Wednesday, April 01, 2009

More Anti-Atkins B@llocks!

O.k - it is a harsh title for a blog post. I accept that, but every once in a while someone shows me an article written somebody who clearly doesn't know what they are talking about. This particular little tirade against the Atkins diet that was recently forwarded to me is exactly the kind of uninformed rubbish that is pedalled by people who (despite putting a picture of the book on the article) haven't actually read the book, or any of the recent research, otherwise you feel they would be a lot less vilifying in what they wrote.

I am often criticised or challenged for trying to get people to eat more fat, reduce their sugar and grain intake. The usual accusation levelled at me in perjorative fashion is that I promote 'pseudo-Atkins' approaches, and it is usually uninformed comments like we see in the media or on peoples websites that provide the fuel for these. Mostly these comments are simply regurgitated verbatim et litteratim without a true understanding of what they are saying.

Try as I might, I cannot let this go unchallenged. So, in answer to recent comments in an article I thought I might try and right a few wrongs. So, here are a few of the comments from the article that are often cited by many dieticians and the public alike. I have bolded them with my viewpoints underneath?

The Atkins diet is a diet where you limit your carbohydrate intake and rely more on protein

O.k well it doesn't start on a good footing from square one does it? In a recent study over 12 months in the U.S comparing four different diet approaches (I'm going to come back to this excellent study) they showed that protein intake on Atkins was relatively comparable with both Zone diets and the national recommendations. What characterises Atkins over most common approaches is the greater fat intake. Has this guy read the book????

The problem with the Atkins diet and why many people think the Atkins diet is bad is that it is a great short term weight loss diet but very unhealthy for long term.

Hmmm, o.k well I'd love to see some references, but sadly they seem to have not been included here. In fact the article in case carries NO referencing at all. Well, this study at Stanford in the US would disagree with the above point. Check the abstract HERE .
You might be interested that contrary to the quote from the 'anti-atkins' article, the above study found that not only was Atkins more effective for weight loss, it was also the only diet in the study that showed FAVOURABLE changes in triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, and Blood Pressure.
Long-Term concerns that are often voiced about this type of diet tend to centre around the possible effects of a raised protein intake on kidney health in those with sub-par kidney function. However, there is NO data to support this hypothesis and it remains nothing more than a caveat given by those who are now having to admit that it may not be quite the nutritional heresy it once was.

Carbs are very important for the body and are what give you energy when these are cut down as a short term fix this will make you feel lethargic and can trigger other emotional problems.

O.k I must of missed the section on 'essential carbohydrates' in my MSc lectures and nutritional study. This is clearly someone who has never tried this or used this approach. I could go into quite a deep lecture on this but lets keep this brief. Actually most peoples terrible issues with energy are due to their inability to regulate their blood glucose levels, which is caused (in most cases) by excessive intake of refined carbs, grains, flour, and sugar. We see consistent improvements in energy, mood, and many other measures by simply replacing many of these carb calories with fats. Controlling insulin is central to dealing with lethargy and energy issues, not to mention successful weight loss and to do this effectively you must look at carb intake.

We aren't saying that you shouldn't eat carbs. In fact the research show's that those with a high degree of carb sensitivity often lose weight better when they have a more moderate than low carb intake. However, the notion that carbohydrates are what 'gives you energy' is completely misleading, as is the portrayal of this as a 'short-term fix' - we view it as a long-term fix. We keep our carbs in most cases to a large unrestricted intake of vegetables, full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and many other goodies.

Now, I could be here all day pulling out references to support my criticism, but I am not the one completely slating the lowered carbohydrate, higher-fat approach. However, a recent study out in February completely contradicts the 'emotional problems' that this article talks about. The study by Yancy et al found improved quality of life scores on mental health with the low-carb group only! . This follows a similar study from 2006 in the Journal of Obesity where the authors concluded "that weight loss can result in significant improvement in a broad range of self-report symptoms and that, compared with an LFD, an LCKD results in specific improvements in mood".

I think that is that covered. Let's move on.

The other problem with the Atkins is once you come off it you will put on allot (sic) more weight as your body will have gone into a starvation phase storing fat not knowing when you will be given food next.

Oh please. Let's not pretend this is an Atkins phenomenon, in fact you are far more likely to experience this with a true fad diet such as the 'Special K Diet' or the 'Flat Belly Diet' or some such similar rubbish. The Atkins is not a fad diet, in fact in keeping with the word 'Diet' which actually means 'way of life' the Atkins is designed to help people find a way to live long-term that prevents weight regain (READ THE BOOK!!!!). Anecdotally a search of the many online forums shows how much success there is, while empirically the Stanford study that is cited above showed that compared to Zone, Ornish, and national recommendations, those who followed Atkins had a higher rate of success at keeping their weight loss off.

"The main danger with the Atkins diet is how you actually lose weight from it. The Atkins diet triggers a short term weight loss situation called ketosis.This can also be life threatening for individuals who have diabetes."

