Five diet makeover books to read

The four hottest weight-loss plans just got safer – and easier to follow – thanks to a nip and tuck from our experts

When Annette Girardin started the Atkins diet, friends and family warned that the plan would starve her brain. But Girardin, a hairstylist in Courtenay, B.C., stuck to it and melted away 30 pounds in four months. “I always felt satisfied,” she says. Like her, many women have slimmed down using diet tomes such as The G.I. Diet (Seal) and The South Beach Diet (Rodale). Others have gained the weight right back. Meanwhile, doctors remain concerned about fad diets. According to one U.S. study, for instance, yo-yo dieting may weaken your immune system. So, how can you ensure you’re a successful loser rather than a weight rebounder? First, consult your physician. Then use these fad-diet fixes to help you lose weight – a bit more slowly than the books claim – without sacrificing your health.

Atkins for Life By Dr. Robert C. Atkins (St. Martin’s Griffin)

The plan recommends
· Munching on limited amounts of vitamin-rich “good” carbs such as broccoli and kale.
· Eating protein, healthy fats from olive oil and nuts, and 20 grams of net carbs daily in phase one to trigger the body’s fat-burning mode. (Registered dietitians call this ketosis, a potentially dangerous state in which your body breaks down fat for energy.)
· Adding small amounts of “good” carbs in phases two and three to determine how many you can enjoy without gaining weight.
· Enjoying proteins, “good” fats and 45 to 100 grams of net carbs daily in phase four.

What works “The biggest benefit of these diets is that they’re making people aware of what they’re eating,” says Dr. Shalini Reddy, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Chicago.

Drawbacks “We need carbs – the recommended daily allowance is 130 grams,” says Ramona Josephson, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian. And a study from the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark concluded that although low-carb diets do promote short-term weight loss, lon- ger studies are needed to determine whether or not they are safe. Low-carb dieters in a U.S. study, for example, reported side effects such as constipation and headaches. Bone loss and kidney stones could also result.

Readers’ report Amy Dowe, a 26-year-old in Carrolls Corner, N.S., zapped 25 pounds using Atkins and a Taebo exercise tape a few years ago. “I ate all the cheese, meat, eggs and peanuts I wanted, but I was crampy, constipated and had bad breath,” she says. Months later, though, most of the weight found its way back. So, she switched to Weight Watchers and still relies on its plan.

· Choose lean proteins such as soy, skinless chicken and broiled or baked fish rather than fat-laden choices such as heavy cream and cream cheese, says Patricia Chuey, a registered dietitian in Vancouver.
· Add fibre- and antioxidant-rich foods such as apples, soybeans and prunes during phase two. These deliver so few calories that they won’t curb weight loss, says Ara Wiseman, a Toronto-based registered dietitian.
· Start slow. Cut back on cookies and other sugary treats first. You may lose more slowly, but you’ll avoid deprivation-fuelled binges.

· Skip no- or low-carb products. Josephson says these often have misleading carb counts and the same number of calories as regular products do.

The G.I. Diet by Rick Gallop (Seal)

The plan recommends

· Eating low-glycemic index (G.I.) foods such as spinach and oranges to keep hunger in check, insulin levels low and fat at bay.
· Combining low-G.I. choices with small portions of low-fat and low-calorie foods such as high-fibre bread and wild rice, lean protein and fat-free sugar-free yogurt.
· Enjoying caffeine-free diet soft drinks freely and red wine in moderation, and skipping regular coffee and sugary soft drinks.
· Increasing portion sizes until weight stabilizes at your target body mass index.

What works In addition to controlling weight, studies have found that low-G.I. diets reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, according to Cyril Kendall, a research scientist in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto.

Drawbacks You’ll lose out on nutrients from higher-G.I. foods, which may not spike blood-sugar levels when combined with protein and fat. “We don’t eat foods in isolation,” says Josephson.

Readers’ report Atkins dropout Sue Winfield, a 47-year-old in Frankford, Ont., lost 15 pounds in four months thanks to the G.I. Diet and a new gym membership. Out went the squishy white bread and in came oatmeal, apples and lean meats. “I’ve got more energy. The way I used to eat meant I was hungry all the time,” she says.

G.I. Diet fixes

Dietitians of Canada recommends selecting one low-G.I. choice per meal to prevent and control type 2 diabetes. But do not restrict the variety of your food choices otherwise. For example:

· Eat peanut butter. The book says to avoid the spread, but it’s a healthy protein. (Including protein in each meal will slow digestion of carbohydrates, regardless of their G.I., says Jean LaMantia, a registered dietitian in Toronto.) Peanut butter may also lower your chance of developing gallbladder problems. Look for the no-sugar-added natural kind.
· Limit sweeteners, including those in sugar- free products. These may trigger overindulgence in other sweet foods and beverages, according to a recent study at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Try sparkling water with a splash of juice or low-fat plain yogurt with unsweetened applesauce instead.
· Go high G.I. post-exercise or if you’re hypoglycemic. Dried fruit or fruit juice will quickly reverse low blood sugar and make you feel better.

· Enjoy real foods (such as a handful of raw unsalted nuts) for snacks over the bars that the book suggests. Likewise, drizzle a mix of flaxseed oil, balsamic vinegar and pure maple syrup on greens rather than fat-free dressing.

