Why Atkins Went Belly Up

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - August 10, 2005
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So the last great diet fad is over. Atkins Nutritionals Inc., which created a lifestyle based on the ultimate diet (eat all you want and lose weight), declared bankruptcy last week putting the final nail in the coffin of a food trend that became a $3 billion industry almost overnight.

For millions of Americans, the idea that you could eat bacon, steak and cheese and still lose weight was the answer to their dieting prayers. But in the long run, even diets that seem to give you all you want are destined to run their course.

I have to admit I’ve always been a meat and potatoes sort of a girl. Give me a handsomely arranged dish of mashed Maris Pipers or Yukon Golds and I’m all yours. The thought of giving up pasta and risotto and homemade bread never appealed to me at all. And then there were all those fake foods. At the height of its popularity, the Atkins Company was pumping out fake chocolates, sugar free ice cream and low carb spaghetti. Its instant mashed potatoes were among the worst things I’ve ever eaten — and I’ve eaten a lot of horrible stuff. The reason Atkins failed was that nowhere, in all of its seductive literature, did it suggest getting off the couch and going to the gym. Or for a walk. Or better still, just sitting down at night with your kids and eating one properly balanced meal while you find out how their day went. Food is meant to be shared and enjoyed — not wolfed down in the car while you run from one meeting to the next. And it’s not supposed to be processed out of all recognition, either. Seems like people will get up in arms about a genetically modified papaya, but could care less that they’re eating nutritionally vapid fake foods. Which food group does a Twinkie fall into, for example? I’ve searched the labels and there’s nothing in a Twinkie that would make the food pyramid.

Why can’t we just get it through our heads that a wellbalanced diet, with sensible portions of real food, is how we were meant to eat?

But at the end of the day, why did this quick-fix of sausage and steak not come through for its legions of followers? Here’s my theory.

The Atkins people marketed it as a lifestyle — and not as a fad. They sold a dream of dining on steak and lobster while snacking on bunless hamburgers, all while losing weight. They offered guilt-free chocolate and carb-free pasta to a dieting world anxious for the next quick fix.

Truly though, what normal person could live without a bowl of pasta heaped with generous helpings of homemade sauce and freshly grated Parmesan cheese? Or who could happily survive without freshly baked bread, sweetsmelling pastries and real chocolate once in a while?

Fads, yes. Lifestyles? I don’t think so.

And a diet that suggested pork scratchings as a snack? How long were we going to buy that one?

At least with cabbage soup it was only for a week.

Happy eating.

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