What Is the Schwarzbein Principle Diet?

In This Article

steak and spinach salad
 

The Schwarzbein Principle Diet is a health and eating program developed by Diana Schwarzbein, MD, a California-based endocrinologist. The five-part program aims to promotes weight loss and well-being by addressing the connection between hormones and body fat.

What Experts Say

"The Schwarzbein Principle Diet touts weight loss via meal balance and lifestyle. Experts agree some of the basic principles of this plan are sound, but the focus on weight loss, supplements, and assigning foods labels like 'good' or 'real' can create guilt around eating and limit sustainability."
Willow Jarosh, MS, RD

Background

Dr. Schwarzbein developed her program after working with patients with diabetes and published a book, "The Schwarzbein Principle: The Truth About Losing Weight, Being Healthy, and Feeling Younger" in 1997. In addition to nutrition, the other four parts of her program include:

  • Exercise, working up to 30 to 45 minutes of activity a day
  • Stress management
  • Hormone replacement therapy (when necessary)
  • Elimination of stimulants including caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs

Dr. Schwarzbein says that eating too many carbs causes insulin levels to spike, leading to insulin resistance and in turn, weight gain. She also links the insulin increase to diseases like arthritis. By cutting back on carbs, Dr. Schwarzbein says that you can lower your insulin levels. She believes that healthy insulin levels and other lifestyle changes create successful weight loss and improved health.

How It Works

The Schwarzbein Principle Diet is a low-carbohydrate diet with two phases: healing and maintenance. During the healing phase, you decrease your carbohydrate intake. The number of carbs you consume is determined by your weight and activity level. ​

Once you improve your metabolism, you then transition to the maintenance phase. During this part of the program, more carbs are added to your diet. There is no formula for the amount of carbohydrate to consume in this phase. Instead, you learn "instinctively" to eat the right number of carbs based on the way your body reacts to them. If you start to regain weight, you can go back to the healing program.

What to Eat

Compliant Foods

  • Whole foods

  • Meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products

  • "Good" fats

  • Vegetables

  • Whole grains (in moderation)

  • Fruit (in moderation)

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners

  • Refined carbohydrates

  • Processed foods

  • Salt

  • Alcohol

  • Caffeine

Whole Foods

Dr. Schwarzbein advocates eating whole foods only, so nothing processed, prepared, or pre-made. Look for foods without labels, or with a very short list of ingredients (all recognizable as food).

Meat, Poultry, Fish, and Dairy Products

You'll eat plenty of protein on the Schwarzbein Principle Diet, and it can come from higher-fat sources such as red meat, cheese, and cream.

Fats

There are "good" fats on this diet, and Dr. Schwarzbein recommends consuming them freely. They include avocados, eggs, butter, olive oil, mayonnaise, nuts, and nut butters. Hydrogenated fats are considered "bad" or "damaged" and should be avoided.

Vegetables

The focus is on high-fiber, lower-starch veggies such as spinach, and other leafy greens.

Whole Grains

Grains are permitted on this diet, but in whole grain versions only and in small amounts (about 15 grams of carbohydrates per meal in the healing phase).

Fruit

Fruit is permitted within the carb-count limits (which effectively limits some fruits, such as bananas).

Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners

These are not allowed, on the theory that they raise insulin levels too much.

Refined Carbohydrates

Again, these are prohibited because of their glycemic load.

Processed Foods

Avoid all processed foods. These tend to be high in refined carbs, sweeteners, salt, and/or hydrogenated fats.

Salt

Salt should also be avoided.

Alcohol and Caffeine

Dr. Schwarzbein considers these stimulants and says they should be eliminated.

Recommended Timing

You can eat often on the Schwarzbein Principle Diet: three meals plus two snacks a day.

Resources and Tips

Dr. Schwarzbein's books (she also has a follow-up, "The Schwarzbein Principle II") include recipes and several weeks' worth of meal plans.

Modifications

The meal plans also include vegetarian options, and you could avoid gluten pretty easily on this plan. But if you have kidney or heart disease, use caution, as too much protein and/or saturated fat could be risky for you.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Emphasis on whole foods

  • No skipping meals

Cons

  • Can be impractical

  • No portion control

  • Unpleasant side effects

  • Too high in fat

  • Progress can be slow

Pros

Whole Food Focus

Dr. Schwarzbein's promotes a diet of unprocessed foods; that's a healthy eating policy for anyone, whether you're trying to lose weight or not. And she suggests cutting out caffeine and alcohol, and limiting intake of added salt, sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

No Skipping Meals

Not only do Dr. Schwarzbein's meal plans include three meals and two snacks a day, she also counsels readers not to skip meals. Since missing meals or overly restricting calories can lead to overeating, this is smart advice.

Overall, this diet has some good advice and has apparently worked for Dr. Schwarzbein's patients. However, there are also downsides to this eating plan.

Cons

Impractical

Convenience goes out the window on this diet. There is no room for fast food, junk food, or processed foods like frozen microwave dinners. Shopping and prepping whole-food meals takes time, and some ingredients are expensive. You will need to know the carb counts of everything you eat. And finally, if you are part of a full household, this diet might be harder to stick to. When your family members bring "forbidden" foods into the house, it may be hard to avoid them.

