Saturday, January 31, 2004

Something rotten with Atkins

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If you ask me, I think the Atkins diet stinks.

As in, it smells bad.

For those of you who have been trapped under something heavy for the past several months, the Atkins diet is the latest thing in the growing intentional-starvation industry. As pioneered by the late Dr. Robert C. Atkins, the plan essentially forbids dieters from eating anything with carbohydrates in it for a while. That means no bread, pasta, rice, sugars, most fruits and many vegetables.

To keep from collapsing into translucent piles of jelly from malnutrition, Atkins dieters eat meat — tons of it, from every animal imaginable — and cheese.

Atkins’ theory is that carbohydrates make people fat. And here we were thinking fat makes people fat. I guess that’s why we’re not all doctors.

Also, I wonder how to explain Atkins to Asian people. Statistically, they’re the thinnest ethnicity on the planet (even if you factor in the sumo wrestlers), and the two biggest staples of Asian cuisine are rice and noodles, not 24-ounce steaks.

For a while, the low-carbohydrate fad diets of Atkins and its less-strict, Protestant cousin, the South Beach Diet, were sort of funny. They were almost cute in a way, the way that kids are cute when they say the darndest things. Low-carb dieters say the darndest things, too:

“Eating bacon and Cheez Whiz as a snack will help me lose weight.”

“For lunch I’m having half a tub of butter, two boiled eggs, what’s left of that pepperoni stick in the fridge and three tins of sardines.”

“I’ll have two Whoppers, extra cheese, hold the bun, and a large Diet Coke. I’m trying to watch my figure.”

Aww! See? It’s kind of cute.

But upon doing some research into low-carb diets, I realized how insidious they can be.

Friends, in the interest of public service, I must inform you that Atkins has been known to give dieters bad breath. Not just bad breath, either, but really bad breath.

There are other side effects, I hear. Something about increased risks of colorectal cancer, blah blah blah, and heart disease.

But getting back to this bad breath. With all the steak that Atkins dieters eat, one would think their oral effluvia would carry the deliciously sweet aroma of Worcestershire sauce. But I guess I’m mistaken.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recently took a yearlong poll of Atkins dieters. As posted on, a whopping 40 percent of those polled reported the diet gave them obnoxious breath.

(Forty-four percent reported constipation and 5 percent had the gout — but I’m saving that for next week.)

All over the Internet are messages from current and former low-carb dieters who are worried that small rodents have crawled into their mouths and died. This is from “My boyfriend has started complaining of how bad my breath smells! ... Feel a bit embarassed, clean teeth and use mouth wash, but still horrible.”

Another person on said she should’ve been suspicious when “people were now standing two feet farther away.”

But leave it to good old Atkins to make bad breath something to strive for. Keep in mind that Dr. Atkins is the same guy whose company has made millions convincing people that pork chops are healthier than oranges.

You see, doing the diet causes ketosis, a state in which your body thinks it’s starving and burns its fat reserves for fuel. You release ketones, chemical byproducts, in your breath and urine.

This, from — the horse’s mouth, so to speak: “Ketones ... do not cause bad breath so much as a different breath odor.”

I confess I’d never thought of it that way. So someone who doesn’t shower for a month doesn’t have so much of a lousy body odor as a different body odor, and somebody with leprosy doesn’t have rotting skin so much as different skin. concurs with the good doctor’s findings: “Bad breath is an indicator of the production of ketones as you burn body fat, and is a good sign that the diet is working.”

So you can take a couple of Tic Tacs and be happy, right?

Wrong! also has this to say: “We discourage the use of most breath mints while doing Atkins because they may contain either sugar or artificial sweeteners. Even so-called ‘sugar-free’ products are often full of carbs.” That’s true — we’ve all heard about people who pig out on Tic Tacs and gain, like, 40 pounds.

Instead, Atkins suggests chewing parsley.

So if you’re thinking about hopping on the low-carb bandwagon, here’s what you have to look forward to:

You’ll wake up in the morning — hopefully you’ll wake up in the morning — and eat a fistful of bacon for breakfast. You’ll limp over to the bathroom, your feet swollen from gout. You’ll gaze at the toilet and think, “I know this thing does something, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it is.”

For lunch you’ll sit down to a bunless Whopper for dinner with a hunk of brisket for dessert and a glass of au jus to wash them down. Then you’ll chew a cup or so of parsley, and your friends will keep subtly pointing at the leaves stuck in your teeth. You won’t get the hint, though, because they’ll be standing far, far away.

But this is the good part: When your friends talk to you from the other side of a five-foot distance, think of how little you’ll look.

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