As personal trainers working in the health club environment or in private studios, our clients often ask us questions about nutrition. Regardless of whether or not you provide your clients with nutritional counseling, in my opinion, it is absolutely necessary that we all have at least a fundamental understanding of the common diets our clients are experimenting with. As we all know, knowledge is power and transferring that knowledge to your clients in the form of verbal or written exchange will separate you from the average personal trainer who provides the generic advice of “exercise more and eat less.”
The following is an excerpt from my book The No Diet, Diet! and has been written to provide an overview of the two most common diets in America: the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet. I compare these diets to a third program, the Metabolic Typing Diet, which is not as well known.
After careful review and study of the South Beach Diet, Atkins Diet and Metabolic Typing Diet, the similarities and differences are summarized in this article. The South Beach and Atkins programs have many similarities. The similarities between these two programs are as follows:
- Cardiologists created each of the diets.
- Both authors advocate the consumption of artificial sweeteners.
- Neither program addresses the emotional component of eating or provides additional help through certified coaches or advisors. (Dr. Mercola states that emotional eating is the most important factor of dieting. To read more on this, visit www.mercola.com.)
- Neither program talks about food quality or food sources (i.e., organic, free range, processed meats, etc.)
- Both programs are marketed as a “lose weight quickly” diet.
- Both programs advocate eating fish without any mention of potential mercury and other heavy metal contamination.
- Both programs suggest eating whole grains, without mentioning that 50 to 60 percent of all white skin people are intolerant to gluten, a protein found in all grain products.
- Both programs support drinking pasteurized milk, which has many health risks that are often unknown by the general public. For example, pasteurized dairy products often exacerbate food intolerances.
- Both programs progress you through different “phases.”
- Both programs have specific meal plans for the initial phase.
- Both programs suggest that you will drop weight in the first two weeks.
- Neither program is tailored to the individual. Both are under the “one size fits all” model of dieting.
The main differences between South Beach and Atkins are:
- South Beach states that saturated fats are harmful. Atkins advocates large quantities of saturated fats.
- Atkins advocates counting carbohydrates, which is actually “net carbs,” defined as the number of carbohydrates minus the fiber content. South Beach does not have you count calories, carbs or anything else.
- The health benefits of Atkins are said to be reducing the risk of heart disease, controlling and preventing diabetes and lowering high blood pressure. The South Beach diet claims to improve cardiovascular health.
- The meal plans between the two diets are different. This is based on each author’s opinions about which foods will and will not help the dieter lose weight.
The Metabolic Typing Diet is different from South Beach and Atkins. Here is a summary of the key differences between Metabolic Typing (MT) and the other two programs:
- MT is a customized approach to nutrition. The individual’s “metabolic type,” which can be defined as his/her own nutritional needs, is determined through a comprehensive series of questions. The answers to these questions determine how food behaves in the body and then suggests the foods that are specifically going to support the individual’s requirements. Both Atkins and South Beach can be classified as a “one size fits all” approach, as it does not have any system of analysis for identifying one’s individual needs. These are books that anyone can read and then implement without any regard for an individual’s genetics, physical characteristics, activity levels or personality traits, all of which have a major influence on how the body converts food to energy.
- Unlike diets such as the Blood Type Diet, MT looks at the entire system, which is composed of 10 fundamental control systems including the Autonomic Nervous System, CarboOxidative, LiopOxidative, Electrolyte, Acid/Alkaline, Endocrine Type, Blood Type, Constitutional Type and Prostaglandin Balance. Therefore, Blood Type only accounts for a single, fixed variable, whereas MT is much more comprehensive and can offer clearly defined, specific and reliable test results.
- Atkins and South Beach do not address the quality of foods. For example, there is no mention of avoiding fish due to the high levels of known mercury and heavy metal contamination. Secondly, no comparison is made between free range, organic food and commercially processed food. Conversely, MT specifically suggests going out of your way to buy free range, organic food whenever possible and avoiding high quantities of mercury contaminated fish.
- Atkins has a university that offers courses on cooking, shopping and other areas of food. South Beach also has a web site that offers limited online support for dieters. Metabolic Typing has a very comprehensive certification program consisting of three intense levels. This program trains health care professionals such as doctors, nutritionists, chiropractors, C.H.E.K. Practitioners and personal trainers how to administer the questionnaires and thus be able to coach clients towards their goals using the comprehensive approaches that are outlined in the book The Metabolic Typing Diet by Wolcott and the Intermediate Level MT Certification Manual.
- The South Beach Diet and the Atkins Diet were both founded by cardiologists. Each program is based on one doctor's opinion of how everyone should eat. MT is a comprehensive compilation of over 70 years of clinical research by many different individuals, including medical researchers, physicians, biochemists, dentists, physiologists, nutritionists and psychologists. The following doctors are the main contributors of what is now known as Metabolic Typing: Dr. George Watson, Dr. William Donald Kelley, Dr. Royal Lee, Dr. Weston Price, Dr. Francis Pottenger, Dr. Melvin Page, Dr. Roger Williams, Dr. Emanuel Revici and Dr. Henry Bieler. Many of these individuals are giants in their fields and world renowned in their respective scientific and clinical disciplines. Now compare this list to the two doctors who created South Beach and Atkins. Which do you think is more researched and reliable?
- South Beach and Atkins are marketed as quick, easy approaches to lose weight within the first two weeks. MT is designed as a health program, not a weight loss program. The program describes weight loss as a benefit of becoming healthy, but losing weight is NOT the primary focus. William Wolcott, the author and founder of MT, states that the program is NOT designed as a quick fix but as a permanent way of life by knowing how to listen to the body's unique individual needs.
Conclusions and Suggestions
Based on the information and research available on these three diets, as well as the nature of the typical personal trainer/client relationship, I have found the following guidelines to be helpful when coaching clients on nutrition:
- When your client asks you about Atkins or South Beach, let them know some of the information you know to be true about these diets. Try to customize the information as much as possible to your client. For example, only emphasize certain points based on your client's current level of understanding, his/her personality and motivation to learn.
- One of the major points I always make while working with a client is to point out that ANY diet he/she chooses will typically not yield long term results, unless it is customized. The problem with most diets is that they are cookie cutter and do not take into account biochemical individuality, which is the concept of no one diet working for everyone.
- I will gently suggest the client investigate Metabolic Typing or some version of customized nutrition.
Following these basic guidelines ensures your client is well informed about these diets and yet not “oversold,” which maintains your professionalism and gives you an opportunity to educate, motivate and inspire your clients to make healthier food choices.
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- Mercola J. Twelve Reasons to Avoid the South Beach Diet. Online: www.mercola.com
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- The Associated Press. Study: Low-fat vs. Lowcarb. Online: www.cnn.com; November 2004
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- Williams RJ. Biochemical Individuality. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc.; 1998