New Atkins – not your big-brother’s diet

May 19, 2010

You remember the craze, don’t you. Back in 2003 and 2004 it was all Atkins, all the time. TV shows, packaged products lining grocery store aisles. Phenomenal stories of quick weight loss.

Then, like every other fad, it seemed to fade away. Products disappeared from store shelves, negative stories started popping up in the press and grave warnings from people who supposedly know better than you.

So, why on earth would there be anything truly new about the Atkins diet that would be worth noting? Well, let’s find out.

New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great.

One more benefit from having attended last month’s ASBP conference in Seattle was the opportunity to meet two of the authors of this book. In speaking with Dr. Westman, I noted several of my colleagues at work had been probing to see how we could organize our efforts to increase the awareness of the benefits of carbohydrate restricted diets (and high-intensity strength training) towards the end of enabling weight loss and addressing metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Our benchmark for comparison was the very successful 20/20 Lifestyles program which was developed at the Pro Sports Club in Bellevue Washington. Without getting into tons of detail about the program, I can say that it has worked for a great many people. The challenge, though, is that it is extremely expensive and extremely time-consuming. However, it does tick all the ‘conventional wisdom’ dietary checkboxes (calorie restriction, reduced fat, etc.). We thought an Atkins-like alternative could be just as successful at a fraction of the cost and effort. Our first self-critical question was the risk. You’re always ‘safe’ if you stick with the conventional wisdom. If anything does go wrong (i.e. someone has a major adverse event while on the program) if you’re in with the crowd, you have cover. If you’re not, you’re liable to get picked off, if you know what I mean.

When I recounted this line of reasoning with Dr. Westman, he assured me that he had it covered. Specifically, a major reason why he and his collaborators wrote the book was to decisively report the overwhelming clinical evidence of the effectiveness of this approach and that he and his colleagues had been treating their patients very successfully in their clinical practice for years. Now that I’ve finally gotten through the book, I can report that he did not disappoint.

In some ways, it’s the standard fare: chapters about the principles around which the diet was based, chapters about how to actually implement the diet, meal plans, recipes. But there are two major things that make this book stand out in my mind.

Deconstructs all the potential straw-men

One of the oft-repeated characterization (caricature?) of the Atkins approach is that it’s all about eggs and sausage all the time. While this book is no exception in extolling the virtues of eggs and high-quality, full-fat protein, it explicitly calls out the value of what are referred to as ‘foundation’ vegetables. Simply described as the ‘non-starchy’ vegetables (leafy greens, cruciferous, etc.). These vegetables are part of the plan form day 1 (even in the ‘induction’ phase). They have even included options for vegetarians and vegans. That’s right: a vegetarian Atkins dietary plan – strange bedfellows, indeed.

Overwhelms you with clinical evidence

Just as the doctor stated, the big payoff for me in this book was chapters 13 and 14 which they clearly have targeted to skeptical clinicians. They reiterate all the relevant biochemistry, cite their many successful interventions and buttress their arguments by citing no fewer than 71 publications in peer-reviewed journals that support their approach. Seventy one.

In terms of down-to-earth, practical advice combined with scientific and clinical support for said advice, this book is now at the top of the heap (edging out ‘6-Week Cure’) of books I will recommend to those who want to alter their nutritional practices to benefit their overall health.

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3 Responses to “New Atkins – not your big-brother’s diet”

  1. Chris Says:

    The little capsule on Amazon for this book mentions “whole grains” and doesn’t say a thing about fat. Is that just marketing spin, and trying to stay close to the Conventional Wisdom? Or does their approach include nontrivial amounts of grains and minimal focus on healthy fats?

    I will have to add this to my reading queue. I just finished up the Six Week Cure last weekend.

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    • KMT Says:

      My sense is a big part of what they were going for in this new Atkins book is to head off all the predictable criticisms. To be clear, the book unequivocal about opposing the lipid hypothesis and calls for a full-scale ‘induction’ phase at the beginning of the diet.

      However, they are very careful to include lots of fibrous vegetables (using the ‘net carbs’ idea which subtracts the grams of fiber from the total carbs of any item) and not to denigrate whole grains. Adding the veg*n options was a nice stroke too – not that I’d advise it, mind you, but it was a smart move.

      All in all, I think the idea was to get the diet back in the mainstream at the same time as pushing the lipid hypothesis and energy balance (irrespective of macronutrient content) notions further to the margins.

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  2. […] Gott, on the other hand, is stuck in the lipid hypothesis and is clearly not up on the latest clinical research on diet. This is even the case related to the research that supports his approach. My personal […]

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