Dr. Phil's 20/20 Ultimate Weight Solution

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on March 24, 2023
4 min read

The secret to weight loss isn't a secret at all. If you've tried to lose weight before, you know what you need to do, says TV celebrity and former psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw.

It's not about willpower. “It’s about changing what you eat, why you eat, where you eat, when you eat, and how you eat, and doing it all in a way that is custom-designed so that it is natural for you,"  says. Dr. Phil.

Ten years after his best-selling diet book, The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom, the TV personality has written a new book “The 20/20 Diet.” In addition to the diet plan, the book offers readers cognitive, behavioral, environmental, social and nutritional tools to help reach their weight loss goals

McGraw's divides the diet into four phases:

  • Phase 1 – The five-day boost – you eat only the 20 foods listed in the guideline
  • Phase 2 – Five-day sustain – you add foods outside the original 20 but all meals and snacks must have at least two of the original 20/20
  • Phase 3 – 20 Day Sustain – Again, more foods are allowed. You eat four meals, four hours apart for 20 days. A few more new foods are added. Two splurges are allowed each week.
  • Phase 4 – Management Phase – continue eating healthy foods from previous phases and make lifestyle changes to keep yourself in check like weighing and measuring and not letting a busy schedule get in the way of maintaining your goals.

If you don’t reach your goal weight by the end of Phase 3, you repeat the first three phases until you reach your goal. You are encouraged to download and use the 20/20 app (available for IPhone and Android)


McGraw's food plan emphasizes 20 key power foods, including:  coconut oil, green tea, mustard, olive oil, almonds, apples, chickpeas, dried plums, prunes, leafy greens, lentils, peanut butter, pistachios, raisins, yogurt, eggs, cod, rye, tofu, and whey powder. 

As the diet progresses, you can add things like chicken breast, tuna, oats, brown rice, carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, cashews, blueberries, avocado, raspberries, mushrooms, potatoes, spinach, quinoa, and black beans.

You eat four meals four hours apart. Splurges are allowed twice a week as long as they don’t exceed 100 calories.

You should drink 8 to 10 glasses of water daily on this plan. McGraw also suggests a high-quality multiple vitamin-mineral supplement.

No food is really off-limits, but it's all about making better choices. Sugars and refined foods are discouraged. The App can help you in planning

Limitations: Allow yourself some occasional treats, so long as you keep from bingeing or returning to a pattern of “free-for-all eating,” McGraw says. You can also choose “slenderizing substitutions,” such as no-sugar ice cream for regular ice cream, and dried fruit instead of candy.

Cooking and shopping: You need to plan what you're going to eat each day and stick to it. A well-planned food strategy frees you from making last-minute decisions about what to eat, he says, and prevents you from caving in to sudden impulses to overeat. In his book he includes recipes as well as sample menus.

Packaged foods or meals: Not required.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: Aim for at least 3 to 4 hours a week of moderate activity and at least 2 to 3 hours a week of vigorous activity.

Vegetarians and vegans: This plan works for vegetarians. If you’re vegan, you would need to adjust the recipes that include animal products.

Gluten-free: Carbs are on the menu every day. You can choose those without gluten, but the diet itself doesn’t ban gluten.

Cost: No additional costs.

Support: This is a diet you do on your own.

Does It Work? Although there is no specific research on the success of Dr. Phil's plan, besides his own observations, the recommendations are in line with traditional weight loss programs that focus on changing behavior and unhealthy thought patterns.

Weight loss is likely to occur with his low-calorie meal plans. But his recommendations are not individualized, so the calories may be too low or too high for some.

There is no evidence that vitamin, mineral, or herb supplements will aid weight loss as he suggests. And his simplistic advice regarding emotional and binge eating should not be a substitute for getting professional help.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

In general this plan is fine for people with weight-related health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

But there are some red flags. According to an analysis done by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, his plan may be high in cholesterol and inadequate in certain nutrients like iron, potassium, and magnesium.

Check with your doctor before starting any weight loss plan, especially if you’re taking medications -- they may need to be altered as you lose weight.

The Final Word

The book's strengths include its emphasis on improving the way you think about food, which can help you manage your weight. The focus on exercise is also important for long-term success and overall health.

But some of his meal plans fall short on certain nutrients. And while he offers advice on disordered eating, Dr. Phil does not specialize in this area.

This plan may work for you if you like Dr. Phil's personality and his own unique approach that many find motivating. It is also good for you if you don’t want to cut out whole food groups or foods you enjoy.

This plan may not be a good fit if you have complicated eating issues that require additional support. And if you don't like exercise or Dr. Phil’s matter-of-fact delivery of advice, the book may turn you off.