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- The popular F-Factor diet has come under fire, with some users claiming it’s made them sick.
- Now former employees tell Insider that its founder, Tanya Zuckerbrot, policed their meals and told sexual jokes in the office that made them uncomfortable.
- One ex-employee said she was “fat shamed” for bringing whole-wheat pasta and homemade turkey meatballs to work for lunch.
- Zuckerbrot has denied the allegations, saying they’re part of a smear campaign against her and F-Factor.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It was Sarah’s first day of work at F-Factor, and she packed a homemade lunch of whole-wheat pasta and turkey meatballs.
“I thought I was being really responsible,” Sarah, a dietitian, told Insider.
But within minutes of commencing her meal, Sarah said, the fiber-centric diet founder, Tanya Zuckerbrot, “fat-shamed” her.
“Tanya said, ‘I can’t believe you’re eating pasta. We never do that. How could you bring that in?'” said Sarah, who asked not to use her real name (which is known to Insider) because she feared retaliation from Zuckerbrot. “I was horrified.”
A former employee who worked at the New York company for four years said she witnessed the confrontation and corroborated Sarah’s account.
“Tanya berated her,” the former employee said. “It was awful. I just remember her face. She just turned white.”
For years, F-Factor — which promises customers that they can “eat carbs, dine out, drink alcohol, work out less” and stay slim on Zuckerbrot’s fiber-heavy regime — has been the in-the-know diet for well-heeled Upper East Siders and celebrities, including Megyn Kelly, Olivia Culpo, and Katie Couric.
Zuckerbrot charges some clients up to $15,000 for a startup package and serves up diet tips and scenes from her jet-setting lifestyle to her 119,000 Instagram followers. She seemed to have it all: books, a line of powders and fiber bars, a $22 million Park Avenue apartment, and a handsome second husband, the corporate real-estate investor Anthony Westreich.
But her empire came under threat this summer when the Instagram influencer Emily Gellis launched an internet crusade against F-Factor, saying that adherents suffered dangerous side effects. Gellis’ efforts culminated last month in a splashy New York Times story about the drama, which quoted former F-Factor devotees complaining of hair loss, gastrointestinal issues, and eating disorders they believe were caused by the diet.
Now former F-Factor employees are coming forward to Insider with allegations about the company’s work environment, including claims that employees’ eating habits were policed by Zuckerbrot in a manner that was diametrically opposed to the carefree image F-Factor projects to its users. Some employees also said Zuckerbrot engaged in office behavior they found inappropriate and told sexually explicit jokes that made them uncomfortable.
“Every day it was tears, crying, crying, crying,” a former high-level employee who recently worked at F-Factor said. “There was an extreme level of toxicity in the office. If it were a television show, you would be like, ‘This is so unrealistic.’ And yet it’s like that every single day.”
Insider spoke with 20 people who have worked at F-Factor during various periods since the company opened its New York offices in 2006. At least 12 of them felt there was an unhealthy work environment and agreed to speak to Insider about their experiences on the condition that their names, which are known to us, be withheld from publication because they feared retaliation from Zuckerbrot.
Zuckerbrot has forcefully pushed back against allegations that her diet has harmed anyone and that her workplace is toxic, hiring former White House special counsel and current Michael Cohen attorney Lanny Davis to liaise with reporters covering her company.
She has also sent cease-and-desist letters threatening legal action to at least six associates and former employees who have publicly spoken about her and her company.
“These allegations [are] all either false or misleading,” Zuckerbrot said in a statement to Insider. “We strive to be a place of employment where our employees are happy to come to work, and while we have had to grow over the past 20 years, we are proud of where we are today. That phenomenal growth could not have happened without each and every one of our employees along the way.”
In an interview, Zuckerbrot told Insider that she never monitored eating in the office.
“Healthy eating was encouraged, but not policed,” she said. “I never told my employees what to eat or what not to eat.”
‘Take them home. We aren’t eating these in the office.’
While Zuckerbrot touts F-Factor as a diet that lets users live a normal life and dine out with a cocktail or two, its first phase is highly restrictive — users are allowed a maximum of 35 grams of net carbs a day, which usually translates to about 1,000 to 1,200 calories. Former female F-Factor employees told Insider that under Zuckerbrot’s watch they felt perpetually trapped in Step One, which banned even many fruits. Some resorted to starving themselves during the day and bingeing at night.
“I can tell you that it was definitely not the type of office where you were allowed to eat whatever you want,” Lisa Moskovitz, a dietitian who worked at F-Factor about 10 years ago, said.
“It was understood that at an office where we are selling skinniness in a package, you don’t want to be seen eating anything that has a lot of carbs or is not F-Factor approved,” she said. “The understanding was that you have to be on Step One the whole time you were working there.”
