Recipe to Try: Zucchini Noodle Salad with Chicken
If you're looking for a weight-loss plan, the South Beach Diet may seem a little old-school. The low-carb, high-protein diet has been around for years, ever since cardiologist Arthur Agatston, M.D., first introduced it in 2003 as a way to fight heart disease.
Still, the popular plan claims to have helped millions shed pounds. And it continues to evolve, adding new products, tools and services—some for a pretty penny.
Could the South Beach Diet be right for you? Is it really the "delicious, doctor-designed, foolproof plan" the website promises? Here's what you need to know.
How the South Beach Diet Works
The diet has three phases:
Phase 1: Reboot
Recipe to Try: Guacamole Chopped Salad
Pared down from the original two weeks to just seven days—a change made in 2017—Phase 1 is meant to jump-start your weight loss. The idea is to "transform your metabolism" with meals that are high in lean protein and low in carbs. At the same time, you begin to lose your cravings for sugar and refined starches—the same kinds of foods that may have piled on the pounds in the first place.
Sounds good, but get ready to give up a lot of your favorite foods: No rice, bread, pasta or potatoes; no sweets or baked goods; no fruit or fruit juice (too much sugar); and no alcohol. Instead, you load up on vegetables, eggs, nuts and low-fat dairy products. For beverages, there's coffee, water and tea.
If that sounds restrictive, it is. But there's a payoff: during the first two weeks, you can expect to lose up to 9 pounds and 3 inches, according to the diet's website.
Phase 2: Long-Term Weight Loss
Recipe to Try: Roasted Salmon Rice Bowl with Beets & Brussels
This second phase becomes more flexible as you add back healthy carbs from whole grains, fruits and more veggies. The diet encourages exercise—not a big part of the original plan—with simple fitness tips on its blog. You stay in Phase 2 until you reach your goal weight.
Phase 3: Maintenance
Recipe to Try: Mediterranean Chicken with Orzo Salad
Once you've learned the diet's basic principles, you're ready (at least in theory) to maintain a healthy weight for the rest of your life—without going hungry, the website says. Recipes, an app and online chats are all available to help you stay on track.
Pros of the South Beach Diet
Recipe to Try: Vegetarian Spaghetti Squash Lasagna
- It cuts out high-calorie foods. "The biggest 'pro' is that it initially eliminates the source of extra calories for many people, says Sonya Angelone, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It is simple and practical. And high in vegetables (4.5 cups per day)."
- Convenience. You can sign up for specially prepared meals, snacks, and shakes—all delivered right to your door. Dishes and snacks like "Just in Thyme Beef Soup" and "Beach Shack Chocolate Shake" are featured on the site, complete with customer reviews.
- Overall healthy focus. Other than the first phase, the diet is flexible, says Angelone. "It's basically a healthy, well-balanced Mediterranean diet that will help you restructure your eating habits to lose weight," she explains.
Cons of the South Beach Diet:
- Price. You don't have to buy into the meal plan to follow the diet, but the website certainly encourages it. A four-week plan, designed to take you through Phase 1 and into Phase 2, runs $300. Automatic shipping and billing continues "until you tell us not to"—and you have to call to cancel.
- Too strict for some people. True, the first phase lasts only a week, but so many restrictions may be a deal-breaker for some. "You may feel like a failure if you can't stick to it," says Heather Mangieri, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., also a spokesperson for AND. "That's never going to be a positive outcome."
- Too much reliance on prepackaged meals. "More and more diets are offering them," says Mangieri. "But at the end of the day, you need to learn how to create balanced meals yourself." Make sure you can maintain the plan once the deliveries stop.
"Some people need structure to help them lose weight," Angelone says—and the South Beach Diet may be just the ticket. "It may be a good way to build momentum, as long as you learn a healthy way of eating and how to make choices that will help you maintain a healthy weight," she says.
There are other factors to consider, too—like your life. As with any diet, "you have to take into account your lifestyle," says Mangieri. "Do you like the foods the plan recommends? Can you follow through with it on the job, with your family, with your day-to-day routine? You have to make sure it all fits."
If you do decide to head for the South Beach, take Angelone's advice: Commit to the rules in Phase 1, including no alcohol. Keep a food record to see what you eat and when, so you can learn to change habits. Avoid overly processed foods. Think twice before buying into the diet's meal plan—the costs can add up. Stay well hydrated and keep up with exercise.
Watch: What a No-Sugar-Added Day Looks Like