Some diets have devotees who have either:
- done the diet several times and been successful only to fall off, gain and then jump back on to lose again, or
- embraced a diet so completely it changed the way they eat—and move—for life.
The South Beach Diet is one of those diets akin to super popular plans both commercial and non, like the DASH or Mediterranean diets, or Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig.
The South Beach Diet, pioneered by a Miami-based physician, is based on the principle that the sugars found in white starches—including bread, potatoes and pasta—as well as the bad-for-you sugars (carbohydrates) found in processed foods create a vicious cycle of low to high glucose. You eat a bunch of white rice or mashed potatoes and your sugar shoots up fast. Once your glucose comes down equally fast—“crashes”—your body craves the sugar again, and on and on. Cut the carbs way down, increase the good fats and lean proteins, plus of course lots of greens, and your body starts to burn that fat for energy and you lose weight.
It makes a lot of sense for anyone who’s ever done a low-carb diet; you do lose weight if you stick to it. But therein lies the problem with the South Beach Diet and similar very low bad-carb diets—sticking with it. You cannot sustain the weight loss long-term if you don’t maintain that way of eating all the time. The right key to weight loss, we all know by now, is food balance with smart healthy choices in controlled portions, plus exercise. But that takes time and a long-term commitment.
The reason there are diets in the first place is we all want a quick fix. It doesn’t work like that, yet Americans spend billions on weight loss plans, supplements, premade meals, shakes, gadgets and the like. But here we are, talking about another diet because we’re still overweight.
All that said, the South Beach Diet is popular because it works when you work it, aficionados say. Let’s see.
South Beach Diet Claims
“Join over 11 million people who chose the South Beach Diet. The safe and effective way to lose weight,” the South Beach Diet website home page declares. 
So how does the South Beach Diet work?
South Beach Diet Phase 1 is all about a “body reboot”—weight loss of 8 to 13 pounds in the two weeks, with belly fat the first to go; the way you do that is with the very low-carb prepackaged South Beach Diet meals plan. You do prepare two full days of meals on your own using South Beach Diet Phase 1 recipes, so in a week you eat fifteen of their meals and six you make yourself. South Beach Diet claims your cravings for sugar and refined starches will decrease dramatically and you’ll burn off fat without being hungry, because of all the lean proteins and healthy fats you’ll be eating.
Then it’s on to Phase 2, where it’s promised you’ll see a 1 to 2 pound weight loss per week. People who have done the program largely agree you do lose the initial weight and, if you follow the plan religiously, you may continue to lose. Phase 2 adds in “good carbs” from unprocessed, low refined sugar items like whole-grain breads and pastas, plus a lot more fruit and vegetable choices. Honestly, at this point you could just prepare your own meals with an eye on carb intakes, but South Beach Diet would prefer you buy their meals and, as in the first phase, just prepare a few of your own each week. They’re time-saving, balanced with the right mix of healthy fats, lean proteins and good carbs, plus they’re “delicious,” South Beach Diet says. (Of course they do.) This phase also includes fitness tips.
The third and final phase—“you’ve got this”—is a maintenance phase, assuming you’ve reached your weight loss goals. Now you eat whatever you want in moderation, while keeping the “basic South Beach principles” in mind; limit (or eliminate) processed foods and white starches. Plus, you continue to skip fast foods, which are loaded with all the stuff you’re never supposed to eat, including tons of bad carbs and unhealthy fats.
The Science (or Lack Thereof) Behind the South Beach Diet
South Beach Diet creator Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist from Miami, designed an “eating plan to improve the cholesterol and insulin levels of his patients.” A side benefit was his patients lost weight. Dr. Agatston and dietician Marie Almon developed the diet, which led to a best-selling book in 2003. The diet—though designed to reduce cholesterol and sugar levels in the blood—came with pretty significant preliminary weight loss, though it didn't last.
