What is the Stillman Diet?


The Stillman diet is a high-protein, low-carbohydrate eating plan that promises rapid weight loss in people who follow its rules precisely. Ideally the diet takes place over two “phases.” In Phase 1, people restrict their food intake to a narrow list of “approved” foods and beverages, mostly lean meats, eggs, and low-fat cheeses. Once a person gets down to his or her desired weight, he or she can slowly start adding things like vegetables, fruit, and bread in Phase 2. This diet has been praised and criticized in equal turns. It tends to be very effective in the short term, but whether it should or even can be used for regular weight maintenance is the subject of much debate.

The Stillman diet is high in protein, and dieters can eat an unlimited amount of lean meats such as chicken.
The Stillman diet is high in protein, and dieters can eat an unlimited amount of lean meats such as chicken.

Getting Started

Phase 1 of the plan essentially limits dieters to a short and restrictive list of “approved” foods and drinks. People can eat as many of these foods as often as they like, but in order to get the best results nothing else should be consumed at all. Most experts recommend that people on this plan eat six smaller meals a day rather than three large ones in order to stay full and satisfied.

Six small meals should be eaten over the course of a day.
Six small meals should be eaten over the course of a day.

Lean meats, chicken, and turkey — ideally with all possible fat trimmed off and discarded — are the core of the diet. Any type of seafood or shellfish, eggs, and low-fat cheeses are also permitted. Coffee, tea, and water are fine, too, so long as they contain no sugar, milk, or cream. No butters or oils can be used at all, not even for cooking. Spices are generally allowed, but dressings and sauces should be used only sparingly, and even then typically only if they contain no sugar or additives. Creamy salad dressings are usually forbidden, for instance, but vinaigrettes are usually okay; mayonnaise is not allowed, but horseradish and most grainy mustards are.

Vitamin supplements should be taken throughout the dieting process.
Vitamin supplements should be taken throughout the dieting process.

Maintenance and Phase 2

Proponents of the plan suggest that dieters can lose anywhere from 7 to 15 lbs (3 to 7 kg) during the first week and 5 lbs (2.2 kg) with each subsequent week. Of course, there comes a point where a person has reached his or her “ideal” or “target” weight, and which point he or she typically looks more to maintenance than continued loss. This is where Phase 2 of the plan comes in.

A glass of diet soda, which is allowed on the Stillman diet.
A glass of diet soda, which is allowed on the Stillman diet.

Phase 2 instructs dieters to slowly add in sparing amounts of vegetables, fruits, and complex carbohydrates like whole grain breads and cereals. People should monitor their weight every day; if a week goes by without gain, still more can be added in. The moment a person sees a gain of three pounds or more, though, he or she should return to Phase 1 until that weight is once again lost.

The Stillman diet is meant to offer the "melting out" of body fat.
The Stillman diet is meant to offer the "melting out" of body fat.

Why it Works

Many people who follow the Stillman diet precisely have success losing weight, mainly because forcing the body to digest proteins and little else stimulates the metabolism. Dr. Irwin Maxwell Stillman, an American physician in the 1960s and the diet’s founder, claimed that the body uses up 30 percent of all calories consumed in breaking down proteins. Therefore, raising the intake of proteins to levels around 90 percent would mean that the body’s metabolism would have to work much harder, a process that Stillman called the "melting out" of body fat. Eliminating all sugars and outside fats helps the body narrow its focus to breaking down rather than consuming and storing up.

Commercial Success

Though the plan was developed at first for the doctor’s obese and seriously overweight patients, it soon became popular in the mainstream as well. He eventually wrote a book, The Doctor's Quick Weight Loss Diet, summarizing his findings, setting out the plan in more detail, and suggesting potential recipes and eating plans.

With the success of his diet plan behind him, the doctor went on to devise a number of other diets throughout the 1970s. A low-protein plan he called The Doctor's Inches Off Diet operated, somewhat surprisingly to many, on principles almost entirely opposite to those in the standard Stillman diet, and focused heavily on vegetarian, non-protein foods. His Quick Teen-Age Diet was a synthesis both regimes, and focused on giving younger people a more balanced eating plan that added exercise to the mix.

