I’ve heard a bit of chatter about the Ideal Protein Diet – in particular, because it’s a diet that is marketed to doctors, chiropractors, pharmacists, and physical therapists among other healthcare professionals. They become representatives and sell you the diet program, food, and supplements.
Now, I have to say that nothing irks most dietitians more than non-dietitian disciplines offering diet services. Most other health professionals don’t have much of a clue about nutrition, so what are these healthcare professionals really offering when they sell the Ideal Protein Diet to you?
The answer is shocking.
The Ideal Protein Diet was conceived (or should I say, ‘hatched’…isn’t that what you do to a scheme or a bad egg?) 20 years ago by French MD Dr. Tran Tien Chanh. Dr. Tran claims that he basically hopped-up the already-popular high-protein diet in a way he felt was ‘safer’ for the user. By ‘safer’, he believes that a diet that puts you into ketosis will ‘burn fat’, not muscle. Research shows (and here) he may have something there. So, fair enough. But is a diet like this healthy? Sustainable? Horrible? Let’s take a look.
After perusing the diet for a bit, I knew that this was going to be a fun one to review, especially after the 3-day slog that it took me to do The Hormone Reset Diet piece. Crap, which reminds me, I still have to return that book! You didn’t think I was going to keep it, did you?
Let’s get started.
How It Works:
Each Ideal Protein ‘Champion’ aka representative aka the person selling the plan, is given a script that they follow when speaking to a client about the diet.
This script, which I managed to secure through a secret source, has some absolute gems such as:
“Eating less is all about quantity” (What? Thanks for the tip)
“Organic apples and whole wheat bread are very nutritious but can prevent us from losing weight” (So can anything if you eat too much of it)
“A protein-based diet is not a dangerous diet for the simple reason that protein is not an active ingredient” (And by ‘active ingredient’ they mean…huh?)
“By restricting your carbohydrate intake you will give your pancreas a much needed rest and the time to regenerate” (Livers regenerate, the pancreas does not…time for an anatomy lesson for whoever wrote this!)
How in the world could legitimate healthcare professionals even swallow this crap? It’s outrageous, not to mention totally false.
I find it sort of hilarious that the Ideal Protein Diet vehemently denies being a ‘high protein diet’, since, you know, that’s what it essentially is. Ideal Protein claims that on the diet, you eat only the amount of protein you actually need and not one bit more. But when you’re talking about ratios? Yeah. It’s a high protein diet, and it’s much the same as Atkins, Bernstein, and any other high protein/keto diet out there, with just a few tweaks.
And, there are side effects. The Ideal Protein literature states that during Phase One, you may experience hunger (no shit, Sherlock – the diet is reputed to be 1000 calories a day but appears, at least initially, to be far less than that); and headaches – but these are blamed on a decrease of insulin secretion, which is whacked! We all know you’ll have a headache because you’re starving. There are other effects such as constipation, bad breath (which the diet creator says is great!), and electrolyte imbalances (FYI can be deadly, just saying).
Let’s talk about the diet.
The diet itself consists of 4 Phases.
Phase One is followed until you lose 90% of your desired weight.
Hopefully that happens quickly, because Phase One can only be described as a starvation diet with a whole lot of lettuce. If you have a lot of weight to lose though, this phase could take you upward of 40 weeks. That would really really suck, not to mention be pretty risky in terms of nutritional deficiencies.
Here’s a typical day:
Breakfast: Water, 1 Ideal Protein food (more on that later, trust me), coffee or tea with 1oz skim milk, 1 Natura multivitamin and 1 Natura potassium/calcium.
Lunch: 1 Ideal Protein food, 2 cups of select vegetables and unlimited lettuce. YEEEEHAWWWWWWW!! Sorry, that’s not in the diet but I couldn’t resist expressing my excitement when I saw the potential to eat unlimited lettuce
Dinner: 8oz fish, seafood, poultry, beef, veal, or pork – no frying or breading allowed, 2 cups select vegetables and unlimited lettuce. Use sea salt with your meal. 2 Natura cal-mag and 1 Natura multivitamin.
Snack: 1 Ideal Protein food and 2 Natura cal-mag
Compulsory additions every day: 1/2t sea salt (to prevent electrolyte imbalance – their words not mine, of course), 64oz water minimum, 1-2t olive oil or grapeseed oil, the supplements I mentioned above.
