Celebrities and diet trends go together like brunch and mimosas. Stars including Halle Berry, Kelly Clarkson, and the Kardashians have taken to social media to share the (sometimes healthy, sometimes not so much) weight-loss approaches they use when they want to get strong and fit.
Some celebs, though, really go the extra mile and don’t just tell fans about whatever diet they’re currently following, but actually create and sell their very own diet plans. Case in point: Real Housewives of Orange County personality Heather Dubrow, the latest A-lister to pen a diet book that promises *big* weight-loss results.
Dubrow (an actress, podcast host, and business entrepreneur) wrote The Dubrow Diet: Interval Eating to Lose Weight and Feel Ageless with her plastic surgeon husband, Terry Dubrow, MD(known for his show Botched). Not only does the TV couple claim their system can help you lose weight, it can also supposedly tighten your skin, promote hair growth, and give you energy.
But does the Dubrow Diet actually work, and is the plan in the book safe? Here’s the lowdown on the diet and whether or not it’s worth your time, with expert input from registered dietitians.
What does the Dubrow Diet entail?
The Dubrows centered this three-phase diet plan around the notion that when you eat is just as important as what you eat. The concept the Dubrows implemented is something they refer to as “interval eating”—meaning you consume your calories within a certain window of time—paired with a low-calorie diet. The windows that you’re instructed to eat within range from 12 to 16 hours depending on what phase of the diet you’re in. The first is a quick start phase, followed by a goal weight phase, and, finally, a maintenance phase. The plan also incorporates “cheat” days and meals throughout.
What are the three phases, exactly? Here’s the general rundown, though the book gets much more specific depending on how much weight you’re aiming to lose per week:
- Phase one: This period is all about kick-starting your weight loss by fasting for 16 hours a day for about five days. For example, you might only eat between the hours of 1 p.m. and 9 p.m., an 8-hour window. Also, the eating is pretty restrictive (i.e. no alcohol or simple carbs).
- Phase two: You’re in phase two until you reach your goal weight, and you can achieve this in different ways depending on how quickly you want to hit your goal. You might do a 12-hour fast five days a week and a 16-hour fast two days a week, for example. The foods you eat are pretty similar to those of phase one.
- Phase three: You generally continue to follow the phase-two plan indefinitely, but you may incorporate a cheat meal now that you’re used to the plan and in maintenance mode.
If you’re intimidated by the term “interval eating,” don’t be. You’re likely already familiar with the idea, just under another name: intermittent fasting. Although Heather has said that interval eating is different than intermittent fasting (the latter of which makes her think of “skinny, tired people,” she once commented), both involve following an eating schedule that combines periods of fasting with periods of unrestricted eating.
On the Dubrow Diet page on Heather’s website, she claims that this schedule of eating can lower your insulin, fight chronic inflammation, change your skin, and even activate an anti-aging cellular “self-cleaning” process. In interviews, Dr. Dubrow has previously explained that they performed a clinical trial of 100 people to gauge the diet’s success rate; the average weight loss, he said, was 44 pounds.
As far as what you eat goes: The Dubrows don’t provide specific meals per se, but they do offer lists of food suggestions and emphasize consuming quality foods, like protein, veggies, and fruits. They also suggest calorie intakes, which change as you cycle through the phases. For instance, you’re pretty restricted in the beginning phase, eating around 1,000 to 1,200 calories, but eventually you can work in carbs, sugar, and alcohol again once you’re in maintenance mode and have found your groove and the rules have become more second nature for you.
Dubrow Diet reviews are mixed.
Honestly, lots of reviewers aren’t exactly loving it. Not necessarily because the diet structure doesn’t work (some Amazon reviewers did report having success on the plan), but because the Dubrows’ explanation of interval eating is pretty light on useful, novel info.
For example, one Amazon reviewer called the book mostly “fluff,” and another said that if you’re curious about the Dubrow Diet, just “go to Barnes and Noble and thumb through [the book] for 15 minutes [because] that’s all you need.”
The other big beef people appear to have? Some individuals feel like the diet doesn’t actually contribute something new or revolutionary to the theory of intermittent fasting for weight loss. The Dubrows acknowledge upfront that their diet is based on research done by Jason Fung, MD, a kidney specialist who has extensively studied intermittent fasting and its effect on helping to control insulin levels, and who also has a book called The Obesity Code that focuses on intermittent fasting as a weight-loss tool. Still, many folks who have shared online reviews appear disappointed that the Dubrow Diet feels to them like a retread of weight-loss recommendations that have been widely circulated for years.
