Dr. Phil's Diet


Dr. Phil's diet is named for Dr. Phillip C. McGraw, PhD, the psychologist and life strategist seen on syndicated television. Popularly known as “Dr. Phil,” he developed a line of “Shape Up!” weight loss products and simultaneously developed and published a book titled The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom. It was promoted as a combination of healthy diet, exercise, behavior modification, and thinking differently about food.


Dr. Phil McGraw.

Dr. Phil McGraw.
(Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Dr. Phil has said that for 30 years, he counseled people battling weight problems and obesity. He has said that he wanted to more widely address the problem of obesity with a behavioral and nutritional approach. In 2003, he introduced the book and a line of nutritional products. The diet products were marketed by CSA Nutraceuticals, along with involvement of companies that have produced similar health and nutrition products. At the same time that the products and book were being marketed, Dr. Phil focused on weight loss themes on his television show. However, he did not refer to the weight loss products on the show. He introduced his diet on a nationally broadcast television special featuring Katie Couric and 13 weight loss challengers.

Dr. Phil's son Jay McGraw followed in his father's footsteps and authored a book with a similar plan written specifically for teenagers. This book also was published in 2003.


Dr. Phil's diet involved a book outlining a diet plan and a line of diet food products and supplement pills. The food products included flavored shakes and snack bars. The shakes and snack bars were fortified with 24 vitamins and minerals. The products' supplements were geared toward helping people with apple or pear body shapes. The products were only on the market for about one year.

The introduction to Dr. Phil's book follows his “down-to-earth” delivery style. He tells readers that he is not going to tell them what they want to hear. He says that seven critical pieces, or keys, help achieve long-term weight loss. The book is filled with personal anecdotes, self-assessment quizzes, and chapters on each key. Dr. Phil writes that those who have kept their weight off use all seven keys. The seven keys are described below.

Right thinking

Dr. Phil refers to a person's personal truth, or whatever it is about one's self and the weight problem that a person has come to believe. He says that part of learning to lose weight is learning to get rid of thoughts that do not work for weight loss and instead gain access to inner power and self-control. Dr. Phil says this helps people break the negative cycle of failed weight loss efforts and negative momentum. In this chapter, Dr. Phil lists 10 self-defeating messages that people often think about weight and weight control. For example, those who have problems with weight may label themselves or be labeled by others.

Healing feelings

This key refers to the way that some people eat to medicate themselves. Dr. Phil says that often people eat in response to negative emotions such as loneliness, stress, or boredom. Dr. Phil says that admitting to emotional triggers for overeating and learning to overcome the connection between emotions and food helps gain control over eating. The key helps to identify a process that is broken down into five manageable steps. Dr. Phil talks about forgiving one's self and learning to cope without food.

A no-fail environment Mastery over food

Dr. Phil's fourth key advises people to control habits by gaining mastery over food and through impulse control. The fourth key focuses on wiping bad, weight-gaining habits from people's lives and replacing them with healthier behaviors. He lists weight-gaining behaviors and various payoffs they offer to people. The chapter concludes with suggested behaviors to replace the weight-gaining behaviors, as well as the payoffs from the healthier behaviors.

High-response, high-yield foods

In this key, Dr. Phil discusses the nutritional value of various foods by describing a “high-response cost, high-yield food” plan. Instead of offering meal plans or calorie-cutting, Dr. Phil's diet talks about and lists foods that take longer to prepare and eat, and therefore are healthier. He contrasts these foods with those that take little time to prepare and eat, which normally offer higher calories and less nutritional value. He also mentions vitamin and mineral supplements in addition to high-yield foods.


Dr. Phil calls his sixth key to weight loss intentional exercise. He says that instead of becoming obsessed about exercise, people need to take a balanced approach of regular strength-building and heart-conditioning activities to burn calories. Dr. Phil says that intentional exercise can open the door to body control, a state where the body can better metabolize energy for losing weight and keeping weight off. He breaks exercise into categories of moderate activities and vigorous activities. In addition, the book lists the physical and psychological benefits of exercise.


The final key to weight loss provided by Dr. Phil involves social control. He says people can gain this by having a circle of support. People in a circle of support encourage a person trying to lose or maintain weight and also provide accountability to help achieve weight loss goals. He points out that the key to social support is not just having supportive friends and family in the circle, but also staying away from people who sabotage weight loss efforts.


