Lo, how the mighty hath fallen. Can it really be true? I have just read that the Atkins Diet empire has crumbled. They’ve declared bankruptcy. I imagine all the sugar industry executives in America are high-fiving each other in the hallways, and are like, It’s over! Dude! But you’ll excuse me if I don’t join in the high-carb gavotte of triumph. For me the news is bitter, because once upon a time I was a true believer.
Years ago, when the Atkins diet was not yet fashionable, I found it easy to jump-start even the most desultory of dinner table conversations. Into the disapproving silence that greeted my lusty gnawing of the last chop, lamb grease on cheeks glistening in the candlelight, I would remark: No society—except for religious reasons—has ever willingly adopted vegetarianism. Or (waving away the potato and sucking up the creamed spinach): We postmoderns are unique in human history in claiming that eggs and animal fat are unhealthy, yet a century ago, when eggs, lard, beef tallow, and butter were staples, heart attacks were so rare, they were not described in the medical literature until 1912.
Voila! I was a parroting acolyte of cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins, medical director of the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine in New York, best-selling author of The New Diet Revolution, and longtime bete noire to American nutritionists. Conversation would take wing like a phoenix from the ashes.
As word of the Atkins diet spread, you could sense new doubts and uncertainties percolating through the food-pyramid crowd. And not just at my dinner table. Plump Americans were in revolt against boring tuna wraps and yucky, no-fat mayonnaise. So the blood that chuckling lowcarbers smelled wasn’t only from the baby backs sizzling on the grill, but from skewered lowfatocrats, writhing over the hot coals of studies linking lowfat diets to escalating rates of obesity.
The lowfatters were cranky from envy and deprivation. Dutifully nibbling their fruit and ricecakes, they expanded apace. Meanwhile, Atkinsonians gorged on steak and clotted cream. Their weight and triglycerides plummeted, mood and energy levels stabilized. They glowed beatifically at the world.
After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, railing at dieticians’ carbohydrate-heavy food guides and scoffing at “the unholy alliance” among the American Heart Association, American Medical Association, and American Diabetes Association, Dr. Atkins, accompanied by less manichaean lowcarb fellow travelers Dr. Michael Eades (Protein Power) and Frenchman Michel Montignac, seemed poised to deliver carb-enslaved Americans into his promised land of milk and honey (er—make that whipped cream and Splenda).
To the undoubted chagrin of the lipiphobes, before his death from a nasty fall on an icy sidewalk, 70-something Dr. Atkins appeared to be in rude good health after a half century of fried pork rinds and camembert, vigorously tending patients, and overseeing a growing product line of supplements, cookbooks, low-carb snacks and syrups, with plenty of time for media appearances where he continued to explode the myths promoted by the snack food industry. For so long the ridiculed King Canute of the diet world, Dr. Atkins seemed finally to be surfing the swelling wave of a tide that was slowly but surely turning.
And make no mistake: The Atkins plan worked, for a time at least. When I began cutting carbs in the late 1990s, I dropped almost 15 pounds and never felt better. My blood tests were so blameless they seriously annoyed my doctor. It lasted a year and a half. And then I had a piece of bread … and another … you know the rest. Once off the low-carb wagon, it’s hard to climb back on again. And besides, even when you do, you never repeat your initial success, it seems. Sic transit Gloria.
But though the organization may be bankrupt, no one can take away my memories of those wonderful 18 months. Hail and farewell, Atkins Diet, and thanks for the that lovely interlude as my long-imagined Thin Twin.