Cookie diets have received a lot of buzz over the past few years, none more so than Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet (*Est. $60 per week for cookies). It also spawned a host of similar diet plans, including the Hollywood Cookie Diet (*Est. $40 per week) and Smart for Life (*Est. $90 for a two-week cookie supply). The premise of Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet is simple: Eat six of his cookies a day, and a 500-calorie dinner consisting of lean protein and vegetables. The cookies contain protein and fiber to curb hunger, but the exact ingredients aren't disclosed. Meal-replacement shakes are available as an alternative.
The daily recommended calorie intake for Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet is a mere 1,000 calories. Most nutritional experts, including those at the American Dietetic Association, recommend that dieters eat at least 1,200 calories per day unless under the supervision of a doctor. User reviews suggest that Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet can lead to short-term weight loss if you stick with it, but only 73 percent of reviewers at DietsInReview.com like the diet. "It's been a little over a month now and I've lost 16 pounds," writes one. "If you can make it through the first week, it really gets pretty easy." However, some say the cookies don't taste that good, and it gets monotonous to eat them every day.
In April 2011, Dr. Siegal reformulated the cookies to be all-natural, kosher and vegetarian, and devised "Plan 10X." These smaller cookies contain fewer calories, supposedly taste better and are $10 dollars less than the Classic Cookie Diet plan. In addition, the Plan 10X cookies contain no artificial flavors, sweeteners, colors or preservatives.
According to DietsInReview.com, dieters should eat nine cookies per day (one every two hours), then finish the day with a dinner that's 500 to 700 calories for a total of 1,445 to 1,780 daily calories. The popular diet review site concludes: "This diet is good for anyone who has a hard time making healthy food choices, because the majority of your meals are already planned out for you. Dr. Siegal's Plan 10X has the same pros and cons as any other meal-replacement diet: If you return to eating the way you did before, you will regain the weight."
Critics say Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet is just another in a long line of fads that focus on eating one particular food (like the Grapefruit Diet) without teaching overweight individuals the eating and exercise skills they need to keep weight off for the long haul. "A cookie diet represents everything that has become wrong with how American society views health," writes one reviewer at DietsInReview.com. "There is no effort required, no serious commitment to improve health or actual lifestyle changes involved in eating cookies." However, others say meal-replacement diets can be useful for those who need to be told exactly what to eat. "When you can drink a shake (or eat a bar instead of a meal), it simplifies it and helps some dieters stay in control," Dee Sandquist, RD, of the American Dietetic Association tells WebMD.com.
Dr. Siegal officials claim to have successfully treated more than 500,000 people, but no credible medical studies back up his claims. Other cookie diets have the same downsides. The Hollywood Cookie Diet gets similar average ratings at DietsInReview.com, with 74 percent of respondents saying they like it. Smart for Life enjoys higher ratings, with 86 percent reporting a good experience. One advantage to Smart for Life is that it offers numerous alternatives to cookies, including cupcakes, shakes, soups and cereals. Gluten-free granola squares are also available.
So which cookies taste best? The Wall Street Journal tested products from Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet (Classic), the Hollywood Cookie Diet and Smart for Life. The best-tasting cookies came from the Hollywood Cookie Diet, with its chocolate chip cookie earning the highest rating (5.3 out of 10). Testers thought the cookie tasted pretty decent, but had a weird aftertaste. Hollywood's oatmeal raisin cookie came in second place. Dr. Siegal's Classic cookies scored considerably lower, with testers saying the chocolate cookie tasted "rubbery" and like "cardboard." Smart for Life's cookies fared even worse; its chocolate chip cookie had the lowest score, with an overall rating of 2.4 out of 10. Testers especially didn't like the "wooden, unsavory, crunchy bits."
Cookie diets are the latest meal-replacement weight-loss plan popularized by products like Slim-Fast (*Est. $20 per week for shakes/bars). Yet Slim-Fast has been included in a number of studies and clinical trials, which indicate the program is nutritionally sound and can lead to short-term weight loss. In the Slim-Fast 3-2-1 plan, dieters have three 100-calorie snack bars (*Est. $4 for a box of six) or fruit, vegetables and nuts; two shakes (*Est. $9 for four) or meal-replacement bars; and a 500-calorie dinner per day. The shakes are available in either ready-to-drink bottles or a powder mix. In addition, the Slim-Fast website has a free online tracker to monitor your progress.
A study conducted by the University of Surrey in the U.K. examined four commercial diets, including Slim-Fast, and found that weight loss was similar for dieters following each. Study subjects lost an average of 13 pounds over six months. A study at Royal Children's Hospital in Australia tested the nutritional profiles of nearly 300 adults on popular diets, including Slim-Fast. It found no evidence of nutritional deficiencies with Slim-Fast or any of the other diets.
Reviewers point to Slim-Fast as an option for people who don't have the time to prepare healthy meals. In one sense it's a good choice for those on the go, but one consumer testing organization says the plan isn't very flexible and has a very high dropout rate. In addition, while the shakes are technically healthy, they don't help you develop better long-term eating habits. User reviews of Slim-Fast are mixed; only 69 percent of those posting to Viewpoints.com say they'd recommend the diet. While some find great success with Slim-Fast, at least in the short term, other dieters say the shakes don't fill them up enough and they feel constantly hungry.
Medifast (*Est. $315 per month for meals) is a similar meal-replacement program that uses shakes, pudding, oatmeal and bars. The diet allows five Medifast meals per day, plus a dinner of lean protein and non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus, lettuce and squash. Total calories average 800 to 1,000 per day, so experts advise consulting your doctor before starting this program. Constance Brown-Riggs, RD, of the American Dietetic Association tells WedMD.com that Medifast is a "solid program" and "nutritionally complete," and that she has used it in her own practice.
Users at Epinions.com give Medifast an overall rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars in approximately 60 reviews. They like that Medifast takes the guesswork out of dieting and counting calories, and many stay motivated by the quick initial weight loss that accompanies any low-calorie diet. However, others complain of hunger and some say the food is awful; one dieter says it "tastes like raw, dried straw." It's also very expensive to use for extended periods.
In a Good Housekeeping taste test, Walmart's Equate (*Est. $18 per week for shakes) brand wins the title of best-tasting meal-replacement shake. Testers loved the creamy consistency of the ready-mixed drinks and were impressed with the affordable price. The powdered mixes fared worse. Equate shakes contain about 200 calories, and include fiber and protein to keep you full. They don't come with a specific diet plan like Slim-Fast, but can be used in much the same way.