The Shocking Evolution of the Atkins Diet

Comedy and Tragedy Red Masks
When I returned to Atkins it was very, very different.
Did Atkins evolve for better or worse?

When you've been around the low-carb block as long as I have, the evolutionary changes can be quite shocking, especially if you drop out for awhile and then come back.

That's how the Atkins Diet was for me.

What worked exceptionally well in 1975 was no longer working in 2007, and I didn't know what to do with that.

Life is not a movie.

There is no script that guarantees everything will turn out well. There's no rule book to tell you want to do. I can't tell you that with effort and a lot of luck I learned to walk again and reclaimed my life within a few short weeks. It didn't happen that way.

A newborn crawls before it walks, so that's what I did. I started crawling around the apartment on my hands and knees. I learned how to sit on the floor without falling over.

Looking back now, I can see how the slow, torturous progress of teaching myself to walk again helped me to develop the self-discipline I needed to lose over 100 pounds, but in the Spring of 2004, my weight wasn't a priority.

Atkins 2002 was the last thing on my mind.

In fact, I have no idea how much weight I even gained during those challenging weeks. Hubby simply went out and bought me a larger size whenever I needed one.

Stretch Jeans Hanging on the Line
I wore a lot of stretchy jeans and baggie tee-shirts,
which made it easy to hide the fact I was gaining weight.

You don't achieve anything worthwhile by keeping yourself safe.

Those who succeed at re-creating themselves do so by becoming different from the crowd.

Look at any group of low-carb maintainers and you'll quickly see that they are outliers. They are not your average dieter. They don't fear disapproval, criticism, or even rejection because the target – maintaining a healthy weight – is more valuable than what other people think of them.

Unfortunately, herd mentality is rampant within the low-carb community.

Although, the Atkins Diet has the potential to be the leader within the weight-loss industry, the average low-carb dieter is too busy following the crowd and chasing after the latest low-carb fad to effectively manifest the potential of the Atkins Diet to change lives.

This was the most important lesson I would learn when it grew time to confront the shocking evolution of the Atkins Diet.

[This is part 6 of a multi-part series that reveals how I lost over 100 pounds tweaking the Atkins Diet. If you didn't read part 1, you can click on the above link and it will take you there. At part 1, you'll also find all of the links to the other posts in this series, as they become available.]

The Transformation of Atkins 2002 was Like a Metal Gear Butterfly

But First – How I Arrived at the Doorstep of Atkins 2002

Once I grew more confident in my new-found abilities to crawl and sit, I pulled myself up to the electric piano that was standing against one wall in the living room. Using the piano to hold myself up, I steadied myself, took a step away from the piano, and promptly fell on my face.

It didn't work.

The spinning inside my head made it impossible for me to maintain balance.

Circles are like that, though.

There is no beginning and no end. Like the vicious emotional circle that many find themselves trapped in, you never actually go anywhere because you just keep repeating what you've already done.

Squirrel Running on an Exercise Wheel
Like a squirrel running and running on an exercise wheel,
repeating what you've already done doesn't work.

However, I didn't let the inability to walk on my own stop me from doing other things.

My escapades in the kitchen scared hubby and his father the most. They were always checking up on me at any little noise. The pots and pans or plastic dishes would crash to the floor along with me, every time I fell.

At any little noise, they would stampede into the kitchen to make sure I was okay.

My safety was their number one value.

I understand that.

But, my number one value was to return to some sort of normalcy. Those two values clashed more often than they got along, so this was a time of constant friction in my life.

We didn't have any glass dishes in the house. There was nothing in the kitchen except for the gas stove that could actually harm me. Since my short-term memory was whacked out, hubby would often silently peek around the corner to make sure I hadn't left the gas burner on.

Most of the time, I spent my time in there sitting on the floor, rearranging the bottom cupboards to make things easier for me to reach, and sort out what I didn't want to pack up, but the noises I made disturbed them both.

