Posted by: Hil | July 14, 2008

South Beach

My beloved husband is resuming Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet today.  He has already lost over 20 pounds using South Beach, and is looking to shed just a few more.  As a show of support, I will be cooking South Beach-friendly food for all of the meals that we eat together.

While I definitely don’t think of this as a diet blog, I think that explaining a bit about the South Beach Diet and our experiences with it might help explain some of the way that we eat.  Furthermore, I know that there is a lot of misinformation out there about the South Beach Diet, so I just want to share my own impressions as someone who has tried it.  If diet talk bores you to tears, feel free to ignore this post.

What is the South Beach Diet?

The South Beach Diet was developed by a cardiologist who was frustrated that his overweight patients seemed to have such difficulty sticking to the super low-fat diets that were typically recommended.  He developed the South Beach Diet as a heart-healthy weight loss plan that was non-complicated and would control hunger better than standard low-fat diets.

The South Beach Diet is not, strictly speaking, a low-carb diet.  It is a low glycemic index diet.  The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that measures the way that different carbohydrate sources affect your blood glucose levels.  Generally speaking, green veggies and beans are low GI, fruits and whole grains are a bit higher, and potatoes, sugar, alcohol, white flour and processed grains are very high.  While the South Beach Diet does not restrict the amount of carbohydrates you eat, it does restrict the type.  Similarly, the diet restricts the type, but not the amount of fat that you can consume: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are encouraged, while saturated and trans fats are restricted.

The diet breaks down into three phases.  Phase 1 is a very strict two week induction phase designed to level your blood sugar and reduce carbohydrate cravings.  It also tends to induce pretty fast weight loss (although the numbers on the book cover sound a bit high to me—you would probably not see numbers like that unless you have a significant amount of weight to lose).  On Phase 1, you are limited to eating beans, lean meat, tofu, non-starchy vegetables, low and non-fat dairy, healthy oils, and moderate amounts of nuts.  You eat three meals a day, plus a minimum of two snacks.  You are encouraged to eat slowly and mindfully, and filling up on vegetables is a requirement, but there are no absolute portion dictates…you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.

Phase 2 is ongoing weight loss.  Here, you add fruit, whole grains, and some starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, etc) to your diet.  Phase 3 is maintenance.  Here, you eat moderate portions of whatever you want, reserving high glycemic index foods and foods high in saturated fat as occasional treats.

Hil and South Beach

I first read about the South Beach Diet in a “preview” in Prevention Magazine before the book was ever published.  I instantly fell in love.  I knew from personal experience that processed carbs stimulated my appetite and gave me terrible cravings, but I always felt awful on traditional low-carb plans because of the high saturated fat content and lack of healthy carbs.  Here was a plan that would let me eat unlimited lentils with extra virgin olive oil?  Sign me up.

I first tried it over a summer break in college.  I lost five pounds in the first two weeks, which, while modest, was huge for me…my body is very, very resistant to letting go of more than a pound a month.  Even better, the induction phase completely and utterly destroyed my carbohydrate cravings.  I was suddenly eating portions like a normal person.  I was thrilled.  It wasn’t feasible for me to follow the diet while I was in school because of my limited options in the dining hall, but I continued to follow South Beach over summers.  The effect was a consistent up and down in my weight:  I would gain during the school year and then lose everything I had gained over the summer.

When I graduated, I hopped on board with South Beach once again.  I spent a couple of months following the program strictly, but eventually decided that I needed to figure out how to make permanent, sustainable changes to my eating and lifestyle.  So I used some South Beach ideas as a springboard for my own manner of eating.  I really believe in the South Beach ideas of eating lean, low-GI whole foods: it’s a good idea in general and really crucial for someone as carb-sensitive as me.  I find that I feel the best and have the fewest cravings when I stick to low and medium-GI carbohydrate sources, minimize saturated fat, and eat plenty of lean protein and healthy fat.  But I’ve found that portion control, flavorful food and thoughtful eating are also key pieces of the puzzle for me.  At this point, I feel confident enough in my eating that I will always listen to my body first rather than following a set of rules.  I don’t consider myself a “dieter” at this point.  I’m just eating the food that makes me happy and makes me feel good.

The husband and South Beach

Before college, my husband had always maintained his weight effortlessly by eating whatever he wanted in reasonable amounts.  He is originally from Germany, so sausage, bread and moderation were all part of his culinary heritage.  In college, the unlimited amount of food available in the dining halls got to be a bit much for him and he gradually put on quite a bit of weight.  Upon graduation, he was unsure how to deal with this.  He had never struggled with his weight before, unlike me, so he didn’t know where to begin.

Back in January, I decided that I really wanted to go through at least a week of Phase 1 to get my body back on track after the holidays.  He very grudgingly agreed to follow the plan as a show of support.  You should have seen the scowl on his face on our pre-diet grocery trip!  But, low and behold, after two weeks of eating generous portions of his favorite meat and veggie dishes, the husband had lost almost 10 pounds.  He was instantly converted.  At the time, he was working in a lab that researched obesity and diabetes, and he reported that everything he was reading and learning at work fit very well with the claims of the diet.

Unlike me, my husband was not interested in permanently converting to a lower-glycemic way of eating.  He is a meat and potatoes guy, and while small modifications might be okay, potatoes and white bread were never going to be classified as “rare treats” in his book.  So after Phase 1, he went back to eating as he normally did.  The weight stayed off.  He went back to Phase 1 again in May and lost another 10 pounds.  Again, the weight stayed off in the months after.  The husband didn’t need long term hunger management the way that I did.  He naturally eats to maintain his current weight.  He just needed something to help him drop the weight initially and tame a few carb-y weaknesses.  Thus far, the husband has lost over 20 pounds.  (Go Lemonator!)  He would like to lose another 20 eventually.  So his plan is to go back to Phase 1 every few months as a way of knocking off a few more pounds.

Today marks his first day on a new round of Phase 1.  I’m not joining him this time around, but I plan to use all of my cooking abilities to support him, so the next week will be full of South Beach-friendly dinners.  I promise that everything will still look like real food.  😉

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