The book concludes with several appendices, such as food lists, a workout diary, and a sample exercise for stress relief and relaxation. Dr. Phil reminds readers that weight is managed, not cured. He explains danger zones that allow people to drift off course in managing their weight, then discusses avoiding these danger zones.


Dr. Phil's weight loss solution is for people who want to lose or manage weight. He presents the diet as an alternative to crash and fad diets. As a psychologist, Dr. Phil approaches the diet from behavioral as well as nutritional aspects.


Dr. Phil says that in typical diets, the emotion fades soon after starting the diet. In interviews about his weight loss solution, Dr. Phil said that people have better chances of succeeding on weight loss efforts if they reprogram their lives and follow the seven keys to success. He said that fear keeps people from addressing the emotions involved in overeating. The diet also focuses on being healthy and having realistic expectations for a person's age.


Some registered dietitians and scientists have questioned the evidence quoted by Dr. Phil for the success rate of his plan and nutritional products. Following any particular diet plan should be done only after consultation with a physician and/or registered dietitian. The advice of involving a nutritionist comes late in Dr. Phil's book.


A unit of food energy. In nutrition, the word calorie refers to the scientific term kilocalorie, which represents the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree centigrade at sea level. One calorie of food energy is equal to 1,000 true calories of energy.
Dietary supplement—
A product, such as a vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, or enzyme, that is intended to be consumed in addition to an individual's diet with the expectation that it will improve health.
A healthcare professional who specializes in individual or group nutritional planning, public education in nutrition, or research in food science. To be licensed as a registered dietitian (RD) in the United States, a person must obtain a bachelor's degree in a nutrition-related field and pass a state licensing examination.
Emotional eating—
Eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, anxiety, boredom, sadness, or loneliness. Emotional eating can cause weight gain.
Condition characterized by excessive weight due to accumulation of fat, usually defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above or body weight greater than 30% above normal on standard height-weight tables.

Research and general acceptance

In the book, Dr. Phil cites a bibliography, a consulting nutritionist, and an 80% success rate. However, there are no specific scientific studies published or referred to that prove the success of the program or its individual strategies. After developing the Shape Up products, which consisted of herbal supplements, shakes, and snack bars, a lawsuit was filed stating that Dr. Phil had made false claims about their benefits. Reports showed that although the nutrition shakes were in good ranges for carbohydrates and fat, the nutrition bars were in relatively high carbohydrate and fat ranges. The lawsuit was filed in 2004 on behalf of three disappointed consumers. They said that Dr. Phil had defrauded fans, making false statements about the supplement pills. CSA Nutraceuticals agreed to stop making the supplements in early 2004 when it faced an investigation from the Federal Trade Commission concerning false advertising claims. The plaintiffs sought class action status for the lawsuit and reached a $10.5 million settlement in September 2006.

In an article in Food Processing magazine, a diet expert at the University of California at Berkeley was quoted as saying that Dr. Phil's diet advice was not innovative. She added that the advice was common sense. A review in the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter said there were several flaws in the book's advice and that some of the advice contradicted other points in the book or did not make sense. The review listed some good points, including the fact that a dieter does not have to be strong 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

An Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) fact sheet said that some of the book's advice was good, such as behavior modification strategies that have been used in weight control programs for many years. But the review said that the book also contained nutrition and dietary recommendations that were mistaken or outdated. The review also stated that the advice for dealing with complicated emotional and other eating-related issues was made seemingly simple, but that managing these issues alone is not easy.

See also Obesity .



McGraw, Phillip C. The Ultimate Weight Solution Cook Book. New York: Free Press, 2004.

McGraw, Phillip C. The Ultimate Weight Solution Food Guide. New York: Pocket Books, 2004.

McGraw, Phillip C. The Ultimate Weight Solution: The Seven Keys to Weight Loss Freedom. New York: Free Press, 2003.


Neff, Jack. “Dr. Phil Goes to the Grocery Store: The Shape Up! Line of Diet Products Endorsed By Phil McGraw Has Generated Controversy and Questions: Can Anybody Create Diet Foods?” Food Processing, (April 1, 2004).


Dr. Phil official website. http://www.drphil.com (accessed March 21, 2018).

Teresa G. Odle

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.