To me, they were intruding, so eventually, I got mad:

“Get out of my kitchen!” I screamed at my father-in-law one day, right after I had fallen. “Leave me alone! I HAVE TO DO THIS!”

While the idea of ignoring the noises caused a lot of internal conflict for hubby, he understood. This was something I had to do. He told his father to take a walk, leave the house if he needed to, but just let me be.

“I'll yell if I need something,” I said.

Toddler Crawling in the Grass
I Taught Myself to Walk Again - BUT . . .
Before I could do that: I Had to Crawl First

By the time we were ready to move, I had learned how to go to the bathroom alone. I could crawl into the bathtub and then lean up against the shower wall, so I wouldn't fall down while bathing.

I used the electric piano to hang onto and slowly inched sideways, rather than trying to let go. If I leaned my back against a wall, I could also slide that way.

But if there was an open area, I still had to crawl.

I never realized how much of my life I took for granted until the little things, like walking or reading, were not there anymore. I have so much in my life to be grateful for, but at the time all of this happened, I just didn't see it.

I've come a long way since the day the vertigo first struck, and I will never look at the little things in life the same way ever again.

Adaption Finally Begins

Before we left California, I went through a box of old photographs I had of when the kids were little.

I separated out my ex's photos and the photos he might want to keep, like pictures of his mom and dad. I stuffed them into a large yellow office envelope. Hubby helped me mail them off to the ex, so we wouldn't have to cart them to Utah with us.

While working on that project, I ran into a photo of my oldest son, when he was about 10 months or so. He was holding his arms up in the air while learning to walk. For some odd reason, it helped him with his balance.

When I tried that myself, I was shocked to learn how effective it was. I held my own arms in the air, just like he had, and within a few days, I was able to take a couple of steps on my own without falling.

I couldn't walk normally, of course.

I had to take a step, steady myself, and then focus hard before taking another one, but I could now get from the piano to the kitchen without having to crawl.

Once we set out for Utah, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The 8-hour journey took us a whopping 4 days!

We lost our radiator, blew a couple of trailer tires (not at the same time), and a few other things I don't remember. At one point, I was so frustrated, I was ready to unhitch the trailer on the side of the road and just walk away from all of our stuff. That's how stressful the journey was.

And then, when we got within a few blocks of the trailer home we had rented here in Utah, the front right tire blew on the truck. We left California with $600 cash and arrived in Utah without a penny to our name. Literally. We just barely had enough money to pay for a used truck tire the following morning.

An online friend of mine who lived in the area gave hubby a job. He had a house remodeling business and hubby was well-trained in that line of work.

Another online friend, who was a chiropractor, sent me an email offering to treat me for FREE if we went to his office, which was 1-1/2 hours away.

“I know what's wrong with you!” he said. “Come see me. I can fix you.”

At first, I thought the chiropractor was crazy and just ignored him. I was so done with doctors and couldn't understand what chiropractic care had to do with vertigo. But after having a massive vertigo attack in the backyard, hubby said we had nothing to lose by taking him up on the offer.

“All it will cost us is a little gas money.”

So, hubby drove to Lehi and carried me into the chiropractor's office.

Ex-rays showed my neck was severely dislocated, and had probably been that way for several years. I next underwent a thorough chiropractic adjustment. After laying on the table for a good 20 minutes after the procedure was done, my friend helped me to slowly sit up. He then asked me to try and walk.

Without having to hold my arms in the air, I was able to walk out of the office on my own power.

I felt a bit spacey, but I could walk.

Apparently, the rotated spine was interfering with the body's ability to adapt to the vertigo, but this doesn't mean that life got back to normal.

Halfway home, my neck fell out of place again, so the vertigo came back.

My neck had been rotated for so long that the neck believed the unnatural position was normal, so we ended up making the lengthy drive two to three times a week, as often as hubby could, for several months.

As time went on, the space between adjustments grew longer, and eventually, after the chiropractor moved his practice to San Pete County, I only needed to have an occasional adjustment. Over the next three years, I went from being totally bedridden, to being partially bedridden, to having a somewhat normal life.

