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Smart for Life: What You Need to Know

If you love cookies, Smart for Life might be a diet you could stick with.
Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Thinkstock

Smart for Life is a diet that appears to fly in the face of the axiom: "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is." After all, the program's tag line is, "Eat Cookies. Lose Weight. It's that Simple." What could be better?

But these are no ordinary cookies. The program's foundation is similar to many other diet plans that require participants to purchase proprietary, pre-packaged foods. In this case, it's a cookie -- marketed as "all-natural" and "appetite suppressing" -- that replaces normal meals. The program has since added a little variety, including branded shakes, muffins, soups and desserts.

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Founded by Dr. Sasson Moulavi, a former colleague of Dr. Sanford Siegal (of Dr. Siegel's Cookie Diet), the Smart for Life plan follows a tried-and-true formula: You must burn more calories than you consume. And with just 1,100 calories budgeted for daily intake, the program almost guarantees that participants will lose weight if they stick to the plan.

The basic premise is to "re-program" your metabolism, relying on the benefits of smaller portions -- known as mini-meals -- throughout the day to help suppress hunger pangs. The eating program calls for seven balanced meals over the course of the day, which are intended to continuously keep your metabolism in a fat-burning mode. However, you can say goodbye to breakfast, lunch and snacks.

Six of those meals are Smart for Life cookies (or a similar product). The cookies are made up of a proprietary blend of amino acids, complex carbohydrates, fiber and natural sugars designed to suppress hunger cravings while providing the proper nutrition everybody needs. There's even a gluten-free Banana Chocolate Chip Granola Square for those who can't tolerate the protein gluten.

The seventh meal is a single low-fat, high-protein dinner of chicken or fish, accompanied by an average of five cups of fresh vegetables (steamed or raw), resulting in a daily caloric total of between 800 and 1,100 calories, and the promise of no hunger pangs -- a sure-fire formula for weight loss. However, that's a very low caloric intake -- one of the criticisms we'll address later in the article.

The program is broken into two distinct sections -- a "diet" phase and a "maintenance" phase. The key to the "diet" phase is a comprehensive medical and dietary evaluation performed at a Smart for Life clinic (established in eight states and Quebec, Canada). We'll discuss that next.

The Smart for Life evaluation includes a complete physical exam -- blood work, electrocardiogram, BMI (Body Mass Index) reading and client history review -- plus a goal-setting and diet program discussion, educational audio and video, diet program handbook review, vitamins and supplements. From that exam, program doctors then draw up a dietary blueprint for participants, using their branded products as the basic component.

However, participants also receive ongoing clinical and phone support from Smart for Life staff -- which may include physicians or certified nutritional specialists -- and information to help them understand the changes that the program takes them through.

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Participants who successfully complete the diet portion advance to a "maintenance phase." Designed to keep the weight off, this secondary phase allows participants to adjust their diet, while continuing to provide phone and personal support at the program's clinics. For example, some Smart for Life adherents adopt a strict program diet during the work week and then allow themselves more leeway on the weekends.

One benefit is that you're not undertaking the plan alone, which is a major stumbling block for many dieters. The program also offers medical supervision -- especially important for Smart for Life dieters, because at 800 calories, the plan falls below generally accepted guidelines for a healthy diet.

The program also includes education to help participants understand the emotional and mental issues behind cravings, binges and weight issues, and offers motivational instruction to keep them on track.

Since the Smart for Life program provides the cookies (and shakes, muffins, and soups) for six of the seven daily meals, it removes much of the guesswork. Your only decision is which flavor of cookie you're going to have. For many overweight people who've tried and failed at weight loss, that kind of straightforward approach can be a blessing.

The products are completely natural and primarily organic (the cookies, for example, are 60 percent organic), which helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels. You won't find any preservatives or stimulants.

At only 1,100 daily calories or less, the plan promises quick results and often a 15-pound weight loss in the first 30 days. That can provide just the kind of motivation that many dieters need to stick with it. The program also offers detailed support material to educate dieters on healthy eating habits and help them to maintain weight loss

There are, however, some concerns.

The Smart for Life program is not without its detractors. Almost every online review of the diet raises at least a few red flags, primarily based on the lack of scientific efficacy of the plan, the suspicion that it's more marketing hype than a legitimate diet program and the use of hCG injections.

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) is a growth hormone that increases in women during pregnancy. The Smart for Life Medical Weight Loss program recommends dieters receive a "Smart Injection" of hCG to jump-start their weight loss, while providing a significant boost in energy (required, in part, due to the program's low 800-calorie intake).

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However, hCG treatments remain a very controversial diet practice, primarily because the long-term health effects are unknown [source: Nichols]. Plus, hCG injections haven't been approved by the medical community. A December 2009 paper published by the American Society of Bariatric Physicians concluded they did not recommend hCG as a weight loss aid [source: Zelman].

