The South Beach diet

Published by Maria Bell
Published on 12 November 2007

Looking for another way to shed the pounds this summer without going hungry? The South Beach diet could be the choice for you.

From first glance, yes this is incredibly similar to The Atkins diet, but you could say that actually The South Beach diet is a simpler option. So for all of you fuss-free dieters out there, you really could be in luck with this one.

The South Beach diet was devised by American cardiologist Arthur Agatston and is based on eating 'good' fats and carbohydrates following the basics of the low GI theory.

With a best-selling book in the millions (it was in the NY Times Best-seller list for way over a year), a celebrity following including Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Anniston, The South Beach diet is big diet contender.

The diet also promises rapid weight loss - for life, from mostly around your stomach. Sounds too good to be true!

So we’ve taken a look at what The South Beach Diet has to offer with a little advice from the experts to help you make your diet decision.

How it works
The South Beach diet’s main concept is to eliminate bad carbohydrates and fats from your diet and replace them with good ones. According to the diet’s founder, this isn’t your typical ‘low-fat’ or ‘low carb’ diet and doesn’t seek to promote the misconception that all fats are bad.

The diet was originally developed by cardiologist Arthur Agatston to help patients with heart problems, but while doing so he found that the side effect of the diet was a staggering weight loss.

This diet works on a basic low GI principal by dramatically restricting your intake of carbohydrates for the first 14 days of the diet, as well as swapping saturates for unsaturated fats, before then reintroducing certain foods back into your diet to maintain the effects.

The theory is that by cutting carbohydrate-rich foods you’ll lose weight. This is because high-carb foods such as like white bread, pasta and potatoes cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin to deal with this in your body.

Your blood sugar levels then drop leaving you sluggish, craving more high-carb food and being hungry more often. If your diet is high in carbohydrates then this becomes a dangerous pattern and usually results in weight gain. As well as this your body becomes less able to burn fat efficiently. All in all, bad news.

The South Beach Diet attempts to break this pattern and shift that weight in three phases. The first rather strict phase lasts for a maximum of 2 weeks, during which all starch and sugar (cereals, potatoes, rice, fruit and alcohol) is cut out and replaced with protein (eggs, meat, fish and vegetables).

This is followed by a second phase during which you gradually reintroduce a select few of the first banned group of foods back into your diet. Of these, you start with foods with the lowest GI (glycaemic index), mainly fruits as well as pasta, whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk and granary bread. It’s recommended that you stay in this phase until you reach your target weight.

When you reach your target weight, you move on to the final phase where you introduce an even wider amount of foods. If done properly the effects of the diet should last for the rest of your life and should enable you to maintain a healthy weight.

There is no calorie counting, portion control or carbohydrate weighing - you simple cut the carbs and eat until you’re full. Well not quite, it’s recommended that you eat 3 main meals but with tactical snacks twice a day too.

The secret is in the choice of food. With your new food habits, you can tell the good fats and sugars from the bad, select foods with a low glycaemic index, and choose healthier vegetable protein and fat.


A typical day in Phase 1:
Breakfast: Poached Eggs with spinach
Snack: Low-fat cheese
Lunch: Salad, chicken breast, soup, light yoghurt
Snack: Vegetables or chicken breast or light cheese (mozzarella or cottage cheese) Dinner: Fish, chicken or lean meat, as much veg as you want, light dairy produce

Results

Phase 1 can see you lose 8-13lbs in 2 weeks, supposedly mainly from around your stomach.

After this expect to lose 1 or 2lbs per week until Phase 3 will stabilise your weight in the long term.

Plus points
It’s a simple and non-restrictive diet with a large array of foods to choose from. In fact, the promises to last a lifetime could in fact come true if (and that’s a big if) you stick to it for the rest of your life.

Celebrity Nutritionist Martin MacDonald of Mac-Nutrition says: “The South Beach diet certainly has the potential for life-long weight loss so long as it suits the individuals. Perhaps the most important factor in any diet is its likelihood to promote adherence which is largely based on the diets flexibility to suit the demands of an individuals lifestyle and personal tastes.”

So if you can keep it up, your weight should stay down.

The other rather obviously advantage of this diet is that it concentrates on eliminating foods which are high in sugar and saturated fat.

Martin says “The major benefit of this diet is that it limits the consumption of highly processed foods as well as sugary, highly refined carbohydrates.”

As well as this, the results of the reintroduction phase means that the diet should combat the yo-yo effect that others have.

“The other benefit of this diet is the way it uses 'phases' to re-educate the individual away from huge portions of high carbohydrate foods whilst also educating individuals that fat isn't to be avoided at all costs and in fact it can leave you with more stable energy levels and feeling well satiated,” says Martin.

You shouldn’t actually get that hungry at all because you’re able to eat ‘normal’ portions and you’re allowed light snacks.

This diet can also help you develop long-term healthy eating habits and maintain a healthy weight without putting all the weight lost in the first two phases as soon as you come off the diet.

Downsides
Martin says that although there are few major drawbacks to this diet, there are a few things that you should consider.

First off, as with any change of diet, it’s likely that your energy levels will initially dip so you need to be aware of this and alter your lifestyle.

Martin says: “It is important to take into account your activity levels before launching into phase 1 of this diet which is particularly low in carbohydrate with the omission of most starchy carbohydrate sources.

“Individuals who are embarking on specific training program at the same time as starting this diet might find they can not exercise in the initial phase. Instead, it would be more pertinent to start the diet and get used to consuming fat for energy instead of carbohydrates and then undertake your new exercise program in stage two where more carbohydrate is permitted.”

Also the rapid weight loss could be a warning sign. In general your GP will advise weight loss at a steady pace of 2lbs per week, so a whopping 8lbs could raise alarm.

The harshest reality is that you probably won’t be able to eat out on the South Beach diet because too many refined foods are cut out.

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