Eat cookies and lose weight? It seems too good to be true.
And that’s what Neil Friedman thought when he visited his sister in Florida and saw her dramatic weight loss after going on the cookie diet. So, Friedman tried it out for himself and lost 55 pounds in three months on the medically supervised weight loss program.
“I finally realized she was telling me the truth about the diet,” said Friedman, who now manages seven cookie-diet weight loss centers in the L.A. area.
After he’d discovered the cookie diet on that trip to Florida, he introduced his friends Larry Brahim, Anthony Podell and Los Angeles Dr. Irving Posalski to the concept.
The three of them established Torrance-based Scientific Weight Loss LLC and invested $4 million in real estate to set up seven Los Angeles-area cookie diet weight loss center franchises.
But their investment in the cookie diet didn’t turn out to be as sweet as the name suggests, and last month Scientific
Weight Loss filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Medical Care Holdings LLC,
the Florida-based franchisor of the weight loss centers.
The suit alleges that U.S. Medical Care and its managing member, Dr. Sasson Moulavi of Florida, violated the franchise agreement by starting a similar diet program that gives unfair competition to Scientific Weight Loss’ centers. Scientific Weight Loss wants to stop U.S. Medical Care Holdings from selling their competing cookies and diet programs in California.
The medically supervised cookie diet was started in 1975 by Florida Dr. Sanford Siegal. He licensed his name and trademark in 2002 to Moulavi who wanted to franchise centers nationwide.
The 800-calorie-per-day diet requires that individuals be monitored by a physician. Half of the 800 calories come from a single meal, a dinner of 6 ounces of chicken or fish and vegetables, and the other 400 calories come from eating six of the specially prepared cookies throughout the day. The cookies contain a nutritionally enhanced food mixture and appetite-suppressing enzymes
After Moulavi started franchising the cookie diet centers, a dispute with Siegal turned into a lawsuit. A judge ruled that Moulavi could no longer license the diet using Siegal’s name.
Smart for Life
The California stores are now called Smart for Life. Scientific Weight Loss runs centers in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Rancho Mirage, Pasadena and Westlake Village.
Milord Keshishian, a Westwood-based lawyer specializing in franchise law, said trademark disputes are common. But this is an unusually complicated case because it seems Moulavi never had clean ownership of the trademark rights to the diet.
“Because the franchisor was licensing the trademark rights from Siegal, who is a separate entity, they couldn’t control the trademark,” said Keshishian, who isn’t involved in the case.
Attorneys for both Scientific Weight Loss and Moulavi’s U.S. Medical Care Holdings did not return calls seeking comment.
The war between Scientific Weight Loss and Moulavi’s company began when he started selling cookie diet products directly to consumers over the Internet in December 2007, according to court documents. His customers can follow the weight loss program without medical supervision on Moulavi’s Web site and purchase higher-calorie versions of the cookies, soups and shakes that Scientific Weight Loss’ Smart for Life centers sell.
The suit claims that Scientific Weight Loss’ centers have lost business because customers can get similar products from Moulavi without paying $349 for an initial visit and $149 for a monthly membership.
Scientific Weight Loss also claims the cookies prepared by Moulavi’s U.S. Medical Care Holdings and shipped to their centers were contaminated with mold and other foreign matter, and caused patients to become ill.
Despite all the problems, Friedman said Scientific Weight Loss has served 4,000 people at its seven different locations since the company began operating centers more than two years ago.
“We create behavioral changes in a person’s eating habits,” Friedman said. “You are grazing on cookies in combination with water.”