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Atkins is not just about how to diet, weight loss management, diet foods, carbs and slimming

Atkins is more a holistic “how to lose fat” philosophy than a diet

HOW TO DIET - 1The panda eats nothing but carbohydrates.  It has to eat non-stop from the moment it wakes up at first light until it retires at sunset.  It is fat, ponderous and almost extinct.

HOW TO DIET - 2The wolf on the other hand doesn't have a single carbohydrate in its diet.  It can run for days without eating, sometimes covering fifty miles a day.  In spite of eating infinitely more fat than a panda, it doesn't have an ounce of fat on its frame and can flourish in the most inhospitable of environments.

Which metabolism would you prefer?

I am a sixty-five year old male who has been two stone or more overweight most of his adult life. For the last thirty years I have kept strictly to a low-fat diet. You know the sort of thing: drinking white water instead of milk, one egg a month and soggy boiled veg.  Notwithstanding, I remained stubbornly overweight.

In November 2003 I discovered Atkins. In two months, I was down to my target weight, i.e. the weight that I was when I was twenty-two and in the army.  I was pigging like Henry VIII, felt better, slept better, had much more energy, and a number of minor ailments that I'd had for decades disappeared.  The icing on the cake came when I had a blood test and found that I had turned in the best results in my life!

Atkins turns the convention medical advice of the last thirty years on its head. Conventional dietary advice is to cut your bread thick and put a mere scrapping of butter on it.  Atkins says eat the butter and throw the bread in the bin!  But crucially it works, where conventional medical advice manifestly doesn't.

What got me started?

I read an article in the Sunday telegraph in November 2003.  It was written by a food scientist who was booked to do a speech at some large gathering of scientists.  She had wanted to debunk Atkins, and had decide to do some research to provide herself with the ammunition she needed to do this successfully.  She compared 200 people on the Atkins diet with 200 people on a conventional low-fat Weight Watchers type diet.  To her consternation she found that the folk on Atkins were not only far more successful at shedding the pounds and keeping them off, but what really bugged her is that when she did the blood tests, the Atkins group had substantially lower lipid (fat) levels than the low-fat group.

She concluded that as a food-scientist this made no sense, and she was not looking forward to delivering her paper as she feared she would be booed off the stage.  Nevertheless, she concluded that her integrity required her to report the fact as she had found them.  Well I'm one of those old fashion simpletons who believes that if your facts don't square with your theories, it's your theories which need revising, not the facts.  I think St Thomas said somewhere, "You can't argue with facts." - although he said it in Latin, so it sounded much more erudite.

Why then does Atkins receive such a bad press?

Dr Atkins by challenging vested interests has made three powerful enemies:

  1. Dr Atkins encourages meat, poultry and fish eating, that means that the vegetarians and all the animal-rights nutters are gagging for his blood. One of the strange things about animal-rights nutters is that they don’t mind human blood.

  2. next there was all the powerful vested interest that he has upset: the potatoes growers association, the pasta makers, the rice growers and importers, bakers and flower mills, confectionery and sweet shops, sugar and banana importers.

  3. Finally the medical profession that has been repeating their low-fat mantra for the last thirty years.  No one enjoys having their articles of blind faith debunked.

Why is the medical profession so obsessed with its low-fat diet fad?

Simple, because it is a half truth and sort of works at a superficial level.  The human boy has two engines: a sugar burning engine and a fat burning engine.  It is important to understand that by "sugar" we mean not just the white stuff you put in your coffee but carbohydrates in general: bread, pasta, cakes and pastries, rice, potatoes and bananas are prime examples.  A baguette for example turns into sugar within five minutes of entering the body.

One way to understand why the low-fat diet sort of works is to consider an analogy.  Think about a bi-fuel car.  It is possible to have your car adapted to run on two fuels, petrol and methane.  You have an additional carburettor fitted under the bonnet and this is connected to a methane gas cylinder in your boot.  Now for the purpose of this analogy think of methane as sugar and petrol as fat.

