The South Beach Diet Plan

the south beach diet planIn the 1990s, Florida-based cardiologist Arthur Agatston attempted to improve the way his patients ate by creating his own healthy diet. The purpose behind the diet was to protect against conditions like heart disease and diabetes while improving the general health of those who followed it.

In 2003, Dr. Agatston’s healthy diet was published as an official weight loss plan and named “The South Beach Diet”. The publication provided immensely popular, selling millions of copies.

Although it may have a glamorous name, this diet is actually simple and straightforward. Many famous people have followed the South Beach Diet, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton. The South Beach Diet has also received favorable reviews among professionals due to its selection of foods and ease of implementation.

At the core, the South Beach Diet is based on eliminating refined carbohydrates, so white flour and sugar are something you’ll have to leave behind. People following this diet plan must cut simple carbohydrates and focus on lean protein, low-fat dairy, and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables, and fibrous fruit as a way to lose weight and get healthy.

The elimination of refined carbohydrates can, over time, reduce common cravings that can put many people in a typical “hunger-overeat-gain weight” cycle.

The aim of the South Beach Diet is to clear your diet of the types of carbohydrates and fats that can lead to excessive weight gain. The diet distinguishes “good” carbohydrates from “bad” carbohydrates, and guides you to cutting the bad carbs out of your diet.

“Bad” carbohydrates are simple carbohydrates, meaning they are digested very quickly, causing a blood sugar spike and elevating insulin levels. The insulin then lowers your blood sugar levels, causing you to crave more of the same kinds of carbs, resulting in an endless cycle of cravings and indulgence.

The South Beach Diet leads dieters to consume more low-glycemic carbs, aka complex carbs, or “good” carbs, such as whole grains and vegetables which take longer to break down. The slow digestion rate of these foods means your body will have more time to properly absorb their nutrients, and they don’t cause a spike in blood sugar nor elevate insulin levels, which means that they do not cause cravings.

Over time, this diet plan will lower your body’s levels of cholesterol and insulin, as well as lead to steady, progressive weight loss.

Three Stages of the South Beach Diet

Stage 1

The first stage lasts for two weeks and is planned to reduce your desire for sugar and artificial starch while triggering initial weight loss.  The main goal is to reduce fluctuations in blood sugar levels caused by simple (bad) carbohydrates.

Emphasis is placed on eating fiber rich, nutrient-dense food that help you to stay away from carbs and overly-fatty foods. You may eat meat, fish, chicken, vegetables (especially ones with high fiber), lean cheese, eggs, fat-free dairy products, and healthy unsaturated fatty acids that can be found in foods like avocado, nuts and seeds.

For cooking oil, olive oil is recommended as it contains polyunsaturated fatty acids as opposed to harmful saturated fats.

This phase of the diet should last as long as it takes for you to shed off a specific amount of weight, that amount being between 5-15% of your total body weight, depending on your total BMI. (body mass index).

Keep in mind that if you have no need for weight loss, you may skip this stage of the South Beach diet and begin directly on the second one.

Stage 2

The second stage of the South Beach Diet lasts much longer than the first. As mentioned, individuals who aren’t targeting weight lose can start from here.

This phase is best begun once you’ve reached your targeted weight loss goal. Since, after stage 1, your body has gotten used to lower carbohydrates, you’ll should no longer have cravings for unhealthy foods abundant in simple carbohydrates. This phase encourages consistent eating. It doesn’t force you to eat less food, rather, it helps you shed weight and improve your health by not eating excessively fatty foods that cause cravings.

During this stage you can eat everything allowed in the first step while focusing on foods packed with “good” carbohydrates like whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, fruits, vegetables, sweet potatoes and green beans. Keep in mind that if your weight is at a healthy level, it’s now okay to occasionally indulge in some “bad” carbohydrates, like a piece of chocolate cake or a chocolate bar, so long as you do it rarely (no more than once a week).

Stage 3

The last step of this diet had no end–it’s essentially a maintenance program that you can follow long-term.

It can be started once you’ve reached your weight loss end-goal. By this point you should have learned to control your cravings for unhealthy food by indulging in it occasionally. Since you would have learned to control your cravings, you can eat most types of food in moderation. After completing the first two phases of this diet, this phase will feel like normal eating.

The real prize for reaching this stage of this diet is that by now your blood chemistry will have changed for the better and your risk of developing cardiovascular disease will have significantly dropped. However, if you overindulge and start putting on weight, Dr. Agatston recommends returning to phase 1 for one to two weeks before returning to phase three.

Dr. Agatston’s South Beach Diet also recommends 20 minutes of daily exercise, alternating between a walking workout and a body toning program in order to boost metabolism.

The exercise plan focuses on interval walking and core strengthening. The interval walking program alternates between short bursts of intensive effort and recovery periods as opposed to working at a steady continuous pace.

The core strengthening program develops muscles in the back, abdomen and hips to increase overall strength and flexibility while improving bone density and muscle tone.

The South Beach workout regimen will not only burn calories while exercising, but also prompt the “after burn” effect (calories which can be automatically burned by the body’s accelerated metabolism for up to 24 hours after initially exercising).

The exercise program is written in three phases (like the diet) and is included in Dr. Agatston’s 2003 South Beach Diet book.

So long as you break a sweat a minimum of once a day while following this diet, stay at a healthy weight and experience health benefits.

Possible Side Effects

The South Beach diet is both a low carbohydrate and a low fat diet. For this reason, one main concern regarding the diet is the risk of ketosis, especially during the first phase.

Ketosis is a condition that occurs when the body doesn’t have enough glucose to burn for energy, leading the body to burn fat stores. This can cause a build of acids known as ketones which can cause symptoms such as dehydration, dizziness, heart palpitations, fatigue , lightheadedness, irritability, Hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, headaches, and dehydration.

A simple sugar pill is usually the most convenient cure if this occurs.

Ketosis or any other side effects that may be encountered typically fade at the beginning of the second phase of the diet, when a more carb-friendly eating plan is undertaken.


Dr. Agastson claims most people who follow the diet will lose 8-13 pounds after the first two weeks. Then, if the basic rules of the diet are adhered to during Phases 2 and 3, you should continue losing until you reach your ideal weight, which will be easy to maintain.

The diet should also help lower your blood cholesterol levels.

If you’re able to stick with the South Beach Diet, the long-term effects will be positive, since after Phase 1 the South Beach Diet becomes more of a healthy lifestyle choice than a restrictive diet.

Although the South Beach Diet seems to present a straightforward method for shedding unwanted pounds quickly, it’s still a relatively easygoing diet that includes many delicious foods. Overtime it can significantly lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.


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