Veronica Atkins: AMA, ADA 'Have Their Heads In The Sand' About The Atkins Low-Carb Diet
My favorite interview yet with the lovely and gracious Veronica Atkins
When I started blogging about the low-carb lifestyle two years ago, what I wanted more than anything else was to carry on the torch of advocacy for livin' la vida low-carb that had been conspicuously absent since the untimely death of the late great Dr. Robert C. Atkins. It was as if all the defenders of this way of eating fell off the face of the planet or decided to suddenly clam up. I for one felt that somebody needed to stand up on behalf of Dr. Atkins to defend his life's work.
Dr. Atkins left behind an incredible legacy that will continue to postively impact the lives of millions of people around the world for decades and generations to come. My only regret is that I was never privileged enough to meet him and shake his hand for helping me lose over 180 pounds in 2004. I am a permanently changed man today because of the Atkins diet and nobody can ever take that away from me.
But although I can never have that fateful meeting with my nutritional hero, I got to experience the next best thing--an interview with none other than Mrs. Veronica Atkins. As the faithful wife and loving companion to Dr. Atkins through all the ups and downs of his unprecedented medical career, nobody knew the human being she affectionately referred to as "Bobby" better than Veronica.
I've been able to meet and interview a lot of interesting people at the "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" blog over the past couple of years, but none more thrilling than this one with Mrs. Veronica Atkins. Eloquent, articulate, and ever-faithful to the mission of her late husband, you will be encouraged anew to start livin' la vida low-carb after hearing from this engaging and elegant woman. ENJOY!
1. Words cannot adequately express how privileged and honored I am today to have with us here at the "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" blog the one and only Mrs. Veronica Atkins. As most of my readers already know, Mrs. Atkins is the widow of Dr. Atkins who came up with the most widely-discussed diet program in the history of the world. Did Dr. Atkins have any idea this low-carb diet he stumbled upon decades ago would create such a ruckus? More importantly, did he ever really expect the Atkins diet to be fully embraced by the health and medical community?
Thanks Jimmy. It’s my privilege and pleasure to be here with you and to share a little bit with you and your readers about my late husband, Dr. Atkins. Your Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb blog has been an invaluable resource for health professionals and the public alike to remain informed and current on all things low-carb. Your passion equals that of Dr. Atkins-–and that’s saying something!
The short answer to both your questions is a resounding “Yes.” Bobby certainly didn’t want to create a ruckus--he hated controversy--but he had no choice. He was ridiculed and alienated by his peers for pointing out that carbohydrate restriction is the single best strategy for treating excessive levels of insulin which leads to diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease and even cancer. So, of course, he felt compelled to speak out.
Certainly, he fully believed that the controlled-carb lifestyle would eventually be accepted as a healthy lifestyle choice. How could he not when he saw the evidence in his clinical practice every day where he could reverse Type 2 diabetes and prevent it in those who were at risk of developing it. My husband firmly believed that had mainstream medicine adopted his teachings, the public health crisis that we see today, where obesity and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions, could have been averted.
2. As much as he and his healthy nutritional approach have been irresponsibily chided and scorned by the so-called health experts and the media over the past few years, nobody in this world really knew Bobby Atkins the human being as well as you--his faithful companion. What are the qualities you best remember him for and is there anything about the real Dr. Atkins that you wish people would never forget?
Well, I was in constant awe of Bobby...his intellect, his honesty, his courage, his boundless energy, his curiosity and thirst for knowledge and his commitment to his patients and their rights.
One of my fondest memories is of him leaving our apartment every morning at 6:30am for the short walk to his clinic...and the worn black canvas bag (that I tried, unsuccessfully, to replace with a briefcase on his birthday!) that he carried with him wherever he went—stuffed to the gills at all times with his writings, notes and medical journals. For all his brilliance, there was a childlike quality that he never lost...and every day was an adventure for him.
I wish people knew how hard he fought to change things. Even though he knew that by speaking out he would be attacked and vilified by his detractors, he never wavered in his convictions. In his monthly newsletter, writings, radio show and media appearances over the years he spoke out about many of the issues that only now are making headlines: the dangers of trans fats, the over-prescribing of hormones, antibiotics, statin drugs, and the consumption of denatured foods such as white flour, sugar and high fructose corn syrup --which make up the majority of products that line our supermarket shelves--and their role in the obesity epidemic; he brought to light scientific evidence that heart disease is not caused by cholesterol when it was widely accepted that it was the #1 cause.
