Atkins Diet PlanBy Tom
Venuto - author of
Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle
No Holds Barred,
Nothing Held Back, All Secrets Revealed
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
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
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
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
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
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
"FAT FREE" DOESN'T MEAN SUGAR FREE OR
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
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
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
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
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
It's also combined with a weight training
and cardio program, because dieting without exercise is never effective in the
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
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If you would like to learn exactly what I
discovered about permanent, natural fat loss from two decades of study and
experimentation... and if youd like to learn how it can help you escape
the diet wars for good, and finally achieve the body youve 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
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 Mens 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
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