Who Created the Dubrow Diet?
Heather Dubrow is a semi-celebrity who appeared on the reality TV series The Real Housewives of Orange County. Her husband, Terry Dubrow, is a plastic surgeon and co-host of the TV series, Botched. Together, they released the best-selling book, The Dubrow Diet: Interval Eating to Lose Weight and Feel Ageless, in October of 2018.
What is Interval Eating?
Interval eating, otherwise known as intermittent fasting, is a dieting pattern rather than a dieting plan. Essentially, someone practicing interval eating will consume all of their daily calories during a specific time frame. During the rest of the day, they will consume little to no calories at all. On the very title of their book, the Dubrows make two claims about interval eating — that it will help you lose weight and feel ageless. The Dubrows claim that their diet will give you better metabolic control and will help your cells undergo a process of renewal called autophagy. In this article, I will investigate peer-reviewed scientific literature to investigate these bold claims.
How to Follow the Dubrow Diet
There is no strict calorie counting or intense journaling of the foods you eat on the Dubrow Diet. To simplify further, the Dubrows focus on three important aspects of eating: WHEN, WHAT, and HOW MUCH. WHEN refers to the window of interval eating. WHAT and HOW MUCH refer to what you eat on the Dubrow Diet and how much you should eat of each food. There are three main phases of the Dubrow Diet:
Phase 1: “Red Carpet Ready”
Phase 1 is presented as a “jolt” to your system that can give you fast results. This phase introduces a “renewed connection to hunger,” which the Dubrows call a “metabolic adjustment.” They even recommend keeping a coffee with you at all times because caffeine is an anorectic, which suppresses your appetite. During this phase, you will eat during an 8-hour window and fast for the remaining 16 hours of each day.
Phase 2: “Summer is Coming”
Phase 2 is titled “Summer is Coming” because, according to the Dubrows, “There really isn’t anything more motivating [to lose weight] than the looming threat of having to put on a bikini or swim shorts.” While I can think of a few things that would motivate someone to lose weight more than wearing a bikini, let’s further explore phase 2. In this phase, you will eat during a 12, 14, or 16-hour window depending on your goals until you reach your target weight. In addition, you are now able to consume more complex carbohydrates and alcohol in moderation (which was prohibited during phase 1).
Phase 3: “Look Hot While Living Like a Human”
Phase 3 centers on finding a balance of interval eating that is sustainable for your lifestyle. During phase 3, the Dubrows recommend you follow a 12 hour fast five days per week and a 16 hour fast two days per week. They even allow the occasional cheat meal during phase 3, which makes sense. Any diet that is too rigid or restrictive will almost always result in failure.
What Can You Eat on the Dubrow Diet?
On the Dubrow diet, “when you eat…is the most important part of the plan.” That being said, the Dubrows do make strong recommendations about what you can eat on the diet.
Proteins (3-4 ounces, 2-3 servings per day)
The recommendations are very liberal when it comes to protein. You can eat pork, ham, Canadian bacon, eggs, chicken, salmon, shrimp, tofu, seitan, tempeh, and more.
Fats (1-2 servings per day)
The Dubrow diet includes a modest amount of fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, and other oils like coconut oil or olive oil.
Fruit (1 cup or 1 individual fruit per day; 1 serving per day)
Only one serving of fruit per day is permissible on this diet. On the list are apples, blackberries, grapefruit, and others as viable options for fruit.
Green vegetables (eat at the start of each meal)
There is a strong emphasis placed on the importance of green vegetables such as spinach, kale, collards, and green beans. The Dubrows argue that some leafy greens at the start of each meal will help reduce your overall carb intake. They also tout the fiber content in green vegetables as a key factor in limiting cravings.
Complex Carbohydrates (1/2 cup or 1 serving per day)
The Dubrows select beans, lentils, split peas, and whole grain bread as options for complex carbohydrates.
Water, seltzer water, teas, coffee, and any other zero calorie drinks are allowed. Alcohol is permitted in phases 2 and 3.
Overall food takeaway
The Dubrow diet is simply another reinvention of a lower carb diet. The recommendation is a high protein, low carb diet combined with an interval eating pattern of consumption.
Potential Benefits of the Dubrow Diet
1. No calorie counting
Counting calories can be time consuming, stressful, and inconvenient for many people. In addition, the number of calories in a food tells you nothing about the quantity of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients it may contain. I argue that we ought to be concerned with which kinds of foods we are eating rather than how many calories these foods contain. Counting calories can also damage our relationship with food. When we quantify each experience with food, we risk casting doubt or fear upon our food choices. Food is intended to be used as fuel to give us energy throughout each day. In my opinion, eating with intuition is far superior to eating with a calculator.
