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Interview With Robert Atkins

Aired February 14, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the late Dr. Robert Atkins in one of his last interviews before his sudden and shocking death. The world's most controvesial diet guru, Dr. Robert Atkins is next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening, I'm Larry King. Tonight, we're looking back at a fascinating hour we shared last year with the late Dr. Robert Atkins, the diet guru who died in April and his death has been the source of a recent controversy. The official cause of death if from head injury sustained after falling on an icy New York City sidewalk.

Recently released medical records have raised some questions, though. Was Atkins overweight at the time of his death? Did he have heart problems? And how were the confidential medical records released in the first place?

We'll hope to get some of the answers Monday when we have an exclusive interview with the doctor's widow, Veronica Atkins. But tonight, with his controvertial diet more popular than ever, here's Dr. Atkins, in his own words.

KING: How in the world does a cardiologist in a world of we hate fat and high cholesterol, worry about all those things, suddenly turn the opposite route? How did that happen?

ATKINS: Well, it was really very simple. I needed to go on a diet back in 1963. I was gaining a lot of weight. Yes, I was practicing cardiology, but I was gaining weight. And there was an article in the AMA journal that said, by the way, you don't have to go on a low calorie diet, you can go on a low carbohydrate diet. And I thought, oh, how wonderful that is. So I went on a diet. It was very, very exciting. And I not only lost a lot of weight very easily, but I needed a lot less sleep. I used to need eight and a half hours sleep, and by the end of two months, I needed five and a half hours sleep, which, by the way, for the last 40 years, that's about all I needed.

So it really changed my energy level and it changed a lot of things. And so I decided to put other people on it.

KING: And the rest is history. Explain to me something...

ATKINS: Yes, I'd say that.

KING: We need carbohydrates, do we not? We must have carbohydrates in our system.

ATKINS: A lot of people don't need carbohydrates.

KING: Don't need any?

ATKINS: Well, certainly the people way up in the northern Alaska where they don't grow carbohydrates manage to survive. So obviously you can survive without carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are valuable because of many of the things that they contain. So our diet really is not a zero carbohydrate diet.

KING: You take carbohydrates?

ATKINS: I eat a lot of vegetables. And those are the most valuable carbohydrates. But from the very beginning we had to focus on what are the healthy carbohydrates and stay away from the unhealthy ones.

KING: All right. Let's get the most important. What are some things you will not consume? What are unhealthy carbohydrates?

ATKINS: Well, basically, it's about refined carbohydrates. That's sugar and flour, those are the refined carbohydrates.

KING: That means you do not eat bread?

ATKINS: We now eat bread because we make bread without refined carbohydrates.

KING: Mean we -- you mean, you make your own bread?

ATKINS: A lot of companies make low carbohydrate bread now. Certainly we're one of them.

KING: So that's what you would recommend, low carbohydrate bread?

ATKINS: Yes. At various times. Now, we start off -- when people start the diet, we start off very strict. And a lot of people have felt, oh, that strict first two weeks of the diet, that's the whole diet. They don't realize that the diet is a 70-year diet.

KING: But you do allow...

ATKINS: And who cares about two weeks when you're on it for 70 years.

KING: You do allow steaks and chops and...

ATKINS: All of the main courses. Seafood, chicken...

KING: Sauces?

ATKINS: Depends on the sauce. Depends on what is in it. And certainly cheese and eggs and meat as well, because all of those foods are without carbohydrates, basically.

KING: So enriched flour, if you cut out enriched flour... ATKINS: Which we do.

KING: If everybody watching this show stopped all enriched flour and all sweets, all -- like we're talking about candies, right?

ATKINS: Right.

KING: Enriched flour, chocolates, candies, stopped it, they would lose weight? No matter what they ate?

ATKINS: No, it doesn't -- no, they have to -- some people wouldn't. But everybody would be healthier. Everyone would be healthier if they didn't eat junk food. That's what junk food is.

There were times, if we go back 100 years, we found out that people in our country ate the same amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate that they eat now, that they ate 30 years ago, but there wasn't a single heart attack. First heart attack didn't come until 1912. The difference was 100 years ago we did not eat much in the way of refined carbohydrates. We didn't eat much sugar or much flour. That's what changed. That's what caused the whole epidemic, that's what caused the whole 20th century group of illnesses.

KING: But when you eat a cheeseburger, you don't eat the roll.

ATKINS: That's for sure. I don't even let them give me a roll.

KING: But you would eat the cheeseburger.

ATKINS: Yes, with a fork.

KING: OK. But how about the concept that every cardiologist I had to talk to, and I've had heart disease, so I know -- I mean, I had a heart attack and heart surgery -- says fats are bad because fat -- obviously, when you think of a fat, it builds plaque, plaque is what constricts the system. Bang, you're in trouble.

