Hopeless Fad:
Sorry, the Atkins Diet Still Doesn’t Work

June 6, 2003
National Review Online
by Michael Fumento

NUTRITIONISTS have long said that any fad diet can shed weight quickly, but the pounds are soon regained. Now two studies in a prestigious medical journal have caused a media maelstrom. They show that the Atkins regimen can shed weight quickly . . . but the pounds are soon regained. Fad diets still don't work.

Both studies appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), with each randomly dividing subjects into two groups. In each study, one group was told to reduce caloric intake while the other wasn't expressly told to cut calories, but rather instructed to keep carbohydrate intake extremely low as dictated by the late Dr. Robert Atkins's books.

One, conducted at the Philadelphia Veterans Administration Hospital, lasted six months, comprised subjects with an initial average weight of about 215 pounds. The other was conducted at three different centers, lasted 12 months, and comprised subjects with an initial average weight of about 290 pounds.

The six-month study found that Atkins dieters lost weight at about twice the rate as the higher-carb group — for two months. Thereafter neither group lost much weight. By the end of six months, the Atkins dieters, however, had still managed to keep off about twice as much weight as the higher-carb group — for what it was worth. The average loss was a mere 13 pounds from that original 290.

Further, the 12-month study indicates even that was probably a doomed effort. Here again, the Atkins group lost considerably more weight for the first half year. But thereafter not only did it begin packing the pounds back on, it did so faster than the higher-carb group. Ultimately, concluded the researchers, "the differences were not significant at the end one of year."

Reporters who read only the press releases presented articles such as AP's, "Pair of Studies Vindicate Atkins Diet," while others who actually bothered to read the studies themselves — or at least the conclusions — came up with stories leading to quite different headlines, such as Reuters "Atkins Diet May Be No Better Than Just Cutting Fat."

"The probable explanation" for the early weight loss, said the chief researcher of the 12-month study (Gary Foster of the University of Pennsylvania), is that it "gives people a framework to eat fewer calories, since most of the choices in this culture are carbohydrate driven." He told me: "You're left eating a lot of fat, and you get tired of that." So the Atkins plan is merely a low-calorie diet in disguise.

Soon though, Atkins dieters become so starved for carbohydrates that they either start cheating or quit the plan altogether. In fact, both studies were plagued by high dropout rates from all sets of dieters. The only weight-control regimens