Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Biochemist Goes On Atkins, Learns The Lessons Of Low-Carb Living

Dr. Petsko is a reluctant low-carber, but he's still watching his carbs

Hidden in the middle of this Journal Times story on the various diet methods available for people to try today is a great example of how the Atkins diet is changing the lives of people by helping them make subtle changes in their lifestyle to bring about changes in their weight and health.

Dr. Gregory Petsko, a biochemistry professor at the Waltham, MA-based Brandeis University, decided that he wanted to conduct a self-imposed test of the Atkins diet on himself at the height of the low-carb "craze" in 2003 to see how well it would work since, as a scientist, it seemed to make the most sense based on his knowledge about how metabolic function works.

"There is a direct connection between insulin levels and fat metabolism," he explained. "I think that's one of the reasons why [the Atkins diet] was appealing to many scientists."

Since Dr. Petsko has a regular column that he writes for the British scientific journal Genome Biology, he decided to pen his intial thoughts about being on the Induction phase of the Atkins diet in December 2003.

To say he was a bit dismayed by his early days of livin' la vida low-carb would be an understatement, as evidenced by these comments of him obsessing over desperately wanting a piece of chocolate cake in the first two weeks:

"Psychologists are fond of saying that it's important to get in touch with your anger. No problem; I've found mine: it was hidden under all those carbohydrates. Atkins dieters, the book notes, may experience 'some increase in irritability' during the induction phase. That's like saying that Scuba divers may experience some water. One consequence of a carbohydrate-free diet is a dramatic reduction in the level of serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps us feel happy and prevents us from attacking one another at random. I don't have much serotonin now, so my interactions with people lately have been, shall we say, somewhat prickly. I have a cactus in my garden that's less prickly than I am at the moment.

Then there's the matter of concentration. Low-carbohydrate diets are claimed to improve your ability to concentrate. I can attest that this is true, but what that they don't tell you is that your concentration will be on chocolate cake. Many people have the problem of being obsessed with certain foods, or foods in general, some of the time. Doing Atkins, claims the diet book, will change all that. It does. I'm obsessed with food all the time now. Much of that obsession is with foods I can't have, like chocolate cake - and this does not improve my irritability.

Once you've done Atkins, the book says, you'll be ready for a whole new life. I can confirm that: being on this diet has made me regret the day I was born. But soon it will be over. You'll know when that happens, because you'll probably be able to hear my cry of joy from whatever country you're in."

LOL! Ya know, this Dr. Petsko is a pretty hilarious guy even if he is dead wrong about the low-carb lifestyle. But I'll cut him a break since these comments he wrote were during his first two weeks of his Atkins diet plan. I think we can ALL relate to how miserable those early days of livin' la vida low-carb were, especially if we were used to eating lots of sugar and refined carbohydrates (something I chronicle in great detail in my book "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb").

But despite his pessimistic attitude about low-carb livin in that column he wrote, the fact is it worked and worked well for him. He lost about 8 pounds during Induction and his body began using fat as the primary source of energy which put him into the all-important state of ketosis.

Dr. Petsko is quick to point out that the original diet of our earliest ancestors was virtually zero carbs (hey, he's talking your language now, Rob!) when humans got their carb intake through the process known as gluconeogenesis.

"Carbohydrates probably didn't come into the human diet until the baking of bread and the eating of vegetables and so forth," Dr. Petsko stated.

While he says there's probably nothing particularly "dangerous" about livin' la vida low-carb, Dr. Petsko happens to believe this way of eating is too boring to sustain over the long-term. Sigh. I can see how the thought of eating "meat, cheese, and eggs" all day would be boring. But if you are doing the Atkins diet by the book, then I can't see how you could EVER let it get boring since there are literally thousands of different meals you can make on this incredible way of eating. Have you ever read any of Dana Carpender's low-carb books, Dr. Petsko?

Not surprisingly, Dr. Petsko said he eventually got off of the Atkins diet at the end of his experiment in 2003-2004, but he said he learned the lessons of low-carb living that he still applies today that will last him for the rest of his life.

"I eat almost no [sugary] candy, or anything like that," he exclaimed.

Additionally, he keeps an eye on how many carbs he is consuming while maintaining a regular exercise routine.

