Suit Accuses Atkins Plan of Imperiling Dieters' Lives

October 27, 2004
by Missy Stoddard
Suit Accuses Atkins of Imperiling Dieters’ Lives

For 2 12 years, Jody Gorran of Delray Beach said, he extolled the virtues of the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Atkins diet.

But in October of last year, Gorran experienced chest pains and subsequently underwent angioplasty for an artery that was 99 percent blocked. Gorran said he soon learned that while on the Atkins diet his cholesterol had risen from 146 to 230. He has sued the promoters of the diet, alleging a failure to warn consumers about the risks associated with it.

At a Tuesday hearing, lawyers for Atkins Nutritionals sought to have the case dismissed, arguing Gorran’s health problems are more a result of poor food choices and family history than of the Atkins diet.

Jupiter lawyer Martin Reeder told Judge Susan Lubitz that Gorran followed a “perverse version” of the diet that included “a peculiar regimen of pastrami and cheesecake,” which Reeder said are not approved Atkins diet foods. Reeder also said Gorran has a “very significant family history of heart disease.”

Furthermore, according to Reeder, diet creator Dr. Robert Atkins warned followers of his diet – in both his books and on a Web site – that the diet was not a substitute for the advice of a personal physician.

Gorran and his attorney, Daniel Kinburn of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, called the Atkins diet “quackery” and said that at least a third of the people who go on the diet are at risk for heart disease.

Kinburn said Atkins “buried” his warnings about the diet’s potential dangers on a copyright page in his books. Atkins promoters are more interested in making millions selling Atkins products, such as pancake mix and protein bars, than they are in saving lives, according to Kinburn and Gorran, 54, a manufacturing company owner.

Kinburn said Gorran thoroughly researched the Atkins diet before embarking on it and even went so far as to have a CT scan of his heart, which showed no blockage. Gorran’s “significant family history” of heart disease, as Reeder suggested, was an older sister who suffered a heart attack after a long history of high cholesterol, according to Gorran.

The quick rise in his cholesterol level didn’t concern Gorran, he said, because Atkins’ books and Web site said the diet would keep him safe so long as he strictly limited carbohydrates.

“He’s a doctor with 30 years’ experience and 25,000 patients. … I believed him,” Gorran said. “I thought he was ahead of the curve, … but it turns out he was lying.”

Atkins died last year at age 72 after a fall.

For 212 years, Gorran said, he gave up bread and pasta and “ate nothing out of a box.” He denies gorging on pastrami and cheesecake, as Reeder implied, insisting he may have eaten pastrami a half-dozen times. Though he did eat a 3-ounce slice of cheesecake about every third day, Gorran said it was prepared with the artificial sweetener Splenda, which is Atkins-approved.

Otherwise, Gorran said, he followed the diet religiously, eating hard cheeses, chicken, beef, salad, tuna fish and mayonnaise. He acknowledged personal responsibility for “being an idiot” and believing all of Dr. Atkins’ claims.

Gorran isn’t suing for money; he’s seeking less than $15,000. Instead, he and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine say they just want warnings placed on the diet.

Kinburn suggested the following warning: It works for some people, it kills others.

Lubitz will rule later on whether the lawsuit can proceed.