“This is intermittent fasting. Period. Save your $,” wrote one Amazon reviewer.
“I think Dubrow is a great doctor and a great guy, but you can’t just slap your name on literally the hottest diet trend for the last two years, and make it your own…It’s called intermittent fasting,” another reviewer said.
Okay, so the concept behind the Dubrow Diet may not feel new. But can it still help me lose weight?
Ehhhhhh…maybe. The science surrounding intermittent fasting in general does show promise, though it’s still emerging, says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.
“The research behind intermittent fasting is still preliminary, especially when you take into account long-term weight loss,” she says. That being said, “There’s been research to show that certain types of fasting may help people with weight or fat loss, but there is only limited research on time-restricted fasting,” Gorin explains.
It’s also important to consider that the research on intermittent fasting varies as far as how the experiments are set up, what eating-fasting schedules are looked at, and the participants involved. There also isn’t a ton of research showing indisputable weight and fat loss effects in humans just yet (a lot of intermittent fasting research has been done in animals). So, it’s hard to say just how effective intermittent fasting is and over what period of time for weight loss specifically.
Take this 2018 study, published in Nutrition and Healthy Aging, as just one example: When 23 obese subjects were put on an 8-hour time-restricted eating schedule for 12 weeks, they saw some minor decreases in both body weight and blood pressure. But you have to keep in mind that is a super small sample size, and the results could also be different in a sample of individuals of different weights or health profiles, or using a time-restricted eating schedule of a different length.
This is not to say that intermittent fasting can’t be an effective weight-loss approach for some (save for the fact that it may feel pretty strict and limiting), but more research is needed to solidify how and why.
In regards to the Dubrows’ food tips, Gorin was pleased to see some of the recommendations the couple wrote. Complex carbs, vegetables, and fruit are all included, plus the plan allows for some alcohol in the later phases (which Gorin says can make the plan easier to stick to!). Amanda Baker Lemein, RD, MS, also thinks the diet could work for people who need to curb their snacking and grazing habits.
That being said, Lemein personally isn’t sold on the concept of time-restricted fasting in general—or the Dubrow Diet’s lack of guidance around how many calories you’re actually supposed to consume from each food group. Other than non-starchy vegetables, you can’t really eat any foods in unlimited amounts and expect to lose weight, she points out: “Almost all other foods need to be consumed in proper portion sizes, [and] this is much more important than the time of day you eat.” (FWIW, the Dubrows explain that they don’t want the reader to be daunted by counting every calorie and macro.)
Gorin also raises concerns about the caloric guidelines in the Dubrow Diet, specifically during the first two phases when you might only be consuming 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day. “Cutting calories down this low might cause you to not feel very good (think irritability and potential mood swings),” she says. “It would also be extremely difficult to reach your daily needs for specific vitamins and minerals with such a restricted intake.”
Finally, Gorin warns that the Dubrow Diet is probably not a good fit for anyone with a history of disordered eating because of its restrictive nature.
If you want to lose weight, you’re probably better off taking advice from a registered dietitian over your fave Real Housewife.
Intermittent fasting might be a legit way to lose weight for some people, but it seems that the Dubrows’ attempt to repackage it as a buzzy new trend called “interval eating” was underwhelming to some people who sampled the plan or at least explored the book.
And the bigger issue is that Gorin and Lemein aren’t convinced that a diet marketed the way this one is—with lots of strict rules and so much wording that focuses on aesthetic goals (i.e. summer is coming! red carpet ready!)—can lead to long-term weight loss.
“It seems like the book focuses a good amount on appearance, like getting bikini ready, and I’ve found with clients that the most successful weight loss happens when it’s done for health benefits,” says Gorin. “Outward appearance does not always end up being the best motivator when it comes to sustainable health changes.”
Lemein echoes that sentiment, and also points out that you need to consider the source of the information: the well-meaning but arguably under-qualified Dubrows. “Working with a registered dietitian is always the best bet for creating lasting lifestyle changes,” she says. “They are the only credentialed nutrition experts recognized by the scientific and medical communities…to address dietary needs and restrictions.”
If you are curious about giving time-restricted eating a try, talk to a registered dietitian to hash out whether or not a structured eating plan like that makes sense for you and your health.