Atkins Update

posted Nov 28, 2003

I thought it would be interesting to summarize my experiences with Atkins to date, since I haven't posted on it for a while.

First, so far I've lost about 30 pounds, out of a projected 50 or so I want to lose. The reason I'm not there yet is that I have not been on it full time.

Some observations:

Falling Off the Diet

Once I'm on the diet, I tend to stay there unless something knocks me off. Once off, I find it moderately challenging to get back on, because it's easier to drag your feet then exert the will power.

To date, both of the times I have fallen off the diet have been in situations where I was out of control of my diet for multiple days at a time, because I was either at a conference out-of-state with provided meals, or staying at my in-laws for multiple days. In those situations, it is surprising how many meals can not be eaten with Atkins in mind.

For instance, I recall the Thanksgiving menu that held me off the diet after falling off the first time: Turkey, corn on the cob, rolls, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and a chicken noodle soup that was mostly noodles. Everything except the turkey was almost entirely starch, and, well, man can not live on turkey alone.

Still, I feel that it's essentially my fault for feeling like once I was off, I might as well stay off for a bit. It's really not true; the weight comes back quickly. On that note...

It's a lifestyle, not a diet

Atkins says as much, and it's true. Like any other real diet, it only works if you stay on it for basically the rest of your life. The instant I get off of it, I start to gain weight, more rapidly then I would think I should.

Atkins is not a No-Carbs Diet

A lot of the criticism of Atkins seems to stem from this misconception; I find the criticism rather uncompelling as a result. For instance, Louis Black went off on the Atkins diet on a "Back in Black" segment on The Daily Show a couple of weeks ago; while somewhat funny, it seemed to be based on characterizing the Atkins diet as eating "bacon dipped in butter". Errrr, no. Atkins calls for a lot of veggies, as fresh as possible. Even nutritionists who ought to know better (one really ought to know what one is criticizing) seem to make this mistake.

Despite the resurgence Atkins is undergoing, it is still misunderstood by a lot of the critics. The final stage of the diet is working out how many carb you can eat without gaining weight, a different number for everybody.

From a scientific point of view, I find Atkin's theories more accurate for determining when I will gain weight based on what I am eating. A damning blow against the conventional nutritional dogma, but for me the real coup de grace was the discovery that...

Nutrition is not a Science (Yet)

I mean that. In order for something to be considered a "science", it needs to conduct "research" with some degree of scientific validity. The most well-known "scientifically valid" research technique is called the "scientific method", which involves having a "control group" and varying only one variable at a time to determine the effects of such variation.

Technically, that's effectively impossible in nutrition. It's also impossible in other true sciences, such as astronomy, so alternate techniques have been developed that center around trying to create predictive theories that both explain most or all current data, and correctly predicting the distribution of future data points. It is not correct to define sciences as things that follow the "scientific method", which is frequently the definition given in school, because astronomy is a science, too. The "scientific method" is more a theoretical ideal then practical one.

It is obviously impossible to conduct ideal experiments in nutrition on humans, since you would theoretically need to have humans identical in every way, genetic and environmental, varying only their food intake. Nutrition will have to settle for something a little less rigorous.

However, what they have settled on to date is not acceptable. Far too many studies involve self-reporting, which is known to be a very dangerous study methodology for any number of reasons. Studies often don't have a control group. Studies are often poorly set up. Studies are almost invariably set up with a desired result in mind and the 'dogma' is strong enough that the result is either obtained, or the study is not published.

Add up the crappiness of what passes for 'science' in nutrition over the past 30 years, and I am not willing to call it a science. In order to be a science, it really needs to run multi-year studies on a large group of people and provide all the food that group eats for that period of time. It's obvious why nutrition is not a science; that's very expensive for a study and very few studies have risen to this level. In this situation, though, it's a bare minimum.

Only recently have there been anything remotely resembling a significant number of studies like this... and lo and behold, while I'm nowhere near ready to say that Atkins has been completely confirmed (that's a high standard that to date no diet has met in my opinion), the race is significantly more even (or tilting towards Atkins) then conventional nutritionists would have guessed.

I can't find one good source to point at to back this up, since the Google searches are pretty clogged up on this topic. But I'm quite confident about stating this as fact. I no longer feel that I'm taking any significant sort of risk on the diet vs. the "safe" alternative of the conventional diet, because I am no longer convinced that there's any particular reason to believe the conventional diet is "safe". There's really shocking little science-level evidence that it is.

Atkins is an Acceptable Diet... For Me

I can not determine the "goodness" of the Atkins diet based on my single experiences, of course. But when it comes down to it, you are an individual person, and no true "science" can be conducted on that sample of one. You just have to do your best, based on your own experiences.

I still expect that as nutrition becomes a true science it's going to discover there are several distinct types of people who react to varying diets in varying ways. Some people seem to do just fine on the high-carb diets. The people we notice in our society is of course the people who get fat on them. Atkins may only be the optimal diet for those people, but those people still need to figure that out.

I can recommend that you consider the Atkins diet if you need to lose weight, especially if you feel your diet isn't obviously wrong but still are gaining weight. (Pre-Atkins, I wasn't exactly eating entire tubs of ice cream or anything; in fact I thought I was doing OK, but my weight told a different story.) If your experiences are like mine, you may find you have an Atkins-type body, which is really a very freeing discovery.

I think weight is a choice, if you learn enough about real nutrition. I hope more scientific studies are done over the next few years, so we can stop debating on zero knowledge and start really learning. It's about damn time the "science" of nutrition entered the 20th century... and that's not a typo.


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