What to Expect on the South Beach Diet

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The South Beach Diet touts many benefits, including substantial weight loss, stabilized blood sugar, reduced cravings, and increased energy. When following the South Beach Diet, you can expect a drastic change to your diet, at least in the first phase. 

There are three phases of the South Beach Diet. Phase 1 is the most restrictive (no fruit, grains, starches, or alcohol) and lasts one to two weeks to help your body reboot and get used to burning fat instead of carbs for fuel. After that, you’ll be able to slowly add foods with carbohydrates back into your diet. 

What to Eat

Compliant Foods (Phase 1)
  • Lean meats and poultry

  • Eggs and egg whites

  • Seafood

  • Soy products

  • Non-starchy vegetables

  • Some beans

  • Nuts

  • Dairy

  • Healthy fats

Non-Compliant Foods (Phase 1)
  • Fatty cuts of meat

  • Starchy vegetables

  • Fruit

  • Grains and starches

  • Alcohol

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages

  • Desserts

It’s important to note that the South Beach Diet includes three phases, and the foods you can and cannot eat differ as you move through the phases. Here’s a rundown of what you can and can’t eat during phases one, two and three. 

Phase 1

During Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet, you will be able to eat many of the foods you currently enjoy, including ground beef and a variety of vegetables. These foods are low on the glycemic index and are supposed to help you to eliminate cravings for starchy carbohydrates and sweets.

You'll cut carbohydrates during this phase, and that will help you to reduce excess water weight. You may see a five-pound change on the scale or even more in the span of a week.

Compliant Foods (Phase 1)

During Phase 1, these are the foods and ingredients you can incorporate into your diet:

  • Meats and poultry: You can enjoy a range of protein sources on the South Beach Diet, as long as you focus on meats low in fat, especially saturated fats. Enjoy boiled ham, lean cuts of beef, such as flank steak or eye of round, skinless turkey and chicken breast, Canadian and turkey bacon, pork tenderloin, lower-fat and lower-sodium lunch meats including lean deli roast beef or smoked turkey.
  • Seafood: You can eat all types of fish seafood on the South Beach Diet, but try to limit your intake of high-mercury fish and seafood. 
  • Eggs: The South Beach Diet permits whole eggs and egg whites, so you can still enjoy your morning omelet.
  • Soy products: If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can opt for soy-based meat substitutes such as soy bacon or soy crumbles.
  • Beans: Beans are a great source of fiber and plant-based protein, and you can eat many varieties on the South Beach Diet, including black-eyed peas, great northern beans, chickpeas, and pinto beans.
  • Nuts: Snack on nuts such as almonds, cashews, and macadamia nuts, but you must limit your intake to one serving per day. 
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Any non-starchy vegetable is a go on the South Beach Diet. Incorporate a lot of leafy greens, sprouts, lettuce, okra, peppers, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli. 
  • Dairy: You’re encouraged to enjoy full-fat dairy rather than low- or no-fat, because many manufacturers add sugar to make up for the lost flavor in low-fat options. 
  • Healthy fats: Each day, you can consume up to 2 tablespoons of healthy oils like olive oil; avocado (1/3 avocado equals one tablespoon of your healthy oil intake); and 2 tablespoons of salad dressing with less than 3 grams of sugar.

Non-compliant Foods (Phase 1)

Here's what you'll want to avoid:

  • Fatty cuts of meat: You should avoid fatty meats like brisket and prime rib, dark meat from poultry, poultry with skin, duck meat, and chicken wings and legs. You should also avoid sugary meats such as honey-baked ham and beef jerky. 
  • Starchy vegetables: During Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet, you should avoid starchy vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, corn, beets, yams, turnips, and green peas. 
  • Grains and starches: You can’t eat any carbohydrates from grain sources during Phase 1. This includes bread, crackers, chips, pretzels, oatmeal, cereal, pasta, granola, rice, bagels, buns, and other sources. 
  • Alcohol: Alcohol—including beer, hard liquor, wine, and mixed drinks—is off-limits during phase one. 
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: Sports drinks, energy drinks, sodas, juices, and other beverages that contain sugar aren’t allowed on the South Beach Diet. Ideally, you should also avoid artificially sweetened beverages as they can contribute to bloating and digestive discomfort. 
  • Desserts: Refrain from eating cookies, cakes, ice cream, candy, frozen yogurt, and other sugary desserts during Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet. 

Phase 2

Compliant Foods (Phase 2)
  • Everything in Phase 1, plus:

  • Starchy vegetables

  • Whole grains

  • Fruit

Non-Compliant Foods (Phase 2)
  • Fatty cuts of meat

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages

  • Alcohol

  • Desserts

In the first two weeks on South Beach, you eat from a list of foods, and that’s it. After the first phase, it’s time to start individualizing the diet for your own body and tastes.

