Starting the Atkins Diet

posted Jan 07, 2003

As of today at breakfast, I started the Atkins Diet, a controversial diet for the last thirty years. I mention this here both to document why I did this (so others can see the reasoning behind it and compare it to their own), and for some level of public accountability.

Why Diet?

The fact is that I don't really feel overweight. However... I am roughly six feet, three inches tall (give or take an inch) and I weight 240 pounds. Even under the new government recommendations, this puts me several pounds into the "obese" classification, the worst classification on the the list. The largest measurement around my torso is fourty-eight inches.

And as much as I've tried to rationalize it, I frequently require absurd amounts of sleep to function normally. In fact this has been the case all my life; I generally chalked it up to growing (which certainly made it worse) but now that I am adult and done growing, I really should have settled back into eight hour nights (or even less). Computing the total loss of usable hours even in a month is sobering, and more then a little depressing.

So even though I'm living life fairly normally and there's nothing really in particular that tipped me over, I decided to go for it. I have a lot to gain and little to lose.

Ironically, the only thing preventing me from seriously attempting a diet change was my wife; not because she was blocking me or fighting me, but the fact that she is on the happy side of healthy, despite living in the exact same environment as me. She has been concerned that if I diet sufficiently to lose weight, that she will also lose weight, possibly dangerously so. Otherwise, she wants me healthy and long-living, so she's of a split mind about this sudden conviction. It's funny to watch her face sometimes, as you watch the two ideas fight for control.

However, I believe that with the Atkins diet her weight-loss fears will be unfounded.

Why Atkins?

There are hundreds, or possibly thousands, of diets or diet plans on the market. Choosing one fairly is difficult. Moreover, the Atkins diet has been controversial now for thirty years, and as contrary as I may seem, I am not into swimming against the crowd just for fun. Why would I choose something controversial instead of something proven?

And it is in the word "proven" that the answer lies. The fact is that the official definition of a so-called "good" diet effectively hasn't changed since I was born: Low fat, high in carbohydrates (the "bread and grains" on the bottom of the food pyramid), some meats, etc. You know it, you've seen it a thousand times. Yet also since I was born (and before), Americans have been ballooning with ever greater girth. Moreover, something about this weight seems difficult to lose, as people try diet after diet, painfully losing some pounds, yet "yo-yo-ing" and gaining it back, plus interest, no matter how hard they try to avoid it.

The fact is that after 20-30 years of the status quo, with the same information being continuously beaten into the American psyche by study after study showing the negative effects of obesity and the continuous rise of it, you must account for how dietary policy can be failing so miserably. The only standard answer, a lack of collective willpower, is simply not believable. A person can lack willpower, but a group of people can not. A group can only be led. After 20-30 years, the responsiblity for failure on this truly enormous scale must be laid at the feet of the leaders, which are in this case the people promoting the standard dietary dogma.

Examined dispassionately, there simply must be something wrong with the standard diet answers of low-fat, high carbohydrate diets; the complete failure of that diet to succeed in the real world on any large scale is all the evidence needed. If anything about the standard diet has been "proven", it is that it is a miserable failure, and I have no desire to follow in the footsteps of millions of failed Americans.

Moreover, while I am not a dietician, I am an engineer with some degree of experience with systems engineering, the study of complicated systems. (The diet is of course the study of input into the human body, a very complicated system.) The fact is that standard dietary wisdom sounds painfully naive. "If you want less fat in you, eat less fat." may sound like common sense, it may even be common sense, but it is not necessarily true! And from what I see, it was accepted as common sense and promoted into official policy with little real study of whether it was true. The fact is, in a complicated system like the human body, consuming more of substance is perfectly capable of reducing the amount of that substance in the human body, if a system in the human body perceives that as a stimulus to push back, harder. Or not. It must be studied, not taken for granted.

The other major point is the age. Crackpots with fancy theories and no results do not last thirty years. There must be something to anything that can last that long in the face of unremitting hostility.

Atkins nearly turns the standard food pyramid upside down, putting protein (meat, cheeses, etc.) on the bottom and carbohydrates on the top. (It's not a perfect inversion; some vegatables remain near the bottom but it depends on starch content; potatos are virtually useless in the Atkins diet.) The body has two ways of getting energy, extracting it from carbohydrates (sugar, starch) or from fat. The Atkins diet is based around the observation that the body will preferentially use carbohydrates, storing excess carbohydrates and dietary fat as body fat. (Along with a lot of other corresponding problems I'm leaving out for clarity; see the web site for more.) By forcing a switch in the body to burning fat, the body will use fat instead of just accumulating it, at which point a natural balance will re-assert itself in the majority of bodies.

Thus, the 'controlled carbohydrate' diet; controlling the incoming carbohydrates so that the body does not have enough to sustain its energy usage on carbohydrates alone. In the majority of American diets, there are carbohydrates to spare, literally, which is why we end up wearing them.

I'm leaving a lot out, but it makes sense to me. It isn't a naive, first-order approximation, and in the last few years the scientific studies have finally been funded that are bearing the theories out. (If it weren't for the recent studies showing that the bad things everyone said would happen don't happen, I would not have chosen the diet, no matter what. There is too much psuedo-science out there as it is.) Considered as a scientific theory, it explains more then the current accepted dietary theories; it explains the success Atkins practicioners experience, it explains why everybody is getting fatter, and it explains history.

If worst comes to worse and the diet is a complete fraud, I am young enough to recover from any ill-effects without permenent damage, so I'm a good self-selecting test candidate in that regard.

So, a diet. Today is the first full day of participation, so I'm in the Induction phase. According to the book, a distinct change in energy level should be noticable by the third or fourth day, which I am treating as the first scientifically testable prediction. If that goes on schedule, I will be much encouraged for the accuracy of the rest of the book.

A note: I did buy the book but you could, if you wanted, just use the website. It has everything you'd need, pretty much.


Site Links


All Posts