Why Atkins went Bankrupt

The Atkins theory of weight loss went bankrupt last week as the company that manufactures the Atkins brand filed for Chapter 11 protection. The Atkins diet, in its last days, embraced a “balanced diet” of fruits and vegetables but the early hallmark of the diet mainly consisted of a high protein and low carb eating plan consisting of meats, eggs and cheeses and no starches.

I know a lot of people — mainly women — who swore by Atkins and I would always bet them they would not be on the diet in five years because it was unsustainable in the long term. They always bet me and six months later they had dropped Atkins. I have become rich betting against Atkins!

Here’s why Atkins doesn’t work:

1. High protein diets are dangerous. The body does not need much protein and by overwhelming your body with high levels of protein you are putting a great deal of pressure on your body to process (get rid of) protein it does not need.

2. Stressing the body with too much protein is one way that kind of diet would push the body to force it to work to process protein. That process would lead to burning calories.

 3. The lack of carbs — and we need carbs! — would push the body into ketosis — a sort of “forced diabetes” and that ketosis reaction is an internal body alarm that says there is danger to the core and the body must go into starvation-protection mode.

4. That ketosis alarm turns your body against itself as it begins to burn fat and muscle to survive. You lose weight really fast but you endanger your entire long-term well-being with that risky starvation diet.

5. That kind of emergency burning of stored energy works really well for two weeks or so but you cannot turn your body against itself forever, let alone five years or a lifetime. It is unsustainable to starve your body with proteins and no starches. You need carbs to live.

6. The body needs oil. The body requires starches. You can’t cut out either one and expect to be healthy. One of the best diet foods in the world is a boiled potato. Put a little ketchup on it and you’re fine. Pasta is also excellent for weight-loss if you just add a little tomato sauce. The potato and the pasta don’t make you fat. It’s what you put on them — the butter, the sour cream, the alfredo sauce, the meatballs — that make you fat.

7. Starches — in the right form — are your friend. Celebrate carbs, don’t ban them! I find the food lifestyles offered by Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Andrew Weill are smart and effective.

My all-time favorite healthy eating expert is Dr. John McDougall.  I lost 60 pounds following his outstanding and delicious plan for living. Here is the direct link to Dr. McDougall’s article on high protein diets and if you read that you will never go back to “ketosis-as-diet” and you will join me on the McDougall bandwagon forever.

26 comments

  • I was on Atkins for six months. I lost a lot of weight. Then I had to go off it. Couldn’t handle the diet. Alll the weight came back.

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  • Hey kathleen –
    Thanks for the comment! You are not alone. The body has specific nutritional needs and if one piece is missing the entire diet puzzle collapses. :)

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  • I admit, that I have done a low-carb diet, but I have never cut out carbs. The most success I’ve had is with eating whole grains instead of the “whites” – white rice, white bread, etc. Of course, I’m not doing anything right now! :-)
    People don’t understand that moderation is the key. It’s okay to eat white rice or white bread or regular pasta. You just shouldn’t fill your plate with it!

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  • Hello My Carla!
    I agree you can eat whatever you want as long as you don’t eat too much of anything.
    I try not to eat processed foods like white rice and white bread because they become paste in your system and block you up.
    Brown rice and wheat bread is a much healthier way to go all around if you need to lose weight or not.
    Empty carbs are bad carbs but carbs with a purpose can add fiber and bulk to your diet.

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  • I agree with all of your points, David. Earlier this year, I recall a survey covered by the media reporting that the Atkins Diet reached a peak of popularity of 8% of Americans “on” the diet in January 2004. By January 2005, that number dropped to less than 4%.
    The whole grain, fruit and vegetable approach of the World Health Organization and the ADA in the US (as well as Ornish, Weill and McDougall) is a sound one.
    The ADA was criticized by the media earlier this year for advocating 9 half cup portions of fruit and vegetables per day. The advice is sound, but difficult to carry out for most Americans. I think that we receive mixed messages from advertising. For example, many magazines targeted to women will have on their cover– “7 Sumptous Recipes for Fudge” and “How to Lose Weight in 7 Simple Steps.” Not to say that people can’t lose weight, the mixed messages are confusing at times.