While the program also provides medical consultations, this can be a double-edge sword, as it can give participants a false sense of security. The program claims that 25 percent of the population has a metabolic or hormonal condition that prevents them from losing weight, but offers little scientific proof to support those claims.

For some, the dependence on the cookies can get monotonous, and make it harder to stick with the diet. Recognizing this shortcoming, Smart for Life now offers not only a variety of products, but also several different cookie flavors -- including blueberry, oatmeal raisin and chocolate.

Other critics feel that the Smart for Life plan, and other cookie diets, could do a better job of encouraging participants to transition from the program to a normal diet that isn't dependent on proprietary foods.

Another criticism of the Smart for Life program is that there is little emphasis on exercise. While the plan provides participants with access to health representatives to develop exercise plans that allow them to maintain their ideal weight, the low daily caloric intake is hardly conducive to an active lifestyle. Many reviewers complain of an initial lack of energy, which some attribute to the lack of exercise.

While some critics argue that the Smart for Life plan may be lacking in basic nutrients especially important for more active participants, plan proponents counter that a daily multi-vitamin can compensate for that shortcoming.

Smart for Life dieters are encouraged to increase their consumption of water or other clear, non-caloric beverages if they start exercising while on the plan. Participants in the "maintenance" phase are also encouraged to exercise moderately at least three times a week.

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In essence, the Smart for Life program is designed for the dieter who is looking to take the guesswork out of what to eat, how much to eat and when to eat. You don't need to count calories or be obsessed with reading labels (though some nutritionists recommend that you continue to do so).

However, the program isn't cheap, especially if you go the full clinic route. The initial clinic consultation runs $250, followed by a $100 monthly fee for ongoing advice. Participants can plan on spending more than $1,000 over the first three months of the program (most insurance will not cover the cost of the initial physical exam).

A major selling point of the Smart for Life product line is that the savings realized by not buying other foods offsets the program's cost. According to the company's Web site, the Smart for Life products cost less than $10 a day. For dieters who don't have a clinic nearby, Smart for Life also offers an At-Home Cookie program that costs roughly $200 for a five-week supply of cookies.

Some reviewers stated that the cookies are more a healthy snack than a diet plan. And, in fact, you can also use the cookies as ingredients for Smart for Life recipes -- like a summer parfait, which adds sugar-free preserves and chocolate dips to crumbled cookies. Still, if you use the cookies as snacks instead of meals, those aforementioned cost savings evaporate.

In short, once you reach your goal weight, you should feel comfortable adding healthy foods to your diet, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and low-fat dairy at least twice a day, and gradually reduce your dependence on meal replacements such as pre-packaged cookies -- even Smart Cookies [source: Zelman].

Now that you know more about Smart for Life, perhaps you've decided it's something you'll try. Or maybe you want to learn more about this and other diet options. You're in luck -- we've got lots more information on the next page.

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Sources

  • Diets in Review. "Smart for Life: A low calorie cookie diet supervised by a medical doctor." DietsInReview.com. (July 14, 2011). http://www.dietsinreview.com/diets/Smart_for_Life/
  • Diet Reviews Guru. "Smart for Life." Aug. 9, 2010 (July 12, 2011). http://dietreviewsguru.com/smart-for-life.html
  • McLaughlin, Joel. "Review: Smart for Life weight Loss Cookies." Gear Diary. May 7, 2008 (July 15, 2011). http://www.geardiary.com/2008/05/07/review-smart-for-life-weight-loss-cookies/
  • Nichols, Nicole. "hCG Injections for Weight Loss: Do They Really Work?" DailySpark. July 24, 2009 (July 14, 2011). http://www.dailyspark.com/blog.asp?post=does_it_really_the_truth_about_hcg_injections_for_weight_loss
  • Nikolas, Katerina. "Diet reviews: The Smart for Life cookie diet." Helium. March 4, 2010 (July 14, 2011). http://www.helium.com/items/1760764-the-smart-for-life-cookie-diet
  • Silvera, Coree. "Are Fad Diets Worth the Risk." WebMD. April 22, 2011 (July 13, 2011). http://blogs.webmd.com/whats-new/2011/04/are-fad-diets-worth-the-risk.html
  • Smart for Life. "The Healthy Way to Put Hunger on Hold." (July 12, 2011). http://smartforlife.com/
  • Zelman, Kathleen. "The Cookie Diet." WebMD. Jan. 12, 2011 (July 14, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-cookie-diet
  • Zelman, Kathleen. "The Truth About hCG for Weight Loss." WebMD. Aug. 2, 2010 (July 14, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/truth-about-hcg-for-weight-loss

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