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The South Beach Diet by Dr. Arthur Agatston

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Dr. Arthur Agatston arrives at the Entertainment Industry Foundation Luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel on February 15, 2006 in Los Angeles, California

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I couldn’t resist The South Beach Diet by Dr. Arthur Agatston in spite of what I heard about similarities to Atkins. Perhaps spending so much time in that area of the country inspired the purchase! Rodale Press publishes this 320-page book.

About the book:

At first glance my thoughts were that I couldn’t understand how Dr. Agatston, a cardiologist at Miami Beach's Mt. Sinai Medical Center, could get away with writing this book given the similarities to Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution. Both their premises are to get the cravings for carbohydrates out of our system. However, in my opinion, though not a fan of the Atkins Diet, I think Dr. Atkins’ book is much clearer than Dr. Agatston’s. If you need concrete tools (And I will reiterate what I always do – diets don’t work. If they did there wouldn’t be so many diet books, or the amount of obesity in this country.) and want to attempt a diet, I think The South Beach Diet is too loose in its structure. That is until we get to the second half of the book. That is when it becomes too rigid.

Dr. Agatston claims that you will lose 8-17 pounds in 2 weeks. If you have been on other diets you will know that is not uncommon. On Weight Watchers, Atkins and others I lost that kind of weight so we have nothing new here. In fact, in my opinion, there is nothing new in this book. He claims that this is not a low carbohydrate or high fat diet. He tells us we will learn how to eat the right carbohydrates.

He very quickly summarizes his Phases. In Phase I, Banishing Your Cravings, which lasts for 2 weeks, we are told that we will eat no carbohydrates at all. This statement is actually incorrect and it isn’t the only inconsistency in the book I found. He goes on to tell us that we can eat all the vegetables we want and many vegetables have a lot of carbohydrates in them. He does tell us that these carbohydrates are mostly white foods (sugar, flour). He attempts to explain why some foods, like orange juice are considered to be off limits on The South Beach Diet but I think he misses the mark. I have a problem in general with the statement he makes that we are “free to drink wine.” It’s beneficial we are told. I have no problem with people who drink in moderation. I do have a problem with my being told this in the way he does – quickly with little explanation- in a diet book.

You’ll stay on Phase 2, Reintroducing Carbs, until you reach your goal weight, which you decide for yourself. He expects you to lose 1-2 pounds per week during this Phase. On any diet this is what you will lose. It is just a matter of eating fewer calories. This is not rocket science – you lose weight when you consume less than you expend.

Phase 3, A Diet for Life, will last the rest of your life and you will be successful as long as you remember a few rules. What those rules are seem to be a mystery to me. I didn’t find the book difficult to read. He uses very little jargon. In fact he uses very little scientific material to back up his claims but I did find it difficult to cull what I would be eating, when and how. In fact in the beginning of the book he states that you’ll have 3 meals a day, when in fact at the end he shows us that we will be eating 6 times a day – 2 snacks and a dessert. Atkins also has these 3, what he calls stages from Induction to Maintenance....so similar!

Unlike Atkins, though, he does allow some cheat days for a special occasion. If taken literally if you have a bad day on Atkins you have to start all over again at the Induction period. Not so with The South Beach Diet. It is your choice to go back to the beginning or just to get back on the wagon. This diet will not work if someone needs his or her hand held, which most of us do if we are reading the book to begin with!

The book has 2 Parts. Part 1 includes the above along with very brief (Making them too easy to read and in my opinion too brief.) summaries of, for example, the history of popular diets. Throughout the first half of The South Beach Diet you’ll read anecdotal stories which I always enjoy. Not surprisingly they are all positive stories from a variety of people. Michael A. lost 35 pounds in 4 months. (At 2 pounds a week on any program that would be 32 pounds –I’m not terribly impressed with the additional 3 pounds Michael lost.

You’ll read about fiber and how carbohydrates work. He spends a couple of pages on foods and their glycemic index. (The amount in food that will increase your blood sugar. The lower the index the better the food, well maybe and this is where you will have to do your own work.) For example in Phase 1 you will only be eating foods that are low glycemic index foods. Dr. Agatston states, “even though low fat milk and peanut M & M’s have the same index, milk is the better nutritional choice.” Well maybe, but for a sugarholic, we’ll take the M & M’s! Again, there just aren’t the tools needed to legitimize the writing of this book.

I read elsewhere that he doesn’t mention exercise. In fact he does. As a cardiologist, though, he should be ashamed of the brief discussion of the benefits of exercise. Granted all the crunches in the world won’t get rid of the layer of fat covering that 6 pack you want. In fact some say 90% of your abdominal area is food based. He still needed to spend more time in this area.

Part 2, which starts on page 111, are his meal plans and recipes. I think 200 pages are a lot to spend in this area especially when the meal plans seem to be cut in stone. I’m not sure what I was supposed to do since I don’t cook very well and many of these recipes border on gourmet (in my house). What if I don’t like stewed tomatoes and onions? There seems to be no alternatives short of working up my own recipes, which I can do without spending the money on this book. In Phase I and II (In Phase II we can start eating fruit and whole grain bread though how much is another mystery.) he gives us 2 weeks of meal plans with the page the recipe is on noted. He also includes foods to enjoy and foods to avoid. If I had my own cook, this book might be useful, then again if I had my own cook why bother with this doctor telling me what to eat? Most of us know what we should and shouldn’t be eating.

He doesn’t give us a food list for Phase 3.

One of the appeals, in my opinion, of the book is the title. We’ve all seen pictures of South Beach. Few of us over the age of 25 will ever look like those on the beach no matter how strict we are with our eating. Promoting that myth makes my blood boil. I think he takes advantage of the public with the use of South Beach frankly.

Final thoughts:

The South Beach Diet is a low carbohydrate diet no matter how Dr. Agatston frames this book. In the same way, although Dr. Atkins may never have said his diet was high fat, the fact that you could eat bacon, sausages and eggs all day long makes it an unlimited fat diet.

He really says nothing new. Like Atkins he wants us to take Metamucil for fiber which is filling. He gives us the trick of drinking a glass of water before we eat and eating smaller portions (duh!). Truly, perhaps I have just read too many diet books but I found much of The South Beach Diet to be an insult to whatever intelligence I might possess.

My recommendation is to take the money and go buy yourself a nice salad with turkey, chicken, cheese or tofu, a large glass of bottled water and an iced tea with some delicious whole grain bread. Slice the orange for dessert and enjoy.

This review was published at a now defunct site.

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