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Atkins Diet Plan
No Holds Barred, Nothing Held Back, All Secrets Revealed

By Tom Venuto - author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle

On July 7th, 2002, the New York Times Magazine published a 7800-word article by correspondent Gary Taubes titled, "What if it's all been a big fat lie?"

This essay suggested that Dr. Robert Atkins, creator of the popular but controversial diet book, "Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution," has been right all along with his low carb approach to fat loss. Taubes suggested that the mainstream belief in the low fat, high carb diet is not only ineffective at reducing body fat, but is actually the very cause of the increase in obesity and health problems over the past two decades.

After the article was released, a wave of discussion and debate rippled through the diet and fitness communities. Internet message boards and forums lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July as fitness minded web surfers butted heads about which approach is really best. Atkins supporters boasted, "See, I told you so." Meanwhile, some Atkins detractors lashed out in defense of their high carb, low fat position, while others began to doubt their most cherished and long held beliefs.

Lori Victoria Braun of femalemuscle.com recently phoned me and said she was being bombarded with questions and arguments for both sides, so she asked if she could do another interview with me like she did last year.

I happily obliged. The low carb vs. high carb debate is back in full swing, so I felt it was high time for someone "in the know" to reveal the truth.

Don't ditch your all carbs just yet until you read this!

LORI: The Taubes article has caused quite a stir, suggesting strongly that the low-fat paradigm for health and weight loss is a false one. Has reading the article changed your views on diet in any significant way?

TOM V: This article hasn't changed my views on anything. This debate has been going on for decades. Nothing has changed in my mind nor has anything changed as far as what works for real world fat loss. Human physiology is the same as it's always been. What worked 30 years ago still works today and will work 30 years and even 1000 years from now.

There's a lot of metabolic variation from person to person, so the best dietary approach for each individual can vary, but nutrition fundamentals are the same across the board. Jim Rohn, the great motivational speaker once said, "beware of anyone who comes along and says they've discovered a new fundamental. That's like someone saying they're opening a factory to manufacture antiques."

My views are the same: The Atkins diet works - it will produce results. But I think Dr. Atkins has missed the mark in terms of what's the best approach for long-term maintenance. He's also caused a tremendous amount of confusion with his all-inclusive blanket statements and sweeping generalities like "carbs make you fat." In my opinion, the Atkins diet is not a lifestyle program and never will be, no matter what new article or research comes along. The Atkins Diet is also a poor choice for bodybuilders or hard-training athletes seeking fat loss. There are better, easier, more efficient means of achieving the same results.

LORI: Taubes quotes a research scientist who concludes: "What this means is that even saturated fats -- a.k.a., the bad fats -- are not nearly as deleterious as you would think. True, they will elevate your bad cholesterol, but they will also elevate your good cholesterol. In other words, it's a virtual wash. As Willett explained to me, you will gain little to no health benefit by giving up milk, butter and cheese and eating bagels instead." Do you agree with this statement?

TOM V: He's right that small amounts of saturated fats aren't necessarily going to clog your arteries and make you drop dead from a heart attack. Many high carb proponents oversimplify the issue when they say, "all fats are bad" or even when they say "all saturated fats are bad." The risk does rise with the amount of fat consumed, however.

Small amounts of saturated fats such as those found in whole eggs and red meat pose little threat if the total amount of fat in the diet remains at a reasonable level. If you're eating under 30% of your calories from fat and only 10% come from saturates, I don't see a problem. If you're eating fish like salmon and getting plenty of omega three essential fatty acids, these can also offset any negative effect of some of the saturated fats. This explains why populations like the Eskimos can eat 70% fat and be relatively disease free. The whale blubber they subsist on contains high amounts of heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids.

LORI: Taubes seems to endorse the Atkins diet. What is your view of the efficiency of the Atkins diet in terms of weight loss, health, and as a normal regiment for a training bodybuilder.

TOM V: The Atkins diet and other similar program definitely work. Atkins is a valid approach, but it's not the ONLY approach and it's definitely not the BEST approach for the bodybuilder or anyone in serious training. Here's why:

What most people don't realize is that the Atkins diet is primarily fat - something like 60% of the total calories. The Atkins diet is NOT a high protein diet! It's a high FAT diet! The reason it's high fat is because the Atkins program is a ketogenic diet. A high protein diet can kick you out of ketosis because protein is much more glucogenic than fat. If you eat too much protein, it doesn't allow you to go into ketosis because so much of the protein is converted into glucose when carbohydrates are absent.

