From Blackpink’s skincare tips to actress Han Ye-seul’s five-day diet plan, it’s no secret that we are always looking to our favourite K-pop celebs for tips and tricks to attain star-worthy flawless skin and slim physique – smooth, beautiful legs included.
Recently however, one weight loss trend in particular has been making the rounds on the internet. Known as the ‘three-phase diet’, Korean netizens have been singing praises about this short-term weight management method, claiming it to have helped them quickly shed the pounds in three weeks without gaining back weight.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is a three-phase diet? And does it really work? We’ve got the lowdown right here for you, as well as two experts to weigh in on the subject.
What is the three-phase diet popularised by Korean netizens?
It’s no secret that you’ll inevitably enter a stagnation period in any diet/workout regime that you subscribe to – it’s a phase that takes place much later after you’ve shed all the initial weight, when you find it difficult to lose any more.
However, many short-term weight loss programme subscribers believe that their diet management method – coupled with exercise – can help break through the stagnation. They allege that both go hand in hand in the sense that you get see the weight loss effect more quickly, and can also help accelerate the body’s metabolism rate.
In the three-phase diet, each stage is designed to deliver a different effect and can last anywhere between five days and one week, as long as it doesn’t go over the recommended two-week window per stage.
So, it’s really up to you to adjust the number of days needed for each phase according to your personal needs, lifestyle, and health. After completing the three phases, it’s said that you can gradually return to a normal diet.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of the three stages.
The first stage of weight loss: Start with a fast-acting, sugar-free diet
Begin the three-phase diet with a strict no-sugar diet – this basically means eliminating all starch-based staples as well as sugar-based foods (yup, no BBT, cakes, and all that yummy ). The amount of each meal varies for each individuals but the catch is that you can eat only vegetables and meat.
The key in the first stage is to eat well with healthier ingredients, but keep in mind that you will feel hungry a lot during this stage as you will be eating till only about 70%, 80% full the entire time.
During the day, you’re advised to drink as much water as possible. That’s because H2O helps the body’s metabolism to maintain the calories needed by the body.
Apart from keeping your meal light with real (read: non-processed) foods, it’s also recommended to choose good fat sources such as olive oil and coconut oil as part of your exercise to recondition the body.
In addition to reducing starch intake, eating three meals can help the body improve metabolism rate without affecting insulin secretion. Another tip that can purportedly help balance your nutrition during this diet period is to take vitamin B supplements.
At this stage, your body will break down most of the carbohydrates stored inside system so even if you’re eating all three meals every day, you will still get to shed excess weight.
The second stage of weight loss: Reinforcing continuous fat reduction
The second phase continues to focus on fat reduction. You are to keep to the light no-sugar diet that you’ve started out with, but now, you can introduce some good high-starch sources such as oats, quinoa, black wheat, and brown rice, and gradually increase the amount of good carbs as you go along.
At this stage, you can also consume more protein to help build muscles – low-GI foods and excellent sources of fat such as salmon and avocado are highly recommended. High-protein sources such as beef, chicken breast, and seafood are good options too – these ingredients can help you increase physical strength.
However, if you notice that your weight is starting to plateau with the inclusion of good carbs in your diet, don’t remove it completely from your meals. Instead, reduce the starch in each meal to just the right amount that still gives your body enough strength physically.
The third stage of weight loss: Weight protection period
In the final leg of this programme, you are to continue with the previous eating habits set out in the first stage, while focusing on consuming only low-oil, low-seasoning natural dishes cooked with real ingredients.
At the same time, your daily water intake is still crucial but you now have to find out just how much you need to consume every day in order to maintain your basal metabolism, which means drinking enough water to keep your body functioning at rest without adding to your body weight.
After completing this stage, you can gradually return to your normal diet, but that’s not to say you can go back to stuffing your face with ultra-processed foods or eating supper almost every night.
The key here is to pay attention to keeping to a balanced diet and avoiding midnight snacking as much as you can, and you will basically be able to maintain your body weight without major fluctuations.
What do experts think about this three-phase diet trend?
To find out if the trending three-phase diet regime really works, we checked in with two experts – specifically a dietitian and a nutritionist – to get their professional opinion on this subject.
Read on to find out what we’ve learned.
The three-phase diet may work if weight and fat loss are your main goals…
According to Bonnie Lau, an accredited practising dietitian passionate about food, nutrition, and wellness who’s currently senior dietitian at i-Kare, the three-phase diet can actually produce results mainly due to three reasons: reduced carbohydrate intake, improved metabolic health in the short term, and limited overall calorie intake.
“The first stage of the diet is a very low-carb diet, similar to the Atkins diet which – like ketogenic diets – are very effective for short-term weight loss because glycogen stored (and water attached to it) are depleted in the body,” Lau shares.
“There’s emerging evidence that excessive insulin levels (caused by eating too much carbs and processed foods) can increase your fat storage, so cutting out carbs can certainly help.
Other than just weight loss, there’s also evidence that following a very low-carb diet can also improve metabolic health in the short-term.
Less is known about its effects on long-term health, as there are implications of cutting out healthful carbohydrates like beans, fruits or wholegrains, which are known to reduce risk of heart disease and cancer. One study even found a risk of premature death for people on a very low-carb diet,” she expounds.
Lau goes on to tell us that when carbs are reduced in our diet, it’s usually replaced with more protein (Atkins) or more fat (ketogenic).
“The ketogenic diet has more fat, which is made into ketones (to replace glucose as fuel), while protein can still be made into glucose. If you want to achieve ketosis, it’s recommended to have adequate amounts of healthy fat like olive oil or nuts at stage one. I don’t recommend coconut oil regularly because it’s high in saturated fat,” she says.
