The latest diet gimmick seems so silly it’s laughable – eat four to six cookies over the course of the day and then eat a normal dinner and watch the pounds melt away. You’re kidding me, right?
Apparently this is no joke. The “Cookie Diet” is here and taking the dieting world by storm. The trend started with Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet, which hit the web in 2006 but has existed since 1975 in Dr. Siegal’s own private practice. Since the first Cookie Diet hit the web, imitators have sprung up
The concept behind the Cookie Diet is really nothing new – it’s a starvation er, I mean, calorie restricting diet that involves eating filler for the first two meals of the day to keep your tummy from complaining. Remember the shakes you can get in a can – “drink one for breakfast, one for lunch and then eat a healthy dinner”? Replace those shakes with cookies and you’ve got yourself the essence of the Cookie Diet.
Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet drags out the same dialogue the calorie counting literature has been touting for years: “there’s only one way to burn fat and it doesn’t involve magic or miracles. You must take in fewer calories than you need to maintain your weight.” This diet involves restricting your calories, and some may say severely so.
Looking at the ingredients of Dr. Siegal’s cookies in an attempt to find a healthy component is like an advanced game of Where’s Waldo.
There is sugar in various guises, modified palm oil, natural and artificial flavour (possibly MSG), chemical food colourings – in other words, fractionated, over-processed and/or chemical ingredients. There is absolutely nothing in the cookies that would promote health and some stuff that will actually do harm. Well, that’s not entirely true – the raisin cookies have raisins and the first ingredient in the cookies is water. To compensate for this lack of nutrition, Dr. Siegal sells a multivitamin.
I have no doubt that people are losing weight on this diet. If you hold back food, how could you not lose weight? Eat nothing but 1000 calories of anything every day and you will lose weight – chips, Pop Tarts, broccoli. But this is an unhealthy, not to mention ineffective overall, methodology. I’ve criticized the calorie reduction model in the past, but perhaps I’ll take the time now for a refresher. Here are the not-so-quick bullet points:
1. Weight loss does not equal health. Yes, people with obesity or excess weight can be showing to be unhealthy, but losing that weight doesn’t necessarily mean regaining health (think of all the diseases that have a side effect of massive weight loss). There isn’t a direct relationship between health and weight, even though there is a relationship between being overweight and lack of health. Focusing on weight is looking at the wrong side of the equation and is misguided if one’s goal is to be healthy.
2. Calorie counting is too simplistic a model. There are many examples of other factors affecting weight without changing total caloric intake – nutrient ratios according to nutritional profiling, essential fatty acid consumption, fiber intake, CLA supplementation, etc. One of the most striking examples of this is in the recent work outlining the function of the hormone Leptin. I won’t go into a long description here as it’s a bit complicated, but Leptin researchers have found that, in controlling obesity, when you eat may be as important as what you eat.
3. The calorie counting model assumes that weight gain is completely attributable to over-eating. This is simply not the case. Wrong eating goes much further toward decline in health and increase in weight than simply eating too much (and the Cookie Diet is definitely an example of wrong eating). Insulin resistance, diabetes and hypothyroidism, all conditions which can lead to obesity, are associated with eating an improper diet and have little, if anything, to do with calories.
4. Calorie counting largely ignores the fundamental differences in foods, reducing all foods to a series of numbers. 500 calories of vegetables is the same as 500 calories of Mountain Dew from a strict calorie perspective. Sure, most calorie restriction plans will recommend eating a variety of foods and may even give you a guideline of ratios of carb/protein/fat you should be eating. But at the end of the day, staying below that magic number is what really counts. This leads to bargaining – “I can eat this piece of cake if I go to the gym after work to burn it off.” What calorie restriction plans don’t tell you is that that piece of cake is not just a number that can easily be eliminated. Its ingredients have lasting effects that are not addressed from calorie restriction models – the sugar will lower the effects of the immune system by displacing vitamin C, the hydrogenated oil in the cake will damage and clog arteries and disrupt cell function, the white flour could contribute to digestive distress and disorder – and this is all without even getting into the additives and preservatives. Food quality is a vital aspect to our health, and it’s something not reflected in the numbers.
5. Food is not just a source of energy. Eating is not comparable to putting gas in your car. Yes, providing energy (calories) is an important part of why we eat, but it is far from the whole picture. We need certain components from our foods for building and rebuilding all bodily structures, we need components for all body processes, enzymes, co-factors, cell functions, muscle functions and brain functions. We need phytonutrients for reasons we’re only beginning to understand, not the least of which is for antioxidant protection. In short, everything the body does it needs nutrients to do it. Treating food like it’s nothing more than an energy source is ignoring the elements vital for health.
6. Calorie restriction doesn’t work. It assumes a direct relationship between calorie surplus and weight gain. While this relationship can be direct at the beginning of a diet, it becomes null over the long term. As the body adjusts to the restricted calories it increases it’s efficiency, thereby burning fewer calories in total. This gets referred to in dieting circles as the “plateau”; the point at which people stop losing weight despite continued calorie restriction. At this point, struggling to lose weight is fighting your body’s natural survival mechanisms. It’s no wonder people rebound from calorie restriction, often gaining everything back and then some.
How many of these concerns are being addressed by the Cookie Diet? It focuses on weight loss, not health; it relies on calorie restriction and eating nutrient-lacking filler to ease the pain; it does nothing to promote eating nutrient dense whole foods that actually give the body what it needs; and it apparently gives equal footing to calories from cookies and those from real foods.
You can’t really blame the Cookie Diet – this type of approach to food has been with us for several generations. Calories are seen as the enemy, a necessary evil, instead of the miracle energy that allows are body to thrive. Unnatural foods lead to us taking on unnatural body shapes. Do we really need an unnatural approach to get back to our natural state?
Author by Doug DiPasquale