack: 1 piece of fruit with 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt

Lunch: 1 cup of Total cereal with 1 cup of low-fat milk

Snack: 1 piece of fruit or raw veggie slices plus 1 ounce of nuts or seeds

Dinner: 3 ounces of salmon with 2 cups of steamed veggies

Why Choose a Cereal Diet?

Cereal diets aren't for everybody, but they appear to be effective for weight loss when followed properly. Cereal diets are easy to follow, fairly inexpensive, and well-balanced. So if weight loss is your goal, why not give it a try?

Cereal Diet for Weight Loss