The Scarsdale diet is an example of an extreme weight loss diet that might be appealing to someone who needs to lose weight quickly but may not be the safest route to take in doing so.
But what does the Scarsdale diet entail? Is it actually good for weight loss, and if so, is it a safe way to lose weight?
This guide will discuss what the Scarsdale diet involves, what you can eat, what you should avoid, and the risks of this diet plan for weight loss and health.
Let’s jump in!
What Is The Scarsdale Diet?
Owing to the town of origin, the Scarsdale diet is so named because it was created by a cardiologist in Scarsdale, New York, in the 1970s named Dr. Herman Tarnower, MD.
Dr. Tarnower developed the Scarsdale diet based on his work with patients at the Scarsdale Medical Center, who often complained that other weight loss diets were not working for them.
He then brought the Scarsdale diet to the masses in a book he authored called The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet Plus Dr. Tarnower’s Lifetime Keep-Slim Program.1Tarnower, H., & baker, S. S. (1982). The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet: Plus Dr. Tarnower’s Lifetime Keep-Slim Program. In Google Books. National Geographic Books. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Complete_Scarsdale_Medical_Diet/NAt4PwAACAAJ?hl=en
Not only is the Scarsdale diet plan a very low-calorie diet, but it also eliminates starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and high-fat but healthy foods such as avocados, among other food groups, some of which are generally deemed to be healthy.
How Does the Scarsdale Diet Work?
The Scarsdale diet can be considered a crash diet because it is a 14 day diet that involves eating only 1,000 calories per day, regardless of your sex, body weight or body size, and activity level.
The Scarsdale diet meal plan is also extremely strict because you are not allowed to make any kind of substitution, and the meal plan is rigidly defined for the period of time of all 14 days.
When looking at the macro ratios, the Scarsdale meal plan provides 43% of the total daily caloric intake from protein, which is significantly higher than what is typically recommended in a well-balanced, healthy eating plan.
Then, 22.5% of the remaining calories per day come from fats, and 34.5% of the calories come from carbohydrates, primarily in the form of fruits and non-starchy vegetables.
Dieters cannot drink alcohol.
Dr. Tarnower definitively states in his book that you are not supposed to continue the Scarsdale diet after 14 days, truly making it a short-term rapid weight loss diet plan rather than a sustainable approach to healthy weight loss.
However, after the 14-day weight loss diet meal plan portion, there is a lifetime “Scarsdale diet keep slim“ plan. This can be considered a maintenance phase of the weight loss diet, but it is still quite restrictive and still low in calories.
You are allowed to add back one alcoholic drink per day.
However, Dr. Tarnower says that if you gain 4 pounds during the maintenance phase, you should go back on the 2-week weight loss diet portion of the meal plan.
Dr. Tarnower notes that the Scarsdale diet plan is intended for adults in “normal health” and makes the disclaimer that individuals with medical problems or who are currently pregnant should consult their physician before trying the program.
What Can You Eat On the Scarsdale Diet Weight Loss Plan?
Two variations of the Scarsdale diet meal plan are presented in the original book. One is a vegetarian plan, and the other is an international foods diet plan.
With the international Scarsdale diet meal plan, each day is devoted to a specific type of cuisine, such as Japanese, Italian, French, etc.
Both versions of this diet meal plan provide the same number of calories and macronutrient ratios and adhere to the same rules; just the foods you eat and the recommended recipes will vary based on your choice.
The Scarsdale diet allows for three meals a day. The only snacks you can have are raw carrots and celery.
Here’s what you are allowed to eat on the Scarsdale diet meal plan:
- Non-Starchy Vegetables: Selected non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens like spinach, brussels sprouts, zucchini, and green beans.
- Cheese: Some Scarsdale diet lunch recipes include cheese slices or cottage cheese.
- Eggs: Some lunch recipes allow for eggs as long as they are prepared without adding any type of fat, such as butter or oil.
- Grapefruit: Grapefruit is part of every breakfast and some lunches. No other fruits are allowed on the meal plan except for fruit salad at a couple of lunches.