By ‘select vegetables’, you are NOT allowed artichokes, avocado, beets, carrots, chickpeas (which are on the ‘vegetable’ list but are very certainly NOT vegetables so that gives you another indication that someone here knows nothing about nutrition), corn, olives, peas, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, and yams. Fair enough, some of these are starchy. But olives? Avocado? Carrots and beets? SIGH. BIG. OL’ SIGH.
You are allowed only 2 of the following vegetables per week: Brussels sprouts, green and wax beans, eggplant, hearts of palm, snow peas, turnip, and tomato. I have zero clue why any of these foods would be restricted at all. They’re super healthy and low calorie.
Before we go any further, we’re going to have a little chat about the Ideal Protein food that you need to purchase from a rep as part of this diet.
If you go onto the Ideal Protein website, you can peruse their ‘incomparable variety of delicious foods’.
By ‘delicious foods’, I guess they mean food packets containing revolting-sounding things like omelet mix that needs to be shaken with water and then cooked, or ‘crispy rice cereal’ which you mix with water, not milk. Other lovely packet selections include the delicious-sounding chicken dijonnaise with the following description:
‘With no cooking or refrigeration required plus a shelf life of 3 years, all you need to do is add 2 cups of vegetables for a compliant Ideal Protein dinner portion.’
Holy wow. Shelf-stable. I think people in prison get better food.
There’s packets of everything, including spaghetti, desserts, whatever – and every food pretty much needs to be combined with water before cooking. It’s like being on a camping trip! Except, no, it’s not. Most of the packets are 140 calories and less, making some of your meals 140 calories and certainly under 200 calories.
That is not okay.
I want you to take a moment to call your attention to the number of supplements you’re required to take on this diet. This may mean at least one of the following:
- You aren’t getting enough of the nutrients that you need with the sparse amount of food on this diet, which is a red flag.
- The diet is overdosing on certain vitamins and minerals for no good reason – like who needs 2 multivitamins in one day? The total calcium taken in Phase One at least is close to THREE TIMES the amount you actually need. There is NO good reason to consume that much.
- The diet requires you to buy Natura brand supplements only. This likely means that someone – the Ideal Protein company and whoever else is selling you the pills – is making money every time you make a purchase. That’s shady. These people, remember, are your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional you’re supposed to TRUST. I saw Ideal Protein literature saying that other brands of supplements are inferior to the Natura ones and that you absolutely should not buy them. It’s completely the shadiest setup I’ve ever seen. How is this okay?
Phase Two replaces one of the Ideal Protein food meals with one of your own choosing, still restricting carbohydrate to very little. This phase takes 2 weeks, or until 100% of your weight-loss goal is reached.
Phase Three is 14 days long and re-introduces some carbohydrate and fat back into the diet, but only in the mornings. What?
Phase Four is completely shifty (and shitty, IMO). It’s the ‘maintenance’ phase, but it’s stipulated that during the phase, which is essentially the rest of your life, carbohydrate and fat should not be eaten together. As the Ideal Protein literature states:
‘A meal that is RICH in carbohydrates should be POOR in fats and vice versa…carbohydrates and fats should be separated. Like two troublesome students, a teacher must put them at opposite ends of the classroom. Individually they may be good, but together they can be trouble.’
Um, okay, why? And then this:
‘It’s wrong to think that if you have carbohydrates for lunch, you’ll be able to burn them throughout the afternoon and that if you have complex carbohydrates for dinner, your body might store them. It’s not that simple. Your body doesn’t use up your lunch during the afternoon. It must digest your lunch, convert it and assimilate it before it can use it for energy.’
This makes absolutely no sense. Then why do we recommend eating something high in carbohydrate around 2 hours before running a marathon? And what about energy gels during an endurance sport? Of course you burn carbohydrates soon after you eat them. Clearly someone fell asleep in physiology class, and it sure as hell wasn’t me!
I can’t even fathom where the crappy idea of no fat high carb equals no weight gain ever came from. What in the world?
Hello, we need fat at EVERY meal. That’s how we efficiently absorb fat-soluble vitamins, to say nothing about satisfaction and satiety. But the Ideal Protein Diet couldn’t care less about satisfaction and love of food. This is all about losing as much weight as possible with pre-packaged food, ‘protein envelopes’, and so much caloric and overall restriction that you’ll want to hide under your couch and die.
Even though there is some literature (here) that shows that low carb diets can be efficacious in managing weight and diabetes, this is not the same as saying that the Ideal Protein Diet is based on science or a good idea.
