Shapiro diet

The origins

For nearly 30 years, Dr. Howard  Shapiro has run a private weight-management clinic. Working with nutritionists, psychologists, and trainers, he offers not a diet, but an approach based on awareness of food choices. He gained media attention when, in 1998, the New York City Police Department hired him to help its officers lose weight. The initiative was a resounding success.

 

Dr. Shapiro believes that many people who struggle with weight are motivated by the visual aspect of food. That led him to create an original book illustrating 170 food options: the left page features a life-size color photo of high-calorie food (cheeseburger, chocolate cake, breaded chicken, etc.), while the right page features highly appetizing, low-calorie alternatives.

In a very striking way, these images highlight the large amount of food that can be eaten when opting for healthy foods. It is therefore not a diet, but an original strategy to guide consumers towards better food choices.

Titled Picture Perfect Weight Loss, Dr. Shapiro’s book has been translated into 12 languages. In French, it is simply called The Shapiro Diet. Note that in his book, Dr. Shapiro also emphasizes the importance of physical activity for weight loss.

The main principles

Goals

  • Losing weight.
  • Stabilize your weight.
  • Developing new relationships with food.
  • Finding a diet that suits us.
  • Becoming responsible for your diet.
  • Eat your fill while ingesting fewer calories.

The main points

Dr. Shapiro’s method is based on the principle of becoming aware of the foods you eat. Before you can adopt new eating habits, you must first be aware of your current habits. This awareness occurs in two ways:

  • Keep a food diary in which you note everything you eat, at what time, in what context, and in what state (hunger, boredom, frustration, anger, joy, sadness, etc.).
  • By referring to life-size images representing different menu and dish choices and their caloric value.

Moreover, the method does not contain most of the irritants often encountered in diets.

In short, not feeling deprived is the fundamental element of this approach. While Dr. Shapiro  does not advocate restriction, he does offer some caveats  :

According to him, vigilance is required when consuming products that claim to be “fat-free”, “sugar-free”, “salt-free” or made “with real fruit juice”, etc. Such claims can influence the quantity consumed. We can believe, sometimes wrongly, that these foods are better for our health than others.

He also recommends managing cravings. When a craving strikes, ask yourself what you’re craving. If the craving is for a high-calorie food, like a piece of chocolate cake, consider healthier, lower-calorie options: a low-fat hot chocolate or a piece of dark chocolate, for example. These can be considered potential substitutes for chocolate cake. If the craving is for chocolate cake, it’s best to just eat…

He also suggests reducing the use of oil-based seasonings and instead opting for light sauces.

Mechanisms of action

Alleged

  • Keeping a food diary allows you to be more attentive to your eating behaviors. It is a tool that allows you to be more committed to the process undertaken.
  • Visual presentation of food has a stronger impact than a simple written list because it engages the right hemisphere of the brain.
  • Satisfying our need to eat as it arises helps prevent dangerous compensatory behaviors. Since the line between appetite and hunger is blurry, we don’t need to worry too much about it.

Demonstrated

To date, the Shapiro diet has not been the subject of any scientific study. Some of its precepts are nevertheless compatible with generally accepted nutritional recommendations regarding weight management, such as being aware of one’s eating behavior before undertaking changes, and not prohibiting foods 2 .

However, the approach runs counter to current nutritionist recommendations about satiety signals. Dr. Shapiro says there is no need to distinguish between true hunger and the desire to eat. But listening to body signals is now considered a key behavior in weight management.

Dr. Shapiro also believes that counting calories is not necessary when trying to lose weight. This statement is not unanimous in the scientific community. For example, a Food and Drug Administration task force on obesity 3 instead encourages people who are overweight or obese to focus on the calorie content of foods and adjust their choices accordingly 3. Some studies 4-6 show that counting calories may be one of the most effective habits for weight management.

In the absence of a list of recommended and not recommended foods, here are some options representing the same number of calories 1 .

Advantages and disadvantages

Satiety and well-being

Satiety is not guaranteed: The Shapiro diet offers very few guidelines for meal composition. However, it is unlikely that you will feel hungry since high-fiber foods – which provide a feeling of satiety – are among the frequently suggested alternatives. Also, it should be remembered that you are also allowed to eat as often as you want, according to this approach.

In practice

This method is relatively easy to follow at home and on the go because there are no dietary restrictions. However, people who enjoy eating meat may find the Shapiro diet challenging. That’s because the key foods of the Mediterranean diet—fruits, vegetables, fish, seafood, and legumes—are emphasized because they are very filling and low in calories.

It also seems that such an approach based on visual references is more compatible with visual types, such as artists and creatives than with more Cartesian people. Finally, for many, the lack of strict rules can be detrimental to the success of the business.

Weightloss

Since Dr. Shapiro’s approach has not been scientifically studied, it is impossible to say whether it promotes sustainable weight loss. The only data we have is that reported by Dr. Shapiro himself regarding weight loss in his patients.

Attention

This approach is not suitable for people with health problems where nutrition is a determining factor—high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.—because it does not emphasize the quantities to consume from each food group, the sodium content, the type of fiber to favor (see our Dietary Fiber fact sheet), etc. Since the number of servings to consume from each food group is not defined, there may be deficiencies in certain nutrients.

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