I was watching TV the other day and I saw an expose on the Atkins diet on Dateline, 24 Hours, or one of those other news programs and it irked me when they lumped the South Beach Diet in with the Atkins diet and proceeded to take “pot shots” at its validity. Then I was talking to a friend of mine who recently went to the doctor concerning his health and was told that he needed to lose some weight. When he inquired about the South Beach diet, the doctor “poo poo’d” the plan and recommended instead to cut portions and fat. With both of these experiences hitting at about the same time, my quills have become quite bristled and I figured it was time to weigh in on my two cents regarding the South Beach diet. There’s a lot of misunderstanding regarding the South Beach diet, so let’s get those out of the way first. 1. South Beach is NOT a low carb diet. 2. South Beach is NOT a low fat diet. 3. South Beach is NOT at all like Atkins. 4. Although it’s gained a lot of popularity, I don’t view it as a FAD diet. So just what IS the South Beach diet? Well, I think Dr. Agatston says it best so I would encourage you to read this excerpt from his book, but to put it in my own words; the South Beach diet was designed by a cardiologist to help his patients eat more healthy and lose weight. The fact that it worked so well and so fast was as much of a surprise to him as it is to those that have tried the diet. Dr. Agatston was compelled to create the diet simply because there was nothing else out there that did the trick. Pritikin is simply too difficult and complex, Atkins is too unhealthy and the food pyramid simply doesn’t work. In fact, the current rise in obesity is directly related to the food pyramid. So Dr. Agatston felt forced to try and come up with a plan that would be easy to follow, allow for and expect setbacks and didn’t require measuring, counting, or tracking what you ate. Like any cardiologist, he wanted his patients to eat a more balanced and healthy diet to prevent heart disease, but every diet was too hard to follow or its restrictions were too harsh. Some were downright dangerous. Nobody seemed to be able to stick with low-fat regiments for any length of time. And a diet is useless if you can’t stick with it. So the only option seemed to be to try and create something new. He wanted to create something that was easy to follow, allowed for the eventual “falling off of the wagon” and the ability to get back to the diet easily without guilt or penalties.
How It Works The South Beach diet is made of of three “phases”. “Phase One” lasts two weeks and is the strictest part of the diet. Many foods, such as breads, fruits and starches are prohibited as well as all alcohol. The purpose of this phase is to “cleanse” your system by removing the build up of sugars and carbohydrates already saturating your system. In place of all the sugars, carbs and starches, you have a plethora of foods that you can eat, such as vegetables, lean meats, low-fat cheese and certain dairy products. The meal plan for each day consists of breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner with dessert. The idea is that you should never be hungry. If you feel hungry, grab a handful of nuts, or a cheese snack. There are no special foods to buy, or package meals. Simply go to your local grocery and buy lean meats and fresh vegetables. How much easier could it be? Oh and here’s the best part – you’ll probably lose 10 – 12 pounds during these two weeks, most of that weight will come off of your mid-section and by the end of the two weeks your cravings for carbs and sugars will disappear. 🙂 After the first two weeks, you then move to “Phase Two”. In this phase you’re begin introducing fresh fruit, more dairy and more carbs back into your diet. Oatmeal, bread and other carbohydrates make their appearance again, but instead of high processed trans fat breads, you’ll be switching to whole grain breads for example. During this phase you still stick with the same meal plan of 3 meals and 2 snacks a day and you’ll stay in this phase until you reach your goal weight. Now your weight loss will slow down during this phase. Instead of half a pound a day, you can expect about a pound or two per week. Although you may be tempted to stay on Phase One, so that you can continue your meteoric decrease in weight, it’s recommended that you shift to phase two. Once you reach your goal weight, you then move into “Phase Three”. It is this phase that you will stay on for here on out. Now when I first heard that, I thought “Woah. Wait a minute.” The idea of staying on a diet for the rest of my