Oh good grief. It just gets worse, not this old chestnut! Please go and learn the difference between ketosis and diabetic ketoacidosis. I won't go into that here, but the low level of ketosis seen on the first two weeks of Atkins cannot be compared to the extraordinary levels of ketones that are seen along with dangerously high levels of blood sugar seen in diabetics. Ketogenic diets were often the treatment of choice for epilepsy in children - hardly something that would be used if it was so desperately bad for the kidneys. While there is slightly higher rates of kidney stones (3-7%) seen in children after 18 months, the chances of any side effects from the two-week induction phase of Atkins are almost always overstated and I've yet to meet anyone who had kidney failure from two-weeks of low-carb eating. I've eaten low-carb for several years now and am pleased to report my kidney's are still intact and functioning perfectly well.

You do lose weight in this way but mainly water weight, the carbs in your muscles and as you move along the process some fat but also muscle mass something you really don’t want to be losing and is certainly not healthy to lose.

I am going to overlook the grammar and get to the point. Bodybuilders have been dieting like this since most of us can recall. Actually Dr Mauro Di Pasquale, Author of the Anabolic Diet, bases it around the ketogenic approach. In fact, just about every expert out there who really knows what they are talking about would say this is the basis on which bodybuilders, fitness models and others are actually able to get lean for shows, ever met a bodybuilder who leans out with pasta, rice, and bread? Shifting to a higher fat and reduced carb intake can help shift the body's metabolism to prefer fat burning over carb oxidation, which is why ketogenic cyclic diets tend to be so successful.

I have never understood this criticism of lowered carb/higher fat approaches. Yes, you do lose some stored water, what exactly is the problem with that? Many people struggle with fluid retention so the reduction in bloating and oedema that can come through reducing carbs (refined carbs and grain raise insulin, which leads to kidneys retaining sodium and the body retaining water) is often welcomed. Not to mention the benefits of a reduced vascular load, as evidenced by the reductions in blood pressure seen on an Atkins diet.

Personally I would advise no one to use the Atkins diet but instead go for a healthy lifestyle change where you could lose weight fast and keep it off for good

Please share this with us? Let me guess? Low-fat? Special K? Muller Light? I think by refusing to admit that approaches similar to Atkins (let us not forget that the notion that sugar and refined grain products may be deleterious to health was being mooted by many others, such as Jerry Reaven, and the brilliant John Yudkin before Atkins) may have some merit - and indeed recent research is confirming this- you are in danger of not only misleading and confusing clients, you are missing out on possible tools to help clients, particularly those with insulin resistance and Syndrome X/metabolic syndrome.

Our above comments are not intended to be a direct criticism of the authors of the article in question, I am sure they are well-intended. However, it comes across like a piece that just echoes dogma and myths that have been leveled at anything other than the USDA Food Pyramid approach for years now. For us, if you are going to write such a strongly worded piece full of such absolute criticism and vitriol then you really should back it up with some solid science and evidence. As educators to the public we have a responsibility to report objectively on issues that are often misunderstood by them, instead articles like this cloud the waters rather than clear them.

Finally, we emphasis that here at Aegis we don't talk about stuff unless we do it ourselves. That's why we don't write articles on bodybuilding or high-end athletic conditioning, we write about diet and exercise for the everyday client and person in the street who we help and see results with EVERY week, often using approaches and methods influenced by such people as Atkins.
Part of our rule is not to advise clients on diets and training unless we have tried them ourselves, or at least researched them thoroughly, which is where, for us, this article falls down. It doesn't seem to us like the author has even read the book, which may be a good place for them to start......

The fact of the matter is that modern research is now showing strong evidence for the efficacy of low-carbohydrate and higher fat approaches for weight loss and the treatment of insulin resistance and syndrome X/metabolic syndrome. Like it or not, the results cannot continually be swept under the 'Atkins carpet' that dieticians in particular are so fond of using in such perjorative fashion.

5 comments:

Peter Cohen said...

Gym wars...It's like Average Joe's vs GloboGym! Not sure who is who in this case but I am on Aegis' side!

Team Aegis said...

'We're better than you and we know it!!!' Ha, only kidding obviously Pete....We wouldn't normally put together an article like this, but the article in question was simply so erroneous that we couldn't help ourselves as it made us so mad!

Your support is very much appreciated!!! :-)

Marcel Daane said...

Hi Greame
Great Article buddy.

If you don't mind, I'm going to ramble on a little...

In my opinion, any nutritional program labeled as a "Diet" is quickly labeled as a Fad by the public and media.
In many cases, they're right. What I find amazing about the whole Atkins debacle is how it was chastised in the early years as a "dangerous" and "irresponsible" nutritional program. I remember when I was studying nutrition over a decade ago, much of the hypotheses came from conclusions with diabetic patients and not with healthy individuals. Now, after more than a decade, research is showing that individuals who have been following the Atkins program for a decade actually are equally healthy, if not more, than other diets.