No Portion Control

While carbs must be counted and limited on this diet, there is otherwise no portion control or calorie restriction. The meal plans don't include serving sizes, for example. That could mean less success with weight loss if that is your goal.

Side Effects

You may also experience side effects while you follow the Schwarzbein Principle Diet. As with other carb-reducing diets, it's likely that you'll experience constipation. Other side effects include heartburn, bloating, and water retention. Dr. Schwarzbein says if you do experience these side effects, they will pass as soon as you become more accustomed to your new way of eating.

High in Saturated Fats

While not all fats are considered "good" fats on this diet, many are, even saturated fats (such as those found in meat). And there are no limits on how many "good" fats to eat. For some people, consuming this much fat could be unhealthy.

Slow Progress

You're not guaranteed to lose weight on the Schwarzbein Principle Diet. In fact, if weight loss is your goal, you may need to be patient. It can take months to "heal" your metabolism and achieve weight loss on the program. Then you need to follow the maintenance plan for life. So whether or not this diet works depends on your commitment. Can you stay on this kind of plan forever? Will you go back to your old way of eating out of boredom? When people fall off the maintenance phase of a low-carb diet, the weight usually comes back.

How It Compares

The Schwarzbein Principle Diet is quite similar to other low-carb eating plans. Like those, it is more restrictive than experts usually advise.

USDA Recommendations

Food Groups

The USDA's nutrition guidelines suggest eating a balanced mix of protein, dairy products, fruit, vegetables, and grains. On the Schwarzbein Principle Diet, grains, fruit, and even some vegetables are limited, so the scales are tipped too heavily toward protein and fat.

Calories

There are no calorie restrictions on the Schwarzbein diet, as the theory is that macronutrient proportions are what matters, not calorie count. (And the side effect from cutting carbs is generally fewer overall calories.) However, this strategy may not be effective for everyone. The USDA suggests reducing your daily intake by about 500 calories if you are trying to lose weight. If you find that a calorie target helps you meet your weight loss goals, use this tool to calculate a goal that's customized to you.

Similar Diets

Here's how this diet compares to and differs from other eating plans that restrict carbs or focus on whole foods.

The Schwarzbein Principle Diet

  • Food Groups: This diet stresses proteins and fats, with limited carbohydrates.
  • Practicality: Carb counting is required, but not calorie counting or limiting portion sizes. The rules of the diet are not too complicated, but they are restrictive (no processed or convenience foods, sugars, or refined carbs at all). Meal planning, food prep, and cooking could be time-consuming.
  • Effectiveness: Weight loss is certainly possible, though it may take time.
  • Sustainability: The diet has a maintenance phase that is meant to be followed for life. But it relies on an intuitive understanding of how many carbs to eat. This could lead to weight cycling.

Paleo Diet

  • Food Groups: On the paleo diet, you'll consume mostly protein and fat, almost entirely from animal sources, and few carbohydrates, only from fruits and vegetables.
  • Practicality: The paleo diet is more restrictive than the Schwarzbein diet, as it cuts out all grains, legumes, and dairy products along with processed foods and sugars. Carb and calorie counting aren't required, but cooking and meal planning could be demanding.
  • Effectiveness: Many people do lose weight on the paleo diet, although it is unclear if this is because of the body's response to the protein and fat, or simply because cutting out so many foods leads to lower calorie consumption.
  • Sustainability: The paleo diet is low in calcium and vitamin D, and overall hard to follow for a long period of time because it eliminates so many foods.

Ketogenic Diet

  • Food Groups: A keto diet is made up of mostly fats (up to 75 percent of daily calories), followed by protein (20 percent) and carbs (5 percent).
  • Practicality: Followers of the keto diet are aiming for a state of ketosis: The body is burning fat for energy instead of glucose (which comes from carbs). While it can be difficult to achieve this state and maintain it, calorie- and carb-counting are not necessary.
  • Effectiveness: As with other low-carb plans, this diet is effective at helping some people lose weight, especially in its early stages.
  • Sustainability: Consuming this much fat may not be healthy for everyone and may be difficult to continue.

Whole Foods Diet

  • Food Groups: There are no recommendations on macronutrient proportions, just on eating whole foods only.
  • Practicality: A whole foods diet is not a formal weight-loss program or eating plan. It is simply a preference for eating whole foods and avoiding processed ones. Since that means no convenience foods and lots of meal prep, this diet could be impractical for some people.
  • Effectiveness: As this is not necessarily a weight-loss program, it hasn't been evaluated for weight loss. However, skipping the added sugars, salt, and fats that often come with refined or processed foods could certainly help promote weight loss.
  • Sustainability: Like the Schwarzbein Principle Diet, this style of eating does classify foods into "good" and "bad" categories, which is not necessarily a healthy approach and could be tiring to comply with over time.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, whatever diet you choose, each program is designed to help you to eat less. When you consume fewer calories, you lose weight. If the Schwarzbein Principle inspires you and you feel like it's a method you can stick to for life, then it may be the best program for you. But it's a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting any weight-loss plan to make sure it is a good fit for you and your individual needs.

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