The Stillman diet is a high-protein, low-carbohydrate eating plan that promises rapid weight loss in people who follow its rules precisely. Ideally the diet takes place over two “phases.” In Phase 1, people restrict their food intake to a narrow list of “approved” foods and beverages, mostly lean meats, eggs, and low-fat cheeses. Once a person gets down to his or her desired weight, he or she can slowly start adding things like vegetables, fruit, and bread in Phase 2. This diet has been praised and criticized in equal turns. It tends to be very effective in the short term, but whether it should or even can be used for regular weight maintenance is the subject of much debate.
Phase 1 of the plan essentially limits dieters to a short and restrictive list of “approved” foods and drinks. People can eat as many of these foods as often as they like, but in order to get the best results nothing else should be consumed at all. Most experts recommend that people on this plan eat six smaller meals a day rather than three large ones in order to stay full and satisfied.
Lean meats, chicken, and turkey — ideally with all possible fat trimmed off and discarded — are the core of the diet. Any type of seafood or shellfish, eggs, and low-fat cheeses are also permitted. Coffee, tea, and water are fine, too, so long as they contain no sugar, milk, or cream. No butters or oils can be used at all, not even for cooking. Spices are generally allowed, but dressings and sauces should be used only sparingly, and even then typically only if they contain no sugar or additives. Creamy salad dressings are usually forbidden, for instance, but vinaigrettes are usually okay; mayonnaise is not allowed, but horseradish and most grainy mustards are.
Maintenance and Phase 2
Proponents of the plan suggest that dieters can lose anywhere from 7 to 15 lbs (3 to 7 kg) during the first week and 5 lbs (2.2 kg) with each subsequent week. Of course, there comes a point where a person has reached his or her “ideal” or “target” weight, and which point he or she typically looks more to maintenance than continued loss. This is where Phase 2 of the plan comes in.
Phase 2 instructs dieters to slowly add in sparing amounts of vegetables, fruits, and complex carbohydrates like whole grain breads and cereals. People should monitor their weight every day; if a week goes by without gain, still more can be added in. The moment a person sees a gain of three pounds or more, though, he or she should return to Phase 1 until that weight is once again lost.
Why it Works
Many people who follow the Stillman diet precisely have success losing weight, mainly because forcing the body to digest proteins and little else stimulates the metabolism. Dr. Irwin Maxwell Stillman, an American physician in the 1960s and the diet’s founder, claimed that the body uses up 30 percent of all calories consumed in breaking down proteins. Therefore, raising the intake of proteins to levels around 90 percent would mean that the body’s metabolism would have to work much harder, a process that Stillman called the "melting out" of body fat. Eliminating all sugars and outside fats helps the body narrow its focus to breaking down rather than consuming and storing up.
Though the plan was developed at first for the doctor’s obese and seriously overweight patients, it soon became popular in the mainstream as well. He eventually wrote a book, The Doctor's Quick Weight Loss Diet, summarizing his findings, setting out the plan in more detail, and suggesting potential recipes and eating plans.
With the success of his diet plan behind him, the doctor went on to devise a number of other diets throughout the 1970s. A low-protein plan he called The Doctor's Inches Off Diet operated, somewhat surprisingly to many, on principles almost entirely opposite to those in the standard Stillman diet, and focused heavily on vegetarian, non-protein foods. His Quick Teen-Age Diet was a synthesis both regimes, and focused on giving younger people a more balanced eating plan that added exercise to the mix.
Risks and Precautions
For a dieter looking for a concise, easy to follow diet plan that is guaranteed to shed weight, the Stillman diet has obvious attractions. With its focus on protein intake, however, the diet doesn't include a number of important types of foods. One of the biggest problems people have is vitamin deficiency. It’s usually a good idea for people on this plan to take vitamin supplements and capsules to be sure their bodies are getting a good balance of nutrients. Eating only lean meats, eggs, and cheese can work for a short period of weight loss, but it is not nutritionally sustainable for the long term.
Adequate hydration is also really important. This diet is relatively low in fiber, which can make constipation a problem; ketones, which are compounds the body makes when breaking down fats, can also build up in the liver on this plan. Drinking water can help bowel function and can flush out the liver, too.