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Interview With Veronica Atkins

Aired February 16, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive, the widow of diet guru Dr. Robert Atkins, Veronica Atkins. She'll speak out for the first time since the controversial release of his medical records, almost a year after his tragic death. Dr. Atkins still has people talking and arguing. And now the woman who was the closest to him opens up for the first time. Veronica Atkins, Dr. Atkins's widow, exclusive, for the hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Veronica Atkins comes to us from Miami, and with her is Dr. Stewart Trager. He is chairperson of the Atkins Physical (sic) Council. He is in active orthopedic practice, chief of hand surgery at Pennsylvania Surgery, a participant in ultra-endurance athletic events -- he's finished six Ironman competitions since November of 2000 -- of course, a supporter of the Atkins method.

Just by review, Dr. Atkins, who we replayed his last interview with us last Saturday night, was admitted to the hospital after a fall on April 8 of last year. He went into a coma and died on April 17. He was 72. Earlier this month, citing information from the New York medical examiner supplied by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group critical of the Atkins diet, "The Wall Street Journal" suggested that Atkins had a history of heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension and may have been obese in terms of his weight at the time of his death.

Veronica, how did -- how did you react when you first read that?

VERONICA ATKINS, WIDOW OF DR. ROBERT ATKINS: Well, I was totally outraged when I first read that because it's all not true, absolutely not true. He was not overweight. He did not have heart failure. And maybe his organs failed as he was dying, but not otherwise.

KING: So what did you make of it, where it came from? What -- what did you do, did you call up "The Wall Street Journal"?

ATKINS: No, I did not. By now, of course, we know who was involved in it, and we know who obtained the records and we know who distributed the records. So I mean, it was the organization, the Physicians for Responsible Medicine. I mean, some responsibility, I mean, I would like to know (UNINTELLIGIBLE) where they put that word.

KING: Are you saying the report was false?

ATKINS: Absolutely. Absolutely, I'm saying it was false. He certainly was not obese. No way. He had a heart problem, but it was a viral infection. It was not a heart attack. He certainly was not -- I mean, all the things -- it was not true. And to say that he was morbidly obese -- he was on your show four months before. What -- did he gain 70 pounds during that period? I don't think so.

KING: Where, to your knowledge, Veronica, then, did the report come from?

ATKINS: Well, the report came actually from the office of the medical examiner in New York, who was in...

KING: Well, if he...



KING: If it came from the office of the medical examiner, he's not going to falsify something, is he?

ATKINS: It's not that he falsified it, but I mean, they were choosing bits and pieces. And not only this, maybe his weight at his death was higher, but he was being fed intravenously. He was retaining water like crazy. So his heart wasn't pumping right because he had cardiomyopathy, and actually, the physicians there told me that it was because of all of the liquids that they were giving him. And the...

KING: The reason for the weight gain?

ATKINS: Right. And of course, his organs were beginning to fail. He was dying. He was dying for nine months -- for nine days.

KING: Yes. Did the medical -- was there an autopsy?

ATKINS: No, not -- not -- no, I don't think so.

KING: No autopsy?

ATKINS: I don't -- you know, Larry, in all honesty, they may have asked me -- when it all happened, I was in such a daze that somebody might have asked me what to do or not to do. I vaguely remember saying, Do whatever is necessary, but I cannot swear to it because I was -- I was in a total daze. You know, my husband just had passed away. I was -- I don't remember whatever that was at that time. I truly don't.

KING: He had -- in fact, I think I discussed it with Robert once. He had had heart problems, right?

ATKINS: He had a heart problem. He had a viral infection, which we think he contracted in Turkey somewhere. We went on a trip to Turkey, and after that, he started having some problems with it. But it was cardiomyopathy, it was not a coronary heart disease. It was not...


KING: So it was not due to poor eating and high cholesterol. ATKINS: Of course -- he didn't have high cholesterol! Of course, it wasn't. Of course, it wasn't. I mean, these are enemies of Bob's that are -- that are ultra-ultra-vegetarians, and they just hate the idea that somebody eats meat. But I mean, the world, I mean, has a lot of different people. Some eat meat, some don't.

KING: Do we -- we don't know how Dr. Atkins, then, got that cardiomyopathy, or however it's pronounced?

ATKINS: Well, we -- we assume it came from a viral infection. And maybe Dr. Trager can give us a little bit more -- elucidate just...

KING: I'm going to get to...

ATKINS: ... a little bit more on that.

