It turns out the skeptics were right — low-carb diets were a fad.
The company that spawned the once wildly popular Atkins Diet has filed for bankruptcy protection in a New York courtroom. Atkins Nutritionals Inc. had been losing money hand-over-fist after dieters lost their appetite for its products.
It’s a long way from the glory days, when a book by Dr. Robert Atkins spent 400 weeks on the bestseller lists and frustrated dieters everywhere were lured by the promise of losing weight while eating meat, butter and other typically verboten foods.
The diet became hugely popular and even influential, with restaurant chains retooling their menus to include low-carb options and bread and pasta producers thinking nervously about their sales.
But even as mainstream companies tried to jump on the bandwagon, studies began to show the diets were steadily becoming less popular.
Jody Gorran was one who turned against a low-carb regimen, in spite of an initial experience that made him evangelical about the Atkins Diet.
“What attracted me to it was the fact that I was gaining about a pound a month,” he said. “Middle-aged spread was catching up with me at the age of 50.”
The diet worked like a charm. He quickly lost the 10 pounds that were worrying him and, by the time he was in the maintenance phase, he was telling everyone he knew to give the system a try.
But he found out the down side of eating so much saturated fat when he went to the doctor complaining of chest pains. He had coincidentally had a chest scan done before he started the diet, he said yesterday, and was given a very clean bill of health.
His cholesterol was 146 and he was told he had a 95-per-cent chance of having no heart problems in the next five years.
Only 2½ years later he visited the doctor again and was told that his cholesterol was 230 and one artery was almost completely blocked.
“I could have very easily been dead,” the 54-year-old said from Florida. “For what? Because I wanted to trade my health for a 33-inch waist?”
The experience soured him on Atkins and sparked a lawsuit that is wending its way through the Florida courts. The diet is not counterintuitive, he argues, it’s just plain foolish. He is demanding a small sum and promises that the company will put warning labels on their products.
His lawsuit will continue, he said, targeting both the company and the estate of Dr. Atkins, who died two years ago.
A personal trainer in Toronto said that the effect on Mr. Gorran did not surprise him. Wayne Campbell noted that a high-fat, high-protein diet is hard on the body. And while it can be quickly effective, he has seen “countless” clients who, unable to stick with the routine, gained back all the weight they lost.
“I actually still have people talk to me about going on extreme low-carb diets,” he said. “People don’t really want to do a lot of homework. They say, ‘It worked for so-and-so.’ ”
Mr. Campbell said that a lot of people have mistakenly painted all carbohydrates with a broad brush, labelling harmful a foodstuff that is crucial for fuelling the brain and the body. And reducing carbohydrates is especially foolish for people who exercise.
“It’s not good for anyone who’s involved in any sort of athletics, it’s like a Lamborghini without any gas.”
The diet became the hottest weight-control regime in the late 1990s. But Atkins Nutritionals discovered it was too bulky when the diet’s popularity began to wane in the second half of 2004. It filed for bankruptcy protection on Sunday.”In the past year, we have adjusted our organization to accommodate a smaller business and have begun to position the Atkins brand more broadly for consumers who are concerned about health and wellness,” Atkins Nutritionals chief executive officer Mark Rodriguez said in a press release.
“We expect to proceed quickly and will emerge from these proceedings with a significantly improved balance sheet and greater operating flexibility.”
Atkins Nutritionals had assets of $301-million (U.S.) in the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2004, and liabilities of $325.1-million, according to court filings. It had a loss of $340.9-million in the period. The company said it has secured $25-million in financing for expenses during the bankruptcy proceedings, which it said will not effect day-to-day operations.
Carbohydrates get the blame for wide waistlines on the Atkins plan. Advocates cut out starches like bread and rice and instead get their carbs from vegetables. They can eat lots of protein, including eggs and red meat.
However, the American Heart Association and other critics of high-protein diets argue they aren’t balanced because they advocate the consumption of foods high in saturated fat, such as meat and cheese, while restricting important carbs such as fruits and vegetables.
Brenda Arychuk, a registered dietitian in Edmonton, said she does not advise people to follow Atkins and believes “most dietitians” would agree with her.She said when people follow more balanced diets “you’re getting more of your vitamins and minerals. You’re going to be less likely to fall off of it because you’re not going to have cravings for foods that you’re omitting for long periods of time.”
Concerns about the Atkins diet intensified after the death of its founder in 2003 due to complications from head trauma suffered in an accident.
Reports surfaced last year that he weighed 258 pounds at death. Sources close to Dr. Atkins said he usually weighed 180-195 pounds, but gained the weight after falling into a coma.
Parthenon Capital Inc. and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners acquired a majority stake in Atkins Nutritionals after the death of Dr. Atkins.
© Copyright 2005 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.