ATKINS: Well, that's what they say. But on the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that shows that all of that thing about fat was done on studies where there was a lot of carbohydrate. Now, when there is a lot of carbohydrate, your fat takes a different metabolic pathway than when there is very little carbohydrate. When there is a lot of carbohydrate, fat turns into triglyceride, which is bad for your heart, and that's a bad thing. But when you don't eat carbohydrate, then it turns into energy.

KING: So in other words, you have the steak but you don't have the bread. That's a whole different concept occurring in your system.

ATKINS: And you don't have the potatoes either, for that matter.

KING: Here is about getting respect. Listen to this, "The New York Times" magazine article in July of 2002, by the way, you made the cover of "TIME" magazine.

ATKINS: Yes? KING: They don't leave Atkins out.

ATKINS: I know that now.

KING: Here is what the "New York Times," July 2002. "If the members of the American medical establishment were to have a collective finding yourself standing naked in Times Square type nightmare, this might be it. They spent 30 years ridiculing Robert Atkins, accusing the Manhattan doctor of quackery and fraud, only to discover that the unrepentant Atkins was right all along." Now, the article didn't say it was right, but it suggests you were right, but suggested the possibility that you were right. Do you have a feeling of I told you so?

ATKINS: Sure. I've had that feeling all along.

KING: But now that you've got...

ATKINS: Finally, finally somebody has now recognized that there were so many studies which confirmed what I've said and no studies which ever let them come to the conclusion that the opposition has come to.

KING: The argument against you, wasn't it, Bob, that you were doing all these things without any clinically approved studies until later on? (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ATKINS: Well, I would never do a study because I'm a practicing physician. I mean, all I do is treat people.

KING: But you funded the study at Duke?

ATKINS: Yes, but it was a long time before I was able to do that. And so for many, many years, I had to rely on everybody else's studies. It was everybody else's studies that got me to go on my diet in the first place.

KING: But didn't everybody else's studies say don't eat fat?

ATKINS: No, they didn't do that when they looked at low carbohydrate intake. All of the studies that said don't eat fat were done with diets where there was a lot of fat and a lot of carbohydrate. That's completely different.

KING: We're going to be taking a lot of calls for Robert Atkins tonight. His new book is "Atkins for Life: the Complete Controlled Carb Program for Permanent Weight Loss and Good Health." You can get to him at the as well on the Web site. We'll be talking with him and taking a lot of phone calls for Dr. Atkins. We'll be right back.


KING: We're back. We'll be going to calls shortly for Dr. Robert Atkins. You funded -- the foundation you head funded research done at Duke; 120 overweight volunteers, randomly assigned to follow the Atkins diet or the American Heart Association diet.

ATKINS: Right.

KING: The data on the 63 participated reported Atkins participants on an average lost more weight, lowered bad cholesterol and increased good cholesterol.

However, Dr. Dean Ornish, a critic of yours, knows this was only a six-month study, that the heart association diet was not very low in fat or simple carbs and only Atkins patients were given fish oil and flaxseed oil, which automatically lowers triglycerides. How do you react to that?

ATKINS: Well, of course, none of that is really the case. And point of fact, our diet took off 31 pounds against 20 pounds that the comparison diet did. The triglycerides dropped 49 percent on our diet and only 22 percent on the others and the good cholesterol went up 12 percent on ours and didn't go up at all on the American Heart Association diet.

KING: Do you use fish oil? Is that part of your...

ATKINS: Fish oil was used but it was used in a very small quantity. Now what's more important is that the triglycerides have been lowered on this diet going all the way back to 1966. And in every study it has been dropped something like 50 percent or pretty close to it when it's low. And fish oil was not used. It's quite true that fish oil is in my view the No. 1 therapy for lowering triglycerides. But even without it, you get the result from the diet.

So that is not -- is just not true. As far as how many people -- well, six months is pretty long. But I can tell you this, I've treated tens of thousands of patients for a lot more than six months. A lot of them have come back 10 and 20 years later and I can tell you this, that their lab work gets better and better the longer they stay on it.

KING: Now we hear that critics I'm told will admit that you have short-term weight loss, great results with short-term weight loss but they worry about the long-term health impact.

ATKINS: They do indeed but there is no reason to. Why would anybody worry about it when -- six months is a long time. And in mainstream medicine, when people are on a diet, after about six months things don't look so well. But on our diet they continue to lose as long as you stay on it.

KING: The American Journal of Kidney Diseases, August of 2002, said people on your diet lose large amounts of calcium in the urine, 65 percent higher than normal, 55 percent in maintenance, possibly could lead to osteoporosis.

ATKINS: Well, the calcium loss is very short-term. After about two weeks, there is -- the calcium level back to normal. So that's a short-term abnormality.

