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The Best Years in Life

Popular Diets Reviewed

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The Scarsdale Diet
(The Tarnower Diet)

"A diet is useless if people can't stick to it. A good diet must be palatable, safe, satisfying and uncomplicated. It must show results in a reasonably short period of time. And most important of all, it must help to develop a lifetime pattern of good eating habits so that the weight lost will stay lost."

Dr. Herman Tarnower, author of 'The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet", Chapter Two, Page 8.

Quite possibly the first of the modern era of low carbohydrate / high protein diets, the Scarsdale Diet was first published in 1978 after having been developed, tested and refined on hundreds of patients at his Scarsdale Medical Center over the 19 years prior to publication.

Although being a low carbohydrate / high protein plan that pre-dated the Atkins Diet, Atkins took the concept to greater extremes. In comparison to the Atkins Diet, the Scarsdale Diet has a larger range and quantity of fruits and vegetables allowed, and is still concerned with minimising unnecessary fats in the diet. (I don't necessarily put this point forward as either a strength or a weakness - just a comment.)

Dr. Tarnower also makes a serious attempt at making a diet with permanent education and behavioral changes, rather than just a short term quick-fix fad diet. In some ways, I believe he succeeds in this endeavor. In other ways, I believe he fails.

No recognition is given to emotion eating or other psychological factors and related hormonal factors unquestionably essential to weight management.

The fact that Dr. Tarnower completely ignores the emotional/psychological connection is probably due to him being a cardiologist, not a psychologist or psychiatrist.

That brings us to one of the strengths of the Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet - being designed by a cardiologist, long term heart health is very much a priority in this diet. Whereas the Atkins Diet requires additional vitamin supplementation to compensate for the shortages caused by the low levels of plant food (carbohydrates), the Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet provides a daily changing variety of the most nutritious fruits, nuts and vegetables, ensuring that your vitamin intake is complete without supplementation.

The Scarsdale Diet also fails to meet the "life long" test quite as nicely as I'd like to see in that it prescribes what it calls a "two weeks on, two weeks off" regime.

This is not exactly accurate. It is two weeks strict (Scarsdale Diet), followed by a two week maintenance program with more flexible guidelines. Dieters are warned not to stay on the strict Scarsdale Diet for more than two weeks in a row.

If more weight loss is desired after the first set of "two-on-two-off", just repeat the process.

Once you have reached your ideal goal weight, you stick with the flexible "maintenance" portion from then on. Weight yourself daily. If your weight rises 4lb above your goal weight, return to the "strict" two week component.

The Scarsdale Medical Diet (the strict two week component) is very rigid. Although, thankfully, there is no emphasis on weighing and measuring or counting quantities or calories, the meals specified are very precise with little room for options. This rigidity may make it difficult where in some areas the specified foods may not be readily available at your local grocery store. The lack of options or substitutes can make adherance difficult at times.

In other weaknesses:

  1. Exercise is recommended, but not really emphasised.
  2. Although sugary and starchy foods are avoided, there is one exception. One slice of bread (strict) or two (maintenance) per day is prescribed. Given the greater understanding of the adverse health effects of grains today as compared to the 1970's, the bread would be out of place by today's standards and knowledge.
  3. Likewise, artificially sweetened drinks are recommended. Given the more "modern" range of artificial sweeteners now available and the greater knowledge of the adverse health effects of all artificial sweeteners, ignore this advice. Treat avoiding sweeteners at all as one of your most important behavioral changes. If you really must sweeten, ask your health food shop about Stevia Drops - a naturally sweet, calorie-free herb juice.

There is no "perfect" obesity or weight management diet plan.

The question that must be answered is whether Dr. Tarnower's Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet is a lifestyle and behavior modifying program with proven effective results for most people, sustainable in the long run, and with significant health benefits compared to "normal" or "average" western diets.

The answer is a slightly qualified "YES". The "two-weeks-on-two-weeks-off" strategy does not totally fit with the "lifetime" ambition, though the maintenance plan does. Personally, I found tremendous weight loss success following this diet, though found it difficult to stay within the guidelines beyond about twelve months. Catch me in a moment of brutal honesty and I'll probably admit that the fault laid more with myself than with the Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet itself.

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