KING: I'm going to get to Dr. Trager in just a moment. But of course, the hint, of course, from the article and the whole thing is to link the fact that...

ATKINS: Of course.

KING: ... he didn't fall from -- he didn't die from a fall on the ice, but that he had a heart attack and fell. Will you clear that up?

ATKINS: He did not have a heart attack. He definitely did not have a heart attack. And that's definite. That comes from his cardiologist. And he hit his head so much -- half of his head was gone. Half his brain had to be taken off, practically. I mean, the cranium certainly was gone. I mean, it was a severe, severe, severe trauma to the head, incredibly severe trauma.

KING: Was there a lot of ice on the street?

ATKINS: Yes, there was. We had a snowstorm before, and he left -- that was, you know, the time changed, instead of going to the office at 7:30, he went at 6:30. And it -- it just -- it happened. Unfortunately, it happened.

KING: Have you thought about a possible lawsuit over...

ATKINS: Oh, yes, I have.

KING: ... over medical records being released? Are you going to sue this organization?

ATKINS: I very well may because -- because they -- they -- it was totally illegal, what happened. And it was used, I mean, for special purposes, a special agenda that they have, which, I mean, I don't think -- I don't think it's fair. Let Dr. Atkins rest in peace, for heaven's sake, and let me grieve in peace.

KING: You also might -- are you -- are you going to sue "The Wall Street Journal"? ATKINS: No. No.

KING: In other words, they just printed it...

ATKINS: I don't think so.

KING: So if you do sue, it would be a suit against the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

ATKINS: Right. Right.

KING: Have you followed your husband's diet?

ATKINS: I sure have. I live the lifestyle. I live the lifestyle.

KING: He never wavered in his belief in it, did he.

ATKINS: No, he didn't. No, he never did. And you know, he -- basically, he started following this diet and he discovered it because as a young physician, he was beginning to gain weight and he wanted to lose weight, and he couldn't stand being hungry. That was the greatest fear, is to be hungry. So he found a diet where he wasn't hungry, and it worked for him. He started using it on his patients, and from there, it evolved and evolved and evolved.

KING: Can you clear up something for us? What happened between you and Mayor Bloomberg? The story was that he wrote a -- he went to a firefighters' luncheon and suggested -- made demeaning remarks about Dr. Atkins and the diet itself and then apologized. What was the story?

ATKINS: I think he was just trying to be one of the guys. I don't think he meant any harm. And we made up. We didn't kiss yet, but we made up.

KING: But that's all history, right? He did apologize.

ATKINS: Yes, he did apologize. He did apologize, and we're going to have dinner one of these days when both our schedules, I mean, coincide. At the moment, it's really impossible to arrange that, but it will happen.

KING: We're going to be including your phone calls, of course, tonight...

ATKINS: Of course.

KING: ... and we'll be talking with Dr. Trager in a moment. Regarding the manner, by the way, in which the coroner's report for Dr. Atkins was obtained and given to the press -- "There was nothing wrongful or illegal about the manner in which the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine obtained Dr. Atkins's coroner's report." This comes from them. "The Physicians Committee for Responsible medicine never requested nor did it ever obtain a copy of Dr. Atkins's coroner's report from the medical examiner's office. Rather, as has been reported in the press from interviews with the ME's office, they received a request from a Dr. Richard Fleming (ph) for the report, and based on truthful information provided to them by Dr. Fleming, they sent him a copy. Dr. Fleming sent a copy of that report to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine."

That's their story as to how they received all of this.

We'll take a break, come back. We'll bring Dr. Trager in. We'll include your phone calls. Tomorrow night, the Wisconsin primary. Among our guests, Bob Dole and George Mitchell. Don't go away.


KING: I know that you had a cardiac arrest a year ago. What happened, and how are you?

DR. ROBERT ATKINS: Well, it didn't last very long. And then I continued to get better and better and played a lot of tennis, and I'm probably in better health than I've been in the past 10 years.

KING: What was it that happened to you, though?

R. ATKINS: We don't know, but I know that I had an infection in my heart, and it caused an arrhythmia. And so it must have been an arrhythmia that sort of took off, and that was it.

KING: Not related to your diet?

R. ATKINS: Definitely not. You don't catch an infection from my diet.




KING: Can you reverse heart disease?

R. 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 is...

R. 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 amount of powerful vita-nutrients.

KING: Oh, you do?

R. ATKINS: And there are actually some vita-nutrients that are better than drugs because they don't have is any bad side effects.

KING: You say that you can avoid bypass surgery?

