In 1963, at a weight of 224 pounds, Robert Atkins was sick and overweight. Years of stress, work load, and poor eating habits had taken their toll. As an American physician and cardiologist, he knew that he needed to lose weight to become healthier. Little did he know that the weight-loss diet he implemented would drastically change how we think about nutrition. His high-fat diet rocked the conventional notions that low-fat foods were required for weight loss and proper health. Even today, this controversial diet continues to fight against misconceptions and criticism despite helping millions of people to lose weight.
Emerging in an era of low-fat promotion for healthy snacks, the Atkins Diet faced stiff competition. Years of scientific research (mostly directed by biased nutritionists and funded by agricultural interests) showed that high-cholesterol diets could increase the risk of heart disease. The findings prompted press releases advising people to eat less animal products and avoid fats. Due to the controversial nature of the Atkins Diet, serious research into low-carb diets has only recently been conducted. Ironically, more and more studies are demonstrating that high-fat diets actually reduce the risk of heart disease. Sadly, studies with these conclusions do not receive as much attention as those which highlight high-carb diets. In addition, the grain-based food industry is much more likely to fund studies that hypothesize the superiority of high-carb diets, helping to perpetuate the myth.
A series of studies in the mid-2000s showed that the Atkins Diet helped overweight patients lose weight as fast as or faster than individuals on the Ornish, Weight Watchers, Zone, or other diets. Undeterred, opponents of the Atkins Diet stated that the weight loss resulted from reduced food energy, not the lack of carbohydrates. Other critics claimed that the Atkins Diet still increased the risk of cardiovascular disorders because of the high cholesterol consumption (despite the research which suggested otherwise). As if that was not enough misinformation, promoters of other diets asserted that the Atkins Diet was 80% more expensive than the average American food budget. This figure was calculated by including recipes listed in an Atkins nutrition cookbook that contained high-cost ingredients, such as lobster tails (which were added to the cookbook to demonstrate the variety of potential foods on the diet).
Another misconception is that some people believe the Atkins Diet promotes eating unlimited amounts of fatty meats. Dr. Robert Atkins himself stated that the diet is “not a license to gorge.” Although the media or the opponents may claim the Atkins Diet promotes an all-the-steak-you-can-eat-and-still-lose-weight attitude, this is not the case. Also, the diet mandates limited carbohydrate consumption for just the first two weeks. Afterwards, carbs are gradually increased to adjust dieters to a healthy food regimen and avoid the after-diet shock that many dieters experience. The result of the Atkins Nutritional Approach is an informed individual who can maintain an ideal weight for the rest of his/her life.