The Scandi Sense Diet has been dubbed “the simplest diet in the world”—and as you might image, it’s been generating lots of buzz. It was developed by a Scandinavian woman (hence the “Scandi”) from Denmark named Suzy Wengel, who is the director of a biotech company and a nutritional advisor, according to her bio. Wengel says she lost 88 pounds in 9 months using her self-developed plan. Curious? I was too, so I did a little digging. Here are my thoughts on the Scandi Sense diet, including the pros, the cons, and how to determine if it might be a good fit for you.
There are a few things I really like about Wengel’s approach. First, it does not require calorie counting.
I’m also a fan of ditching calorie counting for several reasons. In my opinion, food quality, balance, and meal timing are just as important as total calorie intake. After all, a 500-calorie slice of cake isn’t the same as 500 calories from veggies, wild salmon, avocado, and berries. Also, research shows that calorie counting is stressful, and for many people it’s not sustainable. If you just focus on portions, you can rein in calories automatically.
As Wengel describes in her book The Scandi Sense Diet, followers use the palms of their hands to measure the amount of food they should eat at their three daily meals. Up to four handfuls are allowed per meal, plus one to three tablespoons of fat, as well as some dairy products or dairy alternatives, like almond milk.
I like that at each meal, the plan calls for two handfuls of vegetables, one handful of protein, and one handful of carbs—plus the one to three tablespoons of fat. These proportions can lead to a healthful balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fat). The plan can also be adapted if you are gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan.
Another plus is that the plan allows for indulgences, including alcohol and treats, and teaches you how to fit them in. I think this is key, because for many people it’s just not realistic to live without booze and sweets. For weight loss and long-term weight maintenance, it’s important to learn how to include indulgences in a balanced way. A too-strict approach can backfire, and get in the way of lasting results.
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Now here are a few things I don’t like. The Scandi Sense Diet doesn’t distinguish between foods within the same macronutrient category. For example, both avocado or margarine count as a fat. But these foods are quite different in terms of their impact on your health. Similarly, your carb serving could be either refined grains (like pasta) or fresh fruit.
I also don’t love that you’re allowed to save up for larger meals. The plan allows you to halve your first two meals and eat one larger meal later. In my experience this type of strategy can lead to overeating at the last meal, because by that point you’re overly hungry. Also, consuming excess calories late in the evening, at a time when you’re less active, can lead to a calorie surplus your body can’t burn off. While this is fine on occasion, a repeated pattern can mess with results, and throw off your appetite the following day.
Lastly, while the concept behind the Scandi Sense Diet may seem incredibly simple, the execution can be tricky. For example, the plan calls for one to three tablespoons of fat per meal. Say you choose three tablespoons of nuts. You’d be getting about 170 calories. But if you chose three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, you’d consume almost twice that amount (more than 350 calories). You need to know a bit about your fat choice to determine what portion makes sense. Then there are questions such as what to drink, and how foods with more than one type of macronutrient (like beans and almond flour) fit into the diet.
Overall, I wouldn’t call this the simplest diet in the world. But I do think that Scandi Sense can be a great option for people who are looking for an “all foods can fit” approach. And it’s sensible enough to become a lifestyle, as opposed to a short-lived diet.
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A few more practical ideas for weight loss
I have written and co-written a handful of weight loss books, and I’ve learned a lot in the process. One of my major takeaways has been that practical strategies work better than strict rules.
In my newest book, Slim Down Now, I use an everyday analogy to illustrate how to create an ideal macro balance. I talk about building your meals like you build your outfits: Start with non-starchy veggies (think shirt), lean protein (think pants), and plant-based fat (think shoes) as the foundation of your meal.
Then add whole food carbs—like a small portion of a whole grain, a starchy veg, a pulse (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas), or fresh fruit—as your “energy accessories.” And last but not least, you’ve got your herbs and spices (think jewelry!).
I believe that relying on a meal-building structure that allows for consistency, as well as mix-and-match flexibility, works best; much like wearing a different shirt or shoes with the same pair of jeans, and wearing a heavier jacket when it’s cooler out, or a lighter one when it’s warmer. So when you’re more active, for example, you might include a larger portion of carbs; and eat a smaller portion on a rest day.
I think that anyone who has ever tried to lose weight would agree that the more difficult an approach is to understand and apply, the less likely it is to work, especially long term. At the same time, methods that are too simple (like, just cutting out carbs) can limit important nutrients, and be challenging to stick with. And stick-with-it-ness is essential. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who lost weight using an extreme tactic, only to gain it all right back again.
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Choosing the right tactic for you
Whether you’re considering the Scandi Sense Diet or any other weight loss strategy, ask yourself a few important questions before giving it a go:
Does the premise make sense based on my gut instinct?
Do I think I will feel well, physically and mentally, on this plan?
Can I see myself continuing this approach for six weeks, six months, or longer?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, think twice. There may be a plan that better suits you, which can mean the difference between losing and gaining the same 20 pounds over and over—and successfully shedding weight for good.
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Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.