KING: Is part of your diet a lot of vitamins?

ATKINS: Well, that's what I like it to be. In the book it doesn't really demand a lot of vitamins. People read the book, may just take one or two types of vitamins a day. If they went to my practice in New York, I would give -- and doesn't have to be my diet, could be anybody. I just know that vitamin therapy is a great alternative to drug therapy.

KING: And medicine fought that a long time, didn't they?

ATKINS: They're still fighting that. We're not talking about that because as far as the diet is concerned, if -- see, everybody benefits from vitamins. Doesn't make any make any difference what diet they're on. You take the healthiest diet in the world, if you gave those people vitamins, they would be twice as healthy. So vitamins are valuable. Nonetheless, the diet doesn't require vitamins any more than any other diet.

KING: Are a lot of the substitutes very good? There are chocolates -- you tasted some before the show -- that are low in carbs.

ATKINS: Yes, there's a lot of that. Oh, yes, they're delicious.

So that -- but what this really means is there is a whole new generation now. Before when people went on my diet and they have to stay on it for life, at least the low carb lifestyle so that at least they stay enough in carbs that they don't gain it back, but they had to not have any candy, they couldn't have any bread they couldn't have any ice cream and things like that.

KING: That's terrible.

ATKINS: But now they're there are many, many companies that are putting out low carb versions of high carb foods. Because of it, it is so easy now to stay on a low carb lifestyle, which is exactly what millions of people are doing.

KING: Are some under risk switching to low carb?

ATKINS: Very few people. I would say it shouldn't happen to a pregnant woman or a woman who is feeding her infants. It shouldn't happen to a person who already has kidney disease. But a few statements like that which we make, but basically other than that, very, very few people get in trouble from carbohydrate restriction.

KING: We'll take calls in the next segment. A lot of calls tonight. Give me an Atkins day, what you eat. In the morning. Typical.

ATKINS: I like to have omelets, maybe with -- would either be an omelet or scrambled eggs.

KING: cheese omelet?

ATKINS: Wonderful. I'll have that a lot of times or with sausage...

KING: Bacon with it.

ATKINS: Or bacon or ham or something of that nature. And no side dishes...

KING: My cardiologist just -- OK, go ahead.

ATKINS: But they shouldn't.

KING: OK. I know.

ATKINS: Because the evidence doesn't allow them to come to that conclusion. All of the studies show a low carb diet helps the cholesterol, is dramatically beneficial for the triglycerides and helps the HDL compared to the LDL, the good compared to the bad cholesterol.

KING: Lunch?

ATKINS: Oh, well, lunch I may just -- depends where I'm having it. If I'm in the office, I'm just going grab some nuts because I haven't got time for it.

KING: Nuts are OK?

ATKINS: Or I may have a bacon cheeseburger without the bun.

KING: You eat nuts? Like macadamia nuts?

ATKINS: Absolutely.

KING: Aren't they high in fat?

ATKINS: They're very low in carbohydrate. They're perfect. And you have to understand that in the lifestyle, I'm on my lifestyle, I don't have to lose any more weight, I just want to keep from gaining it, which is tough enough, but it does allow me to eat an awful lot of vegetables, a lot of nuts and seeds. I can eat 60 to 80 grams of carbohydrate a day and in the book, my new book we talk about that. I just don't have to like tofu but I can have it.

KING: What's an Atkins dinner?

ATKINS: Well, now you're talking about my wife who is such a great cook.

KING: She'll cook?

ATKINS: She has incredible fish, incredible fowl and all kinds of meat, rack of lamb, lambchops.

KING: Eat the fatty part of lambchop too?

ATKINS: Yes, I eat the -- yes, I eat that. And just with a lot of vegetables. KING: Any potatoes?

ATKINS: No, not the potatoes but an awful lot...

KING: How about a sweet potato?

ATKINS: Rarely. I may take a bite of that but basically I just have a lot of vegetables and mostly the green ones and I eat about as many vegetables as the average vegetarian, I would think.

KING: Dr. Atkins. The book is "Atkins For Life: The Complete Control Carb Program for Permanent Weight Loss and Good Health." You can get him at the Web site, too. and you can talk to him right after these words.


KING: We're back with Dr. Atkins. We'll start taking your phone calls. I'll intersperse some questions as we go along. We start with Farmington, Connecticut. Hello.

CALLER: Hello, Dr. Atkins, I've been following your plan for two years. I'm actually in the maintenance part of the plan. I have -- I take it only between 25 to 35 to 30 grams of carbs a day. That's all my body can handle. And I've gained a little weight. I stay within the five pounds, like you've said, but I've gone -- I'm hitting that 10-pound marker. I've gone back to induction and I am finding it's not working for me. What can you suggest?

