Celebrity Diets: The Truth Behind the Secrets

Celebrities can give good acting tips, but leave diet advice to doctors.

From the WebMD Archives

Suzanne Somers. Marilu Henner. Dr. Phil. Sylvester Stallone. You name the celebrity and odds are they've got a diet program complete with a book, a DVD, infomercial, and maybe even a line of supplements. And those that don't have their own diet, yet, may be outspoken advocates of the latest and greatest in fad diets from South Beach and Atkins to the new Hamptons diet.

But just because they can act, sing, and look glamorous and buff as they stroll down a red carpet, doesn't necessarily mean they have a PhD in nutrition.

"Just because someone is a celebrity doesn't mean they know what they are talking about in terms of diet and health," says Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist and exercise physiologist at the New York University Medical Center in New York City. Acting advice can certainly come from celebrities, but nutrition advice should come from a health care professional such as a registered dietician.

When browsing the book store or otherwise choosing a diet, look for the author's credentials like an MD (medical doctor) or RD (registered dietitian), or if it's someone with a PhD, find out what its in, it could be in history -- not anything pertaining to health or nutrition, Heller says.

Read the author biography to see if this person has clinical experience. "Where did he or she work? Did he or she ever have real world experience with real patients?" Heller suggests.

"Celebrity plans have a tendency to promote a very quick fix, are hard to stick by and are touting all types of products and when the author doesn't have a degree in health, it can be very scary," agrees Rachel Beller, director of the Brander Nutritional Oncology Counseling and Research Program at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif.

Red Flags Abound

Regardless, these books and diets are often tempting and tantalizing to consumers. Being on the lookout for certain red flags can help separate the wheat from the chafe.

"A red flag is when they are selling food products and supplements that go with the program," Heller explains. "A red flag can be a personal red flag because sometimes these diets can be very expensive and not everyone can afford these foods or are these foods available in every neighborhood," she says.

In other words, watch Dr. Phil on his talk show or Suzanne Sommers on Three's Company reruns, but when looking for a healthy eating plan, look for one that includes foods you can afford and are readily available.

"A lot of the celebrities look fabulous," Heller says, "but they are being paid a lot of money to look that good and they can afford to have a personal chef and meals delivered.

"For the rest of us who are not getting paid that much money and don't have that incentive, we need to find healthy ways of eating that we can incorporate into our lives on a daily basis," Heller states.

Victoria Shanta-Retelny, RD, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Wellness Institute, in Chicago, weighs in with this comment: "Are they making promises that sound too good to be true such as 'lose 10 pounds in a week'? If the claim sounds too good to be true, it usually is."

Any plan that hawks one specific nutrient whether protein, carbohydrate, or fat as a savior or remedy for weight loss, is a red flag. "There is no miracle food," she says.

So why are we so attracted to these diets?

"The draw is celebrity status," she says. "Suzanne Somers is an older woman and to look as good as she looks is appealing," she says. "It's not the diet. It's how these people look that is the draw."

Suzanne Somers Responds

In response to this article, WebMD was contacted by Suzanne Somers.

Here are some excerpts in her statement to WebMD:

"When writing my first book in the Somersize series, I interviewed more than 100 nutritionists and was shocked and surprised to find that none of them agreed on anything. The approach most nutritionists take is to 'not eat as much' and to watch the fat. Nutrition is a very inexact science. That is why I sought out qualified endocrinologists to find the 'insulin connection' relative to weight gain and weight loss. My program is backed by science and qualified doctors.

"Everyone knows that doctors lack information on nutrition. This has been a big part of the problem. It has taken a passionate layperson such as myself to come up with a science-based program that works. Somersizing is based in science. Somersizing promotes eating real foods, including complex carbohydrates, and avoiding chemicals and preservatives.

"The people who have had the greatest success with weight loss programs have never been doctors ... think Jack LaLanne, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers. It is my belief that because my program is based in science and an understanding of body chemistry, that it is among the superior programs out there. Also, because of my background in gourmet cooking, my food is absolutely delicious and so far no one has even come close to offering the delicious variety and flavor that my food brings to them."

Do as I Do, Not as I Say?

A new diet, the Hamptons diet, bills itself as containing the diet secrets of the rich, famous, and thin who summer on the East End of Long Island, N.Y. -- a.k.a the Hamptons.

Unlike many celebrity diets, a medical doctor authored this book: Fred Pescatore, MD, medical director of Partners of Integrative Medicine in New York City.

The Hamptons diet is "more of an inspirational tool" than a celebrity diet, he says. This low-carb eating plan focuses on whole and organic foods and good fats such as macadamia oil.

"People may be lured in by celebrity diets because of all the confusing and misinformation out there," he says. "There is certainly an element of confusion to nutritional messages," Pescatore says, "People are looking for something that is very black and white in an area that is extremely gray."

Celebrities Are People, too!

Jack Yeager, a nutrition coach in Los Angeles spends much of his time getting celebrities into shape. In fact, Yaeger recently hosted the Discovery network's "Body Challenge Hollywood," a 12-week health and fitness challenge starring such actors as Erik Estrada (CHiPs), Charlene Tilton (Dallas), Susan Olsen and Christopher Knight (both from The Brady Bunch), Kym Whitley (Sparks), and David Anthony Higgins (Malcolm in the Middle).

"Most celebrities are in pretty good physical shape and the average consumers look to that to see what they do to keep in such good shape and say 'they look good and I want to do what they do to look good,'" he says.

"In our country," Yeager cautions,"we should be careful of whose diet or eating recommendations we are following," he says. Instead of fad diets and gimmicks, "we need to focus on eating nutritious food in the proper amount at the right time."

And that includes actors and actresses. "Celebrities need guidance too and they need good information, support, and motivation," says Yaeger.

Maybe even more so then their less-famous counterparts. "At any moment, their agent could call with a photo-op or they may have to do a reading and they always have to look a certain way or get to a certain look in a matter of weeks," he says. "The pressure to look perfect is always there."

Show Sources

SOURCES: Fred Pescatore, MD author, The Hamptons Diet; and medical director, partners of integrative medicine. Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist and exercise physiologist, New York University Medical Center, New York City. Victoria Shanta-Retelny, RD, Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Wellness Institute, Chicago. Rachel Beller, director, Brander Nutritional Oncology Counseling and Research Program, John Wayne Cancer Institute, Santa Monica, Calif.

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