“One week of a keto diet during the first stage may help your body adapt to a ‘fat-burning metabolism’ rather than burning carbs (food) only. This means you could cyclically lower intake of carbohydrates in the future, and be adapted to it better than if you had never tried low-carb before.
Also, there’s only so much you can eat if you’re taking only meat and vegetables – almost the entire local supermarket and hawker centre are out of bounds!
Keep in mind that any time you limit an entire food group (carbs and processed foods), your overall calorie intake will be restricted. You will likely not want to eat as much too, as the food will not be as tasty. These would be the main reasons why the three-phase diet may work,” Lau explains.
…But the sustainability aspect is highly questionable
There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t it? And with this particular diet, a major con that comes to mind is sustainability, says Lau.
“How long can you sustain something like stage one or stage two, where you completely cut out most carbs? Stage three is more sustainable, which is to minimise processed foods and eat according to hunger cues – this phase can work for most people to maintain their weight loss, but even that would be difficult!
Additionally, you go back on your usual diet after stage three. This is a concern because you will likely rebound by bingeing on all the foods you’ve deprived yourself of, causing yoyo weight cycling which is harmful to your health,” she lets on.
For nutritionist and author Sheeba Majmudar, she opines that cutting out added fats in your diet in stage one would be more beneficial instead. “During that phase, lower your consumption of grains and meat, and focus on eating as much vegetables and fruits as you want instead.
Then in stage two, cut out all grains and meat, sticking to just vegetables and fruits. You can include vegetable broth or mixed juices during this period to up your body’s detox mode. Finally in stage three, you can slowly reintroduce things like grains, fish, eggs, and eventually the fat sources to your diet,” she expounds.
Restricting your eating could be counterproductive…
For Lau, artificially limiting your eating so that you’re only half-full all the time is not necessary at all. “Following just the restrictions on food groups, without the extra restriction of overall volume of food, is already hard enough!
The deprivation and hunger could make you preoccupied with food and want to binge afterwards. If you want to re-create this effect of food restriction, without the psychological hunger, try intermittent fasting instead.
Be it the 12/12 or 16/8 method, you have a window of time that you are not eating at all, so you will get a suppressed appetite and ‘forget’ about food rather than constantly eating and feeling tempted, which will leave you feeling utterly unsatisfied,” she explains.
…But do drink sufficient water, whether you follow this three-phase diet or other types of diet
Lau posits that regardless of which kind of diet you are on, drinking adequate water is vital as it can actually help with weight loss, boosting your metabolism and helping you eat fewer calories if you drink it 30 minutes before meals.
“This may be hard to believe, but people who did so lost 44% more weight than those who didn’t drink water! However, this does not mean you should go gulping down gallons of H2O until you get water toxicity (yes, that’s a thing)!
Aim for the rough guideline of two litres (that’s about eight glasses) of fluids per day, but ultimately, it’s equally as crucial to listen to your body: drink at the earliest signs of thirst (not when it’s unbearable), and aim for urine colour that’s light yellow like lemonade (not lighter or darker),” she explains.
OK, we know what you’re thinking and no, drinking too much water will not cause water retention (unless you have kidney or liver disease), Lau says.
“Water retention happens by way of excessive sodium intake (and secondarily, from inadequate potassium and magnesium). This can happen if you eat a lot of processed foods (which is high in salt) and not enough natural plant foods like fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and nuts (potassium and magnesium).
If you don’t take too much sodium, water will be flushed out of your body when you pass urine. Always remember that sodium is the culprit when we talk about water retention – it’s like a sponge that retains water in your body.”
Like all kinds of diet, it may not work for everyone
Both Lau and Majmudar agree that this ultimately boils down to nutrigenomics (some people find low-carb diet more effective than others because of their genetics and microbiome) and your own body’s tolerance – Lau also posits that your family and cultural preferences play an important role too.
In addition, Lau says that you may also experience side effects like the ‘keto flu’, which you should be prepared to manage it on your own or be monitored closely by a doctor.
She goes on to share that people who are underweight, pregnant as well as those with a history of eating disorders or have certain medical conditions (diabetes, or heart, liver or kidney disease, for example) should consult their doctor before going on any kind of restrictive diet as it may be especially harmful for them.
Majmudar adds that it may not work for vegetarians and those who have low metabolism due to fatty liver, anemia, and other health conditions like hypothyroidism. Additionally, Lau says that you’ll eventually need to make changes to your ‘normal diet’ to maintain the weight.
Based on the information we received from the experts, we can safely say that the three-phase diet may only work if it’s compatible with your body – you’ll also need to have an insane amount of discipline in order to see visible results too, just like any other forms of dieting.
However, there are a few strategies in this trending regime that can help you achieve your weight loss goals in a more sustainable way. The most basic one being is to burn more calories than you eat, which means eating less calories and exercising more.
You’ve probably heard this numerous times before, but it’s true: reducing your consumption of processed foods and refined carbohydrates (like white rice and sugary drinks) will greatly help you shed the weight.
But instead of subtracting, focus on eating healthier, meaning adding healthy foods to your diet – the goal is to be happier and fitter rather than dieting. As Lau puts it, “your physical and mental health will benefit from it, because yo-yo dieting causes more harm than good.”
Plus, we couldn’t stress this enough: always consult your doctor before beginning any diet programme. He or she will be able to more accurately inform you if such regimen is suitable for you or adaptable to any medical condition that you may have.
For now, file this under potentially effective diets that are difficult to follow (and will probably make you miserable as heck).