ATKINS: Well, we really have to find out why. Are you on any medications or any hormones or anything like that?

CALLER: Nothing at all.

ATKINS: Nothing at all. Then the next thing -- see, the main reason that people get stuck is because of medications. This is the thing that really gets them in trouble.

The second most important thing is the possibility of a thyroid not being functioning as well as it should. Even if your thyroid blood tests come out normal, there is still one other thing that you have to look at. That would be your temperature. Thyroid regulates your temperature. And if your temperature is considerably below 98.6 when you average it for the whole day -- you take it before breakfast, lunch, dinner and bed time -- and if it comes out about 97.8 or lower, there is a good possibility that you should be taking thyroid, and -- which would require a prescription, require you seeing a doctor and having them agree with it.

KING: Why are so many people overweight?

ATKINS: Oh, that's so easy to explain. Back in 1970, we didn't have a lot of obesity, but then it started to increase. Now, this is what happened. In 1970, 40 percent of our diet was fat. And by 2000, it became 32 percent of our diet. But in those 30 years, according to the U.S. government, there was an increase in the intake of sugar per person by 30 pounds per year.

KING: That includes bread, right?

ATKINS: No, sugar.

KING: But bread ...

ATKINS: Bread comes next. Bread and other starches of that -- of grains went up 64 pounds per person.

KING: In other words, we ate more wrong food.

ATKINS: Of course. Because everybody heard low fat, low fat low fat, they had to eat more carbohydrates. That's what caused the epidemic.

KING: Boston, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Dr. Atkins?


CALLER: Hi. about a year ago, exactly a year ago I started cutting out sugar and white flour and lost over 100 pounds, went down 10 sizes, and I have noticed -- and I have noticed that a lot of like Suzanne Somers is following you and she attributes you being the guru.

ATKINS: Yes, I saw her today. Yes.

CALLER: How do you feel about other diets and other diet books that are now attributing you to being the guru?

ATKINS: Well, I think that's good. I think -- I think my book, next one is coming out, "Atkins for Life" is going to be very similar to what Suzanne Somers has done, which -- because we're talking about the maintenance of a lifestyle, keeping the weight off now that you've lost it.

KING: That's harder than losing sometimes, isn't it?

ATKINS: It has been, but it shouldn't be because the diet is actually easier -- maintenance diet is easier to follow than weight loss diet, but for some reason people just go off their diet and they have got to learn that.

KING: Moline, Illinois for Dr. Robert Atkins. Hello.

CALLER: Dr. Atkins, I'm a type II diabetic. Can I safely be on this diet?

ATKINS: It's the optimal diet for a diabetic. The main thing that I want to accomplish in life is putting an end to the epidemic of diabetes and obesity, which I call diabesity. That's really my number one function in life in this next few years of mine.

KING: What percentage of your patients are either heart patients or diabetic patients or both?

ATKINS: Oh, I would say between the diabetes and the heart patients, about 60 percent now. Absolutely.

KING: To Milton, Wisconsin. Hello.

CALLER: Hi. I've been on the Atkins way of life for four and a half months. I'm down over 30 pounds. But my blood pressure is up and I was wondering why this might be happening.

ATKINS: Well, that's very unusual, because it has been shown by study after study and by our own experience as well that restricting carbohydrates will drop the blood pressure. So it's very unusual. You have to find out what other than the diet could be responsible for that.

KING: The chief form of carbohydrates that you take come in what?

ATKINS: Mostly vegetables. And nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds and vegetables.

KING: Cashew nuts?

ATKINS: That's the one I shouldn't have. That's the highest one in carbohydrates.

KING: What's a good nut, macadamia?

ATKINS: That's the best. And I eat a lot of macadamia nuts.

KING: Why is it the best?

ATKINS: Well, I guess because it's the lowest in carbohydrate and also because it tastes the best and because macadamia nut butter is so good, and I mix it with heavy cream and that becomes my dessert. That's what I...

KING: Macadamia nut butter with heavy cream?

ATKINS: And I stir it together, takes about 20 seconds, and then that's my dessert.

KING: Dayton, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I have a 13-year-old daughter and I was wondering how safe it would be for her to be on the diet?

ATKINS: I'm so glad you asked. Absolutely. As a matter of fact, children who are overweight should start on the low carbohydrate lifestyle as soon as they become overweight so they don't get into these bad habits. But at the age of 13, it is absolutely mandatory. How overweight is she?

CALLER: Oh, about 15 to 20 pounds.

ATKINS: Well, that's an easy thing. That means you should be able to get her back to her ideal weight within five or six weeks.

KING: Really?

