About the South Beach Diet

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about the South Beach Diet recently. I haven’t been eating this way for very long [3 weeks] and I’ve only lost about eight pounds, but I do understand the diet. It’s not complicated, but people read the book and there’s nothing in it about counting calories or counting carbs and they freak out. Some people need structure when it comes to a new way of eating, and the South Beach diet seems complicated to some because it doesn’t give specific limits.

The South Beach diet is somewhere in between Atkins and Weight Watchers. It’s kind of low carb and kind of low fat. You get to eat the right carbs and the right kind of fats. But I’ll get to that later.

My doctor recommended that I try the South Beach diet for two reasons. One, my cholesterol was 207 at my last check up. No, that’s not insanely high, but high blood pressure does run in my family, as well as heart disease and diabetes. I need to lower it. Two, I carry the majority of my weight in the middle. The South Beach diet is ideal for people who are stocky and muscular [my doctor actually used those words to describe me. Ouch!]. For some reason, most people seem to lose weight middle-first when they eat the way South Beach recommends.

Getting scientific on you, one of the side effects of being overweight is that it screws with your hormones. Particularly, a hormone called insulin. That’s why a good portion of overweight people develop diabetes. You develop insulin resistance, which means your body stores more fat than it should. Eating the way South Beach recommends helps decrease the insulin resistance and improves blood chemistry. This from the cardiologist who developed the diet, Arthur Agatston.

So back to the way the diet works. The right kind of carbs and all that. How do you know what to eat? First, I recommend buying the book or logging onto the website. There’s a handy guide about what to eat and what not to eat. There are menu planners and recipes, etc.

There are three phases to the South Beach diet. Phase I is fairly Atkins-esque. You avoid eating bread and pasta and fruit. The biggest difference, though, is that you do not go into ketosis. You’re eating enough carbs in your diet to avoid that. What should you eat? Lean cuts of meat and poulty. Fish. Beans. Low fat varieties of cheese. Eggs. Tofu. Vegetables [except for beets, corn, potatoes]. You can have 75 calories worth of sweet treats every day. You can uses spices. You should cook with olive oil. Phase 1 lasts two weeks. During this time you get all the sugar and carb cravings out of your system. The book says you should lose between 8 and 13 pounds during the first two weeks. I lost 7 pounds.

During phase 2 you get to add some things back into your diet. Fruit [except for bananas, pineapple, raisins, and watermelon]. Low fat dairy [like yogurt and pudding]. You get to have small servings of starches, like bagels, bread, and pasta [as long as they are whole grain wheat]. You can have cereal as long as it’s high fiber. Brown or wild rice. Sweet potatoes. You spend as long as you need in the phase to lose as much weight as you want.

Phase 3 really confuses people. It’s the maintenance part of the diet. It’s basically phase 2, but you can be more liberal in your use of starches. It’s up to you to monitor your weight and measurements, and return to phase 1 or 2 if you need to, if you, let’s say, eat three cheesecakes in one sitting, for instance.

I’m going to make it really, really simple. Ready? For breakfast you should eat some protein and at least half a cup of vegetables. For both lunch and dinner you should eat some protein and at least two cups of vegetables. And you should eat a mid-morning snack, a mid-morning afternoon snack, and some type of dessert. White flour, white sugar, and white rice is a no no. There.

Oh, and if you’re hungry you should eat something. And drink lots of water. Makes sense, right?

It seems like it might be hard to remember what you can and can’t eat, but it’s not. To give you an idea of how I lived the first two weeks of my diet, here is a typical day:

Breakfast: [purchased at the local deli, and eaten at my desk at work] 2 or 3 egg omelet with tomatoes, mushrooms, and green peppers.

Snack1 [10am]: part skim string cheese

Lunch: [purchased at Au Bon Pain, usually] Chicken Caesar Salad –minus the croutons – with Vinaigrette or Salmon Salad with Vinaigrette.

Snack2 [2:30 or 3pm]: half a cucumber, sliced, with a scoop of hummus

Dinner: Chicken breast [marinated or with sauce of some type], a cup of mashed cauliflower, and one cup of steamed green beans

Dessert: a container of sugar free jello with sugar free whipped topping

Now would be a good time to mention that I was not perfect in phase 1. The list of “do not have”s says “Things to Avoid or Eat Rarely” and so that’s what I did. If I felt like having chocolate, I ate a Hershey Kiss. I had sushi one night when I went out. The key is to only have a teeny bit of something bad every now and then, not every day. Like everything, it’s all about moderation. But you know, it’s easy. As soon as you get a grip on what you can have, it’s easy to stick with.