The goal of Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet is to find the right carb level for you. This is done by gradually reintroducing some high nutrient, high fiber, low glycemic carbohydrates into your diet. How much and what types will vary between individuals. During this phase, weight loss will likely slow to one to two pounds per week, so keep this in mind as well.

Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet lasts until you reach your goal weight. 

Week One

The plan of the first week of Phase 2 is to add one serving of a carbohydrate food to each day, experimenting to see how you feel. Chances are this first food will not be problematic.

What should the food be? Generally, it is a serving from the approved fruit list or a serving of a low-glycemic starch. Dr. Arthur Agatson, the creator of the South Beach Diet, recommends that if you choose fruit to have it at lunch or dinner. He thinks that fruit at breakfast is more likely to induce cravings.

If you choose an approved whole grain, he recommends a high fiber, low-carb cereal such as Fiber One, All Bran with extra fiber, or slow-cooked oatmeal (not instant). If you are having cereal for breakfast, be sure to include some protein as well.

Week Two

In the second week, you will add a second daily serving of carbohydrate food, as above. That means you will be eating one serving of fruit and one serving of a high-fiber starchy food each day this week, in addition to all the other foods.

Week Three

During the third week, you will again add a serving of carbohydrate food daily if you can tolerate it without weight gain or cravings. It’s also probably a good idea to talk a bit about bread at this point. Look for bread with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving—bread made specifically to be low-carb usually has more fiber and less starch. If bread is a problem for you, at this point or later, choose a grain that is not ground into flour, such as brown rice, and see if you tolerate it better.

Week Four

Add another serving of carbohydrates. At this point, you may be getting near the limit of carbohydrates you can eat and continue to lose weight and some people will have passed that limit. Watch carefully for the signs of carb cravings.

Week Five

If you can handle it, add another serving of carbohydrates. At this point, your menus should look like Phase 1 meals but with the addition of two or three servings each of fruit, starches or grains, and dairy. Lunch and dinner should each have at least 2 cups of vegetables along with a serving of protein.

Week Six

If you are still able to add carbohydrates, you will be eating three servings of fruit and three servings of grains or starches. If this is too much carbohydrate, try substituting more non-starchy vegetables. At this point, you have transitioned completely into Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet. This is the way you should eat until you reach your goal weight and are ready for Phase 3.

Phase 3

Compliant Foods (Phase 3)
  • Everything in Phase 2, plus:

  • More grains

  • More variety from all food groups

Non-Compliant Foods (Phase 3)
  • Nothing is technically off-limits

You made your goal weight! Now what?

This is the lifelong endpoint of the South Beach Diet. You have now attained your goal weight. But even more important for long-term success, you have learned to eat and enjoy healthier food. You can celebrate your success but you need to make the most of what you learned along the way.

What Can You Eat in Phase 3?

The short answer is that you can eat anything you want. But that depends on what you want to eat, and how much. You can't forget the lessons you learned in Phase 1 and 2, making better choices to enjoy lean protein, vegetables, healthy oils, and appropriate portions. Desserts, alcohol, sugary drinks, and fatty meats should remain off-limits for the best results. 

You will be able to determine the number of carbs you can add back into your diet without gaining weight. If you see your weight increase, cut back on carbs. If you need to lose weight, you can start the Phases over again.

How Long to Follow Phase 3

By the time you reach Phase 3, you will have learned all the skills you need to maintain your goal weight, and you can maintain Phase 3 for good if you wish. 

Recommended Timing

The South Beach Diet doesn’t enforce any specific timing for your meals or snacks. Rather, people on the diet are simply encouraged to eat up to six times per day: three meals, and three snacks, a pretty typical recommendation. 

It’s a good idea to space your meals and snacks out by two to four hours—going too long without food can lead to hunger pangs, which can lead to overeating. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your meals. Staying hydrated will help you feel fuller for longer. 

Resources and Tips

If you're serious about losing weight and keeping it off on The South Beach Diet, you should download and print the South Beach Diet Handbook. This handbook includes a list of approved foods for every stage of the weight loss program, including weight maintenance.

It's also helpful to purchase The South Beach Diet Supercharged. The book includes a list of Phase 1 allowed foods along with tips, advice, and guidelines for all of the other stages and for the South Beach Diet Exercise Program. Written by Dr. Agatston, it's a smart reference to keep on your bookshelf if you want to slim down and get healthy.