life is not something that I was ready to to sign up for. I mean who really wants to be on a diet for the rest of your life? Here’s the catch: Phase One hardly even seems like a diet, Phase Two is a walk in the park, so Phase Three is just how you eat. The diet actually changes your eating habits to the point where you’re really not on a true “diet.” The reason most diets don’t work is because the diet only changes your eating habits for the period that you’re losing weight. With South Beach you’re actually learning a healthier way of eating. A Reeducation On Nutrition The American diet is loaded with unhealthy food, a lot of sugars and portions that are too large. As a result, our nation is one of the fattest in the world. Everyone wants to lose weight and there are plenty of gimmick diets that have come and gone. In the book, Dr. Agatston walks you through the history of the more famous diets. He doesn’t dismiss them, but he does explain that as doctors have learned more about the foods we eat and how our body processes them, these diets don’t hold up to scrutiny. For example, in the 1970’s George McGovern headed the McGovern committee, which was originally charted to fight malnutrition, but the committee switched to a new goal – the prevention of over nutrition. The preconceived notion was that fat was bad and our overindulgence was the major cause of obesity and heat disease. The committee also felt suspicious of those that didn’t believe that fat was bad, thinking that the beef, egg, or dairy industry had influenced your thinking. As a result, low total fat, high carbohydrate became the mantra despite the lack of proof that such a diet would improve overall health. So how has the low fat, high carb diet worked? America has gotten fatter and fatter. Here’s a passage from the book regarding the classic American breakfast of bacon and eggs:
Even recently, the prevailing view of nutrition would behold the classic American breakfast of eggs, bacon, home fries, toast, orange juice, and coffee and easily pick out what’s unhealthy – the eggs (cholesterol), bacon (fat), and coffee (caffeine) – from what’s good for you – the potatoes (a vegetable), bread (nothing’s more wholesome than toast, right?) and the OJ (all that vitamin C).
Of course, that view is wrong based on what we know now. That’s what can be most frustrating about science: What’s praised as good today may be condemned as bad tomorrow, and vice versa. It’s not necessarily that we were wrong then and right now. It’s just that our knowledge is constantly growing, and along the way we sometimes have to unlearn what we thought was true.
We now know that eggs are a perfectly fine food. It turns out that they raise both kinds of cholesterol, the good along with the bad, and they do not adversely affect the ration of the two – which is the number that really counts. The yolk contains natural vitamin E, and important antioxidant that helps prevent cancer and heart disease.
Even the bacon’s not so terrible, so long as you don’t overdo it. The coffee’s acceptable too, with the same caution.
The rest of the breakfast, though, has got to go. The hash brows? We’ve already discussed how high the glycemic index of potatoes is, especially the white ones. And when a food is chopped into small pieces, it more rapidly yields it’s sugars and starches. Take a white potato, cut it into slivers, deep-fry it in some unhealthy oil – it tastes great but wreaks havoc on your blood chemistry.
The toast? You know by now how bad white bread is for anyone trying to lose weight. Each slice is worst than a spoonful of table sugar. If the label on the bread boasts that it’s “enriched,” you’re really in trouble. Manufacturers add nutrients only because the natural ones in the wheat have been removed along with the fiber…
How about the orange juice? If it’s processed and sold in a carton, you could drink cola with nearly the same results. There are good nutrients in orange juice, but you can get those any number of ways without having to take in all the sugar that comes along for the ride in processed juice. So how would you eat that same breakfast the “South Beach Way?” Well boil or poach the eggs, if you want to fry them, use a cooking spray instead of butter or margarine. Use Canadian bacon instead of the usual kind. You can replace the potatoes with cereal, such as oat bran, or you could eat a non-instant Oatmeal. Instead of drinking orange juice, which could be the equivalent of 6 oranges, simply eat an orange. And as for the bread, switch to a Whole Grain variety and you’re ok. This doesn’t sound so hard does it?