And some medical and nutritional professionals aren’t convinced with Dr. Agatston’s science:
… as of the early 2000s, there is no scientific proof that eating low-GI foods will have any more weight loss effect than eating a normal, calorie-reduced diet that includes carbohydrates; that Dr. Agatston also fails to take into account the interaction of different foods when eaten together, which can dramatically alter glucose metabolism; and that this failure means that utilizing the Glycemic Index as a gauge for what foods to eat is not only confusing but also slightly misleading.  (emphasis added)
However, the Mayo Clinic believes tthe South Beach Diet plan not only helps one lose weight but,
Research shows that following a long-term eating plan that’s rich in healthy carbohydrates and dietary fats, such as whole grains, unsaturated fats, vegetables and fruits, can improve your health. For example, lower carbohydrate diets with healthy fats may improve your blood cholesterol levels. 
This diet is safe and possibly effective. But the Mayo Clinic is not a fan of the extreme ketosis that happens in the first phase:
… if you severely restrict your carbohydrates, you may experience problems from ketosis. Ketosis occurs when you don’t have enough sugar (glucose) for energy, so your body breaks down stored fat, causing ketones to build up in your body. Side effects from ketosis can include nausea, headache, mental fatigue and bad breath, and sometimes dehydration and dizziness. 
Others swear by ketosis, but that’s another diet and review completely.
Word on the Street about the South Beach Diet
The word from WebMD dietician Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD is
The South Beach Diet is a nutritious diet plan that offers a wide variety of delicious food and a practical exercise plan… And it relies on proven ways to lose weight: eating smart carbs, healthy fats, lean protein, low fat dairy, and plenty of fiber to keep hunger at bay. 
(Didn’t I say just that at the top?)
The book is the diet, and reviews of the book by users who read it and followed the diet reveals that the South Beach Diet not only works, but is very highly rated. Amazon reviewers—more than 2,000 of them—gave the South Beach Diet an average rating of 4.5 stars. That’s pretty significant. 
“Michelle27” (2017, 5 stars) summed it up:
With this meal plan and great, super-nutritious recipes, you will not be hungry. The only problem with this diet is the expense. Carbs, it turns out, are fairly cheap (pasta, potatoes, bread), while vegetables, meat and cheese can be expensive. Every time you turn around, you will be off to the vegetable stand, but it is well worth it. On this diet, you will be well fed and your family, friends, doctor and insurance company will be impressed. 
More than a thousand reviewers gave the South Beach Diet plan four and five-star reviews. But it wasn’t all a love fest.
“Charlotte Gonzales” was not a fan; she gave it a one-star rating. “I did not like this diet, a little more restrictive than I would like, will go back to Weight watchers.” 
The Bottom Line: Is the South Beach Diet Worth a Try?
Depends. I’m a big fan of the concept. Severely restricting or eliminating bad carbs is a smart way to eat. Period. But I don’t think you needs to purchase pre-packaged meals to accomplish this.
First, cook your own meals. And when eating out, skip the bun or ask for sweet potato fries instead of steak fries, or ask for the steamed, grilled, broiled meats and seafoods—you get the idea.
When shopping, avoid purchasing soda, sugary or fatty processed snacks, white rice, white breads and pastas, refined sugar or processed foods, and you’re all set. Instead, do what I do: whole-grain pastas and breads, brown rice, lean proteins, and lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Honestly, that’s it. Your family will adjust, trust me. And you will, too.
But if you simply don’t have time to cook, you may opt for the South Beach Diet foods. Though I suspect that for those who do that and have families to feed are either cooking for them or spending a lot of money on delivery. Just saying.
NOTE: The South Beach Diet was recently purchased by Nutrisystem  (also of prepackaged diet food fame) and it’s been reported that the diet will have a whole new approach sometime in 2017. Not sure if that makes a difference to you, but if you’re not a fan of Nutrisystem, well, South Beach is now under the Nutrisystem umbrella, so there’s that to consider.
Top 5 Diets in 2018
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*Individual results will vary.