ATKINS: Right.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Dr. Robert Atkins. His new book is "Atkins for Life: the Complete Controlled Carb Program for Permanent Weight Loss and Good Health." Example of someone losing weight, Sarah Ferguson, the duchess of York is here tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: Dr. Atkins said if you're going to drink, moderation and if you had to pick one drink it would be red wine, right?

ATKINS: Red wine is a very good choice.

KING: Chicago, hello.

CALLER: Hi there, Dr. Atkins.


CALLER: I'd like to understand whether or not alcohol has a large impact on your diet.

KING: Just asked about alcohol. Does it have a large impact?

ATKINS: It has a medium-sized impact. A lot of alcohol has a large impact. But a little bit is usable.

We don't like to start people off with alcohol. We want to get the thing started, but then for the ongoing weight loss phase or the premaintenance or maintenance phase, which is the rest of your life, we certainly would allow a moderate amount of alcohol. Not the sweet ones.

KING: Unsweet is like, what, vodka?

ATKINS: Yeah, scotch, vodka.

KING: Do alcoholics tend to gain weight?

ATKINS: Some do and some don't.

KING: Hartford, Connecticut, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Dr. Atkins.


CALLER: I have a question about keatosis(ph).

ATKINS: OK. CALLER: I've been on induction for three weeks and I've only been able to reach 15 milligrams on a keytone (ph) stick and I want to know how can I accelerate the process of keatosis?

KING: What is keatosis?

ATKINS: Keatosis means that she -- you put in a stick and check your urine and you see it has keytones in it.

KING: And you want them in it?

ATKINS: I really do, but it isn't really necessary. You can have keytones come out and not appear in your urine and you would say, Gee, I don't have keytones. But in point of fact you -- are you losing weight?

CALLER: I lost seven pounds in three weeks.

ATKINS: So it's still working. So you don't have to worry if you can continue to lose -- how many pounds do you have to lose all together?

CALLER: A hundred.

ATKINS: Oh, 100. Are you taking any medications?

CALLER: Just sinthroid (ph) for my thyroid.

ATKINS: All right. The probability is is that sinthroid is not the best choice of thyroid. The probability is that you need a balanced thyroid where you're getting T3 as well as T4 or a natural form of thyroid and it's also highly probable that you're not taking the right amount.

KING: Can you reverse heart disease?

ATKINS: Well, we reverse heart disease all the time. That's what we do.

KING: That I'm told is impossible. I mean, you can control it, but you can't reverse it. You can't make someone who...

ATKINS: Well, a lot of people who have been told that they need bypass, come to us and we do a lot of things beyond the diet. I must say, we use an awful lot of powerful vitamin -- vitanutrients.

KING: Oh you do?

ATKINS: And there actually are some vitanutrients that are better than drugs because they don't have any bad side effects.

KING: Did you say you can avoid bypass surgery?

ATKINS: Well, we've done it hundreds and hundreds of times. People have come to us and...

KING: And you take the blockage away?

ATKINS: Well, we took away the symptom complex and the cardiologists who are -- told them they needed a bypass re-evaluated and said, Well, I guess you don't because everything is OK now.

KING: Sedona, Arizona, hello.

CALLER: Hi. Dr. Atkins...


CALLER: I was wondering if you're familiar with the eat right for your type diet of Dr. Peter Dodomo, which is based on blood types.

ATKINS: Well, I know a little bit about it. I know about the role of blood types.

CALLER: Well, I'm curious what you think about that because he says that the Type O very similar to yours...

ATKINS: Right.

CALLER: But for, like, types A and B, he says they can't digest animal proteins and they should stay away from those and maybe have more carbs. I just wondered what you think about blood type and diet.

ATKINS: That can't be really because such a high percentage of people, we're talking about 99 percent of people, go on our diet and succeed with it. And this means that just about every blood type is included in the group that succeeds on it.

KING: Warren, Michigan, hello.


KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: Hi. I wanted to know -- I know you can eat eggs and protein on your diet. Why not any milk?

ATKINS: Well, milk has got lactose in it. Whenever you hear a word with ose, that's a sugar. So there is sugar in milk. And that's...

KING: Skim milk, too?

ATKINS: More so. Skim milk has even more because it doesn't even have cream in it. So cream is about the one thing that the cow puts out that doesn't have carbohydrate.

KING: If you would have -- you don't have cereal, do you?

ATKINS: Well, there are low some carbohydrate cereals now.

KING: You put sweet cream on it?

ATKINS: And I mix it with heavy cream, yes, I do, sir.

KING: It sounds..

ATKINS: Delicious.

KING: It sounds fattening. Oh, it's delicious. What's better than sweet cream, man?


KING: But, you see, if it is that good it can't be good for you, right?

ATKINS: It is pretty good for me.

KING: OK. I'll buy.

ATKINS: Helps my tennis.

