So you ate a few more cookies over the holidays than you should have, and
now you're weighing in at a few more pounds than you'd like. What to do?
Perhaps you should eat more cookies.
Purveyors of several all-the-rage "cookie diets" say you can lose as much as
15 pounds a month on their programs, and they boast of a sizable batch of
already sized-down cookie dieters -- reportedly including
Jennifer Hudson, Mandy Moore, Howard Stern, Kelly Clarkson and former Madonna husband Guy Ritchie.
But before visions of sugar cookies (or rum balls, pfeffernuesse,
gingerbread men . . .) start dancing in your head, be warned: On a cookie
diet, you can't eat just any cookies. You have to eat special cookie-diet
These cookies have been the toast of fan magazines and TV talk shows; on
Friday, the granddaddy of them all -- Dr. Siegal's COOKIE DIET™
-- is opening
its first full-fledged store in
"That's where all our customers are," says Dr. Sanford Siegal, who invented
the original cookie diet more than 30 years ago. "That's why it's there, for
The basic notion of these diets -- Smart for Life,
Hollywood Cookie Diet and Soypal, as well as
-- is to replace one or two meals a day with
cookies that are much lower in calories than the meals would have been.
Although the regimens vary, they are often very low-calorie diets designed
to lead to rapid weight loss.
Because all the cookies are standardized in size and calorie content -- and
dieters are usually told how many to eat and when -- the diets eliminate the
problem of out-sized portions, generally considered a major culprit in
James Pacella of Boston adhered to the Smart for Life diet for seven months,
and the 23-year-old engineer for
Procter & Gamble , lost about a third of himself -- scaling down to 225 pounds
He thought the cookie diet was as easy as pie. "It's hard to explain," he
says, "because it just happened . . . I can't say enough about it. I really
believe in it."
But others think the whole concept is nuttier than a fruitcake.
"It's a classic fad diet," says Judith Stern, a UC Davis nutrition professor
and diet expert who co-directs the Collaborative Obesity Research Evaluation
Team, an international board that reviews published obesity papers. "If it
weren't serious, I would just laugh. But people spend money on these
In 1975, Siegal was an obesity doctor in South Florida, and his goal in
devising the first cookie diet was to make his patients' poundage plummet.
He believed patients did best when their results were fast and obvious. "You
go to the doctor's office and see the weight coming off every week," he
says. "That's a tremendous motivating factor."
Siegal settled on 800 calories a day as the optimum number for weight loss.
And he came up with a plan in which dieters got those 800 calories by eating
his cookies for breakfast and lunch and then lean meat and vegetables for
He says it's safe, under supervision -- "I've never seen a problem with too
low a calorie diet. Staying obese, that's the danger." And he says it's very
effective: "No one fails on 800 calories a day, believe me."
The trick with any diet is sticking to it, and proponents say cookie diets
are highly stick-to-it-able. After all, cookies are convenient, portable
and, hey, they're cookies.
But the main reason people manage to stay on the diets, manufacturers
believe, is because the cookies keep them from getting ravenous.
Hunger suppression is crucial, Siegal says. "Any diet will work if people
can follow it, but they can't follow it if they're too hungry."
It's no problem to curb hunger by eating a lot of calories. It's a lot
harder if you get only 800 calories a day (or even a few hundred more as
some plans allow). Manufacturers say cookie diets pull this off by using
special ingredients -- including certain amino acids and soy byproducts --
or by prescribing small, frequent meals instead of three big ones, or by
A secret blend of amino acids -- known only to him and his wife -- is
supposed to do the trick in Dr. Siegal's COOKIE DIET™
. Dr. Sasson Moulavi,
founder and medical director of Smart for Life, says a patent is pending on
his appetite-suppressing blend of amino acids, fiber and complex sugars. And
Larry Turner, president of the Hollywood Cookie Diet, says the protein and
fiber in his cookies make them so satisfying that people often don't even
eat as many as the diet allows.
Taking a very different tack, Soypal Cookies -- said to be the most popular
diet in their native Japan -- are designed simply and literally to fill you
up. Their crucial ingredient is okara, the soy pulp left after soybeans are
processed into soy milk and tofu. Dieters are instructed to drink plenty of
liquids with the cookies because, according to Winnie Shepardson, customer
service support representative for Soypal, "When okara absorbs water, it
expands two to three times its original size."
Some of the diets also rely on the notion that it's not just what you
eat, but when you
eat that matters. "Primitive man used to eat small meals many times a day --
find some berries here, go on, find some more there," says Moulavi, who
recommends that dieters eat one of his cookies every two to three hours.
"The intestine was designed for small meals throughout the day."
Turner, of the Hollywood Cookie Diet, believes cookie dieters can learn
valuable eating habits. "We're teaching people to maintain calorie balance
and portion control," he says.
Pacella says that happened for him. "It empowered me to learn how to portion
out my day to have smaller meals," he says. "Now I can stay on the same
schedule, but instead of cookies, I make smart choices, like fruit." After
dieting for seven months, starting last February, Pacella has maintained his
weight loss the past four months and is still using the cookies.
Nutrition experts agree that very low-calorie cookie diets, when used as
directed, can make the weight evaporate. But they say research has shown
that most people won't stick with a very low-calorie diet for very long.
"People go on a rapid weight loss diet and find they get tired of it and
then go back to eating the way they did before," says
James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of
Denver, nationally known for its research on obesity prevention and treatment. "The
key . . . is finding a way to eat and exercise that you can do forever."
Hill also doubts that cookie diets give most people any useful practice in
portion control. They're too low in calories, he says. That is, over the
long term, it's unrealistic to expect people to control their portions that
"It is not a portion-control message, but rather a quick-fix message, that
comes from these diets," Hill says.
And how do the cookies taste? Four unbiased (albeit nondieting)
cookie-lovers performed an unscientific taste test of four brands of diet
cookies:Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet, Hollywood Cookie Diet, Smart for Life and
Soypal Cookie Diet. None of the cookies won raves, but some were deemed not
bad. Comments ranged from "Sawdust comes to mind" and "Sort of a chemical
taste" to "Pretty good" and "This could pass for a regular cookie!"
Cookie diet inventors have tried their products out in various settings --
on friends or patients, in diet clinics, etc. And they experimented till
they were satisfied the cookies lived up to their claims.
But no one has conducted -- let alone published -- any randomized controlled
trials to test these claims in a valid way.
kind of evidence scientists such as Hill and Stern crave -- to prove whether
cookie diets really are a recipe for success or just another half-baked diet
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