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  • Hey Jeff –
    I am glad to hear your research numbers concerning the Atkins diet. I did make most of my bets around January of 2004. :) I also remember many packaged foods around that time had the Atkins “A” logo on them as a seal of approval. Now you don’t see that “A” logo much anywhere except on the Atkins line.
    The Atkins diet will return, though. In 20 years all will be forgotten and a new Atkins fad will penetrate the minds of the mass majority seeking a fast way to burn off weight.
    I agree there is a great disconnect between popular behavior and appropriate health but as long as the relationship between the two is actively opposite, media outlets and publications can make money on the conflict.

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  • Although, I do love a piece of white bread smeared with honey butter and browned in the toaster oven! ;-)

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  • Carla!
    You made me laugh out loud! :)

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  • Well, that’s good. I figured you’d send one of your Toast Police Deputies out to arrest me! :-)

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  • Well, we might do that anyway just to make sure it doesn’t happen again. :)

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  • Bring it!
    I’ll be armed with spatulas and oven mitts!

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  • Ok, I’ll stop now because we’re way off the Atkins subject! :-)

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  • I’m sending Deputy Paula! :)
    She’ll bring you a copy of Dr. McDougall’s book. (Now we’re back on topic!) :)

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  • Yes, yes, yes! Thank you! I’ve blogged about this too. I’ve been McDougalling for six months now and I feel amazing!

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  • Deputy Paula here! you knew I’d be waiting with my bullet in my pocket. Never went on the Atkins diet because I have way too many health problems to try fads. Chronic dieter from way back; can smell one a mile away. Now I eat sensibly and, with balance in my diet, I feel so much more energy. Weight I need to lose is coming off slowly. But hey, I didn’t gain it overnight. I don’t expect to lose it overnight. Besides, I’m a goddess no matter what my body looks like. ;) (and I know a good piece of toast when i see one.)

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  • Adrienne — Good to hear you are a McDougall fan! He’s the best. I have all his books. His recipies and food program make the most sense. His stuff works.
    Paula — You are so funny! :) I am so glad you hear you are losing the weight slowly and smartly. That is a tough road that we all must stay on for the rest of our lives. Eating right isn’t a diet, it’s the new ordinary and every day.

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  • Being that a large part of my life is spent working out, and has been that way since I was thirteen, I personally hated the whole “low-carb” craze.
    Being as I am pretty built and usually carry low bodyfat (I am a bodybuilder and former powerlifter) people always ask me for advice.
    As soon as the Atkins craze hit I was doomed, so to speak. If I gave any diet advice that was not “low Carb” then I had these very overwieght Atkins disciples telling ME what I was doing wrong.
    I usually just took off my shirt and asked for them to repeat, at which time they would just tell me that it will all turn to fat as I age and then walk away as if they had won a battle.
    I am happy fads do not last too long, I don’t know if I could handle it, lol.
    BTW, thanks for putting in the www. on my previous comment. For some reason the .net works without it but the .com does in fact need it. I forget sometimes.

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  • Heya Eban!
    I appreciate your experience with the Atkins fadders. There is no easy way to good health but that doesn’t stop people from trying. :) We gotta have carbs. There’s no way around it.
    Send a note to the folks who host your blog and ask them to fix the “www” problem for you. It’s easy to do. Most ISPs do it by default. Then you’re totally covered.

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  • I do agree with what you are talking about here…I don’t believe in giving anything up. I’m just trying to not live off of carbs. As I slowly make my way thru these phases eventually I plan to eat healthier carbs/starches and learn to appreciate all the other wonderful foods there are. I’m not doing Atkins…it’s crap.

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  • Good to hear, Robin! Please be safe!

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  • I need to fix my testosterone levels too which I found out are really high. I will see an endocrinologist in a week or 2 for a follow up appt in regards to my bloodwork.

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  • My advice is to remain as you are for now until your blood work issues are resolved. Radically changing your diet can give you uncertain chemical aftereffects. I would not start a new diet unless and until I met with my endocrinologist first to make sure I wasn’t unwittingly going to adversely mess something up.

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  • Yeah that occurred to me…I’m far too impatient for my own good. I think it’s my stress of the mother-in-law visiting.

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  • Don’t make a long term decision because of a short term visit.

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