- Meat, poultry, fish, cold cuts: Dinner recipes include select animal proteins such as roast turkey and roast chicken, lamb, broiled steak, and hamburger. Some of the dinner recipes also have fish and shellfish. A few of the lunch meals have lean meat cold cuts.
- Non-Caloric Beverages: Water, black coffee, unsweetened tea, diet soda, Club soda, etc. You cannot add cream, milk, or sugar to your coffee or tea.
- Scarsdale Diet Protein Bread: There is a unique Scarsdale diet protein bread recipe that you are supposed to have at several meals that involves using high-protein flours including soy flour, wheat flour, and extra vital wheat gluten.
- Nuts: The standard meal plan does not allow for nuts because they are too high in calories. However, the modified Scarsdale diet plan provides a substitution where you can have three total walnuts or pecans.
As can be seen, the meal plan for weight loss is quite restrictive. Here is a list of what you cannot have:
- Refined grains, pasta, or bread aside from the Scarsdale diet slice of protein bread
- Full-fat dairy
- Alcoholic beverages
- Starchy veggies such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, and peas.
- Cereal, oatmeal, granola bars,
- Desserts of any type,
- Lentils, beans, rice, or other whole grains
- Healthy fats such as avocado or coconut
- Most nuts and seeds, aside from the modified diet
- Nut butter, like peanut butter
- Condiments like salad dressing, olive oil
- Most fruits
Is the Scarsdale Diet Good for Weight Loss and Health?
Overall, the Scarsdale diet is definitely not the best diet nor a safe diet for weight loss.
However, the Scarsdale Diet book is no longer in print, so only used copies are in circulation at this point.
This may be due to the fact that nutritionists and health professionals have strongly urged against trying the Scarsdale diet plan because it does not provide an adequate calorie intake to maintain basic functions and can result in health risks.
In addition, the claims surrounding expected Scarsdale weight loss results are untenable, unsafe, and likely untrue.
Extreme caloric restriction can put the body in starvation mode, decreasing your metabolic rate through a process called adaptive thermogenesis.2Müller, M. J., Enderle, J., & Bosy-Westphal, A. (2016). Changes in Energy Expenditure with Weight Gain and Weight Loss in Humans. Current Obesity Reports, 5(4), 413–423. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-016-0237-4 It does not provide enough calories, nor is the Scarsdale diet food list balanced.
You may also lose lean body mass, which will make it difficult to continue to lose weight over time.
Moreover, the Scarsdale diet can result in nutritional deficiencies because it is extremely restrictive.
The protein content may also be too high. Consuming too much protein can be deleterious to your health, such as causing kidney strain and bone loss.
Aside from the nutritional problems with this eating plan, the rigidity of the diet provides for no flexibility, which can make it difficult to stick with the diet or adapt it to your food preferences, food intolerances, allergies, or lifestyle.
Although even though there is a “Scarsdale diet maintenance phase,“ it was really designed as a crash diet plan.
The promises that you can lose up to 20 pounds in two weeks are unfounded and not safe.
It is much better to lose weight slowly and gradually, adopting a healthy weight loss diet that you can maintain until the goal weight is reached rather than a short-term, overly restrictive weight loss diet program.
Even if you are in good health, you should absolutely work with a doctor, registered dietitian, or experienced nutritionist before trying the Scarsdale diet plan.
If you are looking for other low-carbohydrate diets that are not as extreme, check out our low-carb diet guide here:
- 1Tarnower, H., & baker, S. S. (1982). The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet: Plus Dr. Tarnower’s Lifetime Keep-Slim Program. In Google Books. National Geographic Books. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Complete_Scarsdale_Medical_Diet/NAt4PwAACAAJ?hl=en
- 2Müller, M. J., Enderle, J., & Bosy-Westphal, A. (2016). Changes in Energy Expenditure with Weight Gain and Weight Loss in Humans. Current Obesity Reports, 5(4), 413–423. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-016-0237-4