Over the years, we've kept in touch with South Florida doctor Sanford Siegal, inventor of the Cookie Diet phenomenon. When we heard he had released a new cookbook (with surprisingly yummy low-calorie recipes... including chocolate and cheesecake!), we had to catch up with him. His son, Matthew, who handles the business side and helps protect the coveted secret cookie recipe, joined our conversation.
Tell us about your new cookbook, The Cookie Doctor Cookbook.
Dr. Siegal: The way it's organized is really unique as cookbooks go. I am constantly asked by patients, "What should I eat?" I'd give people a [low-calorie] menu, but they didn't want to follow the instructions. They wanted to fashion their own diet but still wanted help. Say someone ate a heavy breakfast and needs a 300-calorie dinner -- they can go right to this. Mix and match -- take a couple hundred from one dish, a couple hundred from something else. It's calories that count -- unless your calorie count is less than your body needs, you are not going to lose weight. So I organized recipes into five groups -- 200-calorie to 500-calorie groups. Within each, there are a variety of dishes -- starters salads, vegetables, desserts. For 300 calories, you can make hearty soups, sandwiches, poultry, seafood. I also included the details of nutrient content... like protein content and fiber, which is one of my favorites.
Matthew Siegal: He wrote the first diet book that advocated a high fiber diet, in 1975. Dr. Siegal's High Fiber Revolution.
Who invented these recipes?
Dr. Siegal: I didn't just sit down and write this in one week. There are
120 recipes; I've collected them over years. One that didn't make it in
is my chicken paprikash -- it's a 3,000-calorie meal.
I saw you helped Snooki lose weight. How was it working with her?
Matthew Siegal: She's a very nice person, to be honest with you. She
freely admitted to me that she cultivates [her television] persona.
She's sweet. She's really sharp too -- her view on the whole celebrity
thing is very pragmatic. She sees the future, and let's just say she has
not put all her eggs in one basket.
Dr. Siegal: She didn't have a lot of weight to lose -- ten or a few more pounds.
Matthew Siegal: Celebrity clients are fun to work with. What happened
was, we opened a store on Rodeo Drive [in Beverly Hills] and celebrities
were ordering [diet] cookies in their own name -- we had some big rock
stars using their own names. There were unintended consequences -- we're
on North Bedford Drive, where all the celebrity plastic surgeons are.
The paparazzi started camping out [to see celebrities come in our
Got any new products coming?
Matthew Siegal: Calcios -- it's a cookie for people to get rid of
heartburn -- far better than the other things [Tums, etc.] people are
forced to chew. It's just been released -- get it at calcios.com or in
Do you still have kiosks in the malls?
Matthew Siegal: It was incredibly successful for a while. Our kiosk in
the Boca Raton Town Center mall for a while was the highest-grossing
shopping-mall cart in the country. It was 50 square feet and made
$125,000 per month. We killed the mall locations because [our
distribution deal with] Walgreens -- our products are in 7,000 stores --
made mall locations obsolete.
I saw Matthew is going to be on an upcoming episode of Millionaire Matchmaker -- are you all millionaires now?
Matthew Siegal: We've done very well. I was also on Joan Rivers' show,
How'd You Get So Rich? My father was supposed to be in it, but he
doesn't like the limelight. Millionarie Matchmaker... I had turned it
down once, but then I did it. I'm not going to talk about it until it
airs in December.
Did you find love or not?
Matthew Siegal: I did not -- and let's just say there was no love lost between me and Patti Stanger [the host].
Dr. Siegal, you've said that your cookies contain a secret ingredient and Matthew is the only one with the recipe. Is he still?
Matthew Siegal: I haven't told anyone, so I presume so.
Dr. Siegal: There is one other -- my wife.
Well, then how do you mass-produce the cookies for 7,000 stores?
Dr. Siegal: It isn't necessary for the people who do the baking to know
the recipe. There is a particular ingredient I mix up myself with my
wife present -- that particular ingredient goes into the mix. Even
though our volume has gone up -- and our bakery has grown to twice the
size -- I go in there and mix the formula -- not once a week but more or
less, depending. Right now, they are being baked 'round the clock in
Florida and in other locations as well.
How do you feel about all this success?
Dr. Siegal: I am gratified, because I've spent my life with this project --
how to get weight off people. In the early years, I was frustrated by a
lack of success -- well, I wasn't unsuccessful, but by my standards, I
was lacking. But when I realized the important part of weight loss is
hunger control -- that's how the cookie was born. It was a superior
method of losing weight, but I kept it to myself, so to speak, so the
success was limited to my patients from 1975 to 2003. All those years, I
did amass half a million patients -- but that's nothing compared to our
population. It was nothing compared to going direct to the consumer. Now
we hear from people all over the world -- how we helped them achieve
May I ask how old you are now?
Eighty-one. And I still supervise patients -- but I'm also flying around the country and supervising the bakery.
Matthew Siegal: He calls me at 7:45 in the morning. And I'm like, do not call me until I've been to Starbucks.
How old are you?
Matthew Siegal: Forty-seven.
Whatever happened with your former partner, who left and started a competing cookie diet company, Smart for Life?
Matthew Siegal: We don't really talk about them anymore. They went into
bankruptcy. The big thing on our minds today is the economy. It's
heartbreaking. A few times a week, we get a call or email -- "I'm
halfway to my goal -- I just need to lose the last 20 pounds, but I can't
afford the cookies; do you have a coupon?"
And you charge like $50 for a box of cookies?
Dr. Siegal: Well, protein is very expensive. You actually spend less
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than when not on the diet. If you eat cookies for breakfast and lunch,
that's $4 a meal. You can't even go to fast food and eat for $4. If you
factor in the costs -- the medical costs of being significantly
overweight, every diet is a good deal.