KING: Branchville, New Jersey, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Dr. Atkins. I was wondering if you miss eating fresh fruit?

KING: Ah-ha.

ATKINS: Ah-ha. Well, I don't because I eat an awful lot of berries. Berries are on my...

KING: Bluberries are a good food, right?

ATKINS: Blueberries are excellent. But then, I eat all the berries. Just this morning I had four different kinds of berries and then melon is good and then I'll have a bite of...

KING: So fruits are good?

ATKINS: Fruit is definitely on the maintenance diet. It's on the lifestyle diet.

KING: Williamsburg, Virginia, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Atkins. I'm a Weight Watcher representative and I wondered what you thought about -- do you not believe that denying people normal carbohydrates on a daily basis will eventually make them feel deprived, causing them excess frustration and even causing them to go off their diet completely because they haven't had those normal carbohydrates such as pastas and rice and potatoes and things that people really enjoy?

ATKINS: I think it's just the opposite.

CALLER: What about just eating in moderation?

ATKINS: I think when one looks at the long-term effect of people who have been on Weight Watchers, such a high percentage of those people gain back the weight, the reason being no one wants to be hungry for a lifetime. Where as with our diet, you're never hungry because you're not allowed to be hungry. You just not allowed to keep your quantities that small.

And so it's a better deal for almost everybody. They would rather eat enough food that they're not hungry and that is delicious and it is -- all of these foods that you talk about, there are low carbohydrate versions of 90 percent of them so that people are able to enjoy all of those foods. It is a rare, rare person who doesn't like to stay on Atkins.

KING: Ada, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Dr. Atkins.


CALLER: I'm a letter carrier and I walk 12 to 15 miles a day and I was on your diet. I lost two to three pounds a day the first two weeks. It scared me to death so I...

ATKINS: Well, you had to have lost water then.

CALLER: Was that all it was, water?

ATKINS: No, not all it was was water but, I mean, there was some water along with a lot of fat that you lost.

CALLER: OK, because I've been carrying mail for four years and that's why I was wondering.

ATKINS: Well, but it shows how effective the diet is. How many pounds did you have to lose altogether?

CALLER: Well, I wanted to lose 50 pounds maybe.

ATKINS: Well, all right, so you got a good start but eventually you'll switch on to ongoing weight loss anyway and you'll get to the point where you only lose one pound a week.

KING: But the diet is in stages, right? As you explain it...

ATKINS: The diet is in four stages. The induction works very fast but you don't stay on it very long. It is just to get things started.

KING: Then there's a...

ATKINS: Then ongoing weight loss is really where you find out what your critical carbohydrate level for losing is. And it is a different level for different people.

KING: How important is exercise?

ATKINS: Exercise is important to everybody whether they diet or not. I don't think there is ever a person that says exercise is not good for people. Everybody agrees with that.

KING: But is it essential?

ATKINS: Well, if you can't exercise, you'll still lose weight, but it's extremely valuable to be healthy.

KING: We'll be back with Dr. Robert Atkins and more on his new book "Atkins For Life." A lot more of your phone calls. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Dr. Robert Atkins. I'm Larry King. The caller is from Saline, Michigan. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.


ATKINS: How did dr. Atkins explain the fact that the best marathoners in the world that have maybe 5 percent body fat eat diets that are 65 percent to 70 percent complex carbohydrates?

ATKINS: Well, that's perfectly fine because these people -- there is no reason you shouldn't do that if you're that active. That's an incredibly active way to go through life. Those would be -- that would be one group of people who wouldn't need to be on my diet although studies have been done showing that people who, let's say were cyclists, that they went on my diet to see if -- how their speed would work. And for about two weeks, they ran behind and then at the end of two weeks, they were just as good as ever.

So that we know that the -- and that's just the introduction to the diet. So that once you've been on the diet more than two weeks, you're able to handle things.

KING: Ashland, Kentucky, for Dr. Atkins. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.


CALLER: Hi, Dr. Atkins.


CALLER: Is it possible to lose too much weight on your diet?

ATKINS: I guess it's possible, but I wouldn't think very many people would do that.

KING: You can get -- you can do the reverse of bulimia, right? Or you can -- or could you -- not the reverse, could you come bulimic. Could you suddenly start to say, I love it, I'm going waste away to nothing, I'm going to be buried in the box the pills came in. ATKINS: Well, I've treated about 40, 000 people who were overweight and I never had that happen yet. So it has to be a pretty rare event.

KING: OK. Aurora, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Hi.

I have just had a baby two and a half months ago and wondered why it wasn't safe for me to do the Atkins diet.

ATKINS: Well, it is safe for you to do the maintenance level of the diet. But you don't want to give the keytones to an infant if you're feeding them breast milk.

