I turned on the TV this morning and, much to my chagrin, there was another commercial with a fast-food conglomerate implementing its new "lo-carb menu". It seems like just in the last year or so, the Atkins diet has reached epidemic proportions.
With practically every other commercial filled with the little Atkins-friendly 'A' in the corner of the screen. It seems as if it has almost become a religious practice among many. Everywhere I go, I feel as if I should be wearing a big red 'C' on my shirt for "carb-eater", to let the "low-carb-lifers" know that I practice the daily consumption of the most abundant food source on the planet-breads and grains.
Needless to say, this scares me. I've researched the diet extensively and know a few things about ketogenic diets and the physiological effects they have on the body. I'm going to assume, for the most part, that everyone knows what the Atkins diet is and how it works, but if you do not know, here is a great site that outlines the mechanics of it: http://ibs.howstuffworks.com/ibs/orl/atkins4.htm.
So from there, let us take a journey.
The History Of Atkins ///
Dr. Robert C. Atkins graduated from Cornell University Medical School in 1955, specializing in cardiology. He started the foundation of his revolutionary diet plan in 1972, stressing the importance of whole foods while staying away from starches and sugars. He passed away in 2003 for disputed reasons.
Some say it was because of head trauma sustained from injuries sustained falling on the ice while walking to his office. That aside, his medical history was peppered with heart attacks and other congestive heart problems. Whether or not it was genetic could be disputed until his confidential medical report is released to the public. Also, his weight was an unhealthy 258 pounds when he died in April of last year.
Genetics aside, I hardly think ingesting all that cholesterol from his high fat/high protein diet helped his heart condition. Anyways, I think I would be insulting your intelligence if I did not let you draw your own conclusions on that issue.
Does The Diet Work? ///
There is no question that if you follow the diet closely, you will lose weight. But what are the consequences? The Atkins, like most fad diets, works on the basis of a calorie reduction. Since carbohydrates are severely limited, the diet requires that you get your calories from protein and fat.
There is only so much fat you can eat before you feel full. When you eat fat, it sends a signal to your brain saying that you are satiated, which can, and often does, occur way before your calorie requirements are met. Ketosis, the main catalyst for low-carb diets, is where the body produces ketones from fat cells in order to be processed due to the absence of carbohydrates. Some dictionaries define the process of ketosis as a "metabolic disorder" (Hyperdictionary.com).
This is because ketosis is meant to be used in survival situations when our ancestor's food supply was low. Side effects of ketosis are nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and bad breath.
Is Dr. Atkins A Magician? ///
Physiologically, there is no magical equation for the ratio of how much carbohydrates to protein, or protein to fat, or whatever permutation therein. The basis of all weight loss is based on the fact that if you burn more calories than you take in, you will lose weight. This isn't quantum physics. This is not to say that one should eat whatever they want as long as they keep the calories down.
A healthy diet is well-rounded, diverse, and borrows from all the food groups implemented in the Food-Guide Pyramid. The Atkins diet is not a miracle, or physiological magic trick, it is just a way of tricking your body into believing it is full when it really is not receiving all the quality nutrients it needs.
On top of that, a lot of the weight lost is muscle mass, which is the body's metabolic engine. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. This is harmful especially in the case of the Atkins diet, because many followers of the diet find that they gain back the weight twice as fast, because they do not have the muscle that they did before the diet to combat the fat.
To compound it even further, by consuming all that fat, one is at high risk for heart problems due to the excessive amount of bad cholesterol, or LDL, found in fatty foods. This has been a big concern and criticism of the Atkins diet from the beginning.
Emotional Factors Of Nutrition ///
My main criticism of Dr. Atkins and his low-carb wizardry, aside from his questionable health problems, is the fact that he was not a registered nutritionist. The fundamental flaw here is that cardiologists, during their time in school, take very few nutrition courses (maybe 1-3 at most). Not that he might not have understood how food is processed by the body, but if he did not have experience with nutritional counseling, then how could he possibly take into account the emotional and cultural factors that come with eating? Successful, long-term weight loss is not necessarily about a diet, but it's about long-term happiness.
An observable hypothesis, that is true in many cases, is that most people on the Atkins diet fall off the bandwagon after a few months. This is based simply on the reality that humans find comfort in certain foods that might not fall into the Atkins diet (i.e. Chocolate, breads, etc.). An example of this elsewhere would be telling a two-year old that he can't have something.
We all know that if you tell a child that he can't have something, then he's obviously going to want it more. The same argument might hold true for the drinking age in America. Other European countries do not have nearly the same magnitude of a drinking problem as America, and some would speculate that it is because alcohol is always present and the children are exposed to it at a young age.
Is America leaning towards a national carbohydrate prohibition? To save the tangent, I will digress and say that the most successful dieters, for lack of a better word, are those who don't diet at all. They practice moderation, which is something that has been preached for years by the ADA and many other Health professionals.
They educate themselves with a good foundation in proper nutrition, learn how to listen to their body, and use common sense. They understand that a little cake now and again is perfectly fine.
A Healthy Dose Of Common Sense ///
When considering a diet, one should research it and try to understand the reasons and science behind it. Make sure it is backed by sound scientific research and, most importantly, use your own intuition. Common sense and education are the strongest weapons in the battle against consumer misinformation purported by the media. If something doesn't seem right, then scrap it.
Just because someone preaches it on television, does not mean it's true. Here is an example of common sense in a nutritional scenario: humans have been eating carbohydrates for years.
In biblical times, bread was a staple of the people's diet. It is the main food group and cornerstone of a balanced diet, as implemented by the American Dietetic Association and backed by decades of research.
For more information and helpful articles, be sure to visit the ADA website at: www.eatright.org.
The Bottom Line ///
The Atkins diet is a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Successful weight-loss (long-term weight loss, NOT yo-yo dieting), is a long-term commitment, not a quick fix. In an analogy, if your garden hose breaks, you could put tape over the hole and use it for a while.
"My message is simple: use common sense and do not follow diets because of the supposed success stories."
Although, eventually the tape will come off, or a new hole will appear and you'll have to get a new hose. Unlike the hose, you only get one body. Conversely, your body can fix small holes on its own, which a hose definitely can not do. My message is simple: use common sense and do not follow diets because of the supposed "success" stories.
Just because someone is a medical professional, does not always mean that they know what they are talking about. Combat the war on consumer misinformation by staying educated and, more importantly, learn to listen to your body, because the body never lies. Although, if fixing hoses is your thing, then be sure to stock up on hose-repair kits at your local hardware stores.