Goin' South

BY
BY REBECCA RAMSEY
Daily Weekend Editor
Published November 13, 2003

I thought I had made a new best friend,
but the relationship just didn’t work out.

Janna Hutz
The South Beach Diet can improve
waistlines. (BRETT MOUNTAIN/Daily)

For almost two weeks (two!), I had a solid union with the South
Beach Diet. Yes, I admit it — I got involved with a fad
diet.

The basic concept of a fad diet has always intrigued me. The
sheer logic that a trendy way of eating (or not eating) can set
individuals en route to quickly morphing into lithe beings is
simply beguiling, but these diets are not fixations that I would
normally subscribe to.

As shallow as it may seem, our perception of body size has come
to reflect what others think of us. People draw connections between
shape and personality and, as a result, our shapes unconsciously
influence the way we define ourselves.

For example, someone who may be on the larger size would
probably, and unfortunately, be deemed lazy more so than someone
smaller in size.

Put simply, I have never really felt the necessity to embark on
a diet craze. Inheriting a small size from my parents and
maintaining an active lifestyle are factors that have kept me
relatively tiny. And due to a severe and seriously schizophrenic
stomach condition, I have been on doctor’s orders to avoid
foods that trigger my irritability: breads, cereals, pastas and
other wheat and gluten-laced foods (foods that carbophobes on the
Atkins diet keep a 20-foot distance from).

However, when I heard about the eponymous status of renowned
cardiologist Arthur Agatson’s South Beach Diet, my eyebrows
perked up. In his book, aptly titled “The South Beach
Diet,” Agatson proposes a three-phase diet that virtually
anyone can stick to for the rest of his or her life.

Based on the bikini hot-spot, the diet immediately rose to fame
due to its magical promise: During the first phase, you can lose
eight to 13 pounds, and most of the weight melts off of your
stomach!

So, with that guarantee in mind, I said “why not”
and jumped onto the fad-diet bandwagon to begin Phase 1.

During this two-week phase, I was to subsist on three
decent-sized meals of vegetables, chicken, cheese and nuts. This
seemed easy, since I was already accustomed to a similar diet. I
said goodbye to fruit — a major staple in my diet —
sugars (damn!) and starches (no prob). My future looked
promising.

The fad diet posed itself to be merely the makings of a good
story, but as I got into the diet, I really became devoted. I was
assigned a job — and I was going to follow it. Agatson tells
his followers “to eat so that your hunger is
satisfied,” so I listened, and I ate.

He is almost completely right about Phase 1. Not only did I
agree with his claim that this phase is “shockingly
painless,” but I also did not miss the sweets. Instead, I
enjoyed my newfound “healthy” way of eating. The
premise of this diet is exactly that: If you alter the way you eat,
and thus dramatically change your blood chemistry, you will lose
weight.

After a mere four days of cashews, tuna, chicken breast salads
from Greeks,’ sugar-free Jello-O and a few soy lattes, my
jeans were already feeling loose around my waist. I was obsessed.
My abs looked more defined and I couldn’t have been happier
when I looked in the mirror. I thought I would have no problem
reaching Phase 2, the phase in which you reintroduce fruit and
whole grains into your diet (and lose one to two pounds a week),
and then even on to Phase 3, the life-long maintenance phase.

But there’s a catch: Alcohol is strictly forbidden during
the first phase. This means no sip, no taste and while it’s
pathetic to admit, no fun at the bar for two whole weekends.

Such a decree exists since alcohol has a high glycemic index
(i.e., cocktails are easily converted into sugar, but don’t
worry. Red wine is later encouraged for its cardiovascular
benefits) and often leads to the dreaded beer-belly endemic.

Still, with a svelte stomach and no fear of developing a gut, I
figured that I could have a couple of drinks and not be physically
affected. Therein lies the root of my eventual demise.

“One beauty of the three-phase structure of the South
Beach Diet is that you can move easily from one stage to
another,” Agatson explains in his book.

This exemplifies how the diet really can be a loyal friend: when
you cheat on it and play with new and more entertaining friends, it
will take you back when you come crawling on your knees. It
won’t judge you for your mistakes. I was able to move back
and forth between phases, and I will gladly tell you that I
restarted Phase 1 twice — after each weekend during my tryst
the first phase.

In the chapter devoted to the reasons people fail on the South
Beach Diet, Agatson describes that dieters begin to improvise on
their own. This happens when people start to lose weight and they
think they can begin to cheat a little, so they have a cookie after
dinner. This triggers the mind into remembering that baked goods
tasted great, and dieters often fall into a daily dessert trap.
I’ll vouch for that — on the day I decided to restart
the diet for the second time, I indulged myself with an oatmeal
cookie, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of
the week.

In the end, my attachment to the South Beach Diet had failed.
There are many, many Agatson devotees, which explains why his book
has stayed hot on The New York Times’ bestseller list for 30
weeks. However, the whole fad diet charade just wasn’t for
me. I suppose it was because the diet has the potential to be such
a good companion, but that I was not a compatible match. After all,
you always crave the thrill of straying from those who will wait
around for you.