R. ATKINS: Well, we've done it hundreds and hundreds of times. People have come to us, and they didn't...

KING: And you take the blockage away?

R. ATKINS: Well, we took away the symptom complex. And the cardiologists who were -- told them they needed a bypass reevaluated them and said, Well, I guess you don't because everything's OK.


KING: That was Dr. Atkins two-and-a-half months before his sad demise.

We're talking in Miami with Veronica Atkins, his widow. This is her exclusive first appearance since the "Wall Street Journal" article. With her is Dr. Stuart Trager, chairperson of the Atkins Physicians Council.

What is that, Stuart?

DR. STUART TRAGER, CHAIRMAN, ATKINS PHYSICIANS COUNCIL: The Atkins Physicians Council is a group of concerned physicians who work with the Atkins organization to try to advance science and to try to connect the exciting emerging research that's showing the safety and the efficacy of this approach to the millions of people who can be helped from a controlled carbohydrate nutritional strategy.

KING: Now, you're not an internist. You are a -- orthopedic practice. You're chief of hand surgery at -- how did you get into the Atkins?

TRAGER: I actually got into it because it worked so well for myself. As I started following the controlled carbohydrate approach, I was running marathons, I was actually trying to get faster to qualify for the Boston Marathon. At the same time, I started getting a little bit more interested in triathlons and ultra and distance endurance vents. I learned more about the benefits of controlling carbohydrates, and I made a visit to New York to learn more about the science.

What surprised me was the lack of understanding amongst the community, among other physicians, about the actually number of clinical studies, the pure research that was being done that showed that by controlling carbohydrates, people improved their coronary risk factors and they were able to manage their health. At the same time, it was working for me. I lowered my weight while preserving lean body mass, my muscles, and I was able to do well in these endurance events by -- and lower my weight. So for me, it was a very exciting personal journey that involved opening up my eyes to the research that was out there.

Now, that's how it started. Where it's gone from there is that I've actually opened a wellness program, and I've become more interested in promoting the science behind controlled carbohydrates and trying to dispel some of the myths and some of the groups like this Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who will clearly say and do anything just to promote their own vegan agenda. These are extremists. These are people who will clearly put laws and ethics aside because they think...

KING: But aren't...

TRAGER: ... because they think they know better how people should eat. And now that science doesn't validate the strict vegetarian lifestyle, what they're resorting to is something so unethical and something so irresponsible that it bothers me both as a physician and as a person.

KING: Isn't it true, though, that many physicians other than this organization also took issue with Dr. Atkins and that diet and that the Atkins diet, while more popular than ever, by the way -- the books continue to be enormous best-sellers, the patient load is still terrific at the center -- still continues to be controversial. Would you agree, Dr. Trager?

TRAGER: Well, let's look at this group one more time for just a moment. Would you believe that only 5 percent of their members, I'm told, are actually physicians? And if we talk about physicians in general, there have been studies published just this year in "The Journal of the American Medical Association," funded by the National Institute of Health, the American Heart Association. The mainstream medical community is starting to recognize that controlling carbohydrates is a -- can play a true role in curbing this epidemic of obesity.

Larry, look, we're losing 300,000 lives each year because of obesity-related diseases. If we don't work together and put away this silly beauty-pageant mentality, this foolishness from people like PCRM, who think they know what's best, and start working together to advance science, to rely on actual and peer-reviewed clinical studies rather than the kind of anecdotes and the kind of sensationalism that they're using -- anybody who pays attention would know that one individual's medical records and medical history has no place in this discussion. It's the act of desperate people who, for some reason...

KING: What do you...

TRAGER: ... who for some reason can no longer rely on science because it doesn't make the points they want it to.

KING: What do you make of this weight situation in the medical report?

TRAGER: I think I make of it what just about every other physician makes of it, when they hear family members like Mrs. Atkins say that her husband gained weight -- so much -- so much body fluid in front of her eyes that he became nearly unrecognizable, that his hands became three to four more times the size normal. And when I speak to the doctor, something that these people from Physicians for Responsible Medicine never bothered to do, I'm told that he was given so much fluid while in the hospital to maintain his blood pressure as his organs failed and he was on life support. So this was fluid retention from someone whose heart wasn't pumping well enough.

KING: And you can -- you can have that much fluid retention, like, gaining 50, 60 pounds?

TRAGER: I know people that don't gain that much weight in nine days. I know that his family members and his treating doctors tell me that he swelled noticeably in front of them. Let's remember, in the end, this isn't about Dr. Atkins's weight. This group, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, would like us to believe it is, but these are the same people who were censured by the American Medical Association in the past for telling half-truth.