KING: And she would be getting the keytones from what?

ATKINS: From being on a strict version of the diet. But you wouldn't be getting them if you're just on a low carbohydrate maintenance level.

KING: Rushville, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.


CALLER: Hi, Dr. Atkins.


CALLER: I'm 35 years old and had my kidney removed shortly after birth.


CALLER: I had gone to my doctor to get permission to go on the Atkins diet and test my kidney function and it was fine.

After two weeks of the induction diet, I went into a kidney infection. Is there a modified version of the induction diet that I could do and still be safe for my kidneys -- for my kidney?

ATKINS: Well, I would say so. The kidney infection had nothing to do with the diet. And there is no question that people with one kidney can follow the diet if that kidney is normal. There is no question. It has been done thousands of times.

KING: What's the toughest part of starting?

ATKINS: Well, the toughest part of starting for some people is getting rid of your addictions. In other words, some people are addicted to sweets and they have to go through withdrawal symptoms. Some people are addicted to alcohol. They have to go through withdrawal symptoms for that. A few other things.

KING: But you have some substitutes you could do?

ATKINS: Well, when I really have a person like that I tell them to just gradually decrease it and then by the seventh day they could be on the induction level because they would have gotten down slowly to zero.

KING: What about sweeteners? The NutriSweet and...

ATKINS: I like sucralose, which is in Splenda. I consider that to be...

KING: It's the yellow package, right?

ATKINS: The aspertame is the one that I think can cause some problems. The others are healthy if you like them.

KING: Colas?

ATKINS: Colas.

KING: Diet Coke.

ATKINS: Well, if a Diet Coke has aspartame, it's not as good as if it has sucralose and there are diet colas that do have sucralose.

KING: So you would look for sucralose?

ATKINS: Right.

KING: Peoria, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Hello. In your book you say that you should not eat bacon or sausage with sodium nitrate. How important is it to stay away from sodium nitrate?

ATKINS: All right. That's a minor point, because that's just a -- to talk about the fact that nitrates -- nitrates are a little dangerous.

KING: What are nitrates?

ATKINS: That's one of the ingredients that if you eat a lot of them, you can run into some medical problems.

KING: Did you say don't eat sausage and bacon or do eat sausage and bacon?

ATKINS: Well, I allow a moderate amount because I don't think it has enough -- when you can get the organic type without the nitrates in it you can have all you want.

KING: Where do you get organic...

ATKINS: In the health food stores.

KING: You get organic bacon? ATKINS: Well, you get the kind of free range bacon that doesn't have nitrates in it, yes.

KING: OK. Macon, Georgia, hello.


Macon, are you there?


KING: Go ahead. Speak up.

CALLER: Dr. Atkins.


CALLER: Before I started your diet, I used to have to take heartburn and acid reflux medication every night. But once I started your diet, I no longer had to take that. Does your diet have anything to do with me not having the heartburn and the acid reflux any longer?

ATKINS: Oh, that's very, very common. Of course it has to do with that. There's no question if you went off the diet, you would get your heartburn again.

KING: Because?

ATKINS: We don't know why but we assume there is something in carbohydrate that would aggravate the stomach function. Because that's the one thing that's restricted.

KING: It's very hard, though to get people to think that high fat is good because...

ATKINS: You think so?

KING: Yes, I'll tell you why. Because fat is a bad word. Fat means fat. Fat equals -- I'll be fat if I eat fat.

Two, fat is too good. And something that good for your -- you're telling me put sweet cream on my Special K and that's better than skim milk on my Special K. Sounds weird to me.

ATKINS: It's good. You've got the answer. It is good. It is enjoyable and it doesn't have carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is the bad guy. You have to see that. You told people go on low fat diet, look at how much more carbohydrate they began eating and that's what caused the epidemic of obesity and of diabetes.

KING: So in other words, what you're saying is, we have an epidemic of obesity caused by people pushing low fat diets.

ATKINS: Exactly. A hundred percent correct. May I shake your hand? That's perfect. KING: Where did I go right? I don't know what I'm saying. It just seems that the fact -- I've had people say it's a rule that if it tastes good, it is bad for you.

ATKINS: Oh, have you got that wrong. If it tastes good, you can stay on it for life. Just pick a healthy food that tastes good and that's what Atkins does.

KING: What do people tell you is the hardest thing for them to give up?

ATKINS: Oh, boy. Everybody has -- everybody has their favorite.

KING: I would guess bread.

ATKINS: Well, maybe. A lot of people say bread. A lot of people say pasta. A lot of people say sweets.

KING: So you're telling me when you order spaghetti and meatballs, you just eat the meatballs.

ATKINS: I wouldn't order spaghetti and meatballs, I would just order the meatballs.

