Summer 2004

The Atkins Diet

Watching your weight could be more harmful than you think

By Sarah Ellis



Dr. Atkins Diet New Revolution book

You walk into Subway thinking that you can’t go wrong ordering from the menu because everything is nutritious, yet you stare at it wondering if you are allowed to even eat the bread the sub is made with. You look for a meal with the least carbohydrates while skimming over Subway’s Atkins pamphlets, which Plattsburgh has been bombarded with lately. What once was an easy decision is now controlled by America’s most popular diet.

The fattest country in the world is watching its weight. Dr. Atkins Diet New Revolution sold over 6 million copies last year and took the nation by storm. Today people are bound to the book and all its rules to lose pounds fast. Plattsburgh is divided when it comes to the fad diet. For some, they’re satisfied by how quickly they’re losing weight. Unfortunately, many have never consulted their doctors first or didn’t research the dangers before dropping the pounds, and they now are paying for it.

Mike Diers, a college student at Plattsburgh State University (PSU), is one of many who never consulted his doctor before going on the Atkins. Although he hasn’t experienced any serious side effects, besides weight loss, he has found the diet fairly restrictive. He says his mom was his only doctor when he saw how it worked for her. His mom has lost 40 pounds and Mike has lost 22 pounds in two and a half months. He hasn’t followed all the rules of the diet, but he’s trying. “It’s good stuff,” he remarks. “I drink a lot of water, like a gallon a day, but I feel better all around.” He admits the diet is strict, but follows about 90 percent of it. “I love French toast and I can’t have it,” Diers frowns. “I can’t have candy either.”

For the few who don’t know, the Atkins diet is based on surrendering carbohydrates and concentrating on protein-rich foods. People can still get away with eating fatty foods as long as they stay away from foods rich in carbohydrates, like pasta and bread. The idea is known as ketosis; burning body fat as energy, which means losing weight dramatically. Dr. Fuhrman, inventor of the Eat to Live diet, says people love the Atkins diet because they could lose up to 15 pounds in 24 hours on the diet, which are remarkable results. The diet encourages people to eat more protein than anything else.

Carbohydrates are responsible for about 60 percent of people’s daily calories, so when people cut them out, weight is going to be lost. What people don’t realize are the side effects that result from cutting such a large food and energy factor out of their diet. The number of side effects accompanying this diet is growing with every study. Dr. Shannon McMeekin of the Plattsburgh Health Center says, “Kidney damage is the biggest and most common risk because people aren’t drinking enough water.” Dry skin, weakness, acne, sunken eyes, frequent urination, headaches, dizzy spells, mood swings, and kidney damage are only the immediate reactions. McMeekin often hears complaints of diarrhea, constipation, and has already seen signs of colon disease relating to the diet. Serious side effects include high blood pressure, heart disease, high LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and inflammation of joints, muscle loss, and cancer.

New research shows Atkins may be more harmful to women than men.

McMeekin says, “It’s more harmful to women because women have more fat composition than men; men have more muscle composition so they can consume more protein without facing serious risks.”

The Atkins diet limits carbohydrate intake, allowing so many grams at different stages. For example, during the first two weeks you are allowed to have 20 grams of carbs. However, a banana alone has 26 grams. The dilemma is obvious. Fruits and vegetables helping with the body’s immune system in fighting off diseases, even cancer, often can’t be eaten because the carbohydrate level is too high. Also, since people on the diet eat more proteins, they increase their risks of developing colon cancer.


Carbohydrate table from Dr. Atkin's New Revolution - a correlation of fat consumption

Todd Kehoe, another student at PSU, says he felt nauseous the first couple days he started the diet. “I was hungry all the time, I think the second day I literally couldn’t stop eating.” Unlike Diers, Kehoe actually saw his doctor because he has acid reflux and was worried about it. With the doctor’s go-ahead, Kehoe started the diet, but not from the beginning. “I didn’t start with the ketosis idea they have as an introduction because it’s actually pretty nasty. It has a lot more side effects too, like bad breath. I didn’t want any part of that,” Kehoe said.

Kehoe has lost 20 pounds in less than two months and thinks the diet is successful, but should probably only be a short-term diet. He agreed the diet is very strict and had to start it twice. He remarked there’s a list of things you’re not allowed to eat. “I eat a lot of fish and chicken and make a lot of stir-fry,” he said. He add that the diet left him hungry, but “lots of diets leave you hungry all the time.” Kehoe has heard some of the dangers in the diet and is cautious about making it a life long plan.