2. Emphasis on whole foods
In general, the Dubrow diet emphasizes the consumption of whole foods. Whole foods are foods that are largely unprocessed. For example, a blueberry is a whole food, whereas a blueberry toaster strudel is a processed food. Avoiding processed foods is very beneficial to our health, as whole foods contain more nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber compared to refined foods. If you are aiming to eat more whole foods, choose products in the supermarket that contain as few ingredients as possible!
Potential Health Concerns of the Dubrow Diet
1. A lower carbohydrate, higher protein diet is sub-optimal for health outcomes
Insulin resistance is a condition in which your cells have impaired ability to process glucose as a form of energy. As a result, insulin resistance causes higher blood glucose levels. Like many lower carb diets, the Dubrow diet is centered on the unfounded idea that too many carbs will increase insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes.
Yet, increased glucose intake has not definitively shown to correlate with diabetes. For instance, the large EPIC study of nearly 3,500 participants found that “fructose and glucose are inversely associated with diabetes risk (1). There are plenty of reasons to restrict or eliminate refined sugar and simple carbohydrates, as they are low in nutrients and only serve as extra calories, which could stunt weight loss. However, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables should be consumed liberally.
The Blue Zones
There is very little evidence that any population has thrived on a low carb, high protein diet over the long term. On the contrary, author and educator Dan Buettner conducted extensive research on the diet and lifestyle of the five longest living and healthiest populations in the world. These five populations were dubbed the “Blue Zones.” People in the Blue Zones eat about 65% of their calories from carbohydrates and 95% of their total calories from plant sources (2). While there are certainly other factors that contribute to longevity, it can’t hurt to eat like the longest living people in the world!
All proteins are not created equally
The Dubrows make potentially dangerous protein recommendations. For example, they list ham, eggs, and beef as healthy protein options in their diet.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), consumption of processed meats and red meat such as ham and beef is highly linked with cancer. Ham is flesh from the upper part of a pig’s leg that has been salted or smoked. In other words, ham is a processed meat. In 2014, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is a sub-group of the WHO, classified processed meats as a type 1A carcinogen, which means there is a causal relationship between processed meats and cancer. In addition, red meat was classified as a type 2A carcinogen, which means that red meat “probably causes cancer (3).” It is best to avoid foods that definitely or probably cause cancer, yet the Dubrow diet recommends them as healthy protein options.
Lastly, eggs are touted as a health food by the Dubrows. Eggs are a major source of cholesterol in the American diet. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture has deemed it illegal to use the words “healthy” or “nutritious” when advertising for eggs due to their cholesterol content. Although many people believe eggs help to raise your “good” cholesterol, also known as HDL, a meta-analysis of seventeen studies from Oxford University found that eggs actually raise the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL (4). Put simply, eggs raise our bad cholesterol, or LDL, more than they raise our good cholesterol. Why is this a problem? LDL is one of the major building blocks of plaques in our blood vessels, which can lead to atherosclerosis. In turn, atherosclerosis leads to coronary heart disease, which is the #1 cause of death in the United States. I do not argue that eggs cause heart disease because the science does not support this causal relationship. However, we should attempt to reduce our cholesterol intake as much as possible.
While lower carb diets are not inherently dangerous, the Dubrow diet restricts important food groups such as legumes, fruits, and vegetables. It makes much more sense to live like the longest living, healthiest populations in the world. Eat plenty of whole, plant-based carbohydrates and moderate amounts of fat and protein.
2. Oil is not a healthy fat
As stated earlier, the Dubrows suggest that we follow a mostly whole food diet. However, oils are not whole foods. In fact, oils such as olive oil or coconut oil are refined, processed fats that pack a whopping 9 calories per gram. If your goal is to lose weight, your best bet is to limit or eliminate all processed foods, including oil.
That being said, caloric density is not the only potential health concern of oil consumption. For example, evidence suggests that olive oil, often thought to be the magical health secret of the Mediterranean diet, may actually have a deleterious effect on our health. In one study of the Mediterranean diet, subjects were tested after eating a meal with olive oil. Researchers found that olive oil drastically impaired the function of arteries after a meal. The real “secret” to the health of those following the Mediterranean diet may be their high level of fruit and vegetable consumption. To quote the researchers, “Dietary fruits, vegetables, and their products appear to provide some protection against the direct impairment in endothelial function produced by high-fat foods, including olive oil (5).”
Moreover, oil consumption often raises our levels of LDL in the body. As stated earlier, LDL can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in our arteries, which can cause heart disease. In one study from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, forty-one participants consumed diets rich in butter for six weeks followed immediately by a diet rich in coconut oil. The results? The butter-rich diet caused the baseline level of LDL in the body to increase by roughly 20 mg/dl, whereas the coconut oil-rich diet increased LDL by 10 mg/dl (6). Studies such as this one have contributed to oil’s reputation as a healthier alternative to butter. However, this does not mean that consuming oil is necessarily healthy for human beings. Not only is oil high in calories, but evidence suggests it may play a role in contributing to heart disease.
