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The Scarsdale Diet: Optimal Weight Loss Program Or Fad Diet?

what-is-the-scarsdale-diet

The Scarsdale diet is a specially designed high protein, 1000 calorie diet, and has shown to produce results in a short amount of time.

This diet was first created by Dr. Herman Tarnower, to help his patients lose weight and improve overall heart health.

However, this diet has been criticized widely for its low calorie requirements and restrictions, and disregarded by health experts due to its inflated weight-loss claims.

Continue reading this blog to find out all the hype and criticism around this popular diet.

Who Created The Scarsdale Diet

The Scarsdale diet started out in the 1970s as a two-page document, created by Dr. Herman Tarnower, a cardiologist, in Scarsdale, New York.

After hearing numerous success stories from patients who followed his diet plan, Dr Tarnower published a book titled “The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet Plus Dr. Tarnower’s Keep-Slim Program” in 1978.

The book gained popularity quickly, largely due to its claims of being a quick-fix to losing weight.

who-created-the-scarsdale-diet-dr-herman-tarnower
Source: NY Times

However, Dr. Tarnower died a year after the book was published, and there are several rumors and scandals surrounding it, which further fueled the popularity of this diet.

what-is-the-scarsdale-diet

What Is The Scarsdale Diet?

The Scarsdale diet consists of a very strict diet plan that allows 1,000 calories per day, regardless of gender, body size, and activity level of the individual.

This diet is 14 days long, and each meal is defined, without allowing any sort of substitutions to the meal plan.

The diet is heavy in protein consumption and allows the individual to consume 43% protein, 34.5% carbs, and 22.5% fat.

This diet disallows the consumption of various snacks and healthy foods such as potatoes, rice, avocados, lentils, and beans.

Water consumption during this diet should be at least 4 cups per day, and other liquids like diet soda, black coffee, and plain tea can also be consumed.

This diet is not meant to be continued after 14 days, however, one can transition into the Keep Slim program, outlined by Dr. Tarnower.

Keep Slim Program

This program is a more relaxed version of the Scarsdale diet. It allows the consumption of foods that were banned earlier, such as bread (not more than 2 slices per day), baked goods (occasionally), and not more than one alcoholic beverage per day.

While there’s still a list of approved foods to be consumed in this program, there is no such restriction on the amount of calories and portion sizes to be consumed.

If one notices weight gain while following this program, they are advised to shift back to the initial 14-day diet plan.

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Does The Scarsdale Diet Work?

Much of the hype created around this diet was because of Dr. Tarnower’s bold claim that one can lose approximately 20 pounds (9 kg) through this 14-day meal plan.

The diet is purportedly supported around the science of putting one’s body in a caloric deficit state, in which the body burns more calories than it consumes.

Numerous calorie-restrictive diets, like the Code Red Diet, only work until the calorie deficit is maintained.

The moment you transition back to a normal diet or excess caloric intake, the weight has a high chance to return.

Hence, the restriction of consuming 1,000 calories per day may lead to weight loss, as it is well below the recommended calorie intake for adults.

The daily recommended calorie intake for adult men and women is 2,000-3,000 and 1,600-2,400 calories respectively.

Hence, this diet puts people in a caloric deficit, and the body uses fat and muscle to produce energy.

This diet focuses on high protein consumption, and research suggests that such diets can promote weight loss.

However, such diets are less effective if paired with an overall low caloric consumption.

In a nutshell, one may lose weight within the first 2 weeks of this diet, however, the restrictive nature of this diet is a factor that can’t be ignored.

The combination of low caloric diets and extreme food restrictions are considered to be unsustainable and can lead to weight gain once the individual stops dieting.

Is The Scarsdale Diet A Medical Diet?

Although this diet was created by a cardiologist, it was never upgraded in line with the updated dietary guidelines of the USDA (US Department of Agriculture).

As per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, it is recommended that adult men and women consume 45-65% of calories from carbs, 20-35% of calories from fat (more focused towards healthy fats), and 10-35% calories from protein, along with 22-34 grams of dietary fiber per day.

However, based on the guidelines of the Scarsdale diet, one is required to consume 43% of calories from protein, 34.5% of calories from carbs, and 22.5% of calories from fat.

Furthermore, fat intake should be primarily from saturated fat, which is considered to be unhealthy, while fiber consumption is low.

Lastly, USDA recommends a reduction of 500 calories per day for those who are trying to lose weight.

Since the recommended level of consumption is approximately 2,000 calories per day, this accounts for roughly 1,500 calories for those looking to shed extra pounds.

On the contrary, the Scarsdale diet recommends daily consumption of 1,000 calories per day, which means a reduction of approximately 1,000 calories from the optimal level of consumption.

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The Scarsdale Diet Plan

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The Scarsdale diet consists of a strict, 14-day meal plan. It is recommended to eat the same type of breakfast every day, and drink lukewarm water throughout the day.

