Two dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, a pound of ground beef, a couple pounds of cheese, three steaks and a slab of ham. Those are among the high-protein items I brought home from the market the day before I began "Dr. Atkins' Induction Diet," a two-week "test drive" that Atkins promises will jump-start everyone's unbalanced metabolisms.
From there, dieters move on to the "Ongoing Weight Loss Diet," the brief "Pre-Maintenance Diet" and then the "Lifetime Maintenance Diet." The introductory induction diet is the most restrictive: No more than 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, which allows for about three cups of salad vegetables or two cups of salad plus two-thirds of a cup of cooked vegetables from the low-carbohydrate list (such as asparagus, broccoli, spinach and zucchini), but no fruit, juices, bread, grain products, coffee, alcohol or desserts (other than sugar-free Jell-O).
Admittedly, I was somewhat skeptical about being able to follow the diet, since my usual eating regime consists of just the opposite--lots of fruit, vegetables and grains and minimal portions of high-fat meats and cheese. And since I only wanted to lose a few pounds, my experience would necessarily be different from someone needing to lose a lot of weight.
Nevertheless, I thought I'd better understand how or why the diet works by trying it myself. And besides, I, too, had fallen prey to low-fat, high-carbohydrate snack attacks--fistfuls of pretzels, crackers or popcorn; towering swirls of low-fat frozen yogurt, giant-sized bagels--without always being mindful of calories.
The first morning, I had a two-egg cheese omelet and three strips of bacon for breakfast--a big change from my usual cereal, skim milk and banana. But I wasn't hungry for lunch until nearly 2 p.m., also a big change from my usual noon hunger pangs. Lunch was a big chef's salad with full-fat dressing, dinner was steak and more salad. By the end of the day, I felt stuffed.
By the end of the second day, I was already craving carbohydrates. By the third day, I was feeling weak and nauseated, and I cheated with a glass of orange juice that made me feel much better. By the sixth day, I was so sick of eggs, I had sugar-free Jell-O for breakfast. And after eight days, I called it quits, having lost 2 1/2 pounds but feeling pretty lousy through most of it.
Still, I learned a lot. For one thing, for the many people who don't like to eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains, this diet is paradise, an excuse to concentrate on the high-fat meats and cheeses they'd rather be eating anyway. No wonder it's so popular. For me, though, it was torture.
Nonetheless, like any diet with strict rules about what you can and cannot eat, it was easy to follow--at least for a short while. For some, common-sense advice about balance, moderation and variety is just too general and open-ended.
Putting a limit on the variety of foods also made meals much more boring, to the point where I gradually lost interest in eating. In my case, as is probably true with most people, that monotony made me eat less--particularly when it came to snacking--and so I was consuming fewer calories. No wonder I lost weight; there's no metabolic secret to that.
It is also true that the calorie-dense foods on the diet made me fuller faster and kept me satisfied longer, another reason I ate less. It takes a lot of pretzels to satiate the appetite, but how much cheese can you eat at a sitting--especially without the forbidden crackers and wine?
So although I haven't gone back to eating bacon and eggs for breakfast every day, I learned that eating a bit more protein and fat might not be such a bad idea for me. I've continued Atkins's prescription to use full-fat dressings on salads and given up on the gluey, tasteless low-fat versions, for example. The result is a more filling and satisfying salad, making me less likely to crave cookies after dinner.
I can't imagine life without pasta and bread; Atkins's plan is just not my style. But maybe the pendulum needed to swing back from all the low-fat, no-fat hysteria. Now we just need to keep it in the middle.