KING: But they -- now, we have a statement from them again about that censure. They say that neither them nor their president, Dr. Barnard (ph), "were ever censured by the AMA. Within the AMA, censure is a specific process outlined in its bylaws, and it's never been applied to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Rather, in the early '90s, the AMA took issue with their position on diet. However, on February 10 of this year, the AMA issued a statement about its current view." So they're saying they were never censured. They did take issue with the organization in the early '90s.

TRAGER: Larry, I think that within the next day or so, there's an article coming out in "Newsweek" that very clearly illustrates PCRM's agenda and the trouble PCRM has had with the federal government, as well as every...


TRAGER: ... as well as organized medicine.

KING: How do you explain, Veronica, that despite all of this talk, the weight gain, the heart disease, people not believing the cause of death, that the Atkins concept remains so popular?

ATKINS: Because it works, Larry. It works. People have sent innumerable messages and e-mails and God knows what. And I thank you all very much for that. You made my -- you made everything more bearable for me. It works. It makes sense. It makes sense, and that's why's he's so popular. No matter what they say about him, people see it on themselves. And you know, he was vilified for -- I was with Bobby for 20 years. There was not a day that he was not vilified. And then the only reason that he would get up in the morning is, Oh, I'm going to see some patients, and he was thrilled. And the patients, they kind of -- he saw the results, and that is what made him continue and what kept him going because he saw with his own eyes that it was working. And he was a brilliant man. He was not an idiot.

KING: We'll take a bleak and come back. We'll be going to calls in a little while for Veronica Atkins and Dr. Stewart Trager. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


R. ATKINS: 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 the diet. It was very, very exciting. 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 lot of things. And so I decided to put other people on it.




KING: Why so many people overweight?

R. 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?

R. ATKINS: No, sugar.

KING: But bread...

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

KING: Because we ate more wrong food.

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


KING: Dr. Trager, we're going to go to calls momentarily. So you're saying that you eat things like bacon, cheese, eggs and red meat, all you want, and you eat butter and all of these concepts and still remain trim and lose weight and keep in shape.

TRAGER: You know, Larry, I spent a few days last week in Washington presenting the new Atkins food pyramid. And when I did that, one of the real reasons was to try to clear up some of the misconceptions. Following Atkins is about controlling carbohydrates. It's about eating a variety of protein sources, but it's also about eating vegetables and fruits and those nutrient-dense carbohydrates that don't raise blood sugars so precipitously. It's about teaching people to make better food choices.

The misconceptions and sort of all this talk about all the red meat and the bacon that's out there are myths that are put out there by opponents of Atkins, as well as some of the copycats, people who'd like people to believe that doing Atkins is something very different than what it is.

KING: What are you -- you're...

TRAGER: The millions of people who've been following Atkins know this. They know that it's a very healthy way to eat that involves a lot of choices.

KING: You're in Miami. What do you make of the South Beach diet?


TRAGER: You know, the South Beach diet really is a very wonderful tribute to the Atkins approach because what it does is it talks about Atkins for life. The South Beach diet absolutely describes the fourth phase of Atkins. It's the maintenance phase of Atkins that Dr. Atkins published in January of his last year of life, before South Beach ever came out. I think the tragedy here is that many people who don't understand Atkins think some of these copycats are things that they'd like Atkins to be, when instead, they just don't realize that it's what Dr. Atkins said along. It's about choosing the right carbohydrates, recognizing the difference between good and bad carbohydrates, and eating a variety of protein sources.

KING: Veronica, have you read the South Beach diet?

ATKINS: Well, parts of it, because I've read the book before. And you know, by the way, Dr. Agatson (ph) did have lunch with Dr. Atkins, and Dr. Atkins occasionally sent him some patients. So he did not come up with it all by himself.

KING: I don't think he says that he did, does he?

ATKINS: Well, he gives very little credit to Dr. Atkins. He certainly doesn't say that he knew him or that he had met him and that he had seen some of his patients, but he did.

TRAGER: You know, it's interesting, Larry. For years, no one would get in the water with Dr. Atkins and stand besides him, controlling -- talking about the benefits of controlling carbohydrates. And now that this has come out and now that the science is validating this approach, now it seems there are quite a few people who are willing to stand there and try to take part of the credit. And that is troublesome, and I think -- and looking at Mrs. Atkins, that's part of the sadness right now is that...

KING: Yes, sure.

