You may have heard of the Atkins Diet... named after its creator Dr. Robert C. Atkins?
This page explores the question: "Was Atkins right all along?
The question fascinates us on a number of fronts. First, this approach, as first practiced by and then promoted by its creator, flew in the face of the standard weight loss practice and the government’s dietary guidelines.
Second, while his approach was wildly popular sinceDr. Atkins Diet Revolution was first published in the early 70s, his approach remains very popular today.
Third, anyone who has closely followed the low carb debate and is familiar with the entire Atkins Nutritional Approach, as it was officially called, cannot help but be impressed with the things he was saying in the initial promotion of his material back in the 1970s that remains part of the diet today.
Dr. Eric Westman is one of the co-authors of The New Atkins for a New You. He's also president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians and is involved in research into the causes and prevention of obesity.
Based on a published scientific study
As described by Gary Taubes in his fascinating book,Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health, Atkins based his dietary ideas on a study by endocrinologist Edgar Gordon titled “A New Concept in the Treatment of Obesity” published in 1963 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
At the time, Atkins had gained considerable weight and thought carbohydrate restriction, as described in Gordon’s study, was a valid method of weight loss. He modified the diet to some degree but he was impressed that subjects in the study lost weight without complaining about hunger.
Although Atkins was a Cornell trained cardiologist, he went on to develop a diet plan to treat obesity that became a large part of his medical practice. According to Taubes, his diet business boomed when women's fashion magazines started recommending his diet.
The gist of the Atkins diet is carbohydrate restriction and it allowed weight loss without the common challenge (and downfall of most diets) of hunger. Calories were not counted or restricted... just carbohydrates. His assertion was that refined carbohydrates and starches, not saturated fat, caused heart disease and diabetes.
Atkins wrote, "The main reason low-calorie diets fail in the long run is because you go hungry on them... And while you may tolerate hunger for a short time, you can’t tolerate hunger all your life."
Misconceptions about his diet
In the revised version of his popular diet book, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, Revised Edition, Atkins outlined some of the common misconceptions about his dietary approach.
One common misconception he mentions concerns ketosis. He says that there is confusion, even amongst medical professionals, between ketosis (the normal state of the body burning its fat stores for energy) and ketoacidosis (a condition that occurs when a persons blood sugar is out of control and he or she cannot produce insulin).
Other fallacies he discusses include the idea that the Atkins diet restricts calories (in fact calories are not counted, only carbohydrates), that the diet is lacking in essential nutrients (it appears to be a diet that provides a wide range of healthy vegetables, fats and proteins), that you’ll feel tired and lack energy on Atkins (this may occur in the first couple of days when your body is adjusting from carbohydrates as its fuel to burning fat), and a number of other criticisms.
Each is addressed in a seemingly scientific way with plenty of references.
He also stresses that Atkins, as the diet became known, should not be considered a short term diet, but rather a permanent lifestyle change.
Unpopular with the medical establishment
Atkins was vilified by the established obesity research and treatment community. He had to vigorously defend his dietary assertions. But while the medical establishment was clearly antagonistic towards him and non supportive of his claims, the public became enamored. It’s estimated that in the early 2000s as many as 1 in 10 Americans were "doing Atkins".
As Taubes relates in Good Calories, Bad Calories, a critique of Atkins book that appeared in JAMA and that was written by its editors, dismissed the (low carb) diets as "bizarre concepts of nutrition and dieting [that] should not be promoted to the public as if they were established scientific principles.”
Taubes also states that these nutritionists readily admitted that they did not know what caused obesity and acknowledged that calorie restriction failed to cure it.
A group of about a dozen men (including the JAMA editors mentioned above) made up the dominant thinkers in the field of obesity. They adamantly refused to consider a low carb approach to the problem. And because of their influence, their younger colleagues took up the cause and perpetuated their beliefs.
It’s another incredible story about the bias and lack of science that was a powerful force in the field from the 1950s that still resonates today.
It’s a complicated story worthy of review in order to better understand the whole low carb, lipid hypothesis debate.
But one of the most interesting aspects is that while the "experts" have been advocating increased carbohydrate consumption (which the public, by and large, has adopted), the obesity rates have climbed to the epidemic proportions we see around us today.
So the question remains: Is the Atkins diet the right approach after all?
As with anything to do with your health and diet, there are two things to bear in mind. Don’t make any major changes without consulting your physician. At the same time, we think it is worth doing the research so you can ask some pointed questions in order to take charge of your well-being.
Arm yourself with information by reading some of the materials listed above and on other pages in this section.