Which trendy diet is best?

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Aug. 18 2004 6:29 AM

Weight Watchers

The skinny on which trendy diet is best.

Illustration by Nina Frenkel

America must be getting thinner, right? McDonald's has stopped super-sizing. Coke has launched its "half the sugar, half the carbs" C2 cola, and it seems like every week a new diet book hits the shelves and the best-seller lists.

I myself have been a fat skinny-guy since I started drinking beer at age 14. Imagine Chris Farley's belly on Mick Jagger's frame. That's me. I've tried running, a daily sit-up routine, yoga, swimming. Once I even tried to stop drinking. That lasted an afternoon. Lately I've been watching Nip/Tuck and fantasizing about getting my gut sucked out with a tube. Then I thought about the cost (about $3,000) and the bruises. Eventually, I came to accept that I would always have my new friends, the gut and love handles. Maybe we could start a band together.

Advertisement

After a friend told me he lost 15 pounds on a low-carb fad diet, I decided to head to my local Borders bookstore to see if there was a diet book right for me. When I discovered an entire section dedicated to diet books, I was immediately overwhelmed. What's the difference between Atkins and The Zone? Dr. Phil is loud, mean, and kind of chubby himself—why should I listen to his dietary recommendations? Does the Maker's Diet involve drinking large quantities of Maker's Mark? Isn't alcohol what got me bloated in the first place? What's a fat skinny-guy to do?

Admittedly, it was the "Lose Belly Fat First!" emblazoned inside a gold circle on the cover of The South Beach Diet that won me over.

At a recent summer barbecue, reluctantly rejecting beer, potato salad, and the most succulent watermelon I have ever seen, I told friends I was starting Day 1 of the South Beach Diet (for a story I was writing for Slate, I made sure to disclaim), a regimen that begins with a two-week induction period in which sugars, carbohydrates, higher-fat meats, and alcohol are to be avoided like anthrax. My friends looked at me with a combination of disbelief and disdain. I was, after all, a seemingly skinny guy. Then I slowly lifted my T-shirt and introduced them to my inner Michelin Man. After they stopped laughing, my friends agreed maybe the South Beach Diet wasn't such a bad idea.

Illustration by Nina Frenkel

I cheated a little during the induction phase, mostly on the alcohol ban (I had a wedding to attend, four cross-country flights to endure, and two air-guitar competitions to compete in—as if I could avoid all alcohol under such circumstances!). I also sometimes ate "American" bacon instead of Canadian bacon—let's just call that patriotism. Despite my occasional straying from the South Beach dogma, I did manage to lose about seven pounds. By Day 4, my gut really did feel different. It was smaller and less blubbery. I think I actually detected muscle under there for the first time in almost 15 years.

Giddy with my success in completing Phase 1, I decided to return to my normal eating and drinking routine (usually a mixture of gourmet foods and lowbrow junk) and celebrated with three slices of pizza and an ice-cold Coca-Cola (regular, not C2). To my surprise, sugary things tasted too sweet and I began to stare at high-carb foods with confusion and distrust, like a dog tilts its head after being yelled at for peeing on the divan. Bread now seems like a bizarre thing with which to begin a meal. I've been drinking vodka (among the lowest in carbs of all alcohols) mixed with soda (no sugar) instead of beer, and I still feel pretty good. I've only gained back a pound or two.

Though I chose to do South Beach, I was still curious: What really makes one diet different from the next and how does the average, uninformed person like me know which book in the heap to reach for? I decided to compare some of the books in a highly unscientific study to find out how each of them "weighs in," in terms of crucial factors—like, what celebrities are doing it? What delectable foods are off-limits? And, most important, how easy is the diet?

The results:

Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution, by Robert C. Atkins, M.D., $14.95 (paperback)

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 22 2014 8:07 AM Why Haven’t the Philadelphia Eagles Ever Won a Super Bowl?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.