Carbohydrates burn cleanly. In fact the name “carbo- hydrate” basically means “carbon (dioxide) and water,” which is what plants make carbs out of, and which is all the waste product one is left with when one’s body uses them as fuel. During the first few weeks of the Atkins Diet, the so-called “induction” phase, a person is forced to live off so much grease that, lacking the preferred fuel–carbohydrates–their body goes into starvation mode.
In biochemistry class, doctors learn that fat “burns in the flame of carbohydrate.” When one is eating enough carbohydrates, fat can be completely broken down as well. But when one’s body runs out of carb fuel to burn, its only choice is to burn fat inefficiently using a pathway that produces toxic byproducts like acetone and other so-called “ketones.” The acetone escapes through the lungs–giving Atkins followers what one weight-loss expert calls “rotten-apple breath”–and the other ketones have to be excreted by the kidneys. We burn fat all the time; it’s only when we are carbohydrate deficient and have to burn fat ineffectively that we go into what’s called a state of ketosis, defined as having so much acetone in our blood it noticeably spills out into our lungs or so many other ketones they spill out into our urine.
To wash these toxic waste products out of our system our body uses a lot of water. The diuretic effect of low carb diets can result in people losing a gallon of water in pounds the first week. This precipitous early weight loss encourages dieters to continue the diet even though they have lost mostly water weight and the state of ketosis may be making them nauseous or worse. If one wanted to try to lose water weight, sweating it away in a sauna may be a more healthful way.
The Director of Yale University’s Center for Eating and Weight Disorders explains the miracle formula used by diet books to become bestsellers for over a century now: “easy, rapid weight loss; the opportunity to eat your favorite foods and some scientific ‘breakthrough’ that usually doesn’t exist.” The rapid loss of initial water weight seen particularly on low carb diets has an additional sales benefit. By the time people gain back the weight, they may have already told all their friends to buy the book, and the cycle continues. This has been used to explain why low carb diets have been such “cash cows” for publishers over the last 140 years. As one weight loss expert notes, “Rapid water loss is the $33-billion diet gimmick.”