There is no science behind eliminating artichokes and green beans or starving yourself for weeks and months on end.
There is no science behind not consuming carbohydrate and fat together or saying that you don’t burn carbohydrate until long after you consume it.
There is no science in doing diets in ‘phases’ or giving your pancreas a chance to regenerate.
Worst of all, this diet completely eliminates the pleasure in food and turns eating into something hideous. I can’t get behind a diet like this, no matter how badly someone needs to lose weight. It’s joyless and soulless. And if you mess up in the final phase – and by ‘mess up’ I mean eat a huge, blow the doors off meal, you need to spend the next day on Phase One. That’s probably just to remind you how horrible your life was during that time and that you better never ever ever ever have chicken wings and beer ever again.
I’m not done, because there’s a dark $ide of this, too.
The entire program is marketed to pharmacists who own their own pharmacies and ‘healthcare professionals’ that include doctors and chiropractors who own their own clinics and therefore can participate in the business model.
We have a phrase to describe the situation when a specific diet and/or supplement company provides kickbacks to a regulated health professional who recommends them.
It’s called a ‘CONFLICT OF INTEREST’, and most regulated health professionals can lose their license for it.
The diet is marketed with the phrase ‘available only thru (their klassy typo not mine) healthcare professionals’, which I find pretty gross considering that 1. The diet is crap and 2. It’s unethical to abuse your credential to sell a specific diet and receive kickbacks from it.
My Intel tells me that the pharmacies can get around the conflict of interest by selling the program, the food and the supplements as part of the overall pharmacy sales and then counting the kickbacks as part of the total pharmacy profit. Just like if they sold, like, 750 more boxes of hair dye that particular month or something. That’s how it’s done without triggering COI complaints.
Nice and shady.
For doctors and other professionals, I’m not sure how it works, but let’s just put it this way: if there was $nothing$ in it for the people selling the program through their clinics, there would be no $incentive$ to run it.
Your doctor/healthcare practitioner should be someone you can trust, not someone who sells you a wonky, mostly non-science based diet program and disgusting packet food that sucks just so they can make a few extra bucks. Oh, and who farms you out to their admin when you need ‘support’ on the program, because that’s what happens.
You think your doctor/pharmacist is going to help you and support you while you’re on Ideal Protein? Hell no!
Like a lot of other diets, Ideal Protein uses ‘coaches’ to deliver the program and support users. But the coaches aren’t the healthcare professionals. Instead, it’s office staff who do it.
The website states:
‘Most—95%—of the service line is delivered or performed by the non-medical staff in the practice….the Champion Provider (aka the doctor) typically should block two to four hours per month for review of intake of new weight loss patients and program oversight.’
Oh cool! So not only is the program faulty, but users believe they’re getting a ‘physician-directed’ weight loss program that’s not really one at all. Two to four hours a month is all the doc actually needs to dedicate to ‘overseeing’ the program in their clinic, not necessarily to the patients on it. People on the diet are getting ‘coached’ by other people who likely have very rudimentary nutrition training done by the Ideal Protein Diet, if any at all. They’re doing things like following your progress on the diet and recommending supplements, which can be downright dangerous. You CAN take too much of some things.
It’s like the blind leading the blind!
The Bottom Line?
While some of the research behind keto diets is solid, this diet is punishing, punitive, and likely unsustainable for the long-term – even Phase Four.
The science behind some of the claims this diet makes – don’t eat fats and carbohydrates together, pancreatic regeneration, etc. is just plain WRONG and any professional who has taken anatomy and physiology should know this stuff.
Most coaches aren’t even legit healthcare professionals and haven’t had any nutrition training beyond some rudimentary education done by the Ideal Protein Diet people. Do you really trust them to monitor you and recommend things like supplements to you? If you do, that’s a big mistake. Big.
Doctors and other regulated healthcare professionals you’re supposed to TRUST should not make money through selling you diet products. Anyone doing that should be investigated for conflict of interest.
The food on this diet is garbage, and emphasizes the fact that this diet eliminates all pleasure associated with food and eating. You could do this entire diet using whole foods, but that wouldn’t be the ‘Ideal Protein Diet’.
The supplement recommendations on this diet are out of control. It’s a red flag when a diet is so devoid of nutrients that you need this many supplements to make up for that.
This is a low carbohydrate, high protein diet just like the rest of them. Use the $400+ a month to buy real food and DO NOT use this diet.