Suppose that each morning, regular as clockwork, you put two litres of petrol (fat) in your petrol tank and a full cylinder of methane (sugar) in your boot.  You then switch on your methane (sugar) burning carburettor and drive on methane (sugar) for the rest of the day.  You repeat this procedure religiously every morning.  Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that if you have a 28 litre tank, by the end of a fortnight your petrol (fat) tank will be overflowing.

You consult a conventional mechanic about your problem and he will say, "Well it's obvious!  You need to put less petrol (fat) in your tank mate."  That seems reasonable, so you now  put only one litre of petrol into your petrol tank each morning, but you continue to put in a full methane (sugar) cylinder and switch on the methane carburettor.  Now it takes four weeks instead of a fortnight before you petrol (fat) tank overflows.  This analogy should explain why the low-fat fad sort off seems to work.  But you haven't really begun to solved your problem, have you? - merely delayed the inevitable.

Further, imaging that your car, while standing overnight in your garage, had the power to turn and surplus methane (sugar) into petrol (fat) and transfer it to your petrol tank.  This is somewhat analogous to what the human body does.  Your problem with your overflowing petrol tank would now be very seriously compounded.  Your only rational solution to your problem of an overflowing petrol tank is to turn your methane (sugar burning) carburettor off and turn on your petrol (fat burning) carburettor.  And that is effectively what Atkins does.

A note of caution.  Atkins is a low fat diet, not a no fat diet.  The human body needs some carbohydrates (indeed, some food scientists believe the brain functions best on enegy derived from sugar rather than fat).  However, it certainly does not need them in the vast quantity that is the Western norm; the American diet can contain as much as 300 grams of carbs a day; a healthier norm would be closer to something like 60 grams a day.  Equally importantly, it should not derive them from highly processed and refined foods.  

  1. Therefore avoid unhealthier sources of carbohydrates such as white bread, pastries, sodas, white rice, cakes and confectionary. These foods contain rapily digested carbohydrates that contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes and heart disease.
  2. Moderate your consumtion of heavy natural sources of carbohydrates such as bananas and potatoes.
  3. Concentrate on healthy sources of carbohydrates: such as unprocessed whole grains, vegetables, fruit and beans; these promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients.

Why do we overeat?

The answer of conventional medicine is because we are affluent and can afford to do so.  But we can afford to get drunk every day but most of us are perfectly capable of choosing not to do so.  We can afford to lay in bed all day, but few of us choose to do so.  And we can surely afford to drink more water than we do, yet most of us do not even drink as much as we should.  So why is it so many of us over indulge in food?  We surely can't all be gluttons!

The answer is simple.  Lets suppose that for breakfast you consume a couple of bacon sandwiches.  You have just taken into your body a pile of carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) and a modest quantity of fat.  The carbohydrates (sugar) very quickly send up your blood sugar level.  You have, not to put too fine a point on it, just poisoned yourself.  Your body responds to this as an emergency that if left untreated will eventually result in a diabetic coma.  It responds to this emergency by turning off your fat burning engine, and sending a signal to your pancreas to produce large quantities of insulin, i.e. it switches on your sugar burning engine, and because it is an emergency it puts its foot hard on the throttle.

First, your sugar burning engine uses up as much of the carbohydrates (sugar) as it can to meet immediate energy needs.  This perhaps uses up 25% of the carbohydrates that you have just eaten.  What is it to do with the rest?  Well your body has the capacity to store a small amount of sugar in your muscles, but that store is quickly filled and is quiet possible already full.  So stage three is to turn the surplus sugar into fat that your body can then store.

Because your body is wisely treating this blood sugar high as an emergency, it overproduces insulin, and very soon it has so efficiently dealt with the emergency that your blood sugar level drops below par.  What happens when you blood sugar drops below par?  You feel hungry; occasionally, in severe cases, even weak and wobbly.  If you are asleep, you may even wake up.  If you were prepared to endure the hunger long enough, your body would eventually switch on your fat burning engine and start to burn the bacon and stored fat, but most people when they feel hungry, very naturally, eat.  And this invariably involves taking in further large quantities of carbohydrates (sugar).  So the whole thing becomes a constant vicious circle, with the body never being given the opportunity to turn on its fat burning engine, consequently that bacon plus the carbohydrates converted into fat, is never used.  It is left stored in your tissues, and clogs your arteries, makes you obese and causes heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, poor self-image and a host of other problems.