In the New York Times article, Zuckerbrot said she fired Moskovitz. Moskovitz told Insider, “This retort is another example of deflection from accountability.”
In a statement, Zuckerbrot acknowledged that when clients were in the office, staffers were expected to eat only F-Factor-approved foods:
Our employees were always encouraged to eat whatever they wanted, and no F-Factor employee was ever forced or expected to personally use the F-Factor program. There were times when we asked our employees in private not to eat foods inconsistent with the F-Factor program in front of clients, and that was out of respect for those clients that had come to the office to lose weight. In those instances, the employees simply ate their food in the privacy of their own office.
But even when Zuckerbrot’s clients were out of the picture, restrictive eating persisted, one woman who worked at F-Factor in 2018 said. She cited an office birthday celebration where cupcakes were treated as contraband.
“There were these mini, mini cupcakes, and once the candles were blown out, Tanya packaged up the cupcakes and gave them to whoever’s birthday it was and said, ‘Take them home. We aren’t eating these in the office,'” the 2018 employee said. Zuckerbrot’s representative said the allegation was false.
A former intern told Insider that she was so scared to eat at the office, she began binge eating at home.
“I would be a closet eater when Tanya wasn’t looking,” the intern said.
The intern talked about a team holiday dinner at a restaurant that served popovers.
“We all were sneaking the popovers under the table because we didn’t want [Tanya] to see that we were eating them,” the intern said.
Zuckerbrot’s representative responded: “Tanya enjoys popovers and eats them from time to time since no foods are off limits on the F-Factor diet. Tanya feels badly that someone felt uncomfortable eating popovers in front of her.”
Fear of snacks
Kelsey Levinson, who interned at the company in 2017, said all the interns ate the same salad — no dressing, no avocado, no noodles — and bought the same 20-calorie GG fiber crackers lauded by Zuckerbrot.
“I never felt extreme pressure, but I do know that some girls would eat secretly,” Levinson said. “We would go into this intern room, and an intern would bring out popcorn and people would look at her like, ‘Why is this girl eating popcorn?'”
A dietitian who worked at the company in 2009 said this fear of eating certain foods at the office and work events — and fear of Zuckerbrot specifically — was prevalent among employees even in the early days of F-Factor.
“We once went out to lunch — it was a bunch of the dietitians and Tanya and a girl who worked as a secretary — and the secretary ordered a frozen yogurt at Bloomingdale’s, and Tanya basically gave her a death stare,” the dietitian said. “And one of the girls at the table was like, ‘Tanya, let her have it.’ And the girl ended up not ordering it.”
Zuckerbrot’s representative said, “Tanya would never have done this,” adding that Zuckerbrot is a fan of frozen yogurt, “particularly the chocolate flavor ‘Forty Carrots’ from Bloomies.”
But the high-level employee who recently left F-Factor said anxiety permeated the office.
“You were in fear of what you could snack on and how much you could snack on,” the employee said. Once, after the high-level employee accidentally left an unfinished bag of chips at the front desk, Zuckerbrot erupted at the receptionist.
“Later the girl who worked the front desk came into my office and said Tanya yelled at her for eating chips,” the high-level employee said.
A current employee who works closely with Zuckerbrot told Insider that if there were chips left out on the desk “it would just be a courtesy to the clients not to have them there.” She asked to remain anonymous for fear of online attacks.
“But if that person wanted to eat chips,” she added, “there would be no issue with that … We can eat whatever we want.”
One former senior executive agreed, saying she never witnessed food policing by Zuckerbrot. In 2016, when Zuckerbrot got engaged to her second husband, the team celebrated with F-Factor cookies and a cake.
“She didn’t tell anyone to ‘wrap it up,'” the former senior executive said.
‘I wasn’t going to be the one bringing a sandwich into work’
In an interview, Zuckerbrot denied that she policed what her staffers ate and said she prioritized health above all else.
As an example, she recalled advising one of her dietitians to start drinking Ensure to put on weight after a client was startled by her emaciated appearance.
“The client spoke to me after [meeting with the dietitian] and she said, ‘I don’t want to work with her, she’s too thin, it’s not aspirational, it’s not healthy, and it’s really bad for your brand, Tanya,'” Zuckerbrot said.
But despite Zuckerbrot’s efforts regarding that employee, a number of women interviewed said working at F-Factor exacerbated their past eating issues.
“It’s not a healthy environment for someone like me who had disordered eating,” a former colleague of Zuckerbrot said. “There’s definitely a culture of disordered eating … You’ll never catch anyone eating a sweet potato or rice.”
The same person said she left the company partly because of how the environment affected her relationship with food.
Alix Turoff interned at the company for two years on and off starting about 2010. She said that her own disordered eating history was what drew her to F-Factor in the first place.
“I knew the environment was not healthy,” Turoff said of her time at F-Factor, which she called “image-focused.”
