Is it really possible to lose as much as 15 pounds in 21 days? Well, the 21 Day Fix (also called the container diet plan) suggests that you can do exactly that.
That's why this 21 Day Fix review is considering how realistic those claims actually are.
This particular diet has been popular over the past few years, especially on Pinterest, where people are sharing images of what they are eating.
Personally, I’m always skeptical of popular diets – especially ones that promote fast weight loss. All-too-often, popular diets just take advantage of people’s desire to lose weight and often don’t really help.
For example, one diet that has been doing the rounds is the 3 Day Military Diet, which is a fairly absurd low-calorie diet that provides a strange meal plan (including ice cream most days).
So, what about the 21 Day Fix? It this another fad diet or are the creators onto something?
The 21 Day Fix and BeachBody
To begin with, this diet is sold by a site called Team BeachBody (or just BeachBody). The company itself relies on a combination of MLM and infomercials to sell fitness and weight loss products.
The 21 Day Fix is just one of the products that is sold on the site.
If you were to buy the whole product from the site (or from Amazon), you would basically get this:
The diet itself focuses on two major areas. One is the containers that you see in the image, while the other is workouts. The DVDs offer six different 30-minute workouts, designed to get people exercising every day, regardless of their fitness level (at least, that’s what the company claims).
Some reviews for the DVDs note that the exercises are extremely difficult for people just starting out and that some of the exercises could cause joint issues, especially as they seem to involve a whole lot of jumping.
With the containers, the general concept is that each container is used for a specific type of food. How many you eat per day depends on your weight and the information below is used as an overall guide for what you should be consuming.
At the same time, the company provides a list of foods that you should consume in each container. For the most part, the foods are about what you’d expect. There are a decent number of options but at the same time, I imagine that some people would struggle to follow the lists consistently.
So, the basic concept of the diet is fairly simple.
You stick to the amount of each type of container per day and you only fill them with approved foods. At the same time, you exercise regularly, ideally using the company’s DVDs.
Which, brings us to the main question, does the 21 Day Fix actually work for weight loss?
Before I get to that though, I want to look at some of the concerns that I have about this diet.
Issues with the Diet
For the most part, this diet assumes that everybody needs roughly the same thing. For example, the amount of each type of container you consume is based on your weight only. This doesn’t take gender into account or activity level.
That pattern alone is concerning because people can vary considerably in how many calories they are burning in a day. Yet, the diet ignores all of this.
At the same time, the whole concept of the diet assumes that there is a set serving size that is ideal for each type of nutrients. But, there’s no scientific support for that concept. Instead, there is extensive debate about how much we should be consuming, especially when it comes to fats, carbs and healthy fats.
Additionally, people don’t all respond the same to different types of food. This is one reason why some people thrive on a low-carb diet, while others find the diet a little like torture and extremely difficult to follow. In fact, there is growing discussion surrounding the concept of personalized nutrition and the idea that we should not assume that everyone responds to food in the same way (1,2).
In practical terms, this may mean that 21 Day Fix may work effectively for weight loss for some people but may not work as well for others.
The one other significant issue with this diet is that it’s pretty restrictive in terms of the food that you can and cannot eat. Specifically, there is a list of foods that you can have in the various boxes. For example, this is the list from the orange container (which is also the shortest list):
There are a lot of options on the list but honestly, there are fewer than I would expect. Likewise, many of them are fairly specific. For example, this is part of the list for the red container (which is for protein).
Based on the list, the only type of ground beef you can have is at least 95% lean, while any cuts of red meat must be extra lean. There are similar restrictions for many types of food.
To a degree, this makes sense.
After all, you do want to be eating healthy food to lose weight (a concept that Kitchen Stewardship focuses on too).
But, the whole approach seems incredibly unrealistic. For one thing, many of the foods on the list are relatively expensive and the allowed foods exclude many types of meals. Likewise, there is no room for treats on the list, unless your treats happen to be fruit or something equally healthy.
One of the claims about this diet is that it’s easy. After all, you don’t have to worry about portion sizes, you just fill the containers. Well, that’s only partially true. If you look at the food lists, many of the types of food actually have quantities, like these:
Now, this pattern isn’t true for all of the types of food but it does suggest that the diet isn’t quite as simple as it first seems.
Other Things to Consider
Cost is a pretty major disadvantage with this approach. If you buy the kit off the site, then it costs close to $60 in total, including shipping and handling. The price is pretty similar from Amazon.
However, if you’re just interested in the containers, you can buy ones that are pretty much identical for a much lower price, like these ones here, which are much less expensive. They're also considerably more popular.
Realistically, you could follow the entire weight loss approach with cheaper containers and get in exercise other ways, like going to the gym or joining a group fitness course.
To be honest, there seems to be very little that would make the kit from BeachBody worth buying, especially as the containers are the main focus of the diet.