He called to task some formidable opponents--the food companies, the pharmaceutical giants, the FDA, the ADA, and the AMA--and exposed their deceptive and in many cases dangerous practices. And he was instrumental in changing policy that led to the passing of patients’ rights bills.
I’d also like people to know that he was a brilliant clinician and diagnostician and not just a “diet doc," a label that stuck due to the phenomenal success of his Atkins Diet Revolution books. In his clinical practice, he treated a myriad of illnesses and succeeded in weaning patients off of their medications using diet and correcting nutritional deficiencies--something that gave him enormous satisfaction. He used the low-carb approach as the basis for all of his treatments.
Another interesting and little known fact about my husband is that at one point he wanted to pursue a career in comedy--in fact in his early years, it was a toss-up as to whether he would pursue a medical career or a career in stand-up comedy. He had a wonderful wry wit and I think he could have been a successful comedian. However, I have no doubt and neither did he that he was put on this earth to make a difference.
3. How did it make you feel when the downright malicious lies from anti-Atkins, anti-meat groups like the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM) came out about your husband's untimely death following a slip and fall on ice in New York City were plastered all over the news boldly and erroneously reporting that Dr. Atkins had died of a heart attack and was obese? If you could respond directly to those who make such allegations, what would you say to them?
As you can imagine, it hurt me to the core. I’d ask this group to try and see reason, put aside their agenda and tell the truth. Unfortunately the more I hear about this group, the more I’m convinced that they are fanatics--unwilling and uninterested in seeking the truth.
They certainly showed their true colors when they illegally obtained copies of Dr. Atkins’ medical records following his death and then leaked false information to the press claiming he was obese. When my husband was admitted to the hospital following his accident, he weighed 195 pounds--a healthy weight for a 6’ 2” tall man. The extra weight he gained during his hospital stay was due to an accumulation of body fluids related to his treatment and linked to organ failure. However, this group chose to distort the facts to suit their agenda, which is very disturbing indeed.
Dr. Atkins had suffered from a heart condition called cardiomyopathy--which is a disease of the heart muscle caused in his case by a viral infection and was totally unrelated to his diet. He spoke openly about his condition and did a lot of research, publishing his findings to help others with this condition.
4. Carrying on the amazing work of your husband today, you head up The Robert C. Atkins Foundation where quite literally millions upon millions of dollars are being invested in those research facilities who are willing to test the Atkins low-carb diet in the battle against obesity and the twin epidemic of obesity and diabetes. How does the Atkins Foundation go about determining who gets these generous endowments and when can we expect to see the fruits of those dollars produce scientific proof of what most of us who are livin' la vida low-carb already know?
Well, many types of studies are being funded by the foundation, not just low-carb diet studies. The foundation accepts proposals from any serious non-profit organization wishing to pursue questions still needing answers in nutrition, metabolism, childhood obesity/diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease to name only a few, along with numerous advocacy and community projects.
The selection process is based on how well the study is designed, the importance of the questions being asked, the amount of funding being requested, and, very important, how we see the findings being put into practice. My goal is to impact childhood obesity and diabetes in my lifetime along with contributing to the science that shows the benefits of low carbohydrate food choices on many other diseases.
5. Speaking of diabetes, you are thoroughly convinced that it CAN be cured and eradicated through the use of the Atkins diet and a 2006 study from Dr. Eric Westman out of Duke University has already shown that is exactly what happens when diabetics are placed on such a plan.
If such clear evidence is on the table that a low-carbohydrate plan can bring A1C levels down to "normal" while vastly lowering triglycerides, raising HDL "good" cholesterol, and normalizing blood sugars sometimes without the use of any prescription drugs or insulin, then why does the American Diabetes Association (ADA) continue to overlook the Atkins diet as a viable option for taking on this preventable disease? What is it going to take to convince diabetics to stop eating the ADA-recommended high-carb, low-fat diet and turn to low-carb as the lifestyle change they need to finally bring their condition under control?
As they say, the proof is in the pudding. And Dr. Atkins proved over and over again in his 40 years of clinical practice that the controlled-carbohydrate program is without question the correct one for the prevention and treatment of obesity and Type II diabetes. However, whenever he tried to bring his findings to the attention of the medical establishment, they were shot down for lack of supporting research studies.
Nevermind the fact that the low-fat proponents who dismissed his findings had no research to back up their theories. We now have an overwhelming amount of research which supports carbohydrate restriction as the number one therapy in the prevention and treatment of Type II diabetes. Yet they still choose to look the other way.
