‘South Beach Diet’ doc takes aim at ‘toxic’ lifestyles

Dr. Arthur Agatston


Self-described “chocoholic” Dr. Arthur Agatston, creator of the South Beach Diet, announces an unusual eating plan in his new book – the Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Diet. You eat a bowl of ice cream at breakfast, at lunch and again at dinner.

“You would lose weight quite rapidly eating such limited calories, and dark chocolate has some real nutritional benefits, thanks to its heart-healthy polyphenols,” Agatston writes.

Put down that spoon – he’s kidding.

In the very next paragraph of “The South Beach Wake-Up Call: Why America Is Still Getting Fatter and Sicker” (Rodale, $27.99), Agatston pleads, “Please don’t take me seriously.” His point is that people can lose weight on every fad diet out there, but they will miss out on important nutrients and lose their health along with any pounds shed.

Agatston, 64, grew up on New York’s Long Island, the son and grandson of ophthalmologists. His first book, “The South Beach Diet,” began as a program for his patients in Miami Beach, and was published in 2003. The diet emphasized good carbohydrates, good fats and lean meat then and that is still the program today.

In the new book, Agatston sounds an alarm about our future and offers seven strategies to reverse what he calls our “toxic” lifestyle. Agatston made time recently to talk about the book in a phone interview from Miami.

Is the health of Americans just something we need to attend to, or is this an emergency?

It’s about as urgent as it can get. Today’s young adults are the first generation to grow up on fast food and video games – I call them Generation S, the sickest generation. Already we are seeing our long-term decreases in heart disease reversed. We’re also seeing Type 2 diabetes, which used to be an adult disease, in children.

What is the outlook if nothing changes?

All this has human costs and economic costs. It’s affecting us now, but not as much as it will in 10, 20 or 30 years. If we don’t address the problem now, people with chronic disease will overwhelm any health system in place later, and that will bankrupt the country.

You trace our troubles back to the advent of supermarkets, station wagons and early TV dinners, and all those were quickly followed by fast-food franchises. Is it possible to reverse 60 years of bad habits?

To me, the answer is individuals, the family and the community-change from the grassroots up. I talk in the book about the Super Moms, a lot of young, educated mothers who are bringing up their kids on healthy food.

What else are these women doing to help bring about change?

They are developing food co-ops, finding and buying locally grown foods and networking with like-minded friends. Also, it’s the Super Moms telling schools they have to change their menus. We already know that when kids are introduced to healthy food, they like it and they stick with it.

Speaking of sticking with it, you say in the book that only 22 percent of Americans report that they exercise regularly. What’s your regimen?

I have a trainer three mornings a week, plus I do Pilates and core work. I used to teach tennis, and I’ve just started playing again, so I really enjoy my aerobic exercise.

In addition to the seven strategies, what new topics do you cover in this book?

I talk about the importance of sleep. We always knew that losing sleep made you tired, but we didn’t know it would also make you fatter, sicker and more likely to have diabetes. Also, I included new material on gluten intolerance-it’s more common than we thought.

Do you always eat well?

When I am on my regular regimen, at home, I eat well. When my two adult children come home, sometimes my wife has junk food on hand for them, and I worry that I will give in at some point. Also when I travel, I can get into trouble if I don’t plan ahead and bring good snacks to eat on the plane.

Any other times you are tempted to stray from healthy eating habits?

Some nights and weekends, things can get messy. And I did find it more challenging when I first finished writing this book.

Arthur Agatston, M.D.

BOOK: “The South Beach Wake-Up Call: Why America Is Still Getting Fatter and Sicker “

SESSION: 9 a.m. Nov. 11