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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.
The diet has three phases:
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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.
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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.
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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.
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"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.