You are like our guy with the bi-fuel car who keeps putting petrol into his petrol tank every morning but never switches on his petrol (fat) burning engine.  It is only a matter of time before his petrol tank overflows.  The only answer is to very deliberately and consciously turn on your fat burning engine.

Is it easy to turn on your fat burning engine

There is the rub.  No it isn't.  To start with you fat burning engine is much more complicated than you sugar burning engine, it requires a symphony of chemicals involving numerous glands; unlike your sugar burning engine which merely requires your pancreas to pump out insulin.  More to the point, one basic law of the human body is, "use it or lose it".  If you put your leg into plaster for six weeks, when you take the plaster off the muscles of your leg will have wasted away by a quite disturbing extent.  Most people eating a modern western diet have not been using their fat burning "muscles" for decades.  Just as it takes time and conscious effort to rebuild that wasted leg, so it takes time and effort to make our fat burning engines, which has been under used for decades, not merely work, but work efficiently.

Is there a down side?

Oh yes.  The only way to force your body to burn fat as its primary fuel is to turn off your sugar burning engine, which you do by drastically removing carbohydrates (sugar) from your diet.  The problem is that your fat burning engine is rusty and sluggish and will not immediately start up, and certainly will not be running efficiently.  Like the man whose leg is just out of plaster, he will not initially be able to walk far, and he will quickly tire.  It may take a fortnight before you fat burning engine is working even modestly well.  In the meantime you will feel very lethargic.  I regularly jog about fifteen kilometres a week.  For the first week my legs felt like lead, but on the tenth day my fat burning engine suddenly kicked in, and I took off like a steam train.

A second problem is cramp in the lower limbs, especially in the early morning.  So much of our soil is impoverished of minerals and trace elements owing to intensive farming that the government encourages the manufacturers of bread and cereal products to fortify them with additional minerals and vitamins.  Take bread and cereals out of your diet and you may drop below the minimum intake required of these trace elements.  The solution is very simple, take a good multi-mineral and vitamin supplement.

Constipation may be a further problem because of a lack of roughage in your diet.  This can also be easily taken care off by taking just one tablespoonful of psyllium husks in fluid each day.

A final problem which some experience, but I didn't, is bad breath.  The fact is that the waste from your fat burning engine is chemically different to the waste from your sugar burning engine, in some people this manifest itself as bad breath.  The answer again is very simple, just use a refreshing mouth wash.

Is there an up side?

You bet.  You can now safely start eating like a human being and enjoying your food.  You can enjoy meat, bacon, hams, poultry, charcutery, sausages, fish, pâtés without worrying what they are doing to your arteries.  You can enjoy cheeses, full fat yogurt, cream, crème fraiche, fromage frais, etc with a clear conscience.  All those delicious sauces and salad dressing that you applied sparingly, can now be properly enjoyed.  And what about delicious quiches and eggs boiled, fried, scrambled and omelettes of ever description?  Do you really prefer to have your spinach steamed, to having it sautéed in butter and served in a delicious cream based sauce?

Energy is another bonus.  At sixty-five and on a low-fat diet I was cap-napping two or three times a day.  I didn't worry about this, I just believed that it was part of the natural aging process.  If fact, to be honest, I rather enjoyed my naps. Now I frequently rise at 6 am and work round to nearly midnight, and only occasional think of taking a short nap during the day.  Why?  Because having taken the carbohydrates out of my diet, I am no longer experiencing the blood sugar highs and lows which were causing the sleepiness.  This year on the Chartres pilgrimage, having walked thirty miles, I was able to jog into the camp site!

You may find some minor ailments that you have had for years will just clear up.  To mention just one; I had suffered from a dry nose for thirty to forty years.  I'd even consulted the doctor about it some years ago.  He said that I had probably had an infection when a young man which had damaged the sinovial membrane. With in a couple of weeks of starting Atkins I was able to blow my nose normally for the first time in decades.