KING: That was a joke. A little levity.

OK. We'll be back with our remaining moments with Dr. Robert Atkins. Get some more phone calls in after these words.


KING: We're back with Dr. Atkins. one of our crew had an outstanding question. What about portions? Can you eat all the steak you want?

ATKINS: Well, the portions should be just enough that you're not hungry. Because we don't want anybody hungry, but we don't want anybody to just eat beyond that. So, It is just perfect. Nobody will be hungry. For a lifetime now, you never going to be hungry. That's the superiority of our diet.

KING: Cleveland, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Dr. Atkins, first I wanted to thank you. I've been on your diet for three years now. I've lost over 150 pounds. I've been able to keep it off. So that's very important to me. My wife, however, has a concern and that is she's been reading a lot about the mad cow disease that is being held in beef and I'm curious if you had any comments about that?

ATKINS: We haven't had any mad cow disease in the United States. So it is really nothing to worry about. It doesn't affect anybody -- hasn't...

KING: How many died altogether? Did many die in Europe?

ATKINS: That I don't know. It is pretty rare.

KING: Pensacola, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes. Thank you. Dr. Atkins, first I want to tell you thank you for sticking to your guns. I've been on the program since February 4 and I've lost 55 pounds.

ATKINS: Good year.

CALLER: My question is, whenever I try find my critical carbohydrate level for losing, and I get to the -- you know, you tell us about the five pound mark, well, if I add an extra bowl of brock broccoli to my supper, I'm getting that five pounds back. What is going on?

ATKINS: Well you actually are a slower loser than you should be. So you're not on any medications are you.

CALLER: No, sir, I'm not.

ATKINS: OK, then which I stop one of our first callers, you should really check your temperature to see if perhaps you don't have a sluggish thyroid because that may be the answer.

KING: Staten Island, New York. Hello.

CALLER: Yes, Hi.

Dr. Atkins my husband has been on the diet for six months and lost 30 pounds. He's been on medication from the beginning, blood pressure medication and cholesterol medication. His blood work is wonderful now. But he's on a plateau now. He can't seem to lose for the last month.

ATKINS: What is the hypertensive medication he's on?

CALLER: I'm not sure the name of it.

ATKINS: Well, basicly most of the hypertensive medications prevent weight loss or slow it down and he probably has a perfectly normal blood pressure. Since you live in Staten Island, you should really -- come and see me in Manhattan. At the Atkins Center. Because we -- we get people off of their medication all the time.

KING: People fly in to see you, I know.


KING: You can contact the Atkins Center in New York.

ATKINS: All over the world, not just the U.S..

KING: Living right there that is what I would do.

North Brook, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Hi, gentlemen.

I'm interested in the Atkins products and how you feel that they may inhibit or help the weight loss program.

KING: You sell products?

ATKINS: Yes. Atkins Nutritional sells products. And it's some very good products. We're not the only company that does it.

KING: Where do you get it, health food stores?

ATKINS: Health food stores carry them. You can logon to the website and call Atkins Nutritionals.

KING: What kind of products?

ATKINS: Well, we have chocolate things and they're called Advantage Bars, protein bars. We have about 80 different products. I mean, the whole breakfast, a lot of -- we have low carb bread. We have chocolate drinks and other drinks that are delicious and we will have ice cream in a few months.

KING: You ship it out?

ATKINS: Shipped out right away.

KING: New York City, hello.

CALLER: New York, New York.

KING: New York, New York.

CALLER: I have an event coming up in two weeks and I would like to lose a quick ten pounds. What is the surest and fastest way to do that.

ATKINS: Well, the average weight loss of our induction is about ten pounds in two weeks.

KING: You live in New York, go see him tomorrow.

ATKINS: Not tomorrow. I'll be flying back to New York. No, go on the diet because you only have two weeks. It should take off ten pounds in two weeks. That's all you have to do.

KING: How do you feel now? We have about a minute left, do you feel like -- well, yes, I told you so?

ATKINS: Yes, definitely feel that way. And I must say I feel very happy having spent the hour with you. Really makes me feel good. And in general I feel that I've got to do the next step of my life which is to put an end to the epidemic proportions of diabesity. And that's the book after this one...

KING: About diabesity.


KING: Because diabetes is our third most killer, right.

ATKINS: And that definitely comes from carbohydrates. Check your blood sugar after a regular meal and see how many points it goes up and after one of our meals and see how few points it goes up and you'll see right away that is what you should do.


KING: Don't forget, Monday night exclusive, Veronica Atkins. Her first interview since the controvertial release of her husband's medical records. And tomorrow night and Oscar primer with Sir. Ben Kingsley and Sir Ian McKellan, Sean Astin and many other.

For now, more news on your most trusted name in news, CNN. Good night.



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