In fact, when I first started doing experiments on myself with ketogenic diets a few years back, I couldn't figure out why those damn ketostix wouldn't turn purple. I kept dropping my carbs lower and lower and lower, almost to zero at one point, and still nothing! I finally figured out that my protein was way too high and my fat was too low to put me into ketosis. That's the reason a true ketogenic diet is high in fat. If the carbs are next to nothing and the protein must be limited, the only way to keep your calories above starvation level is by using fat - that's why ketogenic diets are high fat diets.

The problem is, I don't believe a high fat diet is the best approach to fat loss. It might be appropriate for some, but it's definitely not the best approach for athletes, bodybuilders and fitness competitors because high fat diets don't support high intensity weight training. You've got to maintain at least a minimum reserve of muscle glycogen or replenish depleted glycogen at regular intervals to train hard and get a pump.

So maybe an Atkins style diet would be justified for a morbidly obese patient who can't exercise due to physical limitations such as bad knees and hips. But it's not the best fat reduction approach for highly active athletes in hard training. Most bodybuilders and fitness competitors use a moderate to high protein, moderate carb, low fat approach to fat loss. This is the approach I use and endorse myself.

It's also worth mentioning that bodybuilders use these high protein, low or moderate carb diets for brief periods for a specific purpose: to get shredded for competition. They eat much larger amounts of natural carbohydrates in the off season when they want to gain muscle. They use BOTH DIETS when the season calls for it. They don't go on low carbs and call it a lifestyle. They understand the importance of training and dieting in cycles to reach a specific goal.

LORI: The article discusses the concept of a ketogenic diet: This means that insulin falls so low that you enter a state called ketosis, which is what happens during fasting and starvation. Your muscles and tissues burn body fat for energy, as does your brain in the form of fat molecules produced by the liver called ketones. Atkins saw ketosis as the obvious way to kick-start weight loss. He also liked to say that ketosis was so energizing that it was better than sex, which set him up for some ridicule. An inevitable criticism of Atkins's diet has been that ketosis is dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. In your view, is this a valid concept?

TOM V: The goal of some very low carbohydrate diets is to produce the metabolic state known as ketosis. When there's no carbohydrate, fats burn incompletely, causing by products called ketone bodies to accumulate in the bloodstream, which are then used as fuel by the brain (which can only function on glucose or ketones). Being in ketosis is an indicator that your body has been forced to run on fat for fuel. That's why achieving ketosis is the primary goal of so many low carbohydrate diets.

Ketosis can occur when your carbohydrates are dropped below 100 grams, although most people don't stay in ketosis until carbohydrates go below 30-70 grams a day. Ketosis can be detected with a simple urine test. Paper strips called "ketostix" are dipped in the urine and when they change color, this indicates you've achieved a ketogenic state. At this point, you've succeeded in putting your body into fat burning metabolic state.

The "high carb gurus" often argue that ketogenic diets are dangerous and unhealthy. Ketogenic diets might be dangerous, depending on the parameters of the diet and a person's health status, but you can't make any sweeping conclusions about their safety because the research is inconclusive. Many people have stayed on ketogenic diets for months or even years without complications - including epileptics who go on ketogenic diets to treat their condition.

Ketosis isn't necessarily dangerous or something to be avoided at all costs, it's simply unnecessary! Ketosis is NOT a requirement to burn fat. Only a calorie deficit is necessary to burn fat. Ketogenic diets are extremely strict and nutritionally unbalanced. They are what you could call "extreme measures." It's an irrevocable law that the more "extreme" a nutrition program is, the greater the side effects will be and the more difficult the diet will be to stay on.

Dr. Atkins claims, "ketosis is the secret weapon of super effective dieting." Ketogenic diets do work - in fact they work exceptionally well for extremely carb sensitive people, but personally I don't believe it's the best approach - definitely no "secret weapon" by any stretch of the imagination.

It's simply not necessary to remove all your carbohydrates or go into ketosis to accelerate fat loss. A moderate reduction in carbohydrates is often all it takes for the carb-sensitive to control blood sugar and insulin better. It's really just a matter of balancing the right types of carbohydrates with lean proteins and good fats instead of eating mostly carbohydrates and small amounts of protein. Bodybuilders have been doing this for decades, but the mainstream has been very slow in catching on.