The Ultimate Weight Solution by Dr. Phil McGraw (The Free Press)


The plan recommends
· Understanding and healing your relationship with food to stop impulse eating and other unhealthy habits.
· Savouring healthy foods that take work to prepare instead of quick-grab junk foods with little nutritional value.
· Eating lean proteins, healthy fats such as olive oil or nuts, and “good” carbs such as fruit and vegetables before 8 p.m.; avoiding sugar and sweets altogether.
· Taking supplements to boost weight loss.

What works “[Dr. Phil] identifies that you have to be in the right space to lose weight. That’s important, because failing is unhealthy medically and emotionally,” says Barb Wright, a registered dietitian in Estevan, Sask.

Drawbacks The diet demands a lot of food preparation and sometimes calls for ingredients that aren’t readily available. Not all of Dr. Phil’s nutrition points check out, either. While he suggests not eating more than three eggs per week, for example, Chuey says five to six eggs a week are fine, as long as you eat no more than two per sitting.

Readers’ report Trudy Reid, a 38-year-old in Mission, B.C., cited time as an issue. “You have to be very organized with meal planning and shopping all of the time,” says Reid, who lost 16 pounds on the plan.

Ultimate fixes

Take advantage of Dr. Phil’s advice on the psychology of eating but get real about nutrition. Here’s how:

· Eat as late as you want. “I’ve never seen research proving that late-night eating causes weight gain,” says Wright. In fact, you may overeat at supper if you think there’ll be no more food until morning. Your best bet? Eat only when hungry and snack sensibly.
· Avoid total restriction of foods. “No plan should start so severely,” says Josephson. “The harder you try, the more likely you’ll fail to sustain it.”
· Reduce prep time. Try packaged salads, frozen vegetables and roasted chicken.

· Skip the energy bars. Expensive vitamin supplements and meal-replacement bars aren’t necessary, says Chuey. Talk to your doctor, but most women only require a multivitamin and calcium supplement with vitamin D. “Dr. Phil also recommends 400 milligrams of magnesium daily, and the [maximum healthy intake] is actually 350 milligrams,” adds LaMantia.

The South Beach Diet by Dr. Arthur Agatston (Rodale)

The plan recommends

· Eliminating sugary and starchy carbs such as cookies, fruit, bread and alcohol to lose eight to 13 pounds in two weeks.
· Eating skim dairy products, lean proteins and “good” fats such as canola or peanut oils.
· Reintroducing healthy foods such as fruit in phase two, till you hit your target weight.
· Starting over if you fall off the program.

What works “South Beach has some good ideas about adding back high-fibre carbs,” says Dr. Reddy. “This [book] is probably closest to where we want people to move with their diets,” agrees Lynn Roblin, a registered dietitian in Oakville, Ont.


Losing eight to 13 pounds in two weeks isn’t safe, Roblin says. Instead, aim to drop one to two pounds a week over time.

Readers’ report

Amanda McCafferty, a 28-year-old in Pickering, Ont., and Cathy Horvath, a 44-year-old in Mississauga, Ont., lost 30 pounds and four dress sizes, respectively, on the Beach. “South Beach is so user-friendly, very simple and very effective,” says McCafferty. Rather than cycle through the phases during slips, Horvath stayed on phase two until she hit her goal.

South Beach fixes

Make the most of this eating plan with a few healthy changes:

· Stay steady. Don’t yo-yo between phases as the book suggests, says Wiseman. Start again at phase two, not phase one, if you gain.
· Skip the sugar-free Popsicles and chocolate-dipped strawberries. These may trigger sweet cravings. Go for plain fruit instead.
· Choose low-intensity exercise. If you weight train while on a low-carb diet, as the book suggests, your body may steal protein from muscles to use as fuel, says LaMantia. So, burn fat by walking or exercising at 60 per cent of your maximum heart rate.

· Nibble on carrots, bananas, pineapple and watermelon in phase two. These are red flagged in the book due to their high-G.I. ratings, but are nutrient-rich.

Five slim-down strategies

Apply these principles to any healthy-eating plan – in consultation with your doctor – and they’ll help you shed excess weight faster:

Move it
Exercising more – at least 30 to 60 minutes a day – is essential to weight loss. Think of your body fat as butter, suggests registered dietitian Patricia Chuey in Vancouver. “To melt it, you need to exercise hard enough to heat it up.”
Eat often
 Really! Munching every two to three hours keeps blood sugar regulated and stamps out junk-food temptations. “Blood-sugar regulation equals willpower,” says Ara Wiseman, a Toronto-based registered dietitian.
Dine defensively
“Have your arsenal of [healthy] snacks ready so you don’t go hungry and then buy a doughnut,” says Wiseman. Starting a meal with broth or an apple can fill you up so you don’t overindulge, too.
Motivate yourself
Invest in a new pair of runners or plastic storage containers for your vegetables as a visible reminder of your goals.
Cheat a little
If you’re on a restrictive eating plan, schedule a cheat treat to look forward to. “If you’re feeling deprived of something, you want it more,” says Nancy Saunders, a registered dietitian in Ormstown, Que.