Chiropractic care did not cure me, but it corrected the energy imbalance that was affecting my quality of life.

Since energy started flowing more normally, after each adjustment, my eyes took over the job of helping me balance myself. I had to stay mindful, of course, and never go into a dark room alone. If my eyes couldn't see the environment, I'd have an instantaneous drop attack. I would hit the floor before I knew what happened.

Many on the Meniere's Disease egroup I belonged to told me that no matter what the audiologist said, a drop attack caused by an inability to see meant neither balance mechanism was working correctly. I was bilateral.

But I had no way to test that theory.

With time, the vertigo spins quieted down and went from every day to only when the weather was bad. I no longer had to take the Meclizine every day. Only when a storm was heading our way.

By January 2007, dad no longer lived with us. I was walking on my own fairly well, able to cook for hubby and me, somewhat, and more than ready to move back to the Atkins Diet for life, especially since I was having trouble with my right knee and experiencing neuropathy in my feet and ankles.

I didn't know that's what it was at the time.

I just knew I was in pain and thought the pain was a direct result of my weight. Returning to Atkins was a way of getting rid of the pain that was interfering with my quality of life.

The Shocking Evolution of the Atkins Diet!

Banana Evolving Into Sausage Link
I don't know when Atkins went from protein and fats as found in nature to a high-fat diet. In fact, sausage wasn't even allowed on Atkins until 2002

In my absence, the Atkins Diet had evolved quite a bit.

Where Atkins 92 Induction was extremely personalized, Atkins 2002 had dumped the personalization and demanded all dieters consume 2 cups salad and one full cup of cooked vegetables, taken from a lengthy list of allowable foods.

Alternatively, you could eat three cups of salad if you didn't want to eat the cooked vegetables. There was no longer the option of creating your own 20 carb diet plan. You now had to follow the herd.

If the difference had only stopped there, Atkins 2002 Induction might have worked out okay, but in addition to the extra vegetable carbs, you could also eat:
  • bacon
  • sausage
  • luncheon meats
  • hot dogs
  • ham
  • and pepperoni
These products could now contain added sugar, provided you counted the carbs.

Cream cheese was also on the list of acceptable foods for the first two weeks, due to its low carb count, and the limit on heavy cream had been raised from 4 teaspoons to a more reasonable 2 to 3 tablespoons a day.

Atkins had also evolved from being a personalized low-carb diet plan into something that was low-glycemic instead.

It now encouraged you to deduct all fiber from the total carb count of allowable low-carb foods, since fiber was thought to not affect blood glucose levels.

[This is only partly true. Some individuals have the genetic ability to break down fiber. For them, those fiber carbs are digested the same as any other carb.]

This also meant the Induction Diet now contained more than 20 carbs. Dr. Phinney has estimated that 20 net carbs is equal to about 35 total carbs.

In addition, Dr. Atkins praised sugar alcohols and glycerine for the same reason. According to the new Atkins book (published in 2002), sugar alcohols and glycerine did not affect your blood sugar, so you didn't have to count them.

[Today, we know this is not true. Different sugar alcohols have different effects on the body, but in 2007, I hadn't done any research for myself yet. I was simply one of the herd.]

Up to half of a small avocado, 2 tablespoons of sour cream, and 3 ounces of heavy cream fell under the category of special foods that could also be used during Induction.

This second heavy cream recommendation of 3 ounces of heavy cream versus only 2 to 3 tablespoons caused a lot of controversy within the low-carb community. Most dieters used the special foods category amount to justify their extra indulgence on cream.

Unfortunately, Dr. Atkins never cleared up the controversy, and oddly enough, neither did the ANA, even when asked.

While these special foods came with a caution, due to their ability to slow down weight loss, most low carbers didn't stop to consider just why that is. They saw what they wanted to see:

“I cannot stress strongly enough that trying to do a low-fat version of Atkins will interfere with fat burning and derail your weight loss.”

That quote is the last paragraph in the Fats and Oil section for the 2002 Induction plan. Many dieters pulled it out of context. For that reason, there was a lot of misunderstanding about what Dr. Atkins meant by avoiding a low-fat version of Atkins.

As a result of the above statement, the low-carb community chose to flip Old-School Atkins on its head and started to openly declare that Atkins was now a high-fat diet and everyone needed to be doing it that way.

But take a moment and re-look at the statement.

WHERE does Dr. Atkins say that his diet is now a high-fat diet? It doesn't. Atkins simply cautions you against creating a low-fat version of Atkins Induction because a low-fat version of Atkins won't work very well, but that doesn't mean that the other extreme will.

What is a Low-Fat Version of Atkins?

To understand Dr. Atkins statement correctly, you have to look at what a low-fat diet actually is. Low-fat diets don't just restrict the number of fat calories you eat, they also restrict saturated fats and high cholesterol foods, as well.

For an average diet, fat intake generally provides 35% to 40% of your calories. When I was raising my kids, the average American ate 40% to 45% of their calories in fat, so over the years, fat intake has really only dropped slightly from what it's always been.

Low-fat diets, on the other hand, target LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, so you purposefully drop your fat calories down to a mere 15% to 20%!

To get your fat calories that low on a low-carb diet, you'd have to severely limit the amount of protein you eat.

Limiting protein can drive down your calories too low, but it would also be counter-productive because on Induction, your protein needs are higher than for Ongoing Weight Loss (Phase 2).

If there is not enough amino acids to make daily repairs, the body will either have to shut down important body systems or cannibalize itself to get the amino acids it needs.

While tearing down junk proteins isn't a bad thing short term, keep it up for an extended period of time, and your body will cannibalize muscle tissue to get those amino acids.

This is why the amino acids in meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and quinoa are called "essential" amino acids.

The body cannot make them itself.

Even non-essential amino acids like L-glutamine are often in short supply, especially when your essential amino acid intake is too low.

When Dr. Atkins warned about low-fat low-carb diets, he wasn't telling people to go out and toss butter into their coffee or eat coconut oil off a spoon. He was telling you to leave the skin on your chicken, eat plenty of fatty fish like salmon, and enjoy a normal serving of well-marbled, juicy steak with your salad or vegetables.

But that wasn't how the low-carb community interpreted Dr. Atkins words, and since he wasn't around to clarify their misconceptions and few were paying any attention to his nurse (“Atkins works best when you eat just enough to not be hungry”), the low-carb world was eating a shocking high-fat high-calorie diet by the time I returned to the fold in 2007.

In addition, the ANA had changed the rules for Atkins Induction.

The New Rules for Atkins Induction

By 2007, online groups and forums had replaced the old bulletin boards and the John Hopkins Atkins email group I used to belong to, with many of the participants coming out in full support of the ANA, the marketing company that purchased the Atkins name shortly after Dr. Atkins died.

This meant most dieters got reamed and sandblasted if they were following the Atkins 2002 book, rather than eating the high-fat, high-vegetable diet the ANA was recommending at that time.

The new rule for Atkins Induction was this:

Where Atkins advised you to eat 2 cups of salad and 1 cup of cooked vegetables per day on Induction, the ANA now said that was wrong.

You had to eat 12 net carbs of vegetables per day, regardless of how many cups that was. If you ate according to the book, you were not doing Atkins. Period. The voice of the ANA had become the law.

There was no exception for those who were so sensitive to vegetables that they couldn't get into ketosis eating 12 net carbs of vegetables a day. There was no exception for those who couldn't stay in ketosis eating 20 net carbs a day, rather than total.

Everyone was expected to do exactly the same thing or they were not doing Atkins. And if you were not doing Atkins, you were not welcome to join many of these groups and sub-communities.

This was the vicious climate I walked into after purchasing the Atkins 2002 book and started participating in the low-carb community.

My First Month on the ANA's Version of Atkins 2002

In January of 2007, I finally stepped onto the scale:

I weighed a hefty 256-1/2 pounds on a large 5-foot frame.

I had gained over 80 pounds since the vertigo hit, most of which was a result of stress and the lack of physical activity. While the vertigo spins were gone, except during bad weather, the balance problems, sensory issues, and brain fog remained, so I was never able to return to my old activity level.

At this time, I didn't know that there was any controversy over whether Dr. Atkins actually wrote the 2002 book, or whether it had actually been authored by someone within the ANA. Nor, did I realize why the old Atkins plans had worked so much better.

I didn't know that the body fights to protect its fat stores, and I didn't understand that the insulin hypothesis was a theory, an hypothesis, and not a verified fact.

I was relatively ignorant when I first did Atkins 2002.

In addition, this was my fourth try at living the low-carb lifestyle, and since I didn't know any better, I took the low-carb community perspective at its word:
  • I used net carbs, rather than total
  • I ate 12 net carbs per day of vegetables, no matter how many cups that was.
  • I stuck to the allowable foods for Induction and never cheated.
  • I ate liberal amounts of fat without paying attention to calories.
  • I never overate special foods and stuck to the restrictions for cheese and cream.
By the end of the first week, when I climbed on the scale, I was shocked to see that I had not lost a single pound. There was no glycogen or water losses at all.


I was so shocked, I didn't know what to do.

Never in my dieting history had the Atkins Induction Diet not worked for me.

While I realized that I wasn't as active as I used to be, I still expected to see some type of loss on the scale. At 20 net carbs, I should have lost some amount of glycogen and water, so I expected to see at least a drop of 2 to 4 pounds. I wasn't prepared for no results at all.

But hubby was encouraging.

“Your body has been through a lot,” he said. “Maybe you're just holding water. Let's give it another week and see how you do.”

The lack of weight loss wasn't enough to make me quit. I was just disappointed because I was expecting Atkins to work better than it did, so I agreed. There was nothing I could do about the situation anyway. If the body was retaining water, it was retaining water.

In 1999, I experienced that 6-week phenomenon after I had completed Atkins Induction, so I knew it was a real possibility.

The following week, the scales were only a tiny bit nicer to me. I was down about half a pound, is all.

Weight loss didn't look very promising, at that point, but I had no other alternative to turn to. While I'd had good results using Sugar Busters or the Old Weight Watchers Exchange Plan in the past, they were much higher in carbs, so I believed that they would work even slower.

I stuck with Atkins.

But nothing got any better.

The next two weeks were just as confusing. Even though I was sticking strictly to plan, for week 3, I lost only another half a pound. Week 4 was a bit faster. That week, I lost a full pound on the scale, which hubby tried to use to help bring my mood up, but once I crunched the numbers on paper, I became severely depressed.

For the entire first month on Atkins 2002, as defined by the low-carb community, I had only lost 2 pounds.

My Second Month on the ANA's Version of Atkins 2002

With the Atkins Diet not working as well as I had hoped, I turned my attention to low-carb forums and egroups to keep my mind occupied and the motivation up. I paid attention to the advice that was being given to those who were losing as slow as I was, or not losing anything at all.

I didn't find it encouraging to read that many menopausal women can only lose about half a pound a week. That was excruciatingly slow.

General advice for those on a weight-loss plateau in 2007 was to check out how many calories you were eating. According to some of the forum and egroup participants, you had to eat to your BMR.

As an average, the figure mostly quoted was to eat 10 times your current body weight in calories to prevent going into starvation mode. If you were eating less than that, your weight loss will stall.

To me, that didn't make any sense.

While I understood what BMR was, your basic metabolic rate, the number of calories your body burns if you don't do anything but stay in bed all day, if I followed the advice being given, I'd have to eat over 2500 calories a day to avoid starvation – even though my real BMR was 1400.

What kind of a weight-loss diet was that?

Even worse, no matter what type of problem low-carb dieters were having, they were almost always told to eat more fat, as if dietary fat had some magical properties that would get the scales moving downward again if you just ate enough of it.

This too was confusing because in the earlier Atkins books, Atkins went out of his way to clearly state that his diet was not a high-fat diet.

Atkins was a no-hunger weight-loss diet.

But in 2007, the bottom line was this:

If you were not eating:
  • 12 net carbs of vegetables
  • 10 times your current weight in calories
  • and lots of dietary fat
The vocal members of these forums and egroups always put the blame on you. You were expected to do it their way, or get out. The choice was yours.

During the second month on Atkins, I reread the 2002 Atkins book, and mentally compared it to what I could remember doing before. Lots of the extras like avocados, cream cheese, and sour cream were not a part of previous plans due to their tendency to cause weight gain. They were low in carbs, but high in calories and fat.

In addition, a quick glance over the recipes in the back of the 2002 book pointed out another startling truth I hadn't realized before:

While the recipe for a bacon and spinach crustless quiche called for 3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream, the recipe was heavy on spinach and short on eggs and bacon. Unlike the recipes being posted by the low-carb community online, Dr. Atkins' version for quiche was supposed to feed 8 people instead of 4 to 6!

That simple quiche recipe called for only 4 slices of bacon, 6 eggs, and 8 ounces of cheese for 8 servings. There was only 329 calories in a serving and only 27 grams of fat.

While this was consistent with Atkins earlier views on diet and weight loss, it was totally being overlooked by the low-carb community.

The cauliflower salad recipe in the book used a whole head of cauliflower, broken into pieces, and held together with only 1/4 cup of mayo for 6 servings. That was less than 1 tablespoon of fat per person. A mere 85 calories, what you'd expect to find in a normal side salad of vegetables.

Where was the high-fat high-calorie diet that everyone was pushing? It definitely wasn't in Dr. Atkins' book.

The second month didn't go any better than the first month did for me. By the end of that second 4-week period, I had only dropped another 2 pounds.

I was 8 weeks into the plan, well past the time when I would have seen massive water losses being ditched before, so I was no longer confident that the Atkins Diet, as defined by the low-carb community, was going to work as well as it had before.

At the time, I didn't know if the problem was with me or the diet itself because I hadn't taken the time to look at what was really going on.

As a member of the low-carb herd, I'd conformed to what the greater majority believed, and didn't want to rock the boat. I didn't want to appear to be different. I wanted to belong, but I also felt extremely out of place and time.

Nothing was as it was supposed to be. Nothing was going according to the plan.

Facing Reality

Above, I said I crunched the numbers, so here they are:

I set my goal weight at 125 pounds. Due to my age, large frame, and lack of activity, I thought this was more realistic than trying to get down to a mere 100 pounds. In high school, I never managed to get below 107, so I didn't see the point in trying to do that now.

With 125 as the target, I needed to lose a total of 131-1/2 pounds to reach that weight. So far, I'd been losing only 2 pounds a month. At 2 pounds a month, provided the weight loss never slowed down or skipped a beat, reaching 125 pounds would take me over 5 years!

Five years? That was not realistic!

The time had come to go in search of some real answers.

Part 7 - Is Your Self Worth Determined by the Size of Your Jeans? (Before you can even attempt to lose weight and keep it off, you have to overcome any feelings of insecurity or inferiority.)


  1. I really wanted to thank you for this article and wish you well. I was so confused with the new Atkins {20}. I have a lot of health problems from morbid obesity and tipped the scales at 300. The largest problem, however, is hormones and thyroid. Have been peri-menopausal for three years and winding into menopause. I did remember the original Atkins but not that there was much of a difference. I have asked a lot on the new Atkins site, along with other members whom are not really seeing a large difference and the same answers repeating. I am extremely thankful to have run into this site and your blog. It is very clear now and reverting back. Was really stressing not eating enough fat even though I was eating literally spoon fulls of oil, etc. The net carbs are another thing I was not so sure about, even when it is being raved about. I do really appreciate this-you can't imagine how helpful this blog was. Warmest Regards, Dawna.


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