Dr. Sanford Siegal makes a weight-loss offer that sounds hard to refuse: the Cookie Diet, a pound-shedding program that he says has helped thousands of his patients drop an average of 15 pounds per month.
The key is a carefully crafted cookie recipe, which suppresses hunger, paired with very specific dinner menu, said Siegal of Siegal Medical Group in Miami.
"On this diet, you have one meal only: dinner," Siegal said. "The dinner consists of 6 ounces of chicken, turkey, fish or seafood."
Along with the lean meat choices, the diet allows one cup of vegetables with dinner. Red meats are discouraged because of their high fat content. The rest of the diet consists of exactly six hunger-suppressing cookies per day, which are baked in Siegal's own bakery in Miami and available only to patients in Siegal's clinics (five in Florida, and one in Montreal.)
The cookies are not for breakfast or for lunch, but rather for whenever the dieter is hungry, though they must eat six a day. The six cookies, plus the one dinner, adds up to 800 calories. Dieters should also consume eight glasses of liquid a day, which includes coffee and tea, Siegal says.
Too Few Calories?
Critics say the diet's requirement of 800 calories a day is too low, and that it lacks nutritional staples that give us the vitamins and minerals we need.
"It's really just another fad diet that will hook people in with the gimmick of being able to eat cookies all day," said Amy Campbell, a nutrition and diabetes educator at the Joslin Clinic in Boston. "While this sounds appealing, a closer look at the details reveals that this is not a nutritious eating plan at all."
The 800 calories a day is below that which is recommended for safe and effective weight loss, and the diet is woefully lacking in fruits and vegetables, as well as calcium, vitamin D4 and fiber, she said.
Siegal says that there have been no problems with the diet in terms of patient safety, and that it is supplemented with vitamins.
Unlike diet pills designed to suppress your appetite, the cookies do not have drugs in them, Siegal said. Instead, the cookies contain amino-acids in the form of hunger-suppressing proteins: oats, rice, whole wheat flour, bran.
"We've worked with this mixture over the years to the point it works quite well as an appetite suppressant," Siegal said. "And it enables someone to eat an 800-calories-a-day diet and not get hungry."
Diet in a Bag
Ela Prieto, a 39-year-old bank executive, lost 51 pounds, shrinking from a size 14 to a size 4. She was on the cookie diet for four and a half months, and then went off the diet and onto a maintenance program for the last two years, on which she eats about 1,200 calories a day, and exercises.
"The first five days, like on every diet, it's not easy," Prieto said. But instead of toting around a salad or a TV dinner, she just put her cookies in a Ziploc bag and kept them with her.
"And I'm not hungry," she said. "The cookies do satisfy."
They cookies are available in chocolate, raisin or coconut — but flavorful, they're not.
"They're not the world's best cookies — but they weren't intended to be," Siegal said. The makers or Oreos and Mrs. Fields shouldn't lose any sleep, he said.
The cookies themselves are low in fiber and two of the flavors are high in saturated fat, which can raise the risk of heart disease, Campbell said.
"Practically anyone who consumes only 800 calories per day will lose weight — the point is that, again, it's not a healthful way to lose weight," she said.
Not Enough Carbs?
Connie Diekman, the director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, was similarly unimpressed.
The six cookies daily supply a total of 60 grams of carbohydrates, which when added to the 10 from vegetables make the carbohydrate intake a total of 70 grams per day — much below the 100 to 125 grams per day minimum for health, Diekman said. Calorie-wise, each cookie is like a slice of bread, a nutritional mix of several different food types that is probably equivalent to half a serving of lowfat dairy, and half a fruit serving.
"Again, this is a low-carb, low-calorie eating plan that will promote weight loss, but not necessarily body fat change, making it a less-than-healthy choice," she said.
Siegal said that the cookie diet is not something patients would stay on permanently.
"It depends on how much weight you have to lose. Three out of four lose 15 pounds a month," Siegal said. "No one will follow a diet for a lifetime, so we change the method to get them to burn up more calories."
Although five pounds a month is often cited as a sustainable level of weight loss, Siegal says the quicker the better.
"The only people we see who maintain their weight are those who get to the goal set before them," Siegal said.