TRAGER: ... that instead of people -- and one group of people are criticizing her late husband, and another group are trying to take credit for it. I mean, that's not right.

KING: Let's take a call. Let's take a call. Milwaukee. Hello.

CALLER: Yes. On Saturday's repeat show, Dr. Atkins and you said that prior to 1912, nobody ever died of a heart attack? ATKINS: That's right.

KING: No, he didn't say that.

ATKINS: Yes, but it's true. It's true.

KING: Did he say that? Well, that was probably because the age span was to age 50, right?

ATKINS: I don't know, or maybe they didn't have the right tests. But Dr. White (ph), he was the first one that found it, and I think that was -- when was it -- well, maybe 1912 was the first.

KING: I interviewed Dr. White. He was the first cardiologist.

ATKINS: Right.

KING: He was America's first cardiologist. But I didn't realize -- I didn't -- I don't remember that he said there were no heart attacks before 1912...


KING: ... meaning that we ate better then?

ATKINS: We certainly ate more like the Atkins way than we do now, or we did now -- I mean, now we're beginning to again.

KING: But we didn't live to 77.

ATKINS: Well, some of us did.

KING: We'll take a break and come back and include all of your phone calls now for Veronica Atkins and Dr. Stuart Trager on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


R. ATKINS: 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 and 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.




R. ATKINS: When people start the diet we start off very strict and a lot of people have felt, oh, that strict first two weeks of diet is the whole diet. They don't realize that the diet is a 70-year diet.

KING: But you do allow...

R. ATKINS: Who cares about two weeks when you're on it for seven years.

KING: You do allow steaks and chops and sausage and bacon?

R. ATKINS: All of the main courses, seafood, chicken.

KING: Sauces?

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


KING: We're back with Veronica Atkins, the widow of Dr. Robert Atkins, this is her first interview since the release of her husband's medical records and the article in the "Wall Street Journal" and Dr. Stewart Trager, the chairperson of the Atkins Physicians Council, active orthopedic practice, chief of hand surgery at Pennsylvania Surgery, participant in ultraendurance athletic events and has finished six Ironman competitions since November of 2000.

Veronica, before we go to phone calls, a good question from one of our producers. How big is Atkins? You still have the offices in New York?

ATKINS: No, we don't. The office had to be closed because I as a nonphysician was not allowed to have an office.

KING: So what do have you now?

ATKINS: I don't have anything. I have the foundation. I'm the head of the Atkins foundation and we're going to do a lot of research and going to prove once and for all that Dr. Atkins was right.

KING: What about all of the products he mentioned?

ATKINS: Well, I mean, the company was sold.

KING: But there still are Atkins products.

ATKINS: Oh, absolutely, but the company was sold. So I'm not on the board anymore or anything because I didn't want to have any conflict with the foundation.

KING: I got you. Las Vegas, hello.

CALLER: Hi, I'm very pleased to see Dr. Atkins' widow. I'm proud that she's there. What I'd like to know, I recently had a baby, and we were on, my husband and I were on the diet a couple of years ago and did wonderfully, our cholesterol dropped, our weight dropped. It was just great, had a lot of energy, but everybody's telling me, don't do it again, don't do it again and I'd really like to get back on it, and you know, feel good, but I'm a little concerned.

KING: Doctor? Veronica, you want to respond first

ATKINS: Are you breastfeeding? Are you breastfeeding, ma'am?

KING: Ma'am, are you there?

CALLER: I'm here.

KING: Are you breastfeeding?

CALLER: No, I'm not. I had to stop.

TRAGER: From a medical perspective, as Ms. Atkins said if you're breastfeeding. Talk with your physician about it and then go back on it just like anyone else would. Again, millions and millions of people who have followed this approach have been successful with it, and have had great results and if it's worked in the past, I don't know of any reason why you shouldn't go back and have the same results again.

KING: To Joplin, Missouri, hello. Joplin, Missouri, hello.

CALLER: Ms. Atkins, I'm real sorry about your loss with Dr. Atkins.

ATKINS: Thank you very much.

CALLER: I know he was on Saturday night but he didn't say how much he had lost on the plan and I was wondering if you've been on the plan and how much you had lost.

ATKINS: I was never grossly overweight, so basically I've controlled my weight. I mean, I'm a size 6/8 and I've controlled that all my life.

KING: How about your husband had he lost weight?

ATKINS: Bobby, the highest he ever was was about 206, but most of the time, he was between 185 and 195 kind of, occasionally 200, but when he got to 200, he'd quickly go down again.

KING: Dr. Trager, how long have you been on the Atkins diet?

