Like Bellbottoms and VW Bugs, Dr. Atkins is Back
Renaissance of Low-Carb Diet
By Jenifer Joseph
April 23 — Bacon and eggs were Kathy Storey’s new best friends when she started a diet two weeks ago. They made her feel full and saved her from eating the high-carb foods she craved.
She’s already lost five of the 25 pounds she wants to lose.
Storey is on Day 15 of the high-protein, low-carb diet promoted in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution. The book has graced the New York Times bestseller list for three months straight and sold more than 2 million copies.
Cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins’ diet may be new to 27-year-old Storey and other women of her generation, but it’s actually decades old. His first book promulgating the same concepts was published in 1972 and sold 12 million copies.
Despite scathing criticism from the medical establishment that his diet could be dangerous, Atkins is once again taking overweight America by storm.
The Atkins Empire
From a $1,300-per-first-visit diet clinic in New York to a nightly talk radio program to a nationwide book tour, the diet doc is beloved by his patients.
The reason for his success is simple. Atkins constructed a diet which places no limits on fatty foods: you can shovel in as much meat, cheese, eggs and butter as you want, as long as you keep your carbohydrate intake to a minimum. And he means minimum: In the first two weeks, the limit is 20 carb grams per day. A single banana is 26.
Sail with Atkins on his Caribbean cruise, and he’ll tell you that you can down globs of sirloin with abandon, and still lose a good half-dozen pounds before the week is up. How could anyone who has struggled with weight while nitpicking over fat grams resist such a promise?
When Donald Trump made a $100,000 bet with a friend that he could lose his paunch, he turned to Atkins, shed the weight and became that much richer.
When Stevie Nicks began her musical comeback last year, she lost 30 pounds by counting every carb.
When Michigan Congressman Jim Barcia, (D-Bay City) realized he looked like a chipmunk whenever he appeared on TV, he—and 30 of his colleagues— gave up carbs for life.
“For years, I was into low-fat diets and rigorous activity,” says Barcia. ”I struggled and struggled. This is the only diet that’s really worked for me.” He’s lost 40 pounds since last year, and his already low cholesterol level has dipped 15 points.
Deconstructing the Food Pyramid
If Atkins had his way, he’d scramble the food pyramid like he does his morning eggs.
“Your tough and hardy prehistoric ancestors were not eating devitalized, long shelf-life, processed foods, junk white bread and pizza around their campfires,” Atkins says. ”And they most certainly were not consuming sugar, as in our soft drinks and juices.”
His critics would agree, but it’s his theory of how we should get rid of the fat that troubles them.
On the Ketone Throne
Atkins explains it this way: when carbohydrates are severely restricted, the body is missing its main energy source—glucose that is made from carbs—and so it burns its own fat to use as energy and you lose weight.
The American Dietetic Association’s explanation is this: A low-carb diet forces the liver to produce that missing glucose, in the process sacrificing muscle and other lean tissue.
Since a low-carb diet depletes muscle tissue and water quickly, dieters see instant results. But when a normal diet is resumed, the muscle tissue is rebuilt, water is restored and weight quickly returns.
“It’s calories and portion sizes that have made us fat, not complex carbohydrates,” says Dr. George Blackburn, a leading obesity expert at Harvard University.
“Every diet that lowers your overall caloric intake is going to make you lose weight,” adds Dr. John Foreyt, director of Nutrition Research at Baylor College. “You could have people stand on their heads and they’d lose weight.”
Fight to the End
Atkins remains convinced he’s right.
“I’m not going to give up until the medical community changes its beliefs,” he says. “The dichotomy that’s being set up is either Atkins is right and the rest of the world is wrong or vice versa. If each person would just give it two weeks they would see clearly that I am telling the truth and the rest of the world is still confused.”
To that, conventional diet doctors respond, we need scientific studies to prove it.
Let Them Eat Meat
After poring over Dr. Atkins' book and reading testimonials from people who'd lost 50, 70, 100 pounds on this diet, my husband and I had to try it.
Day 1: Bacon and eggs for breakfast; grilled chicken and salad for lunch; steak, salad and buttery mushrooms for dinner.
Day 2: Bacon and eggs for breakfast ... you get the point.
By the third day, I was feeling weak, possibly from dehydration since carbs are essential for the body to absorb water. But my body was still not sure what to make of the massive meat attack, especially after years of practically neurotic low-fat living. By the fourth day I couldn't look at another egg, and miraculously, Bill and I had each gained three pounds. I decided that I'd rather lose my measly five pounds by running it off.
Maybe I have, as Atkins says, been brainwashed by the food industry to believe breads and pastas are good for me, and that fat is bad for my heart. They make billions, after all, by selling boxed, carb-rich foods that yield high profits margins.
Then again, there are millions of people out there who may risk more by being obese than by cutting carbs and popping vitamins. For them, Dr. Atkins may be a godsend.