What Works For Me At the heart of the diet, you learn how your body processes food. You learn how important fiber plays into your diet and how carbohydrates, starches and sugars are digested. There are good fats and bad fats, good carbs and bad carbs and the diet teaches you to choose good healthy foods. As I said at the start of this entry, this diet is NOT like Atkins, you eat plenty of carbs, however instead of processed white flour, which is the literal equivalent of a spoonful of sugar, you’ll have fresh vegetables, or whole grain bread. This diet isn’t low fat either, so you’ll cook in lots of olive oil and eat steak, chicken and fish. It’s almost as if you’re returning to how we are supposed to eat and how our grandparents used to eat. IMHO the only successful diet is one that modifies the way you choose to think and eat. What doesn’t work is a diet that alters how you eat for a period of time only to return you to your bad habits later. I also don’t like diets that cause you to eat weird food, or food that is packaged for consumption. I don’t want to live the rest of my life eating frozen dinners, drinking shakes, or eating nothing but meat. I want to be able to go out to dinner with friends and not be the weirdo at the table eating celery sticks and drinking water. Besides, I’m from Louisiana where FOOD IS LIFE, not just something you do three times a day. I love food and I don’t want to have to give up all the things I love. Those diets never work anyway, you always end up falling off of them to savor the items you have given up. I perish the thought that I can never have gumbo, or cheesecake ever again. Lastly, I don’t want to have to count what I’m eating. I don’t mind watching what I eat, but if I have to count circle in boxes, or count calories forget it. Sure, I’ll do the counting for a week or two, but in time I’ll get sick of all the counting and if the diet relies on this then I’m going to fail.
My Experience Thus Far What I found with the South Beach diet is that it’s hardly even a diet and it works just as it’s promised. I don’t have to count, or measure what I eat. I don’t have to eat packaged food, in fact it steers you away from that, and I’m able to eat normally. The first couple of days were a little rough, I’ll be honest. Even though I had plenty of food to eat, there was still a craving in me to eat. I was full, but there was another part of me that was still hungry. It was my craving for breads and other bad carbs such as potatoes. In fact I was reminded of something I read, or saw on TV once before. it’s said that the Japanese believe that they have two stomachs. One for food and one for rice. If they have had a meal without rice, they still feel hungry because that second stomach hasn’t been fed. Of course they don’t believe this to be a scientific fact, but just something that they feel. I felt that way to those first couple of days. I had distinct cravings for potatoes, or other carbs and although I could eat until I was stuffed, I never quite felt full. After the first two days, those cravings were gone. In fact, after the first two weeks ALL of my cravings were gone. My lust for chocolate, bread, potatoes and junk food were all gone. I didn’t believe the hype, but I’m here to tell you that it’s true. Now that’s not to say that I don’t sometimes want a pizza, I do, but instead of it being a craving, it’s more of a temptation. I don’t HAVE to have it like I used to. I’ve lost 11 pounds in the first month, but my weight loss has slowed since I switched to Phase Two and that’s ok. I’m still losing inches and all of my clothes feel baggy. In fact, I would say that I’ve lost two pant sizes and I’ve gone up two notches on all of my belts. I feel better than I have in a long time. I have more energy and I’m thinking more clearly. Overall I feel more in tune with my body and what it needs than ever before. Oh and as a bonus – food tastes better! I’m eating a ton of vegetables that I use to turn my nose up to, such as broccoli and cauliflower and other foods have such a vibrant flavor to them. Although my love of food hasn’t changed, it’s even expanded. Half of the book consists of recipes so I’ve discovered all sorts of new and interesting dishes that I can prepare. What’s funny though, is that even though I’m cooking and eating more now than ever, my portions are much smaller than they used to be. If I had to be specific, I’d say that they are HALF of what they were before the diet. So in the end, I’m eating extremely healthy. My diet consists of smaller portions with less fat than I used to eat. My weight is greatly reduced and slowly inching it’s way down and I have no cravings. I’m never hungry and for the first time in a long time, I feel healthy and normal. So to everyone that is thumbing their noses at this diet, I have to ask, why? ???
Epilogue Like anything I enjoy, I want others to enjoy it with me. 🙂 The South Beach Diet is not immune to my penchant for evangelization. If you’d like to see what the meal plans are like, so you can see EXACTLY what the diet is like, I’ve typed up the meal plans from all three phases as well as the recipes from phase one and two. The meal plans are simple text documents and the recipes are in Master Cook format and can easily be imported into PDACookbook, or most other recipe software. However, you can also view the recipes in any text editor as well.