It’s no wonder that the Atkins Diet is so popular – again. It works and it worked back in the late 70’s when it was the rage back then. People lose weight quickly and easily. You stay away from carbohydrates, and eat protein and fat. Voila!, you are thinner. There is no annoying calorie counting and you aren’t hungry. Plus, you seem to be able to eat whatever you want as long as you stick with protein. How could you not like a diet like that?
Even the medical people are touting the benefits. Physicians all across the USA are beginning to be converted to this approach. Colleagues that I talk to are going on the diet themselves and recommending it to their patients. There are even studies that seem to highlight the dramatic differences in weight loss between a high protein-low carb diet and a balanced diet. The book, Atkins for Life is now the #1 bestseller. That many people in that many places can’t all be wrong.
The truth is not often found in numbers. Scores of people are sexist and racist, but that doesn’t make it right. Countless people hit their children to punish them, but that doesn’t make it right either. The truth about Atkins isn’t found in the medical literature or the reports of thousands of dieters who have lost weight. The truth is found in the psychology of weight control behind all restrictive diets. No matter how good the diet from a medical standpoint, if it requires the restriction of a given food, the diet will inevitably fail. This happened back in the 1970’s and will happen again in the coming years for the same reason. Any diet that requires a restriction of one food substrate cannot last. The person will invariably return to normal eating of all foods that they like. This is a truth in weight control supported by thousands of dieters experiences over and over again. It is a truth that cannot be ignored or denied.
I can actually understand why people get fooled by the Atkins approach. Atkins is designed to provide an appetite control system. High protein – low carb increases the level of ketones in the blood that diminish appetite. Ketones are excreted by binding to water, so there is a diuretic effect with the diet. How great is that ñ a diet that doesn’t make you hungry and makes you feel successful.
I have no bone to pick with the Atkins approach from a medical standpoint. The fact is that many people will lose weight and not be hungry and many stories will support that claim. My issue is the psychology of weight control that is fed by the Atkins experience. People mix appetite control with weight control. They falsely believe that weight loss is due to the composition of the diet, and not the energy equation. They believe that there are foods that make you fat and foods that make you thin. They believe they can eat whatever they want as long as they stay away from carbohydrates.
These experiences only feed the faulty psychology of weight control that most dieters bring to the dieting experience. The psychology is based on shame, the incorrect assumption that they are overweight because they eat too much or exercise too little. They never test that assumption, have most likely never had their metabolic rate measured or compared to others, and automatically blame their lifestyle and indirectly themselves.
The successful dieter takes these beliefs into their attempt to manage their new thinner weight. This is typically a weight that requires a significant level of undereating and exercise. At first, they try cope by following the the same diet that made them thin. They stay away from carbohydrate, and eat protein and fat ñ no snacks, no desserts, no pasta, no rice. They go out to Italian restaurants and only eat meatballs. They go Chinese, and eat the meat, fish or fowl entrees without the rice. After awhile, it gets old. The old belief system feeds a fear that they will not be able to stick with the program. They do not trust themselves and feel that they are on a road to disaster if they eat carbohydrate. The strain begins to show in their marriages and relationships. Spouses get tired of making different foods or struggling to pick a restaurant. Desserts start to call to the person. They eat the forbidden food and are wracked with shame and guilt. Hope is replaced by hopelessness, and they give up. They go back to eating the way they did before and start to gain weight. They blame it on the carbohydrates and are more convinced than ever that the carbs are the problem. Even worse, they blame themselves. After all, if they were strong enough to just keep it going a while longer, they would have succeeded.
So shame on you, Dr. Atkins, for feeding the shame of your patients. Shame on you for believing that medical facts cause people to be healthier, rather than healing their hearts and minds so that they can add the stress of watching what they eat and live with it. Shame on the medical community for promoting BMI as a measure of ideal weight when it is not individualized for sex, age, or metabolic rate. Shame on the research community and the press for reporting biased studies on weight loss that do not match subjects based on metabolic rate. Shame on them for promoting dieting that creates more customers for the billion dollar diet industry. Shame also on the pharmaceutical companies that develop appetite suppressants based on the belief that appetite is the problem.
But lets be perfectly clear. There is no shame for the victims of this bad psychology. The shame is solely on those who promote medical solutions that make people worse when they think they are getting better. Happened in the 70’s, and will happen again for the exact same reason. Remember the old adage – those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. It’s not until people are encouraged to use approaches based on a new psychology of weight control, one based on permission and individual differences, that they will be able to truly live at the healthiest weight for them.