Does The Ice Cream Diet Actually Work?

Call any diet "the ice cream diet," and fans of chocolate, mint chip, peanut butter swirl, gelato, sorbet, and vanilla will pull up a chair, along with a cone or a spoon. But dieting usually means avoiding or reducing how much you eat certain types of foods. Can a diet that sounds as heavenly as including a dessert like ice cream each day really work?

It can. However, the ice cream part has nothing to do with the weight loss, dietician Jo Bartell tells Healthline. The key is that the overall diet is a low-fat, high-fiber meal plan of about 1,200 calories a day. That's the same principle behind the basic dieting formula: burn off more calories than you intake, and you'll lose weight. "Anyone who eats 1,200 calories per day will lose weight in the short term, because the body will be in caloric deficit," Bartell tells Healthline. "This has to do with lack of calories and not the ice cream."

The ice cream diet, based on a 2002 book by Holly McCord, promised readers that they could slim down while indulging their cravings because they could eat ice cream every day. But theoretically, if you reduce your daily calorie count, you could eat a slice of triple-decker chocolate cake and lose weight, too.

Ice cream is an occasional treat, not the foundation of a weight-loss plan

If you ate ice cream daily on a calorie-restricted diet, you'd also deprive yourself of some much-needed nutrients, Bartell says. A single cup of vanilla ice cream does contain calcium but also a lot of questionable nutritional value: about 270 calories, 28 grams of sugar, 14.5 grams of fat, and 31 grams of carbohydrates. Even a fat-free milk-based ice cream with no added sugar contains at least 6 grams of lactose.

Overall, like other fad diets, the ice cream diet isn't sustainable (via Livestrong). A dramatic drop in calories causes the body to lose mostly fluid, so when you return to your typical diet, you regain the weight that you thought you lost. But perhaps the biggest problem is that people who try it may come to think of ice cream as a food that won't affect their dieting efforts, Bartell says. It's an occasional treat, which makes it special. 

Nevertheless, she understands the appeal. "There is definitely something to be said for allowing dieters a treat like ice cream every day," Bartell explains. "When people aren't feeling deprived and getting to enjoy something they love, they will be more likely to stick to eating for weight loss."

Maybe work in the ice cream once a week, along with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.