Now that he looks back on his Atkins diet experience, Dr. Petsko says he can see how other low-carb plans such as the South Beach diet, which he describes as "balanced," would work well for many Americans who just eat way too many carbs for their body to burn.

"It's not what Americans want to hear, but it's the one thing that pretty much works all the time," Dr. Petsko said about livin' la vida low-carb.

While it is not a ringing endorsement for the Atkins/low-carb way of life, it certainly is one worth noting for what it taught Dr. Petsko and anyone else who wants to lose weight and improve their health. Low-carb really does work no matter what kind of excuses we put up against it. Boring? Makes you cranky? You miss chocolate cake? All of those things are completely irrelevant if you can permanently change your life forever by eating this way.

When I weighed 410 pounds and felt so hopeless and helpless that I would never be anything but the fat slob that I was, the Atkins diet came into my life and performed a radical transformation that quite literally revolutionized my life by helping me shed 180 pounds off of my body to create this man that I have become today--energetic, vibrant, passionate, and committed to sharing with everyone within the sound of my voice how much livin' la vida low-carb can help them, too!

Share your comments about livin' la vida low-carb with Dr. Gregory Petsko by e-mailing him at

8-17-06 UPDATE: Dr. Gregory Petsko enjoyed my post about his low-carb experience and responded to me with this great e-mail:

I enjoyed your take on my column - and thanks for the plug. Few of my pieces - and I've written almost 100 - have attracted as much e-mail and other direct response as that one. That probably won't surprise you!

Gregory A. Petsko

THANK YOU, Dr. Petsko! I'm glad to know the lessons of low-carb living have taken root in you and that you are carb-conscious for life. Hey, that means you are livin' la vida low-carb! :D Welcome to the fray, my friend.


Blogger Rob said...

Bear didn't title his ALC thread "The Real Human Diet is a Totally Carnivorous One" for nothing!

Just on a side note, the more you eat just beef eggs and cheese the more you like it. That's what Bear said, that's what Stefansson said, and that's what I'm experiencing doing it myself now.

Variety is for the mind, not the body.

8/16/2006 8:49 PM  
Blogger Kent said...

I will fully admit (and certainly have in the past) that I was irritable the first few weeks of being on Atkins. I would suppose most addicts living through their detox weeks are not exactly singing about sunshine and tulips. The fact is it gets better, and what is the prospect of being irritable compared to the prospect of being dead from a heart attack or footless from diabetes. I am sure once I started to have leg ulcers (like a relative of mine) I would be a bundle of joy to be around too. In comparison to lifetime of energy and health, I would personally take the couple weeks of discomfort or discombobulation.

For the next researched who tries Atkins as an experiment, remember Induction only needs to last 14 days.

8/16/2006 8:53 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Kent, I agree. I'd go through those first two weeks again with all the pain and agony that came from breaking my carb addiction RIGHT NOW if I knew it meant I could keep my weight off forever. The good news is that I don't have to because I've already done it.

A little pain up front shouldn't matter to people who are making this a lifetime commitment. Two weeks to earn a healthy body forever? Um, yeah, I'll take that trade any day of the week, baby!

8/16/2006 9:30 PM  
Blogger TESS said...

Can't have been a very scientific experiment if he only stuck with it 14 days. At least he learned something from the two weeks. Most people don't.As far as cranky and irritable. I have never been on any diet plan that didn't make me cranky and irritable in the beginning. No one wants to cut out or cut back on the foods they love or they wouldn't be fat, give me a break tho-Induction isn't the diet and 2 weeks isn't enugh time to truly evaluate how it works.I am going to join you in your 30 and 30. I have the maintenence blues and need to take 9 lbs off. It will probably take me the full 30 weeks. I just don't loose easy and with all the fresh veggies this time of year my carbs won't be as low as they should. Everyone keep up the good work!

8/17/2006 6:41 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

THANKS, Tess! You'll do GREAT!!!

8/17/2006 7:54 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

Great post Jimmy, but you forgot another key comment from Dr. Petsko, ""There is a direct connection between insulin levels and fat metabolism," he said, and a well established biochemical pathway that connects fat with sugar intake. "I think that's one of the reasons why it was appealing to many scientists.""

This is what I've been trying to tell our friend IB, that fat storage is a result of carbs, not excessive calories.

Insulin and Fat Storage


Dietary Fat Does Not Make You Fat

8/17/2006 10:49 AM  

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