These organizations, the AMA and ADA, obviously have their heads in the sand when they continue to ignore the mounting scientific evidence on the impact of a controlled-carb diet on obesity and Type 2 diabetes. There is also the concern that many experts are influenced by strong lobbying groups such as the food industry and pharmaceutical giants.
Bobby would often tell me of patients who were able to get off their medications and better control their blood sugars within days of starting his program. But the tide is turning, especially on a grassroots level, as more and more people try low-carb and do well. I certainly believe that the "powers-that-be" will have to come to their collective senses and be forced to address the immeasurable damage done by the low-fat dogma.
6. I know it breaks your heart to see childhood obesity and obesity-related diseases afflicting children at record levels over the past decade. But you came across a small glimmer of hope last year when a class of 5th grade kids from a Florida elementary school did something quite extraordinary--they refused to sell sugary candy as a fundraising avenue for their field trip to Washington, D.C. because they said it was too unhealthy. WOW, now that's a shocker in this day and age! When you heard about the bold stand against sugar of these courageous students, what did you do to help them out and have you come across any other examples of similar actions taken by students elsewhere?
As heartbreaking as it is to see the devastating effects of childhood obesity, it is equally heartening to see the ability of children to change things. When I heard about the children in Florida not having enough funds to take their field trip because they chose not to sell sugary snacks, I met with the children and of course funded the trip.
This was not my first experience with the ability of children to create change. Surely, the greatest example of the power of youth to create change is an extraordinary Canadian group called Free the Children. It was started in 1995 by two brothers, Craig and Marc Kielberger, both barely in their teens. It has since grown into an international movement of children helping children that has improved the lives of over a million children in 40 countries.
They’ve built over 400 schools to date, provided much needed clean water and medical supplies and set up supporting community women’s groups. In 1998, they started Leaders Today, a leadership institute that empowers and inspires over 250,000 youth every year around the world to become actively involved in volunteerism to help those in need and to make the world a better place.
The Robert C. & Veronica Atkins Foundation joined with Free the Children to create a program called Life in Action, which has already been implemented in 120 Canadian schools. It’s about educating children in the basics of nutrition, the importance of good wholesome, nutritious food and the avoidance of nutrient-deficient foods and sugary snacks. It also encourages regular physical activity in creative ways.
I’ve visited some of these schools and spent time with the children and it’s just incredible to see the enthusiasm with which they have embraced this, and their eagerness to pass on their knowledge to family and friends. We are working on bringing this program into U.S. schools as well.
7. I had the privilege of meeting you for the first time in January 2006 in Brooklyn, New York at the Nutritional & Metabolic Aspects Of Carbohydrate Restriction conference and was able to personally thank you on behalf of your wonderful husband for the Atkins diet. In January 2004, I weighed 410 pounds and my health was on the verge of collapse had I not done something about it as soon as possible.
Today, I am 190 pounds lighter and no longer taking the three prescription medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and breathing I was on at the time. With literally tens or even hundreds of thousands of other Jimmy Moores out there living healthy for perhaps the first time in their entire lives because of the Atkins diet, why isn't the Atkins low-carb nutritional approach being recommended alongside the high-carb, low-fat diet by government and health organizations? What can those of us who have been so dramatically changed for the better by the Atkins diet do to convince these people in positions of power over health policy in America that low-carb should be given equal treatment?
Well, I don’t believe there’s anyone out there who could say you’ve not done your share--and certainly what we need more than anything are more Jimmy Moores! Your own story of dramatic weight loss and return to health following the low-carb approach is something that Dr. Atkins would have relished.
Unfortunately, it takes time to turn the tide of popular thinking. The slick marketing tools employed by the food companies ensures that the low-fat dogma remains ingrained in people’s consciousness, and of course that takes time to reverse.
However, we are seeing some very positive policy changes take place, such as the removal of unhealthy snacks from school vending machines and healthier school cafeteria lunches being served. We have Mayor Bloomberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger and former President Bill Clinton, among others, all of whom appear to be committed to following through on children’s health issues in various ways.
While we are making strides, the low-fat mentality however is still quite pervasive. For example, I would love to see a return to the day when schools will again start serving full-fat nutritious milk to children instead of the tasteless, blue-tinted low-fat substance that passes for milk and is so popular with school authorities. I doubt children are overweight because of drinking whole milk!