TRAGER: It's been about four years since I started, and I've lost about 30 pounds over that period of time, and what's interesting is that I'm just like one of these others who, even though I was running 30 or 40 miles a week, was unable to lose weight even just by eating, following the standard dietary recommendations of eating lower fat and lower calories. I think like so many people it's just very difficult to lose weight by eating less. One of the benefits of following the Atkins approach is instead of doing without, you get to do with different. For me, it gave me enough calories to exercise, despite all of the misconception us can't exercise and do Atkins. I exercised more than most people I know and find that I get enough calories this way to build muscle and to do what I enjoy. KING: Are you saying, by the way, concerning vegetarian, if you lived a vegetarian life that would put you in ill health?

TRAGER: No, absolutely not. And Dr. Atkins absolutely treated vegetarians. You know, our concern with this group PCRM has to do with the radical animal rights, you know, agenda that basically they're pushing.

KING: Let's stay with the vegetarian diet -- you're not saying that's a diet that's going to cause you problems.

TRAGER: No, I think there's no one diet right for everyone, which is what Dr. Atkins felt. I think it's about choosing what works for you. For people who followed a vegetarian lifestyle it's important they get enough protein but truly it's all about variety and choice and choosing what works for you.

KING: Salt Lake City, Utah, hello.

CALLER: Hello, can you hear me

KING: Yes, go ahead.

CALLER: First off, I love you Larry, and Mrs. Atkins, we're all sorry for your loss. We think we've all lost a good friend in Dr. Atkins.

ATKINS: Thank you. Thank you very much.

CALLER: My question for you -- you're welcome. I just loved him. I still have mourned his loss.

ATKINS: So did I.

CALLER: My question is, I'm very offended by the defamation of what he worked so long in his life to build and the truth is that -- my question is how can we as ordinary citizens help you in your cause and support your foundation?

ATKINS: Just put out the word there that he was right, and that he helped enormous amounts of people, and the foundation, well we'll do the research. We'll get it going. We're just gearing up so in the future, I'll be able to release more information about that. But at the moment, we are capable and funded well enough to do a lot of research, and I thank you very much for trying that, and otherwise, just tell people what you experienced and that you feel Dr. Atkins was right and that will be the greatest contribution can you make to his legacy, and I thank you.

KING: Dr. Trager, what is the food guide pyramid?

TRAGER: We went to Washington and right now we're coming out with the Atkins food guide pyramid.

KING: As a book?

TRAGER: It's our own food guide, pyramid.

KING: I see, we'll see a picture of it on the screen. How will people get this?

TRAGER: This really tries to visually and graphically describe what Dr. Atkins said his whole life. This is our interpretation of the approach so we clear up the misconceptions. One of the exciting parts is what's off to the right, this is the first pyramid that actually shows how if you exercise, you can increase your food choices. You can eat more of the foods that you want to eat, and while improving your health and managing your weight effectively.

KING: How do you get the pyramid?

TRAGER: Right now we're putting it out, we took it to Washington and hope it will be incorporated into the new dietary recommendations. There's more information on the pyramid coming out. We all have to recognize that the standard food guide pyramid we've been looking at for the last 30 years hasn't solved the problem.

We've gone from a period of fat phobia where people are eating 600 calorie fat-free muffins and thinking they're healthy and eating food that's loaded with simple sugars and we need to move back in the direction Dr. Atkins tried so hard to wake everyone up to which is making better choices and this is the pyramid, I think, will go a long way to help explain what controlled carbohydrate nutrition is all about and what the Atkins nutritional approach is all about.

KING: We'll take a break and be back with more phone calls for Veronica Atkins, the widow of Dr. Robert Atkins and Dr. Stewart Trager, chairperson of the Atkins Physicians Council. Tomorrow night, the Wisconsin primary. We're going to have a major program on that. We expect all three of the major candidates to be with us, that would be Dean, Edwards, and of course, Kerry, and we also will have as our experts in studio, former senators Bob Dole and George Mitchell, both of whom led their respective parties in the Senate and Wolf Blitzer on the scene as well. We'll be right back with more calls. Don't go away.


R. ATKINS: Carbohydrate is the bad guy. You have to see that when you tell people to go on a low fat diet look at how much more carbohydrate they began eating and that's what caused the epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

KING: You're saying we have an epidemic of obesity caused by people pushing low-fat diets.

R. ATKINS: Exactly. 100 percent correct! May I shake your hand. That's perfect.

KING: Where did I go right?



