Atkins Diet Validated? Or More Media Hype?


Okay, so it’s plastered all over the news lately.  Headlines that sell lots of papers or garner lots of attention, like:

“Atkins Diet is Safe and Far More Effective Than a Low-Fat One, Study Says”
“Unrestricted Low-Carb Diet Wins Hands Down”

These headlines refer to the recent study, titled, “Weight Loss With a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet” that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.  It’s purpose?  To compare the big 3 diets to see who came out on top.  Sounds exciting, like a heavyweight boxing match, right?

Everyone and their mom is desperately hungry for more news about how they can quickly lose all the unwanted pounds they’ve put on over the years.  So they eat this all up.  (pun intended)  But what’s the truth about what the study says?

Well, if we look at the details a few interesting things pop out at us.  First is that the actual amount of weight lost on the 3 diets (low carb Atkins-like diet, Mediterranean diet, and low fat diet) were 12.1 pounds, 10.1 pounds, and 7.26 pounds, respectively.  In other words, the difference over TWO YEARS was only about 5 pounds.   Not much to get excited about there.  I don’t know about you, but my weight can fluctuate a couple pounds a DAY, based on my hydration and such.

The next thing that stands out is that the low carb (Atkins) diet was nearly 40% carbs after a short, initial, super-low carb phase.  40% is not exactly low carbs, but more like a balanced 40-30-30 diet.  And on top of that the study’s authors encouraged participants to eat a largely vegetarian protein diet, which is decidedly unlike the Atkins diet.

Finally, we notice that the diets that were analyzed were SELF REPORTED, meaning that instead of strictly controlled meals being prepared for the participants in a clinical setting, the participants made their own meals and wrote them down.  If there’s one thing dietary studies have shown us is that participants will almost always UNDER REPORT what they’ve eaten.  So we can’t even be sure how accurate the data is that was provided.

Where does this all leave us?  Quite honestly, nowhere new.  It may well be a fact that a low carb diet helps people lose slightly more weight than other diets, and this is what most studies, when looked at critically, seem to suggest.  It seems to be just as true that some people will thrive on a low carb, Atkins-like diet, and some won’t.  We’re all different.

What really matters is the number of calories you take in, and how much activity you’re involved in to use up those calories.  So if you honestly and consistently track what you eat (don’t be an under-reporter), make adjustments on how you feel and how your weight is responding, and you’ll eventually hone in on the right diet for you.

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