While on the Atkins diet, exercise must be done in moderation. When you exercise, you’re burning off fat and extra carbs. If you have no carbohydrates in your diet and exercise a lot, you burn off fat quickly and begin burning off water and glycogen, which is energy inside muscles. This destroys your muscles and leaves you dehydrated. People on the Atkins diet often complain of being tired. The carbohydrates once giving them energy throughout the day are no longer present because the Atkins diet forbids them. When the body has been starved of carbohydrates, it wants to store as much as possible whenever it enters the body again. This means you could double your weight back if you get off the diet. People who have suffered from anorexia experience the same problems. It can be discouraging.

McMeekin says, “There’s a rebound effect and people put weight back on once they eat carbohydrates again. People are yo-yo dieting instead of learning lifestyle changes.”

She believes diets are a matter of portion sizing, eating healthy, and exercising. She recommends Weight Watchers and L.A. Weight Loss over the Atkins diet. People on these diets can still have their piece of cake; they just make the piece smaller. McMeekin remarks, “The Atkins diet could be okay as a jump start to get people motivated, to see they can do it, but they should really carry on with their own personal diet and exercise.” McMeekin also recommends everyone getting a physical and a profession opinion before starting any kind of diet. She thinks eating more protein to eliminate carbohydrates is all right, but only up to a certain point because everyone needs a certain amount of carbohydrates for exercise. She believes the Atkins diet is letting Americans become even lazier because it restricts exercise.


Curves, located on Smithfield Blvd., works on weight loss through exercise and dieting

Similar diets offer the same idea as the Atkins diet, but are less extreme and rigid. These diets are also effective, but have the same dangerous side effects and concerns. Dr. Fuhrman came up with the Eat To Live diet. This diet takes the concepts of the Atkins, but is adapted to reverse heart disease while losing weight. Eat To Live replaces carbohydrates with vegetables, like beans and fruit, instead of saturated fatty meats, and is said to offer the same dramatic weight loss, but in a safer way. It's “vegetable-based approach” also lowers LDL cholesterol by 33%. This is more effective than the Mediterranean diet, the Atkins diet, and the modern low-fat diet recommended by the American Heart Association. McMeekin says heart disease is the biggest and most serious risk, but there’s not enough evidence yet supporting this. Since heart disease is such a risk, Eat To Live may be much healthier for people concerned with heart disease.

The Atkins diet may be an overweight person’s answer to his or her prayers when they drop fifty pounds in weeks, however, it could mean sacrificing more than just the weight. Getting off the diet means gaining significant weight back, however, staying on the diet could mean years off your life. Diets are supposed to be healthy, not harmful. They should be improving health, not deteriorating it. They should also help to lose weight, keep it off, and incorporate regular exercise. It’s important for anyone looking to lose weight researches the different possibilities. This means talking to a doctor about what’s best in terms of health history and current fitness level. Most doctors will recommend eating healthy foods from every food group and exercising consistently. So the next time you’re at Subway surrounded by Atkins promotions, remember watching what you eat could be more harmful than you think.

What diets have worked best for you?



Here are some ways to make sure your health isn’t compromised by taking on a new diet:

Take your vitamins: When working on the beginning or strict phase of Atkins, some nutrients will be missing in from your daily lineup. To keep your health up, be sure to take a multi-vitamin daily. This is a good idea no matter what diet you’re on, but especially important for Atkins dieters.

Fat issues: Eating Atkins doesn’t have to be all fat and grizzle. Steaks and burgers are nice, but only in moderation. Chicken, fish, and pork are all lower in fat and cholesterol. Constant servings of red meat will help you lose the weight, but won’t necessarily lower cholesterol, which is a typical byproduct of Atkins dieting. Meanwhile, with the low-carbohydrate craze in full effect, there are plenty of tasty options on the market to make sure you won’t get sick of chicken after a week.

Have your cake and eat it too: There are plenty of good low-carbohydrate desserts created just for the Atkins diet, many of which are very good. Sometimes it’s okay to just give it up for a day and cheat a little, so long as you hop right back on the diet the next day (and don’t cheat afterwards).

Exercise care: The Atkins diet isn’t built to support a strict exercise regiment. If you’re going on the diet, take it easy when you’re exercising at the beginning of your diet. If you find yourself fatigued, add carbohydrates to your diet on days you workout, or the night before. If dizziness or faintness occurs, stop exercising immediately and talk to your doctor about a more appropriate diet. Lighter exercises, such as walking or jogging, are less likely to make you feel fatigued.

Don’t be afraid to make changes: The Atkins diet could work, but it may not work for you. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the diet if you think it will help, with the approval of your doctor of course. Find what works for you and stick with it. You know your own body best.

Consult your doctor: ALWAYS consult your doctor before making any dramatic changes to your diet. Family health history and complications could greatly interfere with your health. Make sure you get the facts first and what would work best for your fitness level.











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