Dr. Arthur Agatston never aspired to be a diet doctor. He dedicated his South Beach, Florida, practice to helping his patients achieve optimal health and, not surprisingly, found that weight loss and maintenance was a critical component of this goal. Disappointed with the lack of health benefits and weight loss results found in existing diet plans, he decided to create a diet plan of his own. As patients achieved dramatic weight loss results and discussed their regime with friends and colleagues, the news of his “fool-proof” plan became a phenomenon covered on local news programs and eventually throughout the country.
The details of the Plan, the scientific explanation as to why the diet works, and a variety recipes to assist dieters in reaching their weight loss goals are outlined in Agatston’s bestselling book The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss. The fundamental premise of the diet is not new: it focuses on a low-carb, high protein lifestyle designed to force the body to burn stored body fat at a rapid pace. The diet centers on the consumption of proteins (meat, chicken, fish, and eggs) and fats (olive oil, butter and reduced fat cheese) with the elimination of traditional carbohydrates -- yes, that means no bread, rice, potatoes or fruit. In addition, the Plan allows for a limited selection of low-carb vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, and mushrooms. These restrictions are somewhat modified in two subsequent phases of the Plan, each allowing for the consumption of additional carbohydrates.
The Plan’s low-carb approach resembles the now-classic Atkins diet. While both diets are based on similar science, however, the significant differences center on the degree to which carbohydrates are restricted, and the benefits of high-fat low-carb foods versus foods that have a slightly higher carbohydrate count but are lower in fat. For example, while other no-carb diets allow for the unlimited consumption of high fat food such as bacon and steak, the South Beach Plan limits such foods in exchange for healthier options such as turkey bacon and lean cuts of meat. In addition, while the most restrictive phase of the South Beach Plan allows for the consumption of low-fat or reduced fat cheese, Atkins followers are instructed to avoid reduced-fat products (in favor or more high fact ones) due to their carbohydrate content.
One plus of the South Beach approach is that it allows for minor deviations. This approach smartly recognizes the reality that many dieters will find it difficult to adhere to a strict regime for an extended period of time. For example, Dr. Agatston writes about the importance of eliminating caffeine from one’s diet to achieve optimal results. He later states, however, that if having a morning cup of coffee will enable dieters to adhere to the Plan, then they should enjoy their coffee and move on with their day. Along similar lines, the book makes it clear that even if dieters achieve significant weight loss in the most restrictive phase of the Plan, they should move on to Phase II which allows for a more liberal consumption of carbohydrates and a wider variety of foods. He bases this instruction on the fact that an extensive period of heightened restrictions may entice a dieter to feel deprived and to abandon the Plan in its entirety.
Half of the book contains recipes that attempt to illustrate the wide range of delicious foods allowed by the Plan. Unfortunately, the limited ingredients found in these recipes merely reinforce the idea that to achieve significant weight loss results, South Beach dieters will need to dramatically modify their eating habits. The real question is whether hungry dieters will reach for the low-carb endive and pecan salad or whether they will be more likely to opt for a more traditional bowl of pasta.