LORI: Let's talk about steak (even though I never eat it) A quote from the article: "Foods considered more or less deadly under the low-fat dogma turn out to be comparatively benign if you actually look at their fat content. More than two-thirds of the fat in a porterhouse steak, for instance, will definitively improve your cholesterol profile (at least in comparison with the baked potato next to it); it's true that the remainder will raise your L.D.L., the bad stuff, but it will also boost your H.D.L." What is your advice on the consumption of red meat?

TOM V: Most bodybuilders love red meat - myself included. Many bodybuilders believe that red meat helps muscle growth, and I think there's a lot of truth in that statement. Red meat is high in protein, B-12, iron and creatine. The problem with most cuts of red meat is the fat content. However, not all cuts of red meat are the same.

It's a mistake to label the entire red meat category as a no-no because of high fat content. If you carefully choose the leanest cuts possible and keep your portion sizes small, red meat can be a great addition to a fat burning program.

For example, a 6 oz serving of lean, trimmed top round steak has only 9 grams of fat, while 6 oz of untrimmed porterhouse has 37 grams of fat and the 18 oz porterhouse you're often served in a steak house has over 100 grams of fat!

LORI: Why are Americans getting significantly fatter over the last 20 years? Taubes lays the blame at the door of carbohydrates. Do you agree?

TOM V: Yes and no. The real question is; what type of carbohydrates? You've gotta stop lumping all carbohydrates together in one category and saying they're "bad" or "fattening." This is the greatest injustice people like Dr. Atkins have done to the public at large. Dr. Atkins says, and I quote, "Carbohydrates are the very food that makes you fat." This is a very misleading statement. Broccoli and spinach are carbohydrates. You could eat broccoli or spinach until your face hurts from chewing so much and you'd never get fat. They're low calorie nutritional powerhouses.

Oatmeal is a carbohydrate, so are yams, brown rice, beans and barley. And so are fruits like apples, peaches and grapefruits. Balanced properly with lean proteins and with a calorie deficit, these carbs are great foods for fat loss.

The "bad" or "fattening" carbs are the refined ones; your white flour and white sugar products like white bread, sugar sweetened cereals, candy and soda pop. A breakfast of Special K, fat free milk, toast and orange juice is not the same diet as a breakfast of old fashioned oatmeal and a one whole egg, six egg white, pepper, tomato and mushroom omelette.

If you want to lay the blame at the door of sugar and refined carbohydrates, then yes I agree, but don't blame "carbohydrates" as a group for why Americans are getting fatter. You have to separate refined from processed carbohydrates. You can't just say bread makes you fat, you have to separate white bread from whole grain bread.

It's really refined foods in general that are making us fatter and unhealthier than we were ten, twenty and thirty years ago, not just refined carbs. Processed meats, fats and oils are just as bad as processed carbs - if not worse. Trans fatty acids, for example are extremely dangerous. A fat burning diet should be centered on choosing natural foods and steering away from processed foods. To say that natural carbohydrates, eaten exactly the way they come out of the ground or off the tree are fattening, is really the biggest, fattest lie of all.

There are other factors contributing to higher rates of obesity too, like the sedentary lifestyles people are leading these days. This is the age of the Internet and video games. Children are being raised on them. And of course, you have the five hours of TV most people watch every day. The television set is the greatest physique-destroying and income-reducing device ever invented.

Obesity isn't the result of one single factor, but refined carbs are a biggie. What happened in the 80's and 90's with the fat phobia craze was that books, magazines, TV and other mainstream media pounded the message into our brains that fat was bad. No distinction was made between types of fats - the message was black and white; "fat is unhealthy and fat makes you fat."

This started an entire industry of fat free foods such as cakes, cookies, candy, ice cream, yogurt, frozen dinners, lunch meats and nearly every other food you can think of. Most of us ate them without fear because we believed it was okay since the label said "FAT FREE!"

Even though fat consumption dropped over the past two decades, a very strange thing happened: The incidence of obesity and health problems kept going up through the 80's into the 90's and it still hasn't stopped.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there was a 61% increase in obesity between 1991 and 2000! Today, there are more overweight people than ever before - 100 million in the United States alone, to be exact! Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are still three of the biggest killers and it seems there's no end in sight to these epidemics.

If everybody cut the fat out of their diets in the 80's and 90's, then how could it be that we continued to get fatter and our health deteriorated? The answer is so obvious, it's almost embarrassing:

"FAT FREE" DOESN'T MEAN SUGAR FREE OR CALORIE FREE!

What's happened over the past two decades is that many people cut out the fat, and simply replaced it with sugar - and larger portions of it too! A food can say "fat free" on the label and be 100% sugar! If you eat a lot of sugar or if you eat more calories than you burn, it doesn't matter how little dietary fat you eat - you're still going to gain body fat!

