Just Water Weight?
"The reason you do lose weight so rapidly on
this," explains Anderson, "is that you are not eating
carbohydrates, which are usually converted to quick energy, so you
are burning glycogen, a quick energy supply stored in your liver
alongside a supply of water. When you burn the glycogen, the water
is excreted. Most of the weight you lose at first is that water."
After the 2-week "induction period" of small
amounts of carbs prescribed by Atkins, dieters are allowed to phase
some carbohydrates back into their reinvented lifetime diet. "As
soon as sugar or starch crosses your lips," Anderson says,
"you may find that water coming back on board."
would be worried about someone eating a lot of
bacon and eggs to lose weight. What about heart
disease? Cancer? Diabetes?"
"People are not stupid," according to Anderson.
"While they are on this diet, people will bypass the doughnuts
and eat less food, even though the food they eat is fattier. This
results in a decreased caloric intake. Voila! Weight loss over time."
Will these dieters keep it off? "That is the
question," says Dr. Robert H. Eckel, professor of medicine
and head of the Nutrition Center at the University of Colorado--and
chairman of the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association.
Even the studies Atkins cites, he says, are old. There are not good
studies. "People are ketotic, they are burning glycogen, so
they are not hungry. They lose weight.
"But," Eckel continues, "I would be
worried about someone eating a lot of bacon and eggs to lose weight.
What about heart disease? Cancer? Diabetes?"
Lose One Risk Factor, Gain Another?
A diet high in fat has been suggested to contribute
to a number of serious conditions. So far as heart disease goes,
doesn't Atkins contend that his diet actually lowers cholesterol?
"Cholesterol is only one risk factor of heart disease,"
points out Ivonne Cottrell, a registered dietition with the Mayo
Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. "Actually, I have had people
come to me on this diet who had lowered their cholesterol and others
who have seen theirs go up significantly."
"Cholesterol goes down when you lose weight,"
Anderson says. "It's the loss of the weight. If you try to
maintain the weight loss by alternating high fat and 'normal' days,
cholesterol could climb."
Some forms of cancer--breast, prostate--have been
linked to high fat consumption, Eckel notes. Diabetes, too, is linked
to fat. "My heavens," exclaims Anderson, "we did
part of the research here that convinced the American Diabetes Association
to recommend a low-fat diet for treatment and prevention of diabetes.
Diabetes is best treated with high carbohydrate, high fiber, low
glycemic [sugar], and low energy density foods."
High protein diets also strain the kidneys in susceptible
people. "People eat more protein than they need now,"
observes Cottrell. "We have 18 million diabetics in this country,
50 million people with high blood pressure. They can have kidney
problems--and high protein intake will bring them on faster,"
Obviously excess weight puts a strain on your heart.
Would removing some of that strain balance out the artery-hardening
potential of the high-fat diet? None of these authorities would
say that. "This diet is thrombogenic," Anderson thunders.
"This means the fat will tend to form lipid particles in your
blood after meals, which could lead to blood clots, meaning heart
attack or stroke.
"We worry about this," he continues, "because
many of the people who love these diets are men aged 40 to 50, who
like their meat. They may be 5 years from their first heart attack.
This couldn't be worse for them. Did you know that for 50% of men
who die from heart attacks, the fatal attack is their first symptom?
They will never know what this diet is doing to them."
"People just don't want to eat healthy,"
Anderson concludes. Might the saving grace be that the diets are
so rigid and boring that people cannot stick with them? "Some
people are fanatics. I saw a man in Time magazine who had
been on it a year," he counters. "They may lose some weight,
but all I can say is they are doing their blood vessels no favor."
"The diet went away before because people found
it didn't work," Cottrell says. Could that have been a lilt
of hope in her voice?
Howard Lawrence is a medical journalist based in
Reviewed for medical accuracy by a faculty physician, Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School.