Bringing Home the Bacon

Atkins conceded that the “WORST [emphasis his]” feature about his diet is the “rapidity with which you gain [weight] if you abandon it.” “But the BEST feature,” he claims, “is that you don’t HAVE to go off this diet…”[245]

The reason people fall off the wagon, Atkins claimed, is because of “carbohydrate addiction.” What he calls “addiction,” though, others might call our natural urge to eat the fuel our bodies evolved to live on–carbohydrates. Patients inevitably cheat and then tragically blame themselves instead of the diet for this failure.

Low carb diets, like all fad diets, tend to fail.[246] Even Atkins admitted that there is “no formal documentation” of long-term weight loss on his diet. He’d been supposedly seeing patients for decades on his diet; why didn’t he do a study?

When challenged on just that point Atkins replied, “Why should I support a study? It’s all in my book.” When it was pointed out that the book was “all anecdotal,” Atkins said mainstream medicine’s demand for proof simply functioned to “maintain it at its current level of ineptitude.”[247]

In February 2000, the USDA brought Atkins in to discuss his diet. When asked why he doesn’t conduct his own study, he pleaded poverty: “But I haven’t been able to fund a study.” To which the Director of Nutrition Sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, replied, “Ten million books in print and you can’t fund a study?”

The Director continued: “You market the vitamins. You sell the vitamins. You market this. This is not for the public good. This is a money-making proposition.”[248] The Chair of the Board of Atkins’ own New York County Medical Society made a similar charge when Atkins’ book was first published, alleging it was “clearly… unethical” and “self-aggrandizing.”[249] The New York Board of Health later tried, unsuccessfully, to revoke his medical license.[250]

Why has the U.S. government been lax in testing the Atkins Diet at any point in the last 30 years? One reason may have been that it might be difficult to get approval from an ethical review committee to put people on the diet long term, given what is known about the dangers of a meat-laden diet. As one medical review concluded, “There is no evidence that low carbohydrate diets are effective for long-term weight management, and their long-term safety is questionable and unproven.”[251]

The current Director of Nutrition at Harvard advises that all physicians should produce a handout warning about all of the adverse effects of the Atkins Diet. Not only should the handout explain explicitly that the diet may increase one’s risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke, but also that “Other health risks include… dizziness, headaches, confusion, nausea, fatigue, sleep problems, irritability, bad breath, and worsening of gout and kidney problems; osteoporosis, since a high ratio of animal to vegetable protein intake may increase bone loss and the risk of hip fracture in elderly women; a rise in blood pressure with age…and rapid falling blood pressure upon standing up (orthostatic hypotension), which can… put older patients at higher risk for falls.”[252] After running through the adverse effects associated with ketosis, the American Institute for Cancer Research wrote, “Those are the short-term effects. The long-term effects are even more dire.”[253]