Here is a sample meal plan which can be followed for the first week of the diet:

Breakfast Every Day

  • One-half grapefruit, or any fruit available
  • One slice of protein bread, toasted, without any spread
  • Coffee /tea (without sugar, cream or milk, no honey)

Day 1

Lunch

  • Tomatoes – sliced, broiled, or stewed
  • Assorted cold cuts
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Dinner

  • Fish or shellfish, any kind
  • Single slice protein bread, toasted
  • Combination salad, with any kind of vegetables
  • Grapefruit, or any fruit available
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Day 2

Lunch

  • Fruit salad, any fruit available
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Dinner

  • Plenty of broiled, lean hamburger
  • Tomatoes, lettuce, celery, olives (max. 4), cucumbers and/or Brussels Sprouts
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Day 3

Lunch

  • Tuna fish or salmon salad (without oil) with lemon and vinegar dressing
  • Grapefruit, or melon, or any fruit available
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Dinner

  • Sliced roast lamb, visible fat removed
  • Salad made of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Day 4

Lunch

  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Two eggs, any style (no fat used in cooking)
  • One slice of protein bread, toasted
  • Zucchini, or string beans, or sliced/stewed tomatoes
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Dinner

  • Large quantity of spinach, green peppers, string beans
  • Roast, broiled or barbequed chicken (skin and visible fat removed before eating)
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Day 5

Lunch

  • One slice of protein bread, toasted
  • Assorted cheese slices (preferably low-fat)
  • Spinach
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Dinner

  • One slice of protein bread, toasted
  • Fish or shellfish
  • Combination salad (any fresh vegetables desired, raw or cooked)
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Day 6

Lunch

  • Fruit salad, any combination of fruits
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Dinner

  • Roast turkey or chicken
  • Salad of tomatoes and lettuce
  • Grapefruit or fruit in season
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Day 7

Lunch

  • Cold or hot turkey or chicken
  • Tomatoes, carrots, cooked cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower
  • Grapefruit, or fruit in season
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

Dinner

  • Plenty of broiled (grilled) steak, all visible fat removed before eating; any cut of steak you wish- sirloin, porterhouse, London broil, etc.
  • Salad of lettuce, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes (sliced or cooked)
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Coffee/Tea/Diet Soda/Water

What Are The Scarsdale Diet Rules?

what-are-the-scarsdale-diet-rules

In his book, Dr. Tarnower has clearly stated that those individuals who are either pregnant or suffering from medical problems must not follow this diet without the approval of a physician.

Apart from this, there are certain rules to be followed while an individual is on this particular diet, which are as follows:

  • Vegetables like peas, lentils, corn, potatoes, and beans (except green and waxed beans) are not permitted in this diet.
  • It is recommended to eat food until one is satisfied, but overeating is not allowed.
  • Snacks that can be consumed between meals include carrots and celery.
  • Seasonings and sauces like salt, ketchup, chili sauce, vegetable spray, and mustard, are allowed but should be consumed sparingly.
  • Cooking food with seasonings like herbs and spices, minced parsley, and grated onion is recommended.

What Foods Can You Eat On The Scarsdale Diet?

A list of foods that can be consumed on this diet are as follows:

  • Cheese and eggs
  • Limited vegetables
  • Meat, cold cuts, poultry, seafood
  • Nuts
  • Fruit (especially grapefruit)
  • Protein bread
  • Black coffee, tea, water, diet soda

What Foods Aren’t Allowed On The Scarsdale Diet?

A list of foods that should be avoided on this diet are as follows:

  • Pasta, most bread, flour-based foods
  • Sugar and sugary treats
  • Butter, salad dressing, avocado, and most other fats
  • Potatoes, rice, sweet potatoes, beans
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Full fat milk

Benefits Of The Scarsdale Diet

the-scarsdale-diet-benefits

Despite its inflated claims, there are certain benefits associated with this diet, that are described as follows:

Simple & easy to follow

The rules of the diet are fairly simple and easy to follow. Each meal is outlined which mostly includes only two to three foods, without any room for substitutions.

A meal plan is provided beforehand which removes the need to plan the diet beforehand.

Inexpensive 

Due to the simplicity of the diet, the meals consumed are fairly inexpensive and can be easily found in supermarkets.

Furthermore, foods are consumed in limited quantities, which also ends up saving costs.

No long-term commitment

Since the diet itself is 14-days long, there is no need for a long-term commitment towards the meal plan.

Downsides Of The Scarsdale Diet

However, the drawbacks of this diet clearly outweigh the benefits associated with it.

Highly restrictive diet

One of the biggest flaws of this diet is its highly restrictive nature, which also eliminates the consumption of nutritious meals. There is less flexibility associated with this diet, which makes it difficult to stick to in the long term.

Extremely low in calories and limits carbohydrates

As mentioned above, one is allowed to consume only 1,000 calories per day, which is way below the recommended consumption requirement for healthy adults. Hence, this diet may lead to nutrient deficiencies in the long run.

Furthermore, it limits the consumption of carbohydrates and fibers during the two-week period.

Not sustainable 

The strict diet plan with its restrictions and limitations makes it unsustainable for individuals to follow.

Key Takeaway

The Scarsdale diet gained popularity due to its heightened weight-loss claims, which were appealing for those looking to lose weight in a short period of time.

While it may have its benefits, one must critically consider and evaluate the potential downsides associated with this diet.

All in all, it is a quick, short-term diet, which may be beneficial for certain individuals.

However, lifestyle changes and following a healthy diet is a more sustainable option for those who want to maintain their weight.

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