Story of a Diet Book: Celebrating Five Years of “The South Beach Diet”
By Jeff Clemetson
The title sounds gimmicky enough to be just another kooky fad diet book, but five years after the publication of “The South Beach Diet,” Dr. Arthur Agatston’s New York Times bestseller remains one of the most serious, science-backed diet books ever written.
The popularity of “The South Beach Diet” has inspired millions of people to loose weight and eat healthy, as well as developed into a enormous commercial enterprise that, today, includes a Website, cookbooks and even a frozen food line that can be found in most supermarkets. But before the celebrity endorsements and nationally distributed product lines, there was just a doctor and his book.
What sets “The South Beach Diet” apart from most diet books is its story. Dr. Agatston didn’t set out to be a dietician. He was a practicing cardiologist who had “grown disillusioned with the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that the American Heart Association recommended.” His research led him to the opposite conclusion of the AHA and he began working on a low-carb diet.
Some of the best passages in “The South Beach Diet” deal with Dr. Agatston’s early days of researching and practicing the diet. Once the framework of the diet was developed, Dr. Agatston needed a test subject. “I found a suitable guinea pig for preliminary testing purposes, a middle-aged man who was having trouble keeping his growing paunch under control: me,” he writes. In another moment of candor in the book, Dr. Agatston describes how he nervously spoke about his diet at an AHA conference, expecting them to drill him for not being a dietician and instead found that there were many of his colleagues with similar complaints with the AHA’s high-carb diet.
Perhaps the best story in the book, however, is the one about how the diet got its name – a prelude to the success that “The South Beach Diet” would have. Dr. Agatston writes how he began putting his patients on his diet and how they began sharing it with their friends. It eventually got into the hands of a Miami television news reporter who, in 1995, made a segment challenging people to loose weight on “The South Beach Diet.”
Another aspect of “The South Beach Diet” that makes it a stand-out diet book is its readability, even when it is describing complex nutritional information. “If we eat white bread, we’re getting no fiber with our carbs,” he writes in one example about the difference between whole grain and white bread. “That’s like drinking on an empty stomach: Our stomachs can get to the starches without having to first separate them from the fiber.” The book is filled with similar analogies and easy-to-understand language about the more technical aspects behind “The South Beach Diet.”
Although the scientific writing is very clear in the book, and the story of the diets inception and research are fascinating and original to other diet books, at times the two are at odds in the book and the information gets a little jumbled. For example, Dr. Agatston will begin explaining some tenets of the diet’s second phase before the chapter about the first phase of the diet. People looking for a quick reference to the diet’s priciples and not a story about a cardiologist’s journey into becoming the creator of one of America’s most popular diets might be disappointed by the book’s tendency to jump around from topic to topic.
And no diet book would be complete without testimonials from people who found success on the diet’s program. The testimonials in “The South Beach Diet” are not informative in the way that the text is and at times are a bit redundant in their message as well as a bit confusing as to why they are put into certain sections at all. For example, a section about the dangers of fruit juice is followed by a testimonial about a woman’s addiction to breads and sweets. However, the testimonials are taken from a wide array of people – working moms, construction workers, professionals, etc. and allow the reader to find someone to relate to.
Overall, “The South Beach Diet” is still a fantastic book for those who want to get initiated into the diet or are just curious about nutrition. It is also a must-read for those who are on the diet by means of the South Beach Diet Website or those who are living off of the frozen food trays – the fundamentals of the diet covered in the book are too important to just gloss over.
Fundamentals of “The South Beach Diet” at a Glance
Besides being a fascinating read about Dr Agatston’s research and development of the “The South Beach Diet,” the book also lays out the diet’s priciples. Here is a quich run-down:
The South Beach Diet is a three phase system designed to decrease the body’s addiction to carbohydrates and make managing hunger and cravings easier.
Phase One is the strictest phase of the three and lasts for two weeks. In this phase, the dieter must eliminate all carbohydrates and all sugars: No bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, baked goods, fruit, candy, cookies, ice cream, or alcohol. All other foods are on the table and the dieter is free to eat as large of helpings as he/she wants to. At the end of Phase One, the dieter should be 8 to 15 pounds lighter.
During Phase Two, some of the foods eliminated in Phase One can be slowly added back to the diet. There are exceptions. Breads and pastas should be made from whole grains instead of from processed flour. Fruit should be eaten whole with skin or pulp and no fruit juice. Servings of rice and potatoes should be smaller and less frequent. Glasses of wine can be enjoyed but beer is still not allowed. And occasional sweets are OK as long as they are in small doses and not every night. Phase Two lasts until the dieter’s target weight is reached.
Phase Three is the final phase of the diet where the user learns to stick to the foods that he/she can eat. This phase is meant to last the rest of your life and is supposed to keep you at your target weight. It teaches you to deal with occasional cheating- like if you overdo it at a wedding or on a cruise.