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Getting Started on the South Beach Diet

Since I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been shocked at how many people have written to me for diet advice. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, because I tried unsuccessfully for years to lose weight before I discovered the South Beach Diet in July of 2004, determined to get thin again after I hit my all time high weight that summer. Some of those people who write to me are fellow food bloggers, and for a while I’ve been promising to write a post like this with my own tips for getting started on eating the low-glycemic way.

I’m not a diet expert, just someone passionate about cooking who’s found a way of eating that lets me enjoy food and still maintain my weight. I also want to make it clear that South Beach is not a one-time fix. If I overindulge (like I have done this holiday season!) I’ll gain a few pounds and I do have to go back to phase one now and again for a diet tune-up. But in general I’ve found this way of eating to be easier to stick to than other diets I’ve tried, and when I’m eating the low glycemic way I feel great, have tons of energy, and don’t crave a lot of sugary or starchy foods.

I’ve written previously about how this diet changed my life and explained why I love the South Beach Diet. Last year at New Year’s time I shared Ten Reasons I Love the South Beach Diet. If you don’t know much about the low-glycemic South Beach Diet way of eating, you might like reading those posts to see if it sounds like something that would work for you. But if you’ve checked out a few diets and decided South Beach is worth giving a try, click the link to continue reading for some tips on getting started, based on the things that worked for me.

1. Start By Reading the Book

Boring as it may sound, I highly recommend you start by getting a copy of The South Beach Diet book and reading it from cover to cover. The book has been around so long you might be able to find it in a used book store, or you can follow the link above and get a used copy at Amazon.com. When you read the book you’ll learn why the diet works, and how choosing the right foods will help you to be less hungry and eliminate cravings for the wrong kind of carbs. Every once in a while I read certain parts again, just to remind myself!  (I also recommend the newer book, The South Beach Diet Supercharged, which has a much more extensive list of food that are allowed.)

2. Learn About the Glycemic Index

South Beach is based on the glycemic index, which is a way of measuring how quickly and how high certain foods raise your blood sugar level. There’s a lot of information online about the glycemic index, but I recently found a discussion of the glycemic index on the site The World’s Healthiest Foods which was one of the most informative things I’ve seen. Learning about the glycemic index will help you choose foods that make you feel good, besides helping you lose weight.

3. Get Rid of Foods You No Longer Want to Eat

When I started the South Beach Diet, I completely cleaned out my cupboards and got rid of foods I knew I was no longer going to eat. Yes, I was committed to success! Removing those foods and replacing them with healthier alternatives really helped me make the mental shift to eating this way. (Give the food away to your local food bank and you’ll be able to handle the guilt about not wasting perfectly good food.) I found that the pantry was the main place where I had to purge, since my fridge and freezer contained mostly healthful vegetables and meats, but if you have ice cream or other sweets in the freezer, you’ll have to toss them too.

4. Stock Up on Low-Glycemic Foods

After I got rid of the things I was no longer going to eat, I replaced them with healthier alternatives for my new way of eating. It would be impossible for me to give a list that would work for everyone, but if you look in my cupboards now you will see things like whole wheat flour, brown rice, Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice, Dreamfield’s Pasta, Agave Nectar, almond meal, and arrowroot starch. For more ideas, I have a page on the blog where I talk about ingredients and I also feature low-glycemic products as Kalyn’s Kitchen Picks.

5. Decide How You Will Track Your Weight
As soon as I started the diet, I bought a digital scale and put it in a prominent spot in my kitchen. On the counter I put a week-at-a-glance calendar. Each morning I weighed myself as soon as I got up and wrote it on that calendar. I know many experts say you shouldn’t weight yourself every day, but it worked for me. I still have that same scale and a calendar in the same spot, although now I sometimes go days without remembering to weigh!

6. Take Measurements When You First Start
This is something I really wish I had done from the start, because after a few months of dieting I realized sometimes I wasn’t losing that much weight, but my clothes were getting looser. I did take measurements a few times that first year, but I wish I had a way of knowing exactly how many inches I lost, especially on my waist, which is where the South Beach Diet really works miracles.

7. Plan How to Fit Exercise Into Your Life
If anyone tells you that you’ll be able to maintain your perfect weight and optimum health without exercising, don’t believe them! The truth is that diet and exercise are meant to go together for good health and weight control. You don’t need to turn into a gym rat, but you will look and feel better if you manage to exercise fairly vigorously 3-4 times a week. I think lots of types of exercise are good; the important thing is finding something you’ll stick with. I’m a fan of walking for exercise, (and always have good intentions of doing yoga and pilates more frequently!)

