Losing Weight by Eating Real Food with the South Beach Diet


The last time I went into serious diet mode, I lost 20 pounds. After hitting that milestone, I didn’t exactly fall off the wagon. I jumped. I’d had enough of artificial food: diet soda, fat-free dressing,  imitation sour cream . . . I wanted real food.  And so I ate it–too much of it, unfortunately.

After a few years, I was back where I started. I had to do something, and buying bigger clothes was not an option. But how could I lose weight without eating fake food? And how could I finally keep it off?

I shared this dilemma with a friend, who loaned me a copy of The South Beach Diet. It sat on my desk for several weeks. Finally, I knew I had to read it or return it. In order to save face, I opened it up and read a few pages. It was highly motivating.

The author, Dr. Arthur Agatston, is a cardiologist who followed the diet himself, prescribed it to his patients and saw results, not only in weight loss, but also in overall health. It wasn’t just another fad diet. It was a prescription for healthy living.

But I have to admit, it wasn’t just the ‘healthiness’ that hooked me.  This was the part that reeled me in:  people typically lose  8-13 pounds in the first two weeks.  Really? That was half way to my goal!

I’d have to give up carbs (including fruit) for fourteen days.  After that, I’d move from Phase 1 to Phase 2.  Then I could begin adding fruit and whole grains to my menus.

So when did I have two weeks when there was no major holiday or special event to throw me off?  I looked at the calendar. Surprise! I could start on Monday. By Easter, I would be into Phase 2.

Simply put, the diet eliminates refined carbohydrates (aka white flour and sugar) and replaces them with lean protein, low-fat dairy and ‘good’ carbs (whole grains, vegetables and fruit).  In Phase 1, you can eat an abundance of vegetables, protein, even “healthy” fats!  Agatston actually encourages eating nuts and using olive oil. (Hooray! Real salad dressing!)It turns out those things cut down on cravings and create the sensation of fullness and satisfaction.

In order to succeed in any diet, I needed three things: motivation, a plan, and accountability. The hardest thing for me is finding the motivation.  Now that I’d found a plan, motivation was beginning to kick in. I looked over the recipes and decided what meals and snacks I would have for the first week. That meant taking a few trips to the store. Most of what I needed was available at Weavers–fresh produce, quality meats, nuts, eggs and dairy products–whole foods with no artificial ingredients.

Planning ahead is essential for me. Getting caught off-guard when I’m famished is deadly. If I know what I’m having for each meal, I stay focused on the right foods. Bringing healthy snacks with me is a lifesaver, too. And just in case you’re thinking ‘snacks’ means little bags of celery, think again. South Beach snacks are things like pistachios, cheese sticks (delicious dipped in marinara sauce) or veggies with Laughing Cow cheese. Healthy, tasty, satisfying, even in Phase 1.

I did take exception to some of Dr. Agatston’s recommendations. For one thing, he suggests sugar-free Jello for a snack. That didn’t meet my ‘real food’ criteria. Egg substitute wasn’t on my list either. Non-fat milk in my coffee made it taste like pond water. So I skipped the Jello, used real eggs and put half-and-half in my coffee.

Thankfully, he includes the story of a man who refused to give up his daily dish of ice cream and still lost 30 pounds! It seems the diet can be adapted to individual preferences and lifestyle and still bring results. Having motivation and a plan in motion, I still needed accountability.

Dr. Agatston advises people not to count calories, but to pay attention to the kinds of food they’re eating. But even if I don’t count calories, I need to log what I’m eating. It keeps things from getting out of hand.  Sparkpeople offers a free website that simplifies this. As you enter foods, it calculates calories and nutrients. I like to know how many calories I’ve consumed so I can make the best choices each day.

Now the only thing missing was a support group. I knew if it was just me and the diet, I’d fall off the wagon as soon as I hit the first bump, and it might take years to hop back on. You’re probably wondering where I found a South Beach support group. I could have joined a group at the South Beach website . Instead, I decided to enlist my facebook friends. They didn’t actually know I was enlisting them, but I started posting something every day about the diet. Some probably thought it was silly (the skinny ones) but most were very encouraging. They offered helpful hints and recipes while cheering me on to my goal. It was a lot like having to weigh in for my diet group. I couldn’t embarrass myself by admitting I’d given up. Obviously, saving face is a big deal for me.

By the end of the second week, I’d lost eight pounds. After two weeks, no matter how much you’ve lost, you move to Phase 2. When you’ve reached your goal, you move to Phase 3, maintenance. It truly is a lifestyle I can live with–one that I want to live with.  Even if  (I should say when) I slip into my old ways, I can go back to Phase 1 and lose a few pounds. It really wasn’t that hard. (I was in Phase 1 when started writing this, so it’s not just a dim memory!)

Though I haven’t yet reached my goal, I am losing weight steadily. I will have to buy new summer clothes, but a smaller size this time. I have more energy, and it feels good to eat real food. My knees (which were crumbling under the strain of extra pounds) are thanking me every day. There are lots of reasons to keep eating this way. So, if my story stirred you to action, you might want to check out the South Beach website. You’ll find plenty of articles to get you motivated and keep you on track, as well as great recipes to try. You can also sign up for free daily emails.  And I definitely recommend reading the book. I have my own copy now, so I could loan it to you. But then, I suppose you’d have to give it back at some point?