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If you needed inspiration to go on a diet, imagining yourself as a resident of South Beach, Fla., home of the thin and gorgeous, isn't a bad way to go.
The trendy Miami hot spot helped inspire the best-selling book, The South Beach Diet , by Dr. Arthur Agatston, a Florida-based cardiologist, who says his diet is fast, healthy and foolproof. And as an extra bonus, Agatston says South Beach dieters will lose weight in their abdominal areas first.
Research shows that most people who are trying to lose weight are yo-yo dieters who are constantly going on and off various diets, but Agatston insists that his diet is easy to stick to.
"This diet works because it doesn't require a lot of self-control -- you're not hungry on it," Agatston said. "And there's a great variety of foods to eat so you won't get bored and go off it."
Dieters will lose up to 13 pounds in the first two weeks alone, he said. But for the first two weeks, dieters will have to say goodbye to their favorite cocktails, cookies and other goodies. Starches, such as white bread, white rice and potatoes, are also off limits, as are sugar (including fruits) and alcohol.
"You eliminate these foods because they cause swings in blood sugar that make you hungry," Agatston said. "That's the purpose of the first two weeks -- to eliminate your cravings for all foods. And during that time, you'll lose eight to 13 pounds."
Those who feel they can't live without pasta, bread or some sugar will be surprised at how quickly their bodies acclimate to not wanting sugar or starches, he said.
After two weeks, the good news is very good. Weight will come off the stomach area first, because when you do not eat sugar, you do not produce insulin, which is responsible for controlling fat in your middle, Agatston said. The fat around your belly helped early man survive; during times of famine, he lived off of his belly fat. Today, big guts are only a detriment, the doctor said.
Critics might say that the initial weight loss is mostly water weight that dieters will put right back on, but Agatston says it isn't so. "There are enough good carbohydrates, like vegetables, in the first two weeks to prevent the rapid breakdown of fat, which causes water loss," he said.
He says that the South Beach Diet is different than the Atkins Diet -- which also restricts certain food groups -- because it encourages the use of healthy oils like olive oil, rather than encouraging people to eat the saturated fats found in meats and dairy products.
Exact recipes are in the book, but here is a sample menu for the first two weeks of the South Beach Diet: Breakfast: a cheesy frittata (a mix of liquid egg substitute, veggies, cottage cheese, reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese and various spices) for breakfast, with a vegetable juice cocktail, a decaffeinated coffee with sugar substitute and nonfat milk. Mid-morning Snack: celery stuffed with 1 wedge reduced-fat cheese Lunch: Sliced grilled chicken breast on romaine lettuce, with 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette prepared dressing. (The vinegar in the dressing literally slows the emptying of your stomach, so you still feel full, Agatston said.) For dessert, you can have sugar-free flavored gelatin. Mid-afternoon snack: turkey roll-ups with cilantro mayonnaise. This consists of four slices of turkey breast, four medium lettuce leaves, cilantro mayonnaise, scallions and red bell pepper strips. The cilantro mayonnaise is made from reduced-fat mayonnaise, cilantro leaves, lime juice, soy sauce, and clove garlic. Dinner: Grilled salmon with rosemary: consists of 1 pound of salmon, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary leaves, sprigs and capers. (Again, both the oil and the lemon juice slow digestion to keep you from getting hungry.) The vegetable is mashed cauliflower, mixed with butter substitute and salt and peppered to taste, which the doctor says tastes just like potatoes. Dinner is served with a tossed salad. Dessert: Mocha Ricotta Crème, which is made of low-fat ricotta cheese, unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla extract, sugar substitute, espresso powder and five mini chocolate chips, which contain very little sugar.
No Measurements Needed After the first phase is over, dieters go on to Phase 2, where they can then reintroduce limited portions of starch, sugar and alcohol into their diets. They shouldn't go overboard on sugars, though, especially if they have a tendency for the sugar swings that create cravings.
Instead of reaching for a sugary cereal, for instance, try oatmeal, Agatston said.
A typical Phase 2 breakfast might be half a grapefruit with oatmeal, topped with cinnamon and a tablespoon of walnuts, decaffeinated coffee or tea with nonfat milk and sugar substitute. A typical dessert might be chocolate-dipped strawberries made with semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, which has less sugar.
Dieters will stay on Phase 2 until they reach their goal weight. During Phase 2, they will lose weight more slowly -- with losses of one to two pounds a week, but slow weight loss is more permanent than fast weight loss, he said.
Portion control is not a big issue in the diet.
"We don't count calories on this diet," Agatston said. "You can have as much of this as you want, as many platefuls as you want. But eating like this controls your craving for food, so you won't want to have plate after plate after plate."
After Phase 2, dieters go on to Phase 3, which involves no restrictions. But they will carry with them the lessons that they learned in previous phases, such as substituting pita bread for white bread, and choosing sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, which are more likely to produce the sugar swings.
If you cheat and gain weight, you can go back to Phase 1 or Phase 2, which means you can stay on the diet for years, Agatston said.
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