In the 1970's and 80's Dr Atkins was the first person to bring to our attention that while we were avoiding fat like the plague, we were replacing the calories with refined sugars, resulting in an increase of obesity at an alarming rate.
Regardless whether or not the Atkins diet is healthy is beside the point here. He single handedly created public awareness by introducing his diet to the world. By bringing this to the public's attention he provoked numerous scientific studies trying to prove him wrong, only to prove him right in the long run. To me, this shows that Dr Atkins was not just another Mad Scientist, he is a legend.
It is thanks to people like him that we are now much more aware that next to caloric intake, the second most important factor of weight/health management, is balancing our blood sugars.

I do believe that every individual has a unique, genetically predetermined, glucose tolerance level, which means that what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Since we are not yet at a technologically advanced stage where we can do regular genetic typing to determine such factors, we can simply "experiment" with various different nutrient combinations and draw our conclusions from what works best for us.
Despite of our individual differences there is, to this day, a constant attempt to generalize nutrition by most "experts". Because of this, our public is in a constant state of confusion.

I think, as we have done with developing progressive exercise programs based on individual goals and current ability levels we are now reaching a stage where we must step away from generalizing nutrition and look at personalizing it in the same manner.

The public will then know to put their nutritional trust in great professionals and experts like you.

Thanks for defending your stand point. This planet needs more Living Legends.... You are well on your way to becoming one too...
Keep up the great work.

Good luck with the Business buddy,


Marcel - Singapore

Marcel Daane said...

Hi Greame
Great Article buddy.

If you don't mind, I'm going to ramble on a little...

In my opinion, any nutritional program labeled as a "Diet" is quickly labeled as a Fad by the public and media.
In many cases, they're right. What I find amazing about the whole Atkins debacle is how it was chastised in the early years as a "dangerous" and "irresponsible" nutritional program. I remember when I was studying nutrition over a decade ago, much of the hypotheses came from conclusions with diabetic patients and not with healthy individuals. Now, after more than a decade, research is showing that individuals who have been following the Atkins program for a decade actually are equally healthy, if not more, than other diets.

In the 1970's and 80's Dr Atkins was the first person to bring to our attention that while we were avoiding fat like the plague, we were replacing the calories with refined sugars, resulting in an increase of obesity at an alarming rate.
Regardless whether or not the Atkins diet is healthy is beside the point here. He single handedly created public awareness by introducing his diet to the world. By bringing this to the public's attention he provoked numerous scientific studies trying to prove him wrong, only to prove him right in the long run. To me, this shows that Dr Atkins was not just another Mad Scientist, he is a legend.
It is thanks to people like him that we are now much more aware that next to caloric intake, the second most important factor of weight/health management, is balancing our blood sugars.

I do believe that every individual has a unique, genetically predetermined, glucose tolerance level, which means that what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Since we are not yet at a technologically advanced stage where we can do regular genetic typing to determine such factors, we can simply "experiment" with various different nutrient combinations and draw our conclusions from what works best for us.
Despite of our individual differences there is, to this day, a constant attempt to generalize nutrition by most "experts". Because of this, our public is in a constant state of confusion.

I think, as we have done with developing progressive exercise programs based on individual goals and current ability levels we are now reaching a stage where we must step away from generalizing nutrition and look at personalizing it in the same manner.

The public will then know to put their nutritional trust in great professionals and experts like you.

Thanks for defending your stand point. This planet needs more Living Legends.... You are well on your way to becoming one too...
Keep up the great work.

Good luck with the Business buddy,


Marcel - Singapore

Team Aegis said...

Thanks Marcel,

There are actually ways to test - but with the exception of the Biosignature system, most of them are quite labour intensive or involve quite invasive and time consuming protocols. There are tests such such as the Insulin Resistance Profile from Genova that can offer up some pretty good data, which when compared to client profiles can give you a pretty good picture.

Simple experimentation and monitoring of bodyfat through skinfold testing is probably the simplest way for trainers to check. However, it isn't too difficult to look at peoples overall profile, food diary, and bodyfat and then assess their insulin resistance profile.

I agree with you entirely with your points below. With a little education the public can learn to moderate their own diet according to subjective data they record themselves. Atkins (as many other approaches do) simply gives them a startpoint by which to do that.

Most times, if someone eats a ton of bread and rice, has terrible energy, lots of fat storage at the suprailiac site, and is very apple-shaped, we can be pretty sure that they don't tolerate carbohydrates very well. The first comments we always get when we take them out of the diet are "wow, my energy is so much better" - bingo, normalised blood sugar.

Combine that with weight training and plenty of walking, lots of sleep, and plenty of water, along with a few helpful supplements and you are onto a winner. Carbs can easily be reintroduced starting with berries and going from there (bearing in mind we don't cut out the green vegetables at any point!!).....