Saturated and processed fats are bad, but in my opinion, sugar and processed carbohydrates are more responsible for disease and obesity in our society today than any other single factor. Replacing fat with sugar is going from the frying pan into the fire.

It's only when you're eating a mildly calorie restricted diet that's low in refined sugar and low in the bad fats, combined with aerobic exercise and weight training, that your body fat will finally begin to drop.

LORI B: Finally, tell us with what you agree most in the article and what is your biggest disagreement with the article.

TOM V: I agree that not all fats are bad. You can't lump all fats into the same category any more than you can lump all carbohydrates together. For example, the fat found in salmon is one of the healthiest things you could ever eat. But most people are scared of all fat, when they could benefit greatly from eating good fats in small amounts.

I disagree that a high fat diet is the best way to get lean. I agree that a ketogenic diet can be effective, especially for someone who is a "difficult case" and is very carbohydrate sensitive or insulin resistant, but I also think it's a temporary solution at best for people who can't exercise and it's a bad way for athletes or bodybuilders. It doesn't fuel high intensity weight training workouts and it's not as thermic as a diet lower in fat with more protein and moderate carbs.

I disagree that the Atkins diet or any ketogenic diet is a lifestyle program. Butter, ground beef, bacon cheeseburgers, whole milk, cream, pork and oils being your primary source of calories is no way to eat for life.

I disagree with the statement that you can eat all you want on the Atkins diet. Dr. Atkins says his diet "sets no limit on the amount of food you can eat." This is a flat out lie. You always have to be aware of calories. What happens when you go on ketogenic high fat diets is that your appetite is diminished and you feel more full because fat digests more slowly and is more satiating than carbs or protein. The result is that you eat fewer calories without thinking about it. No diet or special combination of foods can override the law of calorie balance.

Here's the bottom line in all this: It's not carbohydrates that make you fat, nor is it fats that make you fat. Refined foods, too many calories and not enough exercise are what make you fat!

LORI: One last thing, Tom. You recently released a new book about fat loss that goes into great detail about the pros and cons of low carb diets and actually offers three different dietary approaches with different amounts of carbs depending on one's body type and goal. How is your program different from other fat loss diets?

TOM V: I believe in modeling successful people. Forget about all the research and scientific studies because they almost always contradict each other and research scientists - with few exceptions - usually aren't the best built people around.

Instead, look at real world results. If you want to learn a skill or achieve a specific result, the fastest and easiest way to do it is to find someone who has already done what you want to do, find out how they did it, do what they did, and you will produce the same result. Don't complicate matters - it really is that simple.

There's no one in the world better at losing fat while maintaining muscle than competitive natural bodybuilders. So if you want to learn the absolute best and fastest way to get lean, you should model the natural bodybuilders.

Most bodybuilders do NOT use high fat, ketogenic diets. Some do, but most don't. Most dabble with these types of diets and then discover that there are too many side effects and disadvantages to this approach.

My new book, BURN THE FAT FEED THE MUSCLE (BFFM), acknowledges that there's a middle ground between the high carb/low fat camp and the low carb/high fat camp. It's this middle ground that makes the most sense and gets you the best long term results.

BFFM is based on moderate to high protein, moderate carbs and low fat - with just the right amounts of the healthy, good fats. The exact amounts of each macronutrient depend on your goals and your body type.

The foundation of the program is based on real foods - not shakes, bars or other supplements and it's based on natural foods you can get at your local supermarket. You could say my program is a natural approach to fat loss: no drugs, no supplements and no unnatural or gimmicky diets.

It's also combined with a weight training and cardio program, because dieting without exercise is never effective in the long run.

This article originally appeared in the August-September 2002 issue of Tom Venuto's Bodybuilding and Fitness Secrets (BFS) Newsletter. If you enjoyed this article and would like to receive others like it for free every month, you can subscribe to BFS here: http://www.fitren.com/listserv.cfm

If you would like to learn exactly what I discovered about permanent, natural fat loss from two decades of study and experimentation... and if you’d like to learn how it can help you escape the diet wars for good, and finally achieve the body you’ve always wanted, I encourage you to visit my fat loss web page at www.burnthefat.com and take a look for yourself.

Author Tom Venuto

Tom VenutoTom Venuto is a bodybuilder, gym owner, freelance writer, success coach and author of "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 150 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom's inspiring and informative articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and motivation are featured regularly on dozens of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book, click here.

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