My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I don’t read a lot of diet and fitness books, so I’m approaching this review not as an expert but as a ‘regular joe’ reader. I started the diet as a New Years’ resolution at the recommendation of a doctor. I’m glad I had the book because I referred to it many times, but you could probably get away without buying it if you were already pretty dedicated.
It’s divided into three sections: first, an explanation of why this diet is supposed to work. Second comes a breakdown of the three phases of the diet, with an explanation, food list, and sample menu. Third is a workout routine, with drawings of how to complete the workouts and generally why it’s a good idea.
I found the first section, the explanation, sufficiently detailed to convince me that Arther Agatston is a real doctor who believes in the science behind his diet. The nerd in me would have liked some annotations of studies to look up research on my own, but Agatston used medical terminology where appropriate and made the language relatable but not overly simplified. I like that. I found the argument mostly compelling and had confidence that South Beach was not some crazy fad diet but was a plausible way to eat for a short period of time for weight loss purposes.
The actual breakdown of the three phases of the diet was helpful. I liked the sample meal plan in particular, even though it was quickly apparent that there was no way I was going to have that much diversity in my diet: if I made a snack one day, odds were good that I was eating that snack for the next four days, so I had better like it. So I wouldn’t say the sample was necessarily realistic or practical, but it was a good model to work off of. The three phases are broken down well, easy to understand, and I really appreciated that Agatston goes out of his way to insist that the most restrictive phase, while the fastest at inducing weight loss, is no practical way to eat all the time. Indeed, this gave me a lot more faith in him as a doctor, too.
I mostly ignored the exercise portions. It quickly became obvious that the target audience for the book as a whole was middle-aged people who had never performed exercise and who were much more overweight and out of practice than I am. Because I had already completed a Couch to 5K running program in addition to weekly dance classes, I feel like I’m advanced pretty far past this baseline group and the exercises were not relevant or useful to me. So I skipped that whole section.
Also, the book is shiny. This was probably floated as a great marketing idea, because it certainly draws attention, but if you’re like me and a little embarrassed to admit that you’re on a diet, this basically means you don’t want to take the book anywhere or read it in public because it is SO eye-catching that everyone is sure to know. I have the paperback version, and that nicely fits in a purse or maybe even a pocket, so I took it to the grocery store once, but the distracting cover made me self-conscious and uncomfortable.
As for the diet itself: I found it was successful, but difficult. I did not “cheat” in the critical first phase, but that also meant I spent far more than my normal food budget in order to prepare the approved foods and was not able to eat at any restaurant. Even in the later phases, eating at a restaurant is ridiculously challenging and it’s hard to not inadvertently “cheat.” While that’s plausible in an ideal dieting world, in real life a lot of social interaction happens in restaurants. Not eating there meant skipping a lot of social time.
It also meant devoting a great deal of energy and focus on what the heck I was going to eat. I had to plan more intensely for every single meal; there are no shortcuts on this diet. Be prepared to spend a lot of time chopping vegetables. In fact, this diet is the one thing that has made me really want to get a food processor. I struggle to imagine what this would be like for someone who also had to cook for a family.
That’s my other criticism of the diet: though Agatston claims that it is workable on any budget, I have a hard time believing that is true. I blew my typical grocery AND restaurant budget out of the water on grocery items alone, and that was even when I looked for bargains. For some things, you practically are required to shop at a store like Sprouts or Whole Foods just to find something (please, no one makes wheat tortillas. That’s just crazy, man), and those types of stores are not cheap.
It may be plausible in theory to stick to this diet on a low-income budget, but you’ll be eating the same thing every single meal, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for success to me. This is very much a diet dreamed up by a middle-aged, wealthy man. Who maybe as a personal chef to spend all day laboring over difficult to prepare, multi-step recipes. Or at least has an hour to cook a lunch from scratch rather than trying to pack something.
I have found the diet successful and am mostly continuing on phase 2 until I meet my goal, but after completing the initial 8 weeks I broke and let myself eat a burger. And it was delicious, proving that Agatston’s premise that food from “before” wouldn’t be as appealing is absolutely crazy. Besides, I needed a mini “food vacation,” just to relax from some of the rigor of trying to maintain such a restrictive diet. I’ll continue, and it was successful, but I don’t know that I’ll worry about following it to the letter.