History and Benefits of Diets Atkins's Diet Revolution

About the history and benefits of Dr. Atkin's Diet Revolution.


Atkins's Diet Revolution

The Head Man: The skinniest kid on his block in Dayton, O., Robert Atkins developed the largest appetite on campus at the University of Michigan, by his own account, and became a New York cardiologist with two extra chins. Seeking a viable diet that wouldn't leave him chronically hungry, he learned that in the absence of carbohydrates and also during a fast, the body burns its own fat as fuel, somehow assuaging hunger in the process. Disregarding the conventional wisdom that at least 60 grams of carbohydrates are required daily, he discovered that by limiting himself to 35 to 40 grams he could accelerate fat burning and lose weight even while eating constantly. In 1964, while a consultant to the medical department of AT&T, Atkins tried out his ideas with a pilot program of 65 people, who lost an average of 18 lb. the first month.

In 1966 the Atkins diet was presented in Harper's Bazaar magazine. As a result of the publicity the former cardiologist soon found himself running a 23-room office complex with a case load of celebrity patients, each of whom received a personally tailored low-carbohydrate diet. Published in 1972, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution became a best-seller, and the bachelor doctor developed a swinging image as the escort of some of his more svelte patients.

Overview: The Atkins diet begins by reducing carbohydrate consumption to zero in order to convert the body from a "carbohydrate-burning engine" to a "fat-burning engine." The process is monitored by checking the urine with Ketostix, test strips that turn purple to indicate the presence of ketones--a product of fat burning. The dieter progressively adds small amounts of carbohydrates until reaching what Atkins calls the Critical Carbohydrate Level (CCL), when ketosis ceases. Carbohydrates should then be cut back slightly to continue the process of fat burning. Atkins advises dieters to begin with a medical checkup, to consume megadoses of vitamins, and to eat small meals six times a day in order to maintain a constant blood-sugar level. As long as you remain below your CCL, he claims, you can enjoy cheesecake, eggs Benedict, chicken salad with mayonnaise, and other tempting treats. "You can eat this way comfortably, luxuriously, without deprivation, without a single hunger pain, all your life," he writes.

Pro: Many people find it easier to count carbohydrates than calories. Add to this the prospect of gorging on high-calorie, high-fat dishes, and the Atkins diet would seem to be a dream come true for the overweight.

Con: Atkins has been almost universally condemned by the experts. His diet is "essentially a form of planned malnutrition," according to Harvard University nutritionist Frederick Stare; "bizarre" and "without scientific merit," according to the American Medical Association; "unethical and self-aggrandizing," according to the New York County Medical Society. Atkins cited medical research out of context to support his theories, the editors of Consumer Guide report. Critics agree that it is illogical if not impossible to stimulate the burning of stored fat by consuming large amounts of new fat. They insist that there is no way to lose weight on a high-calorie diet. Moreover, high fat consumption may cause diarrhea (as well as increased risk of heart disease); ketosis may damage the kidneys; and carbohydrate starvation will lead to fatigue, dehydration, and depression.

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