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South Beach Diet – Not Losing Pounds

By January 9, 2013

Three weeks ago today, I started on the South Beach Diet. Almost immediately, I could tell my clothes fit looser. I hurried to the scale and have lost no pounds. I listened to your video on this and it made perfect sense to me, other than the fact that I have not been exercising or working out. Just the same routine of working 10 hours a day and coming home. I do intend to start walking or exercising, but I have not in these three weeks, only cutting out breads, sugar, pasta, etc. So, how could I be building muscle if I haven’t changed my routine? I really want to see those scales move. Thanks so much! – C.

Dear C.,

I’ll start by addressing your specific question, but then I want to give you some additional information to consider. The video to which you refer, “Losing Inches, not Pounds,” only applies to people who are working out regularly and building muscle. Your situation is completely different.

The first phase of the South Beach Diet is very low in carbohydrates, but the body needs a steady source of glucose to fuel the muscles and brain, so it turns to the stored form called “glycogen.” As these glycogen stores are depleted, significant water is also released in the process. So the early dramatic weight loss experienced on low carb diets is mainly due to water loss—sort of a trick to get people excited and motivated. But dehydration is also a risk during this stage and, truthfully, this water weight inevitably returns as carbohydrates are reintroduced. High protein intakes can also be hard on the kidneys.

I’m guessing that in your case, as you entered the second stage of South Beach, which includes more carbs, you have been regaining some of that initial fluid that you lost. As a result, it appears that your weight is stuck even though you continue to consume fewer calories. Another possible contributor to your weight maintenance could be a slowed metabolism if the calorie level is too restrictive for your body—our bodies conserve energy if they sense being underfed too much.

Here at Finding Balance, we promote healthy lifestyle changes that can be realistically followed long-term—in a non-obsessive way. Sadly, the success rate for diets in the long run is quite abysmal, and following them can trigger weight preoccupation and disordered eating. (See “Why Diets Fail.”)

That said, the final phase of the South Beach Diet does promote relatively balanced, healthy eating, which could be used as a teaching tool—as long as you don’t develop an “all-or-nothing” mindset and do learn to eat more intuitively (based on hunger and fullness). But the book contains a number of inaccuracies and it doesn’t address the emotional issues that often drive overeating. Also, healthy weight management has to include being physically active and getting enough sleep.

I invite you to peruse more nutrition articles in our site, especially “The Truth about Carbs” and “Eleven Keys to a Healthy Lifestyle.”

I wish you well in your quest for better health—which I hope will incorporate a more holistic approach that can be successful long term.

Ann Capper, RD, CDN