Dr. Atkins Had a Dream

There is nothing new or revolutionary about Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution. Various high-fat diet fads like Atkins have been masquerading under different names for over a hundred years, starting in 1864 when an English undertaker and coffin maker by the name of William Banting wrote a book called Letter on Corpulence.[24] Based on what we know now about these diets, Banting’s book may very well have added to Banting’s business.

After failing to produce the promised sustained weight loss, the high-fat fad melted away only to re-emerge in the 1920’s with a doctor advocating a minimum of three porterhouse steaks a day and stating that the only two perfect foods were probably “fresh fat meat and water.”[25] It then disappeared until the 1940’s with a book extolling the virtues of eating whale blubber. Then it was recycled again in the 1960’s with Dr. Herman Taller’s bestseller “Calories Don’t Count” that discouraged people from exercising. “By whatever name,” one nutrition textbook reads, “the diet is to be avoided.”[26]

Taller’s “Calories Don’t Count” diet empire collapsed when he was found guilty of six counts of mail fraud for using the book to promote a particular brand of safflower capsules, which the court called a “worthless scheme foisted on a gullible public.”[27]

That same year, Dr. Irwin Stillman wrote the “Doctor’s Quick Weight Loss Diet,” allowing his patients to eat only meat, eggs, and cheese. Stillman himself died of a heart attack, but not before misleading 20 million people onto his diet.[28]

One might wonder why, if this kind of diet was such a “foolproof”[29] “ultimate”[30] path to “permanent joyful weight loss” that “WORKS 100% OF THE TIME!” (emphasis in original),[31] they seemed to always quickly fade into obscurity, only to be resurrected shortly after by publishers guaranteed a new bestseller by America’s short attention span. This brings us to 1972, and the publication of Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution.[32]

Atkins’ diet was centered on fried pork rinds, heavy cream, cheese, and meat. For Atkins, bacon and butter were health foods and bread and bananas were what he called “poison.”[33]

Drawing on his experience as a salesman and resort entertainer, Atkins proved a natural at self-promotion. He was featured in Vogue magazine (and hence the Atkins Diet was actually first known as the “Vogue Diet”) and soon after evidently appeared on the Tonight Show[34] and Merv Griffen.[35] In 1973, the publisher boasted that it became the “fastest selling book in publishing history.”[36]

The final chapter of Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution was entitled “Why We Need a Revolution….” It detailed his proposal to have some carbs literally banned. “Our laws must be changed to provide a proper way of eating for everyone.” He urged everyone to start lobbying their legislators. “Political action and protest on your part,” he wrote, “can help revolutionize the food industry, by forcing it to decarbohydratize many foods … with a federal law to back this change!”[37]

“Martin Luther King had a dream,” Dr. Atkins wrote, “I, too, have one.”[38]