3. Alcohol is not a part of a healthy diet
Since the dawn of time, human beings have drank a variety of alcohol beverages and there is nothing wrong with choosing to do so. However, the Dubrow diet allows 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women in phase two. While I applaud the Dubrows for attempting to promote a diet that works for all people, alcohol should not be included as a healthy option for people attempting to lose weight. Not only is alcohol calorically dense, but it is classified as a Type 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization (just like processed meat). As I said, drinking alcohol on occasion can be a part of a long, healthy life. However, regular alcohol consumption will only bring about negative short and long-term health consequences.
4. Emphasis on improvements in appearance rather than health
Our physical appearance is an important factor in our lives. It plays a significant role in the development our self-image and self-confidence. The Dubrow Diet centers on external motivations for eating healthy and exercising. In phase 1, you prepare for the Red Carpet. In phase 2, bikini season is looming. In phase 3, the goal is to “look hot.” This diet creates a narrative that we should be eating healthy to look good for other people. In my opinion, this perspective is extremely damaging. We should be eating healthy foods and exercising for intrinsic motivations. We ought to eat to look good for ourselves rather than others. However, most importantly, our food choices can help us feel good every day and prevent the development of chronic disease. In short, if you treat your mind and body with compassion every day, the results will follow.
Will Interval Eating Help You Lose Weight and Feel Ageless?
The science regarding interval eating is inconclusive. First of all, there are few, if any, studies that model an interval eating schedule exactly after that of the Dubrow diet. For that reason, we can only rely upon the anecdotes of the Dubrows to assess the validity of this particular interval eating schedule. This is not to say that it will not work for you. However, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that interval eating will produce weight loss results at a greater rate than simple daily caloric restriction.
On the other hand, if your goal is to lose weight, it is important to note that you do not need to restrict calories. In 2017, the BROAD study separated a group of 65 people in New Zealand into two groups: a control group and a lifestyle intervention group. While both groups received normal care, the intervention group went on a whole food, plant-based diet without caloric restriction. According to the researchers of the BROAD study, “this research has achieved greater weight loss at 6 and 12 months than any other trial that does not limit energy intake or mandate regular exercise (7).” Clearly, you do not need to restrict calories to lose weight!
Now, let’s consider the Dubrow’s claims about “feeling ageless.” There is some evidence that short-term fasting will increase autophagy, the process wherein your cells regenerate themselves. According to researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, autophagy in the brain could be neuroprotective (8). While this is intriguing research, there is still much to be learned on autophagy and its effect on aging. For now, “feeling ageless” is most likely a marketing phrase used to sell more books.
In conclusion, the Dubrow diet is an interval eating schedule combined with a lower carb diet plan. While there are some clear benefits to this type of diet such as not counting calories and an emphasis on whole foods, the Dubrow diet is not consistent with international standards set by the USDA and the World Health Organization for healthy foods. If you do decide to give the Dubrow diet a try, eat as many whole, plant foods as possible and limit your alcohol and oil consumption.
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1. Ahmadi-Abhari, Sara, Robert N Luben, Natasha Powell, Amit Bhaniani, Rajiv Chowdhury, Nicholas J Wareham, Nita G Forouhi, and Kay-Tee Khaw. “Dietary Intake of Carbohydrates and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer-Norfolk Study.” The British journal of nutrition. U.S. National Library of Medicine, January 28, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23880355.
2. “Food Guidelines.” Blue Zones. Accessed December 18, 2019. https://www.bluezones.com/recipes/food-guidelines/.
3. “Q&A On the Carcinogenicity of the Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, May 17, 2016. https://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/.
4. M, Rianne, Zock, Peter L, and Martijn B. “Dietary Cholesterol from Eggs Increases the Ratio of Total Cholesterol to High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol in Humans: a Meta-Analysis.” OUP Academic. Oxford University Press, May 1, 2001. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/73/5/885/4739583.
5. Vogel, Robert A, Mary C Corretti, and Gary D Plotnick. “The Postprandial Effect of Components of the Mediterranean Diet on Endothelial Function.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Elsevier, October 25, 2000. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109700008962.
6. “(PDF) Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil, Butter and Safflower ...” Accessed December 18, 2019. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/13530119_Effects_of_dietary_coconut_oil_butter_and_safflower_oil_on_plasma_lipids_lipoproteins_and_lathosterol_levels.
7. Wright, N, L Wilson, M Smith, B Duncan, and P McHugh. “The BROAD Study: A Randomised Controlled Trial Using a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet in the Community for Obesity, Ischaemic Heart Disease or Diabetes.” Nature News. Nature Publishing Group, March 20, 2017. https://www.nature.com/articles/nutd20173.
8. Alirezaei, Mehrdad, Christopher C Kemball, Claudia T Flynn, Malcolm R Wood, J Lindsay Whitton, and William B Kiosses. “Short-Term Fasting Induces Profound Neuronal Autophagy.” Autophagy. Landes Bioscience, August 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/.