Chapter 9: The Atkins Onslaught

Aug 16, 2019


Click here to watch a replay of the Facebook LIVE discussion. 

You Will Learn 

  • Why was the Atkins diet successful in the short-term, but like all other “diets” failed in the long-term?
  • Why high-carbohydrate foods like cake, ice cream, cookies, and chips are so easy to overeat and crave. 
  • How can certain cultures who eat a lot of carbohydrates (like traditional Asian cultures) stay slim?  


About Dr. Fung, Author of The Obesity Code and The Diabetes Code

Dr. Jason Fung is a medical doctor, nephrologist by trade, who specializes in kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. He acknowledged that traditional medicine wastes time and resources attempting to treat symptoms of disease, rather than the cause of disease.  

You can purchase The Obesity Code book HERE. Most information in this post is direct from this book. 


Overview of the Book

Here is an outline of the book. Today I’m covering Chapter 9 in Part 3 of the book. 

  • Part 1: “The Epidemic,” explores the timeline of the obesity epidemic and the contribution of the patient’s family history. It highlights the underlying causes of obesity. 
  • Part 2: “The Calorie Deception,” reviews the current caloric theory in depth and highlights the shortcomings of the current understanding of obesity. 
  • Part 3: “A New Model of Obesity,” describes how hormones are involved in the development of obesity. These chapters explain the central role of insulin in regulating body weight and describe the vitally important role of insulin resistance. 
  • Part 4: “The Social Phenomenon of Obesity,” dives into childhood obesity and why obesity is associated with poverty. 
  • Part 5: “What’s Wrong with Our Diet?,” explores the role of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, the three macronutrients, in weight gain. In addition, it examines one of the main culprits in weight gain - fructose - and the effects of artificial sweeteners. 
  • Part 6: “The Solution,” provides guidelines for lasting treatment of obesity by addressing the hormonal imbalance of high blood insulin through proper nutrition, sleep, and stress management. 


What is the Atkins Diet? 

Dr. Robert Atkins was a cardiologist and weighed 224 pounds. He tried the conventional ways to lose weight but was unsuccessful so he tried a low-carbohydrate diet, something that some medical professionals had advocated for since the mid-1800s. It worked! 

He went onto develop the "Atkins Diet" and the “low-carb” craze began, with a lot of resistance from the academic and medical communities like th American Heart Association and American Medical Association who were still recommending low-fat diets.  

Several different research studies were done that proved the short-term effectiveness of the Atkins diet compared to low-fat diets. It was superior not only in weight loss but also metabolic profiles like blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.  

Notice I said short-term.  


The Decline of Atkins

Long-term studies of the Atkins diet proved it was no more helpful in long-term weight loss than low-fat diets that have been proven to fail time and time again.  

Why? Because it didn’t take into account real life. Birthdays, weddings, celebrations all include cake, ice cream, and cookies. Your diet has to account for real life situations. The key is to learn to eat healthy most of the time so that you can choose to have an exception meal every now and then knowing it won’t derail your progress or trigger old eating habits.  

The strictness of the Atkins diet, with no emphasis on anything besides low-carb, is why it ultimately failed.  

The more I help people with weight loss, the more I realize that what we eat is only part of the puzzle. When you eat, stress, sleep, exercise, and your overall mindset to health are also crucial pieces of the puzzle.  

The Atkins diet failed to address any of these, as does any other diet that is only talking about what to eat, pushing products, or pushing supplements for weight loss. They will not work in the long-run. It would be nice if it was that easy and simple but it’s not. Long-term weight loss takes a long-term mindset, consistency, and an evidence-based approach that takes into account all of the pieces to the puzzle, not just food.  


Why High-Carbohydrate Foods Like Cake, Ice Cream, Cookies, and Chips are so Easy to Overeat and Crave

Hormones are powerful controllers of our body's actions. Our satiety hormones tell us when we are full and to stop eating. Hormones such as cholecystokinin and peptide YY respond to ingested proteins and fats to signal us to stop eating.  

Refined carbohydrates like pasta, bread, rice, sugar, pop, etc have no fat or protein, so we can continue to eat these even though the thought of one more bite of chicken seems impossible. 

“Refined carbohydrates are easy to become addicted to and overeat precisely because there are no natural satiety hormones for refined carbs.” - p. 101  

That’s why even after a huge dinner you still have room for dessert.  

Think about the foods that we commonly say we are “addicted” to. They are usually highly refined and processed foods like cake, cookies, ice cream, pop, bread, pasta, etc. I’ve never heard someone say they are addicted to chicken, or broccoli. What about comfort foods? Mac and cheese, pancakes, homemade ice cream, etc. They are all highly refined carbohydrates and there is a reason for this.  

Research has shown that these foods activate reward centers in our brain and release a hormone called dopamine or as I call it, your “feel good” hormone. That is why when you are stressed, you tend to turn to foods high starch and sugar because your brain knows it will get a dopamine hit and feel better, at least for a minute.  

Knowing little things like this goes a long way in understanding the need to be proactive about stress management and adequate sleep.  


The Paradox of Healthy Cultures Eating High Carb Diets

Research was done in the 1990s, (before the the westernized highly refined carbohydrate diet took over) that compared the diets of the U.S., U.K., China, and Japan. There is a graph in The Obesity Code on page 104 for illustration.  

They found the Chinese were eating more total carbohydrates than any other nation but had the lowest overall sugar intake. The Japanese were eating as many carbs as people in the U.S. and U.K. but also had significantly lower sugar intake. Despite the high carbohydrate intake, obesity rates in Japan and China have remained low until only recently. 

The Chinese and Japanese were getting most of their carbs from rice while people in the U.K. and U.S. were getting theirs from wheat products.  

This research proved that total carbohydrate intake was not the whole story. Sugar contributes much more to obesity than other refined or whole carbohydrates. 

Researches are not entirely sure why this is but two theories Dr. Fung mentioned in the book were: 

  • There is a difference between eating rice vs wheat. 
  • The newer variety of wheat we eat today is processed differently.  

Regardless of the reason for this paradox, there is ample evidence to show that sugar and refined carbohydrates should be significantly reduced for long-term health benefits. There are more nutritious and filling options that don’t raise insulin.  

The point of this chapter was that we can’t ONLY focus on lower sugar and refined carbohydrate intake. For most people who have suffered from obesity for a while, this will not be enough to push past the underlying cause of obesity, insulin resistance, a topic we will look into next week.  


Bottom Line 

  • While lowering sugar and refined carbohydrate intake does lower insulin levels, it is not the ONLY thing that lowers insulin levels and this alone will not be enough for long-term weight loss success for most people. 
  • Sugar is the worst type of refined carbohydrate. Try to limit your added sugar intake to 24 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men. 
  • There are many other factors at play when it comes to lowering your insulin resistance besides just what you eat. When you eat, your sleep, stress, and activity all play a role.  



1. Chapter 9. (2016). In J. Fung, The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss. Vancouver: Greystone Books. 

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