There were plenty of things Suzanne Schecter, a freelance TV producer in New York, could have done with $10,000. But instead of purchasing, say, a trip around the world, or just a Louis Vuitton steamer trunk, Ms. Schecter hired Tanya Zuckerbrot to help her lose weight.
The way Ms. Schecter saw it, $10,000 was a small price to eliminate the pounds that had been plaguing her for years. “I felt very strongly that I needed a profound kick in the pants, because it wasn’t going to happen any other way,” said Ms. Schecter, 50, a self-described food addict who said she took chicken cacciatore to show-and-tell one day in fourth grade. “I think it was my way of saying, ‘If I throw some money at this I’m going to have no choice but to follow through.’ ”
Ms. Schecter is among a coterie of high-powered New Yorkers who are happily giving their money to Ms. Zuckerbrot, a registered dietitian and author of “The F-Factor Diet: Discover the Secret to Permanent Weight Loss,” published in 2006, and the “The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories & Fat Disappear — With Fiber,” which came out in late 2012. Disciples of the F-Factor Diet include Dylan Lauren, daughter of Ralph and a candy entrepreneur; the model and actress Molly Sims; and Donny Deutsch, the eyeglasses-wielding advertising mogul who credits Ms. Zuckerbrot with helping him lose 20 pounds.
“She gets the way people live,” Mr. Deutsch said. “You can go to any restaurant you want, and she’ll tell you how to order. She really integrates eating better with knowing that people have to live they way they do.”
Just who is this woman, and why are so many people willing to pay her so much to give them a nutritional makeover?
For starters, Ms. Zuckerbrot, 40, a Long Island native whose mother is Colombian, is a walking billboard for her business. Pencil-thin with a lustrous mane of black hair, she favors four-inch heels and form-fitting clothes, and could easily pass for one of the beautiful people who frequent her practice. Her office on East 57th Street is similarly sleek: all white, with touches of apple green and a staff that looks as if it popped out of the pages of Vogue.
“It’s one thing to be told from a magazine or a book what to eat, but it’s another to hear it from someone who’s absolutely breathtaking,” said the current Miss Universe, Olivia Culpo, who has been meeting with Ms. Zuckerbrot (the official dietitian to the Miss Universe organization) for the last year. “She has three kids. She looks decades younger. She’s a living example of the F-Factor diet.”
Ms. Zuckerbrot attended the University of Michigan, and went to New York University for her masters in food and nutrition studies. After school, she worked with cardiac patients and diabetics. Not only did her patients improve their clinical conditions by following a diet rich in fiber, she said, but they lost weight, too.
This is not a revolutionary theory in the nutrition world, but to carb-starved people who had been struggling through the recent spate of breadless diets like Atkins, it made her worthy of canonization.
“I have a Mother Teresa complex,” Ms. Zuckerbrot said with a laugh.
Her diet plan gives clients permission to eat carbohydrates, provided they’re high in fiber. Her biggest requirement is that they eat at least four high-fiber crackers, like Finn Crisp or GG Bran Crispbreads, daily; she also has her own line of F-Factor foods (not included in the $10,000 fee). Clients can drink alcohol, and eat at their favorite restaurants.
Since 2011, F-Factor-friendly foods have been sold at Philippe restaurant in New York; in late February, the Midtown trattoria Bice unveiled a line of 21 F-Factor-approved appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts.
And if clients runs into a potential food crisis (“Help! I’m trapped at Le Bernardin and don’t know what to order!”), they can call, text or e-mail Ms. Zuckerbrot, and she will guide them to culinary safety.
“One of the coolest things is, you can just call and say, ‘I’m going to the NoMad tonight for dinner,’ and the staff will get the menu and tell you what you can eat,” said Blaine Templeman, a lawyer in Manhattan, who said he had lost about 50 pounds with her help. “I can do one quick little call and have menu advice so I’m prepared when I walk in the door.”
Ms. Zuckerbrot says she knows firsthand just how exasperating weight loss can be. When she married in 2000, her husband, Glenn Beyer, would inhale burgers, fries, pizza and Chinese food without gaining an ounce, she said. Ms. Zuckerbrot had been daintily eating salads, steamed chicken and broccoli to stay thin, but “it occurred to me that perhaps I actually didn’t need to be so restrictive.”
“Maybe,” she said, “like my husband, I was one of those lucky people who could eat whatever she wanted and not gain weight.”
She was wrong. Within six months, she had put on 24 pounds. In an effort to rein in temptation, she refused social invitations and stayed home at night, thinking she would eat less than if she were out with friends. That strategy failed wildly: she ended up isolated, depressed and consuming more.
“I finally decided to get my life back and commit to the way I was teaching my clients to eat,” she said.
She cut out refined carbs (white pasta, pizza, white rice, frozen yogurt, gummy bears, sugared cereal) and began following a diet filled with high-fiber carbs and more lean protein. Three months later, she said, she was back at her prenuptial weight.
But the experience made her sympathetic to people in the weight-loss trenches, which clients say is one of the reason they are willing to pay so much.
Lisban Osorio, 47, of New York, an owner of Casa Los Charcos, a vacation villa in Mexico, said he lost 44 pounds on F-Factor. He still sees Ms. Zuckerbrot once a month for a half-hour, for which he pays about $600. (The $10,000 package includes 10 visits; cheaper ones that include another dietitian can be arranged.) Ms. Zuckerbrot also offers a one-hour supermarket tour for $1,500, and a one-hour $1,500 refrigerator and pantry makeover.
“It’s a little pricey, but when you meet her right away, you genuinely like her,” Mr. Osorio said. “ ‘Sincere’ is the best way to describe her.”
Ms. Schecter, who ended up losing 30 pounds, called Ms. Zuckerbrot an “amazing cheerleader.”
When she met Ms. Zuckerbrot in April 2012, Ms. Schecter said, “Tanya took my hand and said, ‘I promise you’ll be able to have things you want, once you feel that you’re in an element of control and can go right back on the plan.’ ”
“Is that worth $10,000? I don’t know the answer to that,” she added. “But I feel she is someone I can go back to for years to come if I need a little bit of a cheerleading session.”
And if F-Factor devotees’ wallets are a little lighter, along with their scale readings, at least they have company. Ms. Schecter recalled a trip she took to Capri last year. When she arrived at breakfast, she was armed with her “Ziploc bag of cardboard roof tiles” (the high-fiber crackers). She glanced at a nearby table and noticed a woman carrying her own plastic baggie full of crackers.
“I knew she was with Tanya,” she said.