8. Schedule in Food Prep Time on the Weekend
When I started eating the South Beach Diet way, I used to spend hours on the weekend cooking things and freezing them. That way I always had plenty of options to take for lunch to school or eat when I got home late and didn’t have time to cook. Now I don’t cook ahead quite as much, but I still spend at least an hour every weekend washing lettuce, cutting up veggies, and prepping other foods to cook during the week. That’s my way of making sure I have food ready to keep me on track. (I’ve never been so organized that I actually planned my meals for the week in advance, but that could be a great diet strategy if you’re that kind of person.)

9. Plan Snacks to Take With You When You’re Away From Home
One of the things I started doing early on in my South Beach Diet routine was planning snacks to take with me when I was away from home. On Monday I’d take a bag of snacks to work, and if I was going to be out and about I’d take snacks in the car. Snacks were something that helped prevent me from feeling deprived, and South Beach actually encourages eating a snack between meals for the first two phases of the diet. I wrote a post about My Top Ten Favorite South Beach Diet snacks if you’d like some ideas.

10. Check with Your Doctor if You Have a Lot of Weight to Lose
I actually didn’t tell my doctor when I started the South Beach Diet, but if you need to lose a significant amount of weight, I highly recommend that you do check with your doctor when you start. Just for the record, when I started on South Beach I was on medication for cholesterol and blood pressure both, and now I don’t need medication for either. My own doctor is a South Beach Diet fan, especially after seeing those results and how I’ve been able to maintain the weight loss, with a few tune-ups along the way! Occasionally I’ll get e-mails from other patients of his saying he has recommended my blog to them to help them stick to the diet.

Whew. I think it’s been more than six months since I promised a fellow food blogger I would write this post. I hope it will be helpful to anyone who’s considering the diet. As I mentioned, I’ll be doing phase one myself for the next few weeks, although maybe not phase one for the whole month, like I did last January! You can always find plenty of phase one ideas in the recipe archives on the left, where every recipe indicates which phase of the diet it would be suitable for.

If anyone is reading this who’s also a committed South Beach Dieter, I’d love to hear about your success in the comments.

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77 comments on “Getting Started on the South Beach Diet”

  1. South Beach 33, must have missed your comment but hope you're doing well.

    Mara, thanks for the nice feedback, and good luck on the diet. Sounds like you're off to a good start!

  2. I've been on SBD for two weeks today and have lost more than 8 pounds and 3 inches off my waist so far. I just wanted to thank you for your blog – I love the fantastic pictures that you take of every recipe. In addition, trying new recipes is keeping me on the wagon. I don't think I would have been able to do it so far without your blog because I find so many cookbooks kind of uninspired and I seem to quit when I get frustrated on diets.

  3. Anonymous, thanks! I love hearing that the blog is helping people.

  4. Kalyn,
    My husband and I have been doing the South Beach diet for almost two months now with wonderful success. I found your website before starting, and I get all my recipes from you.
    I have began cooking in a whole new way, and we love the new flavors and
    variety. My husband has completely lost his belly fat, and looks great. I didn't have much to lose, and am very happy with the results. We have 4 friends who are now starting South Beach after seeing my husband's success. I have forwarded all of them your website. Thank you for all your work testing recipes for us to enjoy. Your work is very important
    for the health of others.

  5. Carol, thanks so much for that nice feedback. It makes me happy to hear that my recipes are helpful for others.

  6. I started SBD almost six weeks ago. I am very overweigth and not very healthy so I love reading the success stories and especially the tips. So far, I've lost about 15lbs. One of my focuses have been trying to eliminate or at least limit the amount of processed food I eat and serve to my family. I think the SBD seems to be the best way to eat for life. Thanks for your blog…. I'm just starting to read it and follow some of your recipes. I hope to have great success.

  7. Anonymous, good luck with the diet. I do think it's a very healthful way to eat, and I promise it works if you stick with it!

  8. Hi Kalyn,
    I think your blog is amazing.Thanks so much for it. I started South Beach Diet in March earlier this year and was satisfied with the loss of weight (lost about 12 pounds from my intended 13 pounds loss), but then Summer vacation came and I think I've regained back the weight I lost so I started Phase 1 again on Wednesday last week. I have been a bit derailed in the past 5 days, with 5 grapes and a glass of red wine yesterday. It is a little harder to stick to it somehow, but I think reading this particular post had been really motivating. If I need to extend a few more days on Phase 1 then so be it. Thanks so much for your constant positivity!

  9. So glad this was helpful for you. I've gone back to phase one many times when I gained a few pounds, and getting started again is the hardest part! After a few days on phase one you feel so good you don't even miss those foods that aren't allowed.

  10. Thanks so much for doing this blog Kalyn! Blogs are a ton of work but your site has been such a blessing to me. I went on the SBD about 6 years ago and lost a lot of weight- but I was doing just phase 1 for about two months. Needless to say, I gained it back after getting SBD-burnout. I'm back on it now and I'm about to start phase 2 next week (the right way!). I'm nervous about starting phase 2 because the book doesn't really explain how to start it out. Do you have any recommended articles online or other books that better explain how to start phase 2? I'm getting married this year so I'm doing this for the long-haul and no quick fixes!