Set Yourself Up for Success

If you're concerned that you won't be able to survive the first stage of the South Beach Diet, you're not alone. Many people find the list of Phase 1 foods to be too restrictive. But if you want to make the diet work, there are a few ways to set yourself up for success:

  • Fill your pantry with your favorite Phase 1 diet foods: Get the complete list, find the foods that make you most happy, and fill your kitchen with those items. Schedule an hour (at least) to visit the grocery store and check out areas of the market that you generally skip. You might find new foods and flavors to explore.
  • Clean out your kitchen: Make sure all foods that are not allowed are thrown away. That means that you clean out your refrigerator and pantry and set up your kitchen for weight loss success. Having the wrong foods in your kitchen will only make the first phase more difficult.
  • Start the South Beach Diet exercise plan: You'll be less likely to crave the Phase 1 diet foods you can't eat if you fill your day with healthy activity that gets you away from the kitchen. The South Beach exercise program is specifically designed for beginners who want to burn calories and stay active. And if you follow the plan precisely, you won't do too much too soon and get hungry or tired as a result.

Phase 1 Tips

Once you know which foods to eat and which foods to avoid during Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet, use these helpful tips to eat better and lose weight.

  • Don't rely on "healthy" foods: Just because a food is healthy, doesn't mean that it is good for your diet during Phase 1. In fact, many healthy foods are not allowed during Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet. Fruit is a good example. Whole fruit contains fiber and other healthy vitamins and minerals. But because fruit contains a lot of sugar (fructose) it is not allowed during Phase 1. Homemade baked goods are another food to ditch during Phase 1. Stick to the food list to make meal and snack choices—even when the menu options sound healthy.
  • Stick to unprocessed foods: The tricky thing about Phase 1 is that you have to avoid certain foods—like sugar—but also any product that contains that food as an ingredient. If you eat heavily processed packaged foods, you'll have to scour the ingredients list of every product you buy to uncover hidden ingredients. It's easier and healthier to eat whole foods in their natural state.
  • Measure portion sizes: Portion size matters on every diet. It is especially important during Phase 1 of The South Beach diet if you want to lose a lot of weight. Many items on the Phase 1 food list have suggested serving sizes. Nuts, for example, are limited to one serving per day and each variety of nut has a different serving size. Only 2 cups of dairy products are allowed each day and sweet treats are limited to 75–100 calories per day.
  • Get creative in the kitchen. You'll be able to eat more food and you'll be less hungry if you cook your own healthy South Beach Diet foods. There are plenty of recipes online and in the book. Try new recipes and experiment with new flavors. It will help you to keep your mind off of the foods that are not allowed during Phase 1.
  • Plan meals and snacks in advance. It's going to be natural to want to fall back into your old eating habits during Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet. In social situations and during stressful moments you're going to be tempted to reach for the foods that used to bring you comfort. So how do you combat those cravings? Be prepared. Plan your meals and snacks in advance so that you always have Phase 1 foods on hand.

Phase 2 Tips

You may want to keep a food journal during Phase 2 to set yourself up for success in Phase 3, when you no longer rely solely on food lists. You'll have much more control over what you eat, when, and how often.

If you learn as much as possible during Phase 2 about the foods that make you feel good, the foods that trigger cravings, and the foods you're tempted to overeat, you’ll be more likely to continue your healthy South Beach Diet eating habits in a way that is satisfying and sustainable for long-term health.

Phase 3 Tips

You first will have gone through the restrictive food list in Phase 1, which cuts out most of the carbohydrates from your diet. This is a week-long phase to get you out of cravings for high-sugar foods. For many people, that is the bulk of their diet before they start the South Beach Diet, so it can be quite a hurdle to overcome.

But in the two weeks on Phase 1, you also learn to eat (and hopefully enjoy) healthier options. This re-education of your palate and change to your plate will be something you carry into Phase 2 and 3. lean protein, high-fiber vegetables, low-fat dairy products. Here you also learned to use unsaturated fats, nuts, seeds, and avocados.

You probably also re-educated yourself as to what a healthy food portion was, so you will know to look at a plate whether it contains more food than you should eat in one meal.


It is very important to pay attention to your own body’s reactions to adding the carbs. If a food sets up cravings or weight gain, back off and try something less glycemic. If you feel fuzzy-headed or lower in energy, ditto. 

As always, be attentive to your allergies and sensitivities. The South Beach Diet includes a relatively wide range of foods, especially after the first phase, so you should be able to swap foods as needed. 

If cost is a factor for you, don’t buy into the paid program. You can save money by buying your groceries and prepping food yourself. On the other hand, if convenience is a bigger factor for you than finances, the paid program with pre-portioned and delivered food may be a good option for you. 

You shouldn’t attempt Phase 1 if you have a history of disordered eating. Severe food restriction can lead to food fear and labeling of foods as “good” or “bad.” 

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Laura Dolson
Laura Dolson is a health and food writer who develops low-carb and gluten-free recipes for home cooks.