The icing on the cake and a real moral booster is when you go for a blood test and turn in the best results of you life.  Just to give you a flavour: after four months on Atkins, my total cholesterol levels, which should be below 5.2, and which had reached 5.8, was down to 3.3!  Triglycerides, which should be below 2.0, and which had reached 3.06, were down to .88!  And best of all, the LDL cholesterol, the stuff that blocks your arteries and causes strokes and heart attacks, which should be below 4, and which in my case had reached 4.28, was down to 1.9!

Is it safe to ignore mainstream medical advice?

Well we need to keep a sense of proportion.  When considering these gentleman we should not forget that they are:

  1. The same gentleman who were sure that our grandparents would benefit from having their wrists slashed and bleed when ever they felt unwell.

  2. They were the same people who confidently assured our parents that regular opening medicine was essential for good health and the entire family had to spend one day every week within spitting distance of the bathroom.
  3. They are the same people who confidently advised my generation that having your tonsils removed was an essential for survival.
  4. it is the same profession that is currently pushing counselling, a pseudo-science if ever there was one, whose only contribution to civilization is to inflate the ego of its practitioners by turning survivors into victims.
  5. and they are also the same profession that gave us abortion on the patently spurious grounds that unborn children aren't human beings.

Yea - I reckon its safe to ignore them.  What the heck, you can only die once.

Are there any pit-falls to be avoided?

One or two.  Firstly doing Atkins half heartedly.  Atkins only works if you take it seriously.  Obtain the book Atkins' New Diet Revolution and study it.  It is not an easy read.  Atkins is one of those writer who never says in ten words what can be compressed into a hundred.

Secondly: you must remove caffeine from your diet.  Caffeine also mucks about with blood sugar levels and causes false hunger.  You may experience headaches when you first do this.  This is just a withdrawal symptom, and doesn't last long.

Thirdly: some people have been so brain washed by the low fat mantra that they find themselves almost without noticing it, trying to do a low-fat version of Atkins.  Forget it.  It can't be done.  You would be like the guy with the bi-fuel car who had turned off his methane  burning engine but then refused to put petrol in his petrol tank.

Finally: some folk run away with the idea that just because they can now eat generous proportions and eat well they can safely overeat.  Not true.  If you eat five sausages at every meal you'll still get fat.  You just need to be sensible.  In the early days, weigh you meat portions so that you begin to learn the optimum portion sizes that you can eat and still loose weight, and then stick with that approximate size.

Helpful tips

Splenda is a superb sugar substitute.  It looks like sugar, taste like sugar, but has only a fraction of the carbs, and it is now widely available in large food outlets such as Sainburys.  The only downside is that it will not set food as reel sugar will, so it is no use for setting jam etc.  A thickener to use with sugar when you need its setting attribute is available online, its called ThickenThin not/Sugar thickener!  If you do a Google search, you should be able to find it.

Sainsburys' Red Label decaffeinated tea taste as good as normal tea.  Soy milk is fine in tea and coffee.  Make sure you buy the unsweetened version.  This is again available from most large food stores.  Soy milk can be safely frozen.  I have also found that two teaspoons of single cream in tea works fine; it is too little to make the tea taste heavy, but enough to colour it.

Finding a decaffeinated coffee that you like is a matter of experimenting.  Don't be put off if the first two or three that you try are not to your taste, there are some good ones out there, you just have to keep trying to you find the ones you like.

In addition, Bovril (but not Marmite) makes and excellent low carb hot drink.

Morrisons are now doing a low-carb tomato ketchup.

Holland and Barrett now do low carb chocolate.  They are also a good source for nuts.

Psyllium husk can be purchased on the internet.  A Google search should reveal a number of options.

A must product for thickening sauces etc. is ThickenThin.  Cornstarch is 100% carbohydrates so must be avoided.  ThickenThin should be available on the Internet.

Morrison, and possibly other similar stores, are now doing bottles of soft drinks which have only trace amounts of carbohydrates; very useful if you hanker after such drinks.

Finally Dr Atkins own web site is packed full of useful features, including hundreds of recipes.


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