    Thanks again Kalyn for your blog, it completely changed my perspective of SBD phase 1!

    -Kaycee

  11. Kaycee, I'm so glad the blog has been helpful to you. The newest book (The South Beach Diet Supercharged) has some good information about making the transition to phase 2, starting on page 248. I can't reproduce it here (it's copyrighted) but I highly recommend that book, not only for this info but also for the greatly expanded lists of foods for each phase.

  12. Kaylyn,

    When you were first doing the SBD did you have a few lunches and breakfasts that you used over and over again? When I'm in the I need to lose mode I find it easier to limit the variety. Was that true for you? If so, what did you find were your most "tried and true" phase 1 dishes?

    Thanks so much for all the inspiration and hope you give us!

  13. It was over 7 years ago that I first started the diet, and I've made so many recipes since then that I can't really remember what things I used to eat. I do know that I ate Taco Salad a lot for a lunch to take to school, and egg muffins for breakfast. Other than that I can't really remember. My favorites might not be your favorites anyway. I'd just try recipes and save the printed recipe for the ones you like most; pretty soon you'd have your own "cookbook" of favorites!

  14. Hello, I was just looking for recipes for phase 1 of the South Beach Diet and came across your site. My doctor just put me on South Beach and I'm on day 4 of phase 1. It's a little rough. I didn't eat lots of bread, but you know how it goes, you always want what you can't have.
    thanks for the great tips. I'm looking forward to a healthier me in the future.

  15. I gained 10 solid lbs after a miscarriage that I had at 18 wks. What depressed me most was that I gained this weight and lost a baby. I decided to go on the south beach diet and it helped me loose all 10lbs I gained while pregnant. I feel better now and ready to try for another baby if hubby wants to. thank God for south beach diet. This approach to loosing weight is actually enjoyable.

  16. Michelle, that does sound very discouraging. I'm glad you were able to lost the 10 pounds. Sending best wishes if you decide to try again for a baby.

  17. Kalyn, I so appreciate this post. I've tried to tell my friends and family about this diet, and the majority just don't want to hear about it, and yet they complain about their weight. I agree with you that I actually feel better! I've been on this for 2 1/2 years. It is not a fad, it has become a way of life. I'm back to Phase One after the holidays, not because I lost weight, but because I promised myself I'd reach a goal that I set at the beginning. I do not feel deprived on this diet. Instead of focusing on what I can't eat, I focus on the wide variety of what I can eat. I'm a veggie lover. The odd thing I'm craving the most right now is grapefruit. We've got a tree in the backyard loaded with those puppies. I just have to remember that in two weeks I can have some.

    One thing I really like about this diet is that I have a tendency to shove processed foods out of the way and eat whole foods. No more Hamburger Helper. While the SB style of cooking might take more time, I've learned to make the crock pot my friend, so that I can come home from work and not have to deal at the end of the day.

    The hard part of this diet is that not everyone in the household is partaking. There is no way I can ditch "bad" things out of my cupboard. When I feel tempted by the evil stuff, I just remind myself that I'll be in a size 10 jeans if I just focus on the yummy stuff I can eat.

    I am loving your recipes. I think my husband is sick of hearing your name, LOL!!!

  18. Cee Jay, I feel much better myself when I am being stricter, so I know what you mean. So glad to hear you are enjoying the recipes. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  19. Hi Kalyn ~ I'm late to the party but I have to say I was SO excited to find your blog/website. My Dear Husband and I are just now starting the South Beach Diet. I've bought and read the book, and I think we're ready to go. I have looked through many of your recipes just to have an idea how to get started and it has been very helpful. I love to cook so if I think I come up with something "new", I'll post it for you to look at. Thank you again for being around and I'll keep you updated on our progress.
    ~Rebecca in Texas

  20. Kalyn- Your blog has been the spark and a staple to many of the recipes I am making for my roommate who recently started the south beach diet. I've done it before, with initial success, but found it hard to maintain because I became bored with recipes. But your recipes have really made me rethink how to cook healthy and still satisfy the foodie in me.
    Thanks- Leena

  21. I absolutely love south beach. i started in January 2008 as my New Years resolution. i lost 70 lbs. currently i'm back on phase 1 as i gained a few extra lbs this year and my jeans are a lil tight. i highly recommend this lifestyle and love your recipes. Thank you Kalyn

  22. Joyce, what a success story! So glad the recipes have been helpful for you.

  23. Hi. This will my first time to start. I like how you organized everything, you made it seem easy. I am excited to start, but first I have to start with shopping !! Thanks again.

  24. Thanks so much to the South Beach Diet, such an enjoyable way to lose weight. I lost around 15 pounds in 2 months. THANKS SO MUCH SOUTH BEACH DIET.

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