A lot can happen in two weeks. You can quit a job, pick up a new hobby or finish a hefty novel. But losing a substantial amount of weight in two weeks? Not a good idea.
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That's the promise behind the Scarsdale diet, though. And you might think because it was created by a doctor that the plan is a healthy approach to weight loss. Here's what you should know.
What Is the Scarsdale Diet?
The Scarsdale diet as we know it today stems from The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet, a book published in the late 1970s by cardiologist Herman Tranower, founder of the Scarsdale Medical Center. It was a trendy diet in its time, much like keto and intermittent fasting today, and it promised to help followers lose up to 20 pounds in just 14 days.
Fast results usually mean drastic measures. So what does the diet entail?
The Scarsdale diet is a very restrictive, low-calorie, two-week regimen. The macros (carbs, protein and fat) are calibrated to supposedly increase 'fat burn': 34.5 percent carbohydrates, 22.5 percent fat and 43 percent protein. (For reference, the current recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Board are that adults get 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbs, 20 to 35 from fat and 10 to 35 percent from protein.)
After two weeks, followers move to the maintenance program.
What Can You Eat on the Scarsdale Diet?
Foods you can enjoy on the diet:
- Fruit (grapefruit, peaches, tomatoes, berries)
- Vegetables (leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower)
- Protein bread
- Lean proteins (chicken, turkey, white fish, lean beef)
- Non-fat dairy (cottage cheese, yogurt)
- Beverages (black coffee, tea, diet soda, water)
Foods to avoid:
- White/refined rice, pasta, grains
- High-fat meat (bacon, ground beef, sausage, etc.)
- Desserts and sweets
Scarsdale Diet Menu
The diet provides a very specific meal plan for what you can eat day-by-day for one week (it’s then repeated for week two):
- Half of a grapefruit
- One slice of protein toast (dry)
- Coffee or tea (no sweetener, cream or milk)
- Lean cold cuts
- Sliced tomatoes
- Coffee or tea (no sweetener, cream or milk)
- Fish or shellfish
- A green salad or vegetables
In general, the majority of the meals are focused on proteins and vegetables with some fruit.
Scarsdale vs. Keto: How Do the Two Stack Up?
The ketogenic and Scarsdale diets have some similarities: They're both focused on the distribution of specific macros and are low in carbohydrates. But there are a lot of differences, too.
For starters, the keto diet is higher in fat and lower in protein (70 to 80 percent fat and 10 to 20 percent protein), according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Keto is also much lower in carbs, accounting for just 5 to 10 percent of total calories.
Read more: 5 Possible Risks of a Keto Diet
The Scarsdale diet features a prescribed meal plan for a set period of time, while the keto diet allows you to eat what you want for the most part, as long as you stay within macronutrient guidelines. The keto diet doesn't have a set timeframe, either. And finally, one of the most significant differences is that keto doesn't mean low-calorie, while the restricted-calorie feature is a crucial tenet of the Scarsdale diet.
Can You Lose Weight on the Scarsdale Diet?
Yes. You can and probably will lose weight on the Scarsdale diet if you follow it as recommended.
The trouble is, it's a very restrictive diet, making it difficult to adhere to. While it can help you lose weight quickly, it doesn't teach you how to eat in a healthy and sustainable way — so once the diet is 'over,' you'll likely resort back to old habits and gain back the weight you lost.
If this doesn't sound like such a big deal, consider that losing weight too quickly likely means you're losing lean muscle mass instead of fat, according to the Mayo Clinic, which can slow your metabolism and make it even harder to lose weight down the road.
Unless you're under the supervision of a doctor, aim for a healthy rate of weight loss, which means 1 to 2 pounds per week, per the Mayo Clinic. To achieve this, you'll need to cut between 500 and 1,000 calories from your daily diet. But keep in mind that women shouldn't fall below 1,200 calories per day and men should stay above 1,500 to prevent nutrient deficiencies.
The Risks of the Scarsdale Diet
Just because a diet "works" doesn't mean it's healthy. There are a lot of red flags with this diet, including:
- It teaches/encourages you to ignore your internal hunger cues.
- It heavily restricts calories, which can lower metabolism over time, increase your chances of nutritional deficiencies and make it difficult to exercise safely. Not to mention, you might be irritable (i.e. hangry) and/or have trouble focusing on so few calories.
- It's low in fiber. Fiber is the "it" nutrient — there's not much it can't do — and most of us (as in 90 percent) are already not eating enough, according to a June 2015 study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
- It restricts many healthy, nutritious foods, like potatoes, beans and lentils.
Read more: Why Fiber Is the Real Weight-Loss MVP
What to Do Instead
A healthier approach is one that's more conservative and teaches healthy habits for the long run. It’s also one that’s evidence-based and proven not to just be healthy, but safe, too. The Mediterranean diet is one such diet with decades of research supporting its many benefits, like supporting heart health, weight management, brain health and reducing the risk of cancer. It likely won’t help you lose 20 pounds in two weeks but it’ll most likely be better for your health, including your weight, in the long term.
- The National Academies Sciences Engineering Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss"
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap: Communication Strategies From a Food and Fiber Summit"
- Mayo Clinic: "Fast Weight Loss: What's Wrong With It?"