“They would take [low-calorie] Laughing Cow cheese and put it on the GG crackers and put on cinnamon and Splenda and would call it a cheesecake,” Turoff said. “I looked back at pictures the other night. I didn’t even realize when I worked there how thin I was.
“It wasn’t like anyone was holding a gun to your head telling you to eat GGs, but I wasn’t going to be the one bringing a sandwich into work.”
‘It was terribly embarrassing and it was so degrading’
Former employees said that aside from eating issues, Zuckerbrot engaged in behavior they found to be ethically dubious, including once encouraging an employee to lie to clients and telling sexual jokes that made staffers uncomfortable.
One early employee said Zuckerbrot asked her to invent a fake back story to bond with clients.
“She asked me to make up a story about one time when I was overweight to give me more credibility with the clients,” said the early employee, who said she’d always been skinny.
Zuckerbrot’s representative denied this.
“Every registered dietitian has their own journey in regards to their health and weight, and Tanya has always had everyone be forthcoming and honest about that journey,” the representative said.
A number of past colleagues said Zuckerbrot had a penchant for sexually charged jokes.
Sarah, the former dietitian who asked that we not include her real name, said Zuckerbrot once jokingly told a male client that if he lost a certain amount of weight, Sarah would perform oral sex on him. Sarah said she was present when Zuckerbrot made the joke.
“It was terribly embarrassing and it was so degrading,” she said.
Another former employee, the one who worked at F-Factor for four years, told Insider that she heard the joke and witnessed Sarah’s mortified reaction. Insider contacted the male client, who denied ever hearing those words uttered by Zuckerbrot.
A spokesperson for Zuckerbrot said, “Not only is this claim false — the individual client has denied it as well.”
“She would talk about sex all the time,” one former intern said about Zuckerbrot’s sense of humor. “She would tell staffers that guys don’t care about small boobs. If you give a guy a blowjob, it’s all that matters.”
Zuckerbrot’s spokesperson denied that she ever said this as well.
A dietitian who worked at F-Factor from 2011 to 2019 said she never heard Zuckerbrot say anything sexually inappropriate: “It was always a very positive, good-feeling environment.”
‘Dress like you’re going to the nightclub’
Nearly every former employee contacted by Insider described strict expectations regarding appearance in the office.
“We are expected to look a certain way,” the former colleague said. “We had to wear minimum three-inch heels, makeup, and hair.”
“I can tell you that the culture of the office was such that it felt like a requirement to have a certain appearance and dress a certain way,” Moskovitz said. “It was definitely part of the job description to dress like you’re going to the nightclub.”
Levinson, the former intern, said one of the dietitians told her high-heels were “mandatory” in the office.
“They wanted us to look hot,” Levinson said. “I could go from work to a date and it would be the same outfit. Some of the things I wore, I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing to Goldman Sachs. It wasn’t conservative. If you have a cute body, let’s showcase it.”
Moskovitz talked about an intern showing up in flats one day and being sent by Zuckerbrot to Steve Madden to purchase heels.
Zuckerbrot did pay for the shoes, Moskovitz said, adding: “I don’t know if that makes it better.”
“She would always make us want to look perfect,” the former intern said. “If one of the nutritionists had a pimple on her face, she would throw makeup across the desk and say, ‘No one wants to see that,'” she said, adding that her Christmas gift from Zuckerbrot was a Sephora gift card. “She is the ruler and we were her minions. We all admired her and shut our mouths.”
Sarah, who was in her 20s when she worked at F-Factor, talked about Zuckerbrot asking her to scrunch her face together and telling her to get Botox.
“F-Factor has…never required that its employees look a certain way or dress anything beyond standard business attire, and any anecdotes to the contrary are not true,” said Zuckerbrot in a statement.
Zuckerbrot told Insider the barrage of workplace allegations is part of a larger campaign to assassinate her character.
“The real question is why these girls are coming out with the stories 10 years later while a smear campaign about me is occurring. If you Google my name, up until the past three months, you’ve never read of any complaints or negative comments about my company culture,” Zuckerbrot said.
Jessica Rossman, an associate brand manager at F-Factor, described the recent bad press “shocking” and “horrible.”
“[Tanya’s] one of the most exceptional people I know and she cares so much about others,” Rossman said. “I think people are just trying to take her down and I’m horrified to see this. It’s absolutely disgraceful. I’ve helped build this company for ten years and these allegations are wild.”
Gerry Casanova, who worked as the company’s chief marketing and media officer from 2011 to 2015, said Zuckerbrot was a stickler for detail. But he denied a toxic work environment.
“For me as a branding person, I saw her as an aspirational model for the people who came,” Casanova said. “She had high expectations for people who worked there, but it was never abusive. I’ve always viewed Tanya is a strong leader and a positive role model, particularly for the women at F-Factor.”