Risks and Precautions

For a dieter looking for a concise, easy to follow diet plan that is guaranteed to shed weight, the Stillman diet has obvious attractions. With its focus on protein intake, however, the diet doesn't include a number of important types of foods. One of the biggest problems people have is vitamin deficiency. It’s usually a good idea for people on this plan to take vitamin supplements and capsules to be sure their bodies are getting a good balance of nutrients. Eating only lean meats, eggs, and cheese can work for a short period of weight loss, but it is not nutritionally sustainable for the long term.

Adequate hydration is also really important. This diet is relatively low in fiber, which can make constipation a problem; ketones, which are compounds the body makes when breaking down fats, can also build up in the liver on this plan. Drinking water can help bowel function and can flush out the liver, too.

Drinking eight glasses of water daily is a key recommendation for those on the Stillman Diet.
Drinking eight glasses of water daily is a key recommendation for those on the Stillman Diet.

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Discussion Comments


Can you eat yellow mustard on this diet? It has no calories. Also, 1 percent cottage cheese? Some places say nonfat cottage cheese.


Someone who still has the book can correct me, but my memory is that the "two week" rule only applied to his list of extremely simple diet plans (the ones that had, say, two ingredients six times a day) He recommended them for their ease of use and encouraging results, but obviously, they are not a permanent healthy lifestyle.

Just as with Atkins, these diets do not make you hungry. They do make you bored. They involve body chemistry and so must be followed exactly with no unapproved additions. And, yes, they work very well.


This plan certainly works. In 2011, after losing 110 pounds on Adkins in 10 months, I switched to Stillman's and lost the additional 20 pounds I wanted to lose in about 2.5 weeks. I stuck to turkey bacon, eggs, canned chicken breast and sometimes fresh chicken breast, tuna and low fat cheese. I even used parmesan on occasion and had coffee with half and half and managed to shed the unwanted pounds.

Anytime I find myself with a weight creep of more than 7 pounds, I do Stillman's. It is certainly advisable to take a multivitamin and use colace or some kind of anti constipation medication. The amount of water alone helps, and the fact that I jog consistently helps as well.


@anon: Not true. I have the book. He (Dr. Stillman) says that you should "just give him two short weeks and then, if you need to lose more, continue on the plan. Nowhere does he say that you should, after two weeks, go on a balanced diet. I have the book "The Stillman Diet (the Quick Weight Loss Diet). I don't know what book you're referring to, but your information is incorrect.


This diet really works. I tried it after I had my fourth child, and I lost 17 pounds of weight in a week, and anywhere from three to six pounds each week afterwards. I was back to a size 4 in less than two months! To deal with the constipation, just get some herbal detox or laxative tea!


This diet definitely works. I tried it in the 1970's and the weight loss was there. I am now reconsidering it in 2011 as most of the more moderate diets such as weight-watchers or Jenny Craig take too long to lose weight and I get too discouraged. I can keep it off, once lost so here we go again. Yes, I have the original book in paperback. --wmwendt


I'm new to stillman's diet. The only diet that worked for me was water fasting, but after fasting i gained all weight back. But it was great because of the healing effects. --optimuss 75


I just started it last night. If it's too tough, I'll just go with Atkins!


anon48572's warning is piffle. I have the original print copy of Stillman and Baker, The Doctor's Quick Weight Loss Diet and followed the program for 4 months losing 5 stone in the process. He only suggests that you move to a "balanced" diet when you are very near "ideal" weight. He is quite adamant about drinking enough water, however.


I too lost a lot of weight in 1969 when I was 16. I also stopped getting my periods, had no energy, and regained the 30 pounds I lost in a month when I started eating normally. This is not a magic bullet. It's dangerous.


I lost 30 lbs. over the summer of 1975 on this diet. I love the ease of purchasing the required food and so little clean up as well.


I lost 33 pounds in three weeks on this diet in 1976. It was the most success I ever had on a diet, and I did not gain weight back as soon as I went off it. I find the best way is to do this diet for three weeks, and then switch to Atkins induction, where you can have a bit more variety. Stillman's is the best diet I ever found.


You forgot to mention something *very* important: Dr. Stillman emphasized that this extreme, protein-only diet should only be followed for two weeks maximum in one stretch. Then you should do a balanced diet for a few weeks. He was adamant that no one should try to stay on such an extremely lopsided eating plan for more than two weeks at a time!


I lost 47 pounds in just 3 months on the plan which I stuck to it exactly. That is aboout 15 pounds a month which is great for someone who has a lot of trouble losing on any other plan especially those that include a balanced diet.

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