Beyond this, there is also a major issue of time and convenience.
Using these containers effectively really involves a shift in the way that you think about meals and you’d probably struggle for a while figuring out how to get the nutrition that you want.
Of course, there are options.
So, you could choose to actually make meals that you can eat out of the containers or you could put ingredients in the containers and them combine them on a plate. Either way though, you would struggle with meals that involved following a recipe or ones that used multiple types of ingredients.
It’s also worth noting that even if you are in the lowest weight group, you still need to have 4 boxes of protein a day, along with 3 of veggies, 2 of fruit, 2 of carbs, 1 of healthy fats and 1 of seeds and dressings (plus 2 spoons of oils or nut/seed butter). To do that effectively, you would either need to wash and reuse containers multiple times per day or you would need multiple sets of the containers.
Either way, this is another issue that increases the cost and the time involved in the diet.
Despite any advantages that it may offer, this diet is potentially expensive, time-consuming and may be difficult for many people to consistently follow
Does 21 Day Fix Work?
When it comes to weight loss, there are two main questions to ask:
- Does it work in the short-term?
- Does it work in the long-term?
Often, you will find that popular diets help people lose weight quickly, but don’t give them any tools to help them keep that weight off. Because of this, people often end up putting weight back on soon after they finish the diet.
Realistically, the most effective way to lose weight and to keep it off is to change your lifestyle to be healthier. Doing so may involve following a particular diet but the idea is to follow something that you can keep doing in the long-term.
Regardless of whether you call it the 21 Day Fix or the container diet plan, this overall diet approach does work.
With this diet, you end up controlling precisely how much you have of different parts of your diet. In turn, that helps to keep your calorie intake down and, in theory, keeps you satisfied throughout the day.
In general, people have a tendency to eat what is put in front of them. Likewise, we tend to finish a plate of food, even if there is more food there than we need. Surprisingly, our satisfaction with a meal is tied to how much of the serving we eat, rather than how much food we eat in general.
Because of this, research shows that decreasing the size of a plate of food can decrease how much food people eat without affecting how satisfied they are (3). That pattern does indicate that controlling portion sizes can help in weight loss (4).
So, most people would find that they lose weight on this diet, as they are decreasing calorie intake and portion size, while also increasing exercise. Because of this, the approach is also one that could work in the long-term. In some cases, this is an eating pattern that people might even enjoy.
However, the diet is very restrictive and offers few options for treats. That would make it difficult for many people to follow in the long-term.
However, I do like the fact that you aren’t starving yourself on the diet.
One of the most common approaches that popular diets use is to promote an incredibly restrictive diet that means you end up being hungry a lot of the time. I’m impressed with the fact that this diet does not attempt to do that.
Like many diets, the 21 Day Fix works in theory. However, whether or not you would be able to follow it in the long-term is a different story altogether
The Underlying Concept
I said that this diet does work and in many ways that is true. After all, the underlying concept is just to exercise and to control your portion size. There’s certainly nothing revolutionary in that.
In fact, using containers like this isn’t unusual either.
For example, there has been considerable interest in bento box meals, which get their inspiration from Japanese meal approaches. You just have to search Pinterest to find a ton of ideas for any diet type, like these:
Bento box meals follow a similar approach to what the diet suggests but they are much less restrictive. The size of the box (depending on what you have), means that you can’t eat too much. At the same time though, you have a lot more choices.
There are also many amazing recipes and styles of food that you can use in this type of box. For example, the site Happiness is Homemade highlights 35 different lunch ideas. Paleo Hacks also has a selection of paleo versions that would work too.
If nothing else, this approach works exceptionally well for lunches and is much easier to do than the container diet. However, if you wanted to lose weight with this type of meal, you’d still have to pay careful attention to the ingredients you consume.
The site Just Bento also talks about how the bento box concept can be applied to weight loss.
At the end of the day, 21 Day Fix simply follows two approaches: restrict portion size and exercise more. The plan is one way to do these approaches, but there are many other types of diets and lifestyle approaches that also let you do something similar.
For some people, this may be the way to go but for others, the plan may be too time-consuming, expensive or restrictive – and that’s fine.
Honestly though, if you're even considering the diet, it's worth just buying cheap containers and doing it that way, rather than relying on what the 21 Day Fix offers specifically.
Despite all the hype you hear, there isn’t a single effective diet for weight loss. Likewise, there’s no magic formula that will have you losing weight faster and more effectively than ever before.
Instead, the best approach is to simply find a good diet that works effectively for you. For example, nutritional ketosis diets, low carb diets and intermittent fasting diets all work well for some people.
Other examples include the paleo diet and autophagy diets. Figuring out which weight loss approach works best for you may be a matter of doing some research and trying to see what fits in with your needs.
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What do you think of this approach? Would it be worth the effort?