I am fully committed to doing everything I can to educate people with the facts and to further Dr. Atkins legacy. And to that end, my new web site launched just recently. My site will feature many low-carb recipes--including favorites of mine and Bobby’s--all tasty, nutritious and easy to prepare. It also has a section on family nutrition.
I’m very excited to be working with Jackie Eberstein, who was one of Dr. Atkins closest colleagues, to provide a source of accurate and up-to-date information for the public and professionals alike on the low-carb approach, research and complementary medicine. Jackie Eberstein’s web site just recently launched as well. Jackie is the consummate expert on all things Atkins.
8. That recent JAMA study out of Stanford University in March 2007 showing the Atkins diet was the best among four popular diets for weight loss and improved health after one year certainly gave a huge shot in the arm to the life's work of your husband as interest in the low-carb approach has been rekindled. Do you see anything else coming up on the horizon in the next year or so from the realm of research, a new book, or even from the entertainment industry that could help continue the rebirth of the Atkins diet?
Yes, that study was a wonderful validation of Dr. Atkins' work and I feel certain it will spur many more. Certainly, it lends credence to all of the studies funded to date by the Atkins Foundation which showed similar results.
Many of the initial studies funded by the Foundation have been completed and the results published. For a listing of articles already available, readers can look on the Atkins Foundation’s web site. Several of our investigators will be publishing their findings in the coming year. There is a large two-year NIH study comparing the Atkins diet with a low-fat diet and the results of that should be available this coming year as well.
Gary Taubes, the journalist who wrote the eye-opening article in the New York Times magazine section is coming out with a wonderful new book clarifying much of the history and dogma about our current guidelines and recommendations.
Also, an independent filmmaker named CJ Hunt is finishing a documentary called The Perfect Human Diet which chronicles the evolution of our dietary habits which should be a fascinating account of our eating habits and how they have changed.
9. Despite the constant negativity that is hurled against the Atkins diet, the fact is it has left an indelible impression on our society about how people perceive carbohydrates, especially nutritionally bankrupt ones such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour, potatoes, rice, pasta, processed foods, and fast food. In the perfect world, though, what would Veronica Atkins like to see happen with all the invaluable information that was provided by Dr. Atkins in his books? Do you think future society will one day look back at all the needless criticism about the Atkins low-carb diet and shake their heads in disappointment?
Well, Dr. Atkins upset a lot of apple carts in his time! The bread, pasta, fast food and soft drinks industries lost millions because of him. He challenged the proclamations of the FDA, the AMA, ADA, and others--and in so doing incurred their wrath. However, his commitment paid off and I read recently that more than 44% of people in the U.S. are eating less carbs.
I’m so optimistic about all that is happening at the moment in the area of health--the emerging science on the safety and health benefits of the Atkins approach and the recognition that in the midst of an obesity epidemic, low-fat is not the answer. The World Wide Web of course will continue to have an enormous impact on people’s ability to access and exchange information. We now have so many wonderful low-carb web sites and blogs, like your Livin' La Vida Low-Carb blog, which provide a forum for intelligent discussion and the dissemination of accurate and truthful information.
10. THANK YOU, Mrs. Atkins, for taking just a few moments of your time to spend with me and my readers today about the wonderful world of livin' la vida low-carb. You are an amazing and gracious ambassador for the low-carb lifestyle and we in the low-carb community want you to know how much we love and appreciate what you are doing to help continue the fanastic legacy of that incredible man you called husband, Dr. Robert C. Atkins. Do you have any final words of encouragement or advice to share with my readers who are already following or even thinking about going on the Atkins diet?
For anyone thinking about starting the low-carb approach, the most important advice I would give them is to read two of Dr. Atkins’ most important books. First, start with Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution and when you’re close to your goal weight, then read Atkins for Life. While I realize that in today’s world of instantaneous access to information, taking the time to read a book might be considered passé, these are no ordinary books and you will find yourself referring to them again and again.
There’s a wealth of knowledge contained within those pages plus they’re written in Dr. Atkins inimitable style so it’s never boring. And, please remember--it’s a lifestyle, not a diet.
Thank you so much Jimmy for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the health and well-being of humanity and for being such an ardent supporter of my husband and his work.
WOW! Thanks for your awe-inspiring responses to my questions, Mrs. Atkins. I am so happy to share your amazing memories about the man who was so instrumental in changing my life and the lives of many of my readers forever. God bless you for keeping the spirit of the late great Dr. Robert "Bobby" C. Atkins alive and well.