Diet books and fad diets are nothing new. It seems every few months there's a new weight loss program being touted by the so-called experts as the "new miracle diet". We, as consumers, are bombarded by before and after pictures and testimonials from people who have successfully lost weight with some fabulous new program.
Two years ago, another new diet book hit the shelves. It was called "The South Beach Diet", written by Dr. Arthur Agatston. Since its release in 2003, The South Beach Diet has been listed on the New York Times' bestseller list for an impressive 103 weeks. Dr. Agatston has released companion books, started a fee-based website, and is working with Kraft Foods to create a line of pre-packaged South Beach menu items. How is this diet any different from the others, and more importantly, does it work?
The main idea behind South Beach is to eat three meals a day along with snacks and even dessert, while avoiding highly processed foods. Dr. Agatston says that South Beach is not low carb or low fat, but rather good carb and good fat. The diet is broken down into three phases: phase one is very restrictive and lasts about two weeks, phase two is much more open with food choices and lasts until you reach your goal weight, and phase three is called 'maintenance', which should guide your food choices for the rest of your life.
During phase one, you can eat until you are full (not stuffed full, just no longer hungry) from a list of approved foods. The list consists of mainly vegetables and lean meat, including seafood, as well as low fat or fat-free dairy products and legumes. You can have sugar-free Jell-o or popsicles as treats; up to 75 calories worth per day. Nuts and natural peanut butter are also on the list, but with limits. You're basically giving up bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and sugar in all of its forms. The South Beach Diet book claims that you can lose 8-13 pounds in just two weeks on phase one, and that you will lose belly fat first.
Phase two widens your menu quite a bit. You can now eat whole grain bread and pasta, brown rice, select fruits, and (my personal favourite) sugar-free Jell-o pudding. Still no sugar though, except for the occasional bite of dark chocolate. Good carbs in the form of whole grains and legumes, and good fats in the form of unsaturated, non-hydrogenated things like I Can't Believe it's Not Butter spray and olive oil are all approved.
Once you've reached your goal weight, you're pretty much on your own. Phase three lets you eat within the phase two guidelines, adding occasional treats and 'white' food, but omitting the snacks you've come to depend on. There isn't much guidance here, since by now you should know what your body is able to handle. Dr. Agatston recommends that you return to phase two if you find yourself gaining weight again.
Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? The book even claims that you don't need to exercise to lose weight with this plan (although it does recommend that you add physical activity as part of your weight loss effort). While the eating plan is certainly healthy, there are some drawbacks to this diet - or at least with the way it is presented.
Phase one is very restrictive. Sure, you're only on it for two weeks, and the potential weight loss is very encouraging. Many people, however, do not lose the 'guaranteed' 8-13 pounds in phase one and get discouraged. Not only that, but suddenly dropping all sugar and refined carbs from your diet can cause dizziness, light-headedness, an inability to focus or concentrate, and constipation (believe it or not). This rapid weight loss phase is designed to control your cravings, but sometimes the side effects just aren't worth it. If you think you can manage your cravings, head straight for phase two.
South Beach also recommends that you use sugar substitutes, specifically Splenda. Some people have trouble digesting aspartame, while others prefer to avoid one unhealthy substance and substitute it with a chemically processed alternative. Explore your options in this case – there are other ways to sweeten foods without sugar or chemicals.
While you're on phase two, your weight loss should slow down to one or two pounds a week, according to the book. This is reasonable, and slow weight loss is definitely healthier than dropping pounds rapidly. It is a balanced diet and has great effects on your health, with the added benefit of losing unwanted pounds. What is confusing as far as the book is concerned though is that there are ingredients in the recipes that aren't found on the recommended "Foods to Enjoy" list. Also, Dr. Agatston asks that you add grains and fruit back to your diet slowly; only one serving a day to start, and gradually increase your servings until you find your weight loss slowing down. If you follow the daily menu plans in the book though, there are several fruit and grain servings for each day.
For anyone who needs a structured plan based on numbers, The South Beach Diet is not the way to go. But if you like the freedom of not having to count anything and using common sense to lose weight, then South Beach is more of a strategic eating plan than a rigid diet and would work very well for you. Keep in mind that all diets revolve around the same principal: take in fewer calories than you burn off. Burn more calories than you consume, and the weight will come off. Eating well and enjoying healthy food is integral to this process, and that's where The South Beach Diet shines.