Popular Diets Reviewed: The South Beach Diet

Heather Reese Health Guide
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    Over the next several weeks, Heather Reese, our Expert Dietician, will be reviewing those much-discussed, but little understood diet and weight-loss programs to help you cut through the hype and hopefully discover what is the best program for you. Maybe you've even tried one of these diets out. Be sure to log-in and share your experiences with others!


    Read all of our reviews of popular diets.


    So without further ado, read on and find out what Heather has to say about The South Beach Diet.

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    Weight loss is not easy and the journey can seem very long. It’s easy to become too focused on what the scale has to say or on the size of your new pants because those are tangible results. That’s why we often seek out weight loss methods that promise immediate results and large weight losses. But don't forget this important maxim: We didn’t put the weight on overnight, so it isn’t going to come off overnight.

    I’m not a fan of popular, or shall I say, fad diets. I believe that moderation and lifestyle changes are the keys to weight loss success. However, I understand that - for many people - diets are a part of the process towards a healthier life. Popular diets do the thinking for you and that's appealing. From telling you what you can and can’t eat and even providing sample menu plans and recipes, they can make life easier.

    As a dietitian, I am often asked which diet plan I recommend. My answer always is: Whichever one works for you. I do not believe that there is any one diet out there that will work for everyone. One thing I always tell people: Beware of any diet plans that suggest completely eliminating an entire food group.

    For the next several weeks I will be reviewing popular diets. These posts are not meant as an endorsement of any weight loss program or diet. My goal is to provide you with the information necessary to make an informed decision if you choose to go this route in your weight loss journey.

    When choosing a weight loss program, consider your personality, eating habits and food preferences. It’s also important to look at your dieting history - take an inventory of what has worked for you in the past and what hasn’t. And remember that physical activity is an important part of any weight loss program and is particularly vital in maintaining weight.

    The South Beach Diet has gotten a lot of attention over the last few years. In fact, my brother is a huge fan of this diet. He travels frequently for work and he’s had a lot of success using the tenants of this diet when he notices his weight creep up after extensive travel.

    The South Beach Diet is broken up into three phases and promotes complex carbohydrates, lean meats and healthy fats. The diet promises a large initial weight loss and then one to two pounds per week after that. But after the initial loss, weight loss on this diet is any not faster than loss achieved through other calorie controlled diets.

  • Phase 1
    The first phase lasts two weeks and eliminates all carbohydrate sources, except vegetables. This means no fruit, bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, baked goods or alcohol. You can have normal-sized portions of meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs, low-fat cheese, nuts, beans and vegetables and healthy fats.

    The diet promises an eight to 13 pound weight loss during this time. And that sounds great, who doesn’t want to lose around 10 pounds in a week! But, it’s not as good as it sounds because the large weight loss you are seeing on the scale is a water loss and not actually a loss of fat. And the goal in losing weight should always be to lose fat not water or muscle. I imagine that the idea behind restricting carbohydrates is to provide a large initial weight loss and keep people motivated to stay on the diet.

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    Phase 2

    The second phase reintroduces carbohydrates into the diet. It uses the glycemic index to define good carbs from bad carbs and only allows good carbs during this phase. This is when you will begin to see your weight loss slow down to one to two pounds per week, which is the rate recommended by experts. Keep in mind that a weight loss larger than one to two pounds per week mean you are losing water or muscle rather than fat.

    During phase two you are encouraged to choose complex carbohydrates like whole grain breads and pastas, fruits and vegetables. You continue to eat lean protein sources and healthy monounsaturated fats like olive and canola oils. And good news, you can have wine, but no beer or liquor. The diet recommends adding these foods back into the diet slowly until you are sure you will not over-indulge. You stay at this phase until you reach your weight loss goal.

    Phase 3
    Phase three is the maintenance phase, which should be viewed as a lifestyle and no longer a diet. While this phase still continues the basic principles of phase two it does allow for indulgences. You are encouraged to continue to have complex carbohydrates, monounsaturated fats and lean protein sources make up the bulk of your diet. However, you are no longer restricted when it comes to other foods.

    My Thoughts

    The diet promises that food cravings and hunger pangs will end after the first week as a result of the restrictive phase one. But it’s important to realize that there are many other environmental and emotional food triggers that you will need to overcome. Avoiding carbohydrates and baked goods for two weeks probably isn’t going to prevent your mouth from watering when you walk in to your mom’s house and smell your favorite cookies in the oven. And it isn’t going to take away the desire for comfort food during times of stress if emotional eating is an issue for you.

    On the positive side, this plan does outline a healthy, balanced diet after phase one. It focuses on complex carbohydrates, which should be the basis for every diet. And I am happy to see the emphasis on healthy oils and lean protein sources. A word of caution, though, the diet is heavy in dairy, which can be a problem for some people but otherwise the actual nutrition recommendations are sound.

  • The South Beach Diet also provides guidelines for healthy eating during the maintenance period instead of leaving you to sink of swim. This is a very important step in weight control because without a maintenance plan you are likely to regain the weight – which wasn’t easy to lose in the first place! But as hard as weight loss is – many people find weight maintenance to be even more difficult. This diet gives you tools to make weight maintenance more manageable.

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    *South Beach diet at a B+. Here's why: It emphasizes a diet high in complex carbohydrates, lean protein sources and unsaturated fats. With the exception of the initial phase, it outlines a well-balanced diet that includes foods from all food groups.


    * Popular Diets Rating System

    A: This diet meets accepted standards for a healthy well-balanced diet. It recommends food from all food groups with an emphasis on healthy choices within each food group.
    B:This diet meets most accepted standards for a healthy well-balanced diet. It emphasizes healthy foods but does not include food from all food groups.
    C: This diet only meets some accepted standards for a healthy well-balanced diet. It does not differentiate between food choices in each food group and therefore does not emphasize healthy foods.
    D: This diet does only meets one or two accepted standards for a healthy well-balanced diet.
    F: This diet does not meet any accepted standards for a healthy well-balanced diet. It does not differentiate between healthy foods and unhealthy foods and/or does not meet caloric needs.


    Read all of our reviews of popular diets.

Published On: October 26, 2007