History of Low-Carb Dieting
Robert Atkins began one of the most popular and successful diets when his book The New Diet Revolution was published in 1972. However, although Atkins is well-known as the pioneer of the low-carbohydrate diet, he was not the first to discover low-carb dieting.
According to Jonny Bowden in the Alive: Canada’s Health Natural Health and Wellness Magazine article “Before Atkins,” the first commercial book about low-carb dieting was Letter on Corpulence by William Banting published in 1869. Because Banting thought he was going deaf, he went to see Dr. William Harvey in 1862. Dr. Harvey decided that Banting’s real problem was obesity, so he eliminated all starch and sugar, beer and potatoes from Banting’s diet. All Banting ate was “meat, fish, vegetables, and wine, with an occasional crust of toast.” Banting, who was 5′ – 5″ lost 100 pounds on Harvey’s recommended diet and was inspired to publish his book at his own expense.
By 1958, Dr. Richard Mackarness had published Eat Fat and Grow Slim. Mackarness ran Britain’s first obesity and food allergy clinic. In his book, he argued that it was carbohydrates, not calories, that caused people to gain extra pounds. He believed that certain people could not process carbohydrates as well as others.
In 1961, Dr. Herman Taller published Calories Don’t Count. Taller was a New York doctor who was overweight all his life. He wondered why some people could lose pounds on low-calorie diets and others could lose weight following high-calorie, high-fat diets. He reasoned that high-carbohydrate diets stimulated insulin, which in turn increased fat particularly in people who were sensitive to carbohydrates. Basically, Taller believed that it was not how many calories people consumed, but rather how their particular bodies metabolized calories.
Dr. Atkins was the first popular diet author to focus seriously on insulin as a factor in weight gain. Much to the chagrin of the popular low-fat, low calorie establishment, Atkins resurfaced with a newly updated New Diet Revolution in 1992, which became very popular and marked the beginning of the low-carbohydrate craze. In addition to Atkins’ theory about carbohydrates and insulin, Dr. Barry Sears published the popular Into the Zone and Doctors Michael and Mary Dan Eades published Protein Power in 1995, which helped fuel the beginning of the new low-carb thinking era.
How Does the Atkins Diet Work?
The Atkins Diet has four phases: Induction, Ongoing Weight Loss, Pre-maintenance and Lifetime Maintenance. During the first phases or Induction, dieters follow a restricted food plan that includes a lot of protein and specific types of fat.
The first phase has a low predetermined limit of carbohydrates. Dieters restrict grains, fruits all sugars and several types of vegetables. The length of the induction phase depends on the number of pounds a person needs to lose. As the dieter progresses through each of the four phases of the Atikins Diet, more carbohydrates and foods are added to his or her diet.
The Atkins Diet works because when people eat foods that consist of mostly protein, fat and slow-absorbing fiber (foods low on the glycemic index), the body produces much less insulin, and weight gain and insulin go hand-in-hand. When people consume carbohydrates, the body converts them into glucose. When there is a rise in blood glucose, the body triggers the release of insulin to moderate glucose levels. So, in simple theory, the Atkins Diet works by switching the body from a machine that uses carbohydrates for fuel to a machine that uses fat for fuel.
Does the Atkins Diet Really Work?
There has been a lot of debate about low-carb dieting. Many health experts argue that initially people experience a lot of success as far as number of pounds lost on a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet; however, for most people, it’s a very difficult diet to say on for the long-term, and many health professionals say there are numerous health risks as well as the possibility of yo-yo dieting (losing and gaining extra pounds over and over again).
Health Risks of Atkins Diet
According to the fall 2009 Good Medicine article “Nutrition Journal Highlights Atkins Diet Nightmare,” Several scientific studies including recent findings by Oxford University researchers have linked “low-carb diets to heart disease and other serious illnesses.” High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets also increase mortality risk. The article also notes that the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association have issued warnings about the dangers of the Atkins diet.
Bowden, Jonny. “Before Atkins.” Alive: Canada’s Health Natural Health and Wellness Magazine. January 2005, Issue 267, p46-49.
“Nutrition Journal Highlights Atkins Diet Nightmare.” Good Medicine. Fall2009, Vol. 18 Issue 4, p11.