KING: Veronica, before we go back to calls, your husband did tell us that he felt vindicated by all the people who'd come aboard.

ATKINS: Well, absolutely.

KING: Can we say that he died happy?

ATKINS: I think he probably did die happy, because he knew that finally, finally the vindication was coming, and more and more physicians were involved in it, and more and more physicians were treating his way. So yes, I think we can say that, absolutely.

KING: So then of course you would be more than upset at these events that occurred since.

ATKINS: Oh, I can't even tell you how upset I am, Larry. When I saw him, when you reran the show, I mean I just dissolved. Because you know, I see him and he's not coming home.

KING: Yeah. Tampa, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry, my question for the doctor is regarding the food pyramid that is established for our school systems. With 6 percent of our children now classified as obese, our school lunch program is heavy with carbohydrates. What are your thoughts about the food pyramid and establishing this for a healthier generation?

TRAGER: I think you've got a great point right there. And one of the groups we've talked to in Washington are those that are involved with children and with children's education. We need to address the problem with our children, and part of it is that unfortunately our parents have been taught that sending kids to school with white bread and with simple sugars is a good thing and is healthy.

Now, we have to change the thinking, and our hope is with this food guide pyramid and try to reeducate people about controlling carbohydrates, we can stem this tide of epidemic -- this tide of obesity in our kids.

You know, this is the first generation of children who we're told may have a shorter lifespan than their adults, because of this obesity epidemic. We need to address our kids pretty soon.

ATKINS: Also, may I add to this that I want to do studies in schools with children and find out what we can do there. I truly would like very, very much to help that situation, because it's out of hand and these poor kids, they need help.

KING: Dr. Trager, is there a one worst carbohydrate, if you could eliminate one thing from ever diet never again to be sold, what would it be?

TRAGER: I think simple sugars have really...

KING: Give me an example.

TRAGER: I think plain white refined sugar is one thing that's in a lot -- you know, in a lot of our products, and I think it's something that we really have to do a lot about, but I think it's also some of the other things, like the highly refined carbohydrates, and some of the sweeteners that people don't realize are hurting them just as much.

I think we have to learn carbohydrate awareness and make better choices. You know, things -- there are many carbohydrates that have just as high of an impact as white flour and simple sugars, and by making better choices and teaching people that they can control the amounts of these things in their diet, and they can make better choices, choose the less refined carbohydrates, choose the, you know, whole foods and nutrient-dense vegetables.

KING: What's a good carbohydrate?

TRAGER: I think vegetables. I think a lot of the vegetables that have lower glycemic actions on the blood, they don't raise blood sugar so much, those are the ones that people really should choose first.

KING: And fruits, too. Right?

TRAGER: And with that, some of the fruits, and some of the fine -- the whole grains.

KING: OK, Springfield, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Mrs. Atkins, I have to tell you, I absolutely loved your husband. My daughter and I have been doing his diet since 1999, and we were featured in August in the newspaper. We have a combined weight loss of 290 pounds.

ATKINS: Oh, congratulations!

CALLER: I know, I'm just so passionate about his diet. I started a low carb support group with five people back in April and we anticipate 100 at our next meeting. And I just had to tell you that your husband saved my life.

ATKINS: God bless you.

CALLER: And thank you very much.

ATKINS: You're very welcome. God bless you for telling that. Thank you, and good luck.

KING: Didn't you co-write a book with Bob?

ATKINS: A cookbook.

KING: Yeah, a cookbook.

ATKINS: A cookbook, yes. Yeah. KING: So you cook?

ATKINS: I always cooked. I always cooked. So I know exactly what he ate.

KING: Kanoxville (ph), Tennessee, hello. Or Knoxville, Tennessee. They were doing a gag with me and I wrote it down as Kanoxville (ph). The boys in the control room having some fun. OK, Knoxville, hello.

CALLER: Hello, can you hear me?

KING: Yeah, I hear you. I'm losing it.

CALLER: That's OK. My father calls it Kanoxville (ph).

KING: I will from now on.

CALLER: OK. I'm a registered nurse and I first want to say, I'm very sad for the loss.

ATKINS: Thank you.

CALLER: Here's my question. I work at a huge trauma center and I have done well with the Atkins. You cannot imagine the number of physicians that hound me and say, "it's going to kill you, and it's going to put you on dialysis." This question is probably for the doctor. Why do they say that your kidneys will fail?

TRAGER: I think there's a lot, a lot, a lot of work we have to do to educate people and to try to clear up some of the misconceptions. I think we have to rely on evidence-based science. And when we look at the research, the 18 recent studies that have been published, including some of the peer review work that's come out of major universities. We recognize that there have been no studies that show people with normal kidney functions have any problems on a diet like this.

I think what happens is people know that for people who have impaired kidney functions, they're told to eat less protein. And they make a jump from one to the other. But we have to look at the fact...

KING: So you're saying that there's no study that eating Atkins, the Atkins way will harm the kidney.

TRAGER: Will harm normal kidneys, that's exactly right. And in fact, that's right, there's just no study that says that.

KING: I see. So -- but if you have damaged kidney, then it could harm you.

TRAGER: If you have damaged kidneys and you have been told not to eat a high amount of protein, then this clearly isn't a diet that's right for you.

KING: Boonville, Missouri, hello. CALLER: Hello.

KING: Yes.

CALLER: Yes, I'm a physician, and Dr. Trager was just saying there's no study showing any kidney damage. But there was a study that was published in "Angiology" magazine in the year 2000 that showed people on the Atkins diet lost 40 percent of the blood flow to their heart by a nuclear profusion scan, one year before they started on the Atkins diet and one year afterwards. And at the same time, the study was originally done on a vegetarian diet and in that study, gained 40 percent of blood flow to their heart.

TRAGER: It's an interesting study you're talking about.

CALLER: I'm also wondering when you're going to let the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine refute what Dr. Trager is saying when he's, you know, saying nasty things about them.

KING: We'll contact them. We'll give them a voice. We're an open program. But what about his statement about the blood flow, doctor?

TRAGER: Yeah, it's interesting. That's actually a study I think, it's done by Dr. Fleming (ph), who is the fellow who got this record somewhat surreptitiously.

ATKINS: And the medical record, the medical office.

TRAGER: Now, now, what's interesting about that study is that it's poor science. The way the patients were put in this category he's talking about as the Atkins patients, where they were those patients who failed to stay on a very low fat diet. Now, that's not good science. And it's not a fair approximation of how people who follow a controlled carbohydrate diet behave.

Now, look, we can talk about good clinical science. But when we try to talk about studies done by people who are trying to promote their own agenda, we have to ask ourselves why? Why do they get a voice when what they really want to do is use animal rights activists...

KING: You're saying there is no credibility to that call?

TRAGER: To that study. Unfortunately, that's not a study that when we looked at it is anywhere near as meritable as the rest. It's a study that's flawed and it's a study that really, truly doesn't stand up well.

KING: OK, let me get a break and come back with our some remaining moments with Veronica Atkins and Dr. Stewart Trager. Don't go away.


KING: What's an Atkins dinner? R. ATKINS: Well, now you're talking about my wife, who is such a great cook.

KING: So she'll cook?

R. ATKINS: She has incredible fish, incredible fowl, and all kinds of meat. Rack of lamb.

KING: Rack of lamb, lamb chops. You eat lamb chops?

R. ATKINS: Yeah, lamb chops.

KING: You eat the fatty part of the lamb chop, too?

R. ATKINS: Yeah, I eat that, and then just with way lot of vegetables.

KING: My potatoes?

R. ATKINS: Not the potatoes.

KING: How about Sweet potato?

R. 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: We're back. Ellijay, Georgia, hello.

CALLER: Yes, thank you, Larry, great show.

Ms. Atkins as you follow the Atkins diet, do you also take exercise and if so, how much?

ATKINS: I haven't done much lately, but usually I walk an enormous amount and I do Pilates.


KING: You do you?

ATKINS: Yes. I love it.

KING: New York City, hello.

CALLER: Hi, I have a question for Dr. Trager. I understand a lot about the Atkins diet and I'm glad that he's got people thinking about it. What I don't understand is there are other unhealthy things, for instance, bacon say big part, and it's full of nitrates, and if we got our children eating nitrates, it's such an unhealthy thing, it's certainly not part of the anti-cancer diet. That and then the other question that comes to mind that I read little things about is that all these diets are, one of the primary reasons for them is money.

TRAGER: I think when we look at that, we have to remember that obesity unfortunately, is costing lives and money, and we need to give people tools that work for them. If we don't do anything to try to give people ways to fight this epidemic, unfortunately we'll spend an awful lot of money on health care costs and going to lose more and more lives.

KING: What bacon?

TRAGER: The benefits of Atkins is it give foods that they can eat. They can do with different rather than doing without. Dr. Atkins in life, talked about the processed meats and trying to avoid them if possible. But again, I think we have to focus on