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ISSUE 117 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/14/2003

No sand(wiches) on South Beach

By Jenna Barke
Copy Editor

Friday, November 14, 2003

As the chill of winter creeps across campus, approaching holiday getaways may make people long for beach-ready bodies. Miami cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatson is surfing a wave of success with his new weight-loss solution: the South Beach Diet. Named after a hip Florida hotspot, the South Beach Diet claims to help dieters drop 8 to 14 pounds, largely from the mid-section of the body, in its first two weeks alone.

The South Beach Diet has been called "an update of Atkins" (referring to the Atkins diet, notoriously low-carbohydrate), but physicians, nutritionists and dieters alike have been backing the South Beach Diet as an even more effective plan. South Beach does not permanently ban foods or control portion sizes, and it is not specifically low-fat or low-carb: rather, it focuses on distinguishing between good and bad types of fats and carbohydrates and consuming the right kinds of each. The diet’s philosophy is activated in a three-phase approach.

Phase 1: This phase wages war on carbohydrate cravings by prohibiting the dieter from eating a variety of carb-heavy foods. During the diet’s first fourteen days, no bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, baked goods, candy, ice cream, alcoholic beverages or fruit are allowed. This phase may seem overly restrictive, but it is meant to teach dieters about finding non-carb food choices and establishing new eating patterns. Expected weight loss during this phase ranges from 8 to 14 pounds.

Phase 2: Carbohydrates are reintroduced in limited portions. The purpose of this phase is to help dieters recognize the difference between good and bad types of carbohydrates, encouraging them to choose complex carbs such as wild rice or multigrain bread instead of white bread or potatoes. Carbs are no longer forbidden, but they should be consumed in moderation. If an individual wants to have pasta for dinner, they may. Chocolate and other desserts are also allowed. There should be a change, however, in the frequency and amount of these items at meals. This phase, in which the dieter should expect to lose one to two pounds a week, continues until the dieter has reached their weight-loss goal.

Phase 3: This phase, according to Agatson, should last a lifetime. Once an individual’s target weight has been reached, there are no restrictions on which foods to eat. The intent, however, of the first two phases is to establish lifelong healthy eating habits, in which unhealthy food cravings have been abolished. As Agatson says, "This is not a diet, but a way of life." If an individual should "cheat" however, and stray from their newfound nutritious habits, what can be done? The dieter can simply begin the South Beach cycle all over again, re-teaching the body to function without junk foods and carbs.

Celebrities such as Bill and Hillary Clinton have found great success on the South Beach Diet. Bill, a self-professed former junk-food lover, took off 30 pounds on the plan. But how does South Beach scientifically work?

"Eating white bread," says Agatson, "is like eating table sugar." The premise behind the program is this: when an individual does not consume sugar, they do not produce insulin, which is responsible for controlling fat around the middle of the body. "Bad" carbohydrates, such as white bread and baked goods, make the body feel temporarily full, causing blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. High levels of blood sugar lead to increased hunger, causing cravings for more refined carbs. This may explain why it is often so difficult to eat only one cookie or piece of cake. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, provide needed nutrition without creating severe spikes in blood sugar levels.

The South Beach Diet has several proven benefits. According to Agatson, the concept behind the program is scientifically sound. By cutting down on foods that cause the body to store excessive fat, a dieter can improve their heart health by lowering their cholesterol and insulin levels. Except for the two weeks of phase one, the diet does not ban any major food groups, and focuses instead on finding a nutritional balance one can maintain for life.

The diet, however, is not without a few unanswered questions. Agatson claims that in this diet, no exercise is required. While exercise may not be necessary if an individual’s primary goal is weight loss, Agatson’s theory of improving overall health seems to be incomplete without including some component of activity. In any weight-loss program, diet alone is often not enough: a diet plan is normally most effective when combined with physical activity. The diet’s initial weight loss may also be a bit misleading, as it is often largely water loss, which can be partially regained when carbohydrates are reintroduced. The diet may also prove difficult for those who are vegetarians or cannot eat dairy, as protein composes a large part of the initial phases. It is also easy for individuals to be tempted by convenient, carb-heavy meals rather than taking time to find something low in carbs.

Diet fads, like waves, come in and go out, but the South Beach diet has weathered most critics thus far. As with any diet, however, a close look at personal lifestyle and food choices is a wise move to make before hitting the Beach.

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