Atkins got the idea for his diet from a man by the name of William Banting. Over one hundred years ago, William Banting struggled to lose his increasing weight. He sought medical advice and was told to cut back on his food and exercise. He exercised, got even hungrier, ate more and gained more weight. He decided that his problem lay in his over-indulgence on the foods we now call carbohydrates. So he experimented with his diet and came up with what we would call a low carbohydrate diet. He was so successful at losing his weight and keeping it off he published an essay entitled, “Banting’s Letter on Corpulence.” This appears to be one of the earliest published low carbohydrate diets. His essay was so popular, and apparently so successful, he had to reprint it many times.
Dr Robert Atkins, a practicing cardiologist, read Banting’s essay, and since he too was struggling with his own weight problem, decided to try Banting’s method. Atkins lost his weight so easily and so painlessly that he decided to suggest it to his overweight patients. They too had great success at losing weight and so The Atkins Diet was born.
Medical research shows that the Atkins Diet works
A team of researchers at Stanford University published the findings of their research project in 2007. They were most concerned about two things: first, how long will overweight women stick to any diet and second, which diet will they stick to the longest? They designed a clinical trial with overweight, middle aged women (over the age of forty). Four diets were tested: The Atkins Diet (very low carbohydrate), The Zone (40% carbohydrate, 40% protein and 30% fat), Dean Ornish (10% fat) and the LEARN program based upon the dietary standard for Americans (the gold standard). The clinical trial lasted twelve months
After being randomly assigned to one of the groups, the women received the published books on their assigned diet, and were required to attend training sessions with a nutritionist who covered the content of the books and answered questions. All women were weighed, measured, had their blood drawn and had their blood pressure taken at the start and throughout the study
The women on the Atkins Diet were the most successful on all weight loss and health parameters. In addition, the women on the Atkins program stuck with the diet longer than the other groups.
The Dean Ornish group (10% fat) was the first to abandon their diet program and lost the least amount of weight.
Researchers found that for the women in the groups with lower fat content and higher carbohydrate content, the higher their blood sugars and the higher their cholesterol levels. The researchers were shocked! They had not expected this result. It was the opposite of what they had expected.
A second study compared the Atkins diet to the standard recommended diet was conducted in Israel. This study tested the notion that people on a low carbohydrate diet would be able to lose weight without any calorie restriction. So the researchers created two groups of dieters: the Atkins group and “the Gold Standard” group or the diet recommended by the USDA.
The results of this study showed that the men on the Atkins diet lost more weight, more quickly and had better blood values than the men on the government recommended diet. The women in both groups lost approximately the same amount of weight but the women on the Atkins diet had better blood values than the women on the standard diet. (The reason researchers watched blood values so closely was that they were afraid the people on a low-carbohydrate diet would go into heart or kidney failure as predicted by other researchers. This did not happen, even over time.)
Why does the Atkins Diet work?
The Atkins Diet works because it limits carbohydrates. When eaten, carbohydrates are converted into sugar which, when absorbed into the blood stream, creates a rise in blood sugar. Insulin is secreted to control the amount of blood sugar in the system. Insulin drives unused blood sugar into fat cells. The more blood sugar, the more insulin needed to control it, the more fat stored. Reducing the amount of carbohydrates reduces the need for insulin and reduces fat storage.
Insulin also appears to trigger appetite. The more insulin in our blood stream, the hungrier we are.
When carbohydrates are restricted, both incoming and stored fat are used for energy by converting it to blood sugar. With the reduction in instant blood sugar from carbohydrates, the body reaches into fat cells for needed sugar. When enough fat is consumed, the body does not need to dip into reserves. Since a low carbohydrate diet also reduces appetite, dieters tend to eat less.
To lose weight, therefore, cut carbohydrates. With the resulting reduction in carbohydrate and calorie intake, the body pulls fat from fat cells and weight loss results.
The diet our ancestors ate, before the development of agriculture, is quite similar to the Atkins diet. It was a low carbohydrate diet, and by all accounts, our ancestors were healthy people. Aboriginal Eskimo/Inuit ate an extremely low carbohydrate, high fat diet and they were healthy too.
Obesity seems to have appeared with the onset of agriculture and the abundant production of carbohydrates, especially grains.
And so began our struggles with weight control.
Does the Atkins Diet work? Yes, it does.