Chocolate and Gold Coins

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Idiot Diet

Recently, America has been hit by the Atkins Low-Carbohydrate Diet. This is merely the latest version of the idiot diet. A sensible diet is the one your mother told you to eat: eat your fruits and vegetables, and lay off the junk food. The idiot diet “works” on the theory that if you eat only the “approved” foods, you can eat as much as you like and not gain weight. It can work, but only for a silly reason: the “approved” foods are so limited you lose interest in eating.

Let me make an analogy: suppose you spend too much money and desire financial help. The planner tells you can spend as much money as you like as long as you spend it on the approved things. When you find out what the things are on the approved list, you understand why you won’t overspend: you can only spend money on things you didn’t want. You can only visit places you really didn’t want to visit (East St. Louis, Jamshedpur, etc.), you can only buy a make of car you really don’t like, and you can only live in a house you don’t like. Basically it is like forcing yourself to live in the old U.S.S.R. in the middle of the U.S. Why would you want to do this?

One reason the idiot diet works is that it makes eating very inconvenient: you can never find the approved foods in the vending machines, or at your local restaurants. After restraurants and snack food makers hopped on the Atkin’s craze, a funny thing happened: the diet stopped working so well. It turns out you can easily gain weight by eating dozens of low-carb brownies a day, (who would have thought?). This gets back to the ideas I presented in my post on the Economics of Obesity: weight gain is largely a result of the low cost of pre-prepared food. You make it easier to overeat and obesity happens.

The key to weight loss and weight management is to understand that the daily calorie constraint is just like a budget constraint, and you have to spend this “money” wisely. You have to decide which foods are worth the caloric cost and which ones aren’t. I always avoid deep-fried foods, not because I don’t like them, but because I don’t like them enough to give up other foods I like. If I eat donuts, I cannot have chocolate. And we need to understand that we need to eat smaller portions of the foods we like, even it they are not really high fat. Over time, we might get used to eating too much food per meal, and calories are calories.


  • I think Atkins is unhealth for a few more're shifting from a balanced carb diet to high fat high protein, and the long term effects of such a high fat diet hasn't really been studied (it can't be studied for practical reasons, and it will be impossible to accurately pinpoint cause and effect). But I know so many people who are happy with the diet because they lost weight.

    It's mostly because people are lazy to go out there and get regular exercise.....and they would rather eat an extreme diet and feel like they're dieting, than eat healthy!

    By Blogger Sunil, at 9:55 AM  

  • Michael
    There is supposedly direct corelation between the Atkins diet and the functioning of kidneys. This is what I have been told, though I did not go out and verify these details.
    Somehow Atkins, South Beach and the other phlethora of diet regimens seem to be waning in recent times.

    Nothing beats a good run in the park on a sunny day or a good game of tennis, squash or basketball. Then the doughnou or the piece of chocolate doesnt seem so indulgant.

    By Blogger chappan, at 12:53 PM  

  • Hi Michael,

    Isn't it a bit ironic that Atkins himself was obese when he died?


    By Blogger Vikram A., at 12:53 PM  

  • Hi Sunil, Sourin (chappin), and Vikram
    Sunil: Laziness is key, most overweight people don't like to exercise regularly, and everyone I know who is fit does exercise regularly.

    Sourin (chappan): I have heard that the low carb diet cause a process known a ketosis which is supposed to lead to weight loss. It is probably hard on the kidneys.

    Vikram: I heard that but I also heard that he retained fluids when he was comatose. I don't know. But I'm sure these diets are foolish.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 6:35 AM  

  • One thing that makes Atkins work is that you get tired of eating the same thing over and over. If you have a minimal food budget, on Atkins you'll eat a lot of tuna, eggs, and frozen broccoli. There's a limit to how many fresh vegetables you can afford every week. This leads to appetite fatigue, where you're just so sick of looking at the same stuff over and over, you quit eating.

    I can't comment on how healthy or not it is for you. I was on it for a while, then I quit. I quit a lot of diets. Sometimes I exercise, but most of the time I don't. As far as Atkins being obese when he died, I heard he had a serious condition that made him retain a lot of fluids.

    Ideally, people eat balanced meals. In reality, few people do this, whether they are on a diet or not.

    By Blogger Chicken Little, at 12:04 PM  

  • Hi Chicken Little
    Eating fatigue-making food boring that idiot dieting at work. More extreme diets like the eat only X type diet really produce fatigue in a hurry. You lose weight while you're on the diet but you can't wait to get off of it.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 1:45 PM  

  • Well there is a simple basic commonsense funda, which , if understood by sufficient people, could put atkins and the ilk right out of business- you want to lose weight, burn more calories than you consume.

    Psychology has proved time and again that fad diets don't work, and in fact often backfire. Starving or semi-starving yourself is only going to screw up your metabolism in the long run. When your restraints finally break down(and more often than not, they do), u start eating normally but your now sluggish metabolism will be even more slack in burning off those cals. So even if fad diets are not humbug, they are worse than useless.

    By Blogger Effervescence_13_, at 6:14 AM  

  • Hi Effervescence_13:
    I agree with your point of the fad diet ruining your metabolism. Infact, this is why it is important to exercise.

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