The South Beach Wake-Up Call FAQs

Dr. Agatston answers your most frequently asked questions about his latest book The South Beach Wake-Up Call Quiz

What inspired you to write The South Beach Wake-Up Call?

Unfortunately, Americans are fatter and sicker than ever before. I wrote The South Beach Wake-Up Call to help people understand the destructive effect our fast-food, sedentary, sleep-deprived way of life is having on our health. I don’t think that people realize that we as a society are in critical condition. If we don’t “wake up” now and commit to leading a healthier, more active lifestyle, we will find ourselves old before our time and many of us, including our children, will end up debilitated by chronic health problems.

And it’s not just obesity, prediabetes, and diabetes that are aging us quickly and killing us slowly. Heart disease, different forms of cancer, early dementia, arthritis, lung disease, and many more disabling conditions are on the rise in younger and younger people. If we don’t commit to a lifestyle in which we are eating a wide variety of nutritious foods most of the time, moving and exercising more, and getting enough quality sleep, we are doomed to a future of poor health.

I hope that by reading The South Beach Wake-Up Call and using the helpful tools included in the book, Americans will be motivated to make healthy, sustainable changes in their lives.

How is The South Beach Wake-Up Call different from your other books?

The original South Beach Diet book was written to help change the way America eats. And while that book and my other books, including The South Beach Diet Supercharged and The South Beach Heart Program, helped transform the lives and health of millions of people, we still have a long way to go and a lot of people to reach.

The South Beach Wake-Up Call is not a diet book; it’s a lifestyle book that provides a holistic view of America’s unhealthy habits and offers the inspiration and tools to help people reverse this toxic way of life. It also covers a number of topics that have not been included in my other books, including how inflammation is at the core of so many of our health problems, the relationship between sleep and health, the role that sitting down to meals plays in our individual and cultural well-being, and how unknown gluten intolerance in sensitive individuals may be the underlying source of many health problems, from GI issues to autoimmune disorders.

In addition, I provide the South Beach Wake-Up Program: seven simple, sustainable strategies that we developed to help individuals and families create a healthful environment in their homes and in their daily lives.

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Why is it healthier for us to cook meals at home as opposed to eating out?

If we are to become a healthier society and reverse the trends toward obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, we need to take back the responsibility for cooking our own meals and, ideally, involve our children in the process. When you eat a lot of your meals out, you lose control over what ingredients are used and how your food is prepared: You are literally putting your health — and the health of your family — in somebody else’s hands.

Many restaurants do not routinely use healthy ingredients or prepare food using healthy cooking methods. This is especially true of fast-food restaurants, where so much of the menu is fried, overly salted, and high in sugar to appeal to our urges for fatty, salty, and sweet foods.

Furthermore, studies suggest that when eating out, adults tend to consume approximately 500 more calories at every meal than they would if they ate at home. That’s a whopping 78,000 extra calories a year if you eat out three times a week and consume 500 more calories each time. Not only will these additional calories lead to weight gain, they’ll put you at an increased risk for developing the ailments mentioned above and a host of others.

Research also shows how important it is to eat meals as a family, ideally around a table at home. Children and teens who routinely eat at least five meals a week with their families are more likely to maintain a healthy weight, eat healthier foods, and have a lower risk of developing health conditions and life-threatening diseases. Family meals also play a role in producing smarter, happier, better-adjusted kids.

I am not suggesting that you have to stop dining out altogether to lead a healthy lifestyle. Just skip the fast-food joints and choose restaurants where you can discuss how the food is prepared with your server and actually influence what ends up on your plate. For more healthy dining-out tips, click here.

How can we reverse the bad habits that gave rise to “Generation S” — the generation of young adults in their 30s and 40s who must change their unhealthy ways if they are to live longer than their parents?

We have made great strides in preventing heart disease, but our fast-food, sedentary lifestyle is trumping the advances in medical science that have been responsible for at least four decades of decreasing death rates from cardiovascular illness. We are now seeing an increase in heart disease particularly among 30- to 45-year-olds, the first junk-food, sedentary, computer-addicted, online-shopping, smartphone-using, video-game-playing, social-networking generation. I call these young adults “Generation S” — for the sickest generation. And it’s true that unless they start making major lifestyle changes, they are likely to die at a younger age than their parents. Sadly, many in Generation S now have children who are also likely to suffer the same unfortunate fate. If that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.

If we are to reverse this troubling trend, we must improve our eating and exercise habits and make getting a good night’s sleep a priority. In the new book, I include the South Beach Wake-Up Program, which provides actionable advice and strategies specifically designed to reverse our growing health crisis.

You’ve said that Americans are overfed but undernourished. Can you explain?

When we think of our diet, there are two really important components: calories and nutrients. Traditionally malnutrition meant not getting enough calories, which almost invariably meant not getting enough nutrients. Today, however, we are witnessing a new phenomenon. Many of us, particularly our children, are consuming plenty of calories and yet we’re still not consuming an adequate amount of nutrients. That’s because the calories we’re getting are empty calories — often in the form of processed carbohydrates that are made up of sugars and refined starches.

This is a direct and indirect cause of numerous medical conditions, with obesity, prediabetes, and diabetes being perhaps the most common. Overfed and undernourished individuals are just not eating adequate amounts of wholesome vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and good fats; foods that are essential to optimal health and a life free from chronic disease. Today, with obesity and diabetes rampant in our country, it is more important than ever to focus on healthy eating.

Do keep in mind when I say that as a nation we are overfed, I am not advising skipping meals and snacks. For an optimal diet, we should all be consuming three well-balanced meals and at least two healthy snacks every day to keep our blood sugar stable and cravings and hunger under control.

In short, practicing good nutrition means eating real, unprocessed, whole foods most of the time. The fact that so many of us fail to do so, choosing empty-calorie sugary, starchy, and fatty foods instead, is a great contributor to the abysmal state of our nation’s health.

Why have you become more concerned about gluten in recent years?

Gluten intolerance is more widespread in this country than is realized and may cause a spectrum of health problems ranging from gastrointestinal issues and skin rashes to arthritis, painful fibromyalgia, and psoriasis, which are usually thought to have disparate causes. When many patients go on Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet, which is grain free and thus gluten free, I have seen real transformations in their health — their GI problems vanish, autoimmune and metabolic issues are vastly improved, skin rashes clear up, and they often find that they have more energy. Many decide to avoid gluten permanently and select instead healthy gluten-free products: good-carb breads, pastas, and crackers made from brown rice flour, bean flour, and buckwheat flour, for example. If you choose gluten-free, look carefully at the ingredient list on the packaging. Many gluten-free products are made from white rice flour with little or no fiber, and many have added sugars that can cause swings in blood sugar, which can lead to hunger and cravings.

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