Thoughts on the Atkins diet - first of all, I think it's ridiculous the way everyone in America is dieting these days. I've been working out and watching my diet since I was 15, about ten years now; at first I was kind of out of place; I'd go to an aunt's for dinner and they'd make some cheesy butter-drenched thing that I would just hate to have to eat. These days when I go to an aunt's they're serving low-fat ice cream, low-carb cookies, and all manner of ridiculous food. Which brings me to another rant - if you want to eat healthy food, eat grilled fish, eat vegetables, eat natural delicious good food, don't eat chemical bizarre artificial "healthy" versions of unhealthy foods! don't eat low-carb cakes for desert and low-fat soy bacon for breakfast, have yogurt for desert and ham for breakfast!
Ok, back to Atkins. I think Atkins is a little nuts and perhaps unhealthy, but to some extent it does work. Why?
- It's certainly true that refined sugar is very bad for you. It gives you a brief rush, then an energy crash, which makes you crave more sugar. If you don't work out very hard after having it, it's just turned into fat. It also puts your body in a metabolic (storing energy) rather than anabolic (using energy) mode.
- It's also true that eating a lot of carbs is probably bad for you. Something like a big plate of pasta has a lot of calories in all that flour without a lot of nutrients or protein or anything else. It also provides a ton of medium-term energy which is great if you're running a marathon the next day, but not good if you're going to sit on your ass at work like most of us.
- It's also true that fat makes you feel full, while carbs don't. Often after a dinner of carbs you'll keep snacking, while if you have a reasonable amount of fat (such as you would get from a steak or salmon), you won't.
- I think a lot of why Atkins works for many people is incidental. That is, most people who are over-weight do a lot of snacking, and the vast majority of unhealthy snacking is on carbs - chips, cookies, sweets, bagels, etc. So, obviously if you forbid carbs, you forbid those foods, you forbid all that snacking. Thus Atkins isn't working for any magic reason, it's working because you've cut the favorite foods of all these people.
- Another incidental issue is just that food without carbs gets kind of boring. Now I'm the first person to advocate the joys of simple grilled meats, fish, fowl, steamed veggies, etc., but if that's all you can eat every day, it gets boring, and you're not going to be too excited about eating lots of it. If you add carbs to your choices, there are a multitude of tasty goodies to temp your taste buds and entice you into eating more than you should.
- A related issue is that it's hard to eat a ton of calories really fast without carbs. It's pretty easy to eat 1000 calories in less than half an hour if you allow carbs (start with bread, have a plate of pasta, chase with cake and ice cream). In fact, people do it all the time. You don't even feel full until you're done. Without processed starches and sugars it's hard to have such concentrated calories that you can get so quickly, so you're more likely to take enough time to feel full by the time you're over-eating like that.
- Now, is Atkins actually a good idea? I really don't think so, but I don't have strong evidence for that. Certainly if you do go Atkins, I highly recommend a large amount of vegetables to supplement all the meat. I strongly believe in moderation when it comes to diets, and Atkins just seems too extreme. Certainly if you can't stick to it and you "fall off the wagon" from time to time, then it's not right for you. All that said, I am eating a low-carb diet these days, thought I've not cut carbs. I believe cutting processed sugar and white-flour products is far more important than cutting things like whole-wheat products.
- The stuff Atkins says about fat being fine is a load of BS. Bacon is not healthy. Calories of any kind are going to make you fat, and animal fat is full of calories. Sure, a moderate amount of fat is not only ok, it's necessary. For men, you need about 25g of fat a day for proper testosterone production (that's why vegetarians turn into wusses: not enough fat (I'm joking)); for women, you need some fat for the soft layer under your skin, for your breasts and butt, and for proper hormone balance; hard-exercising women know how their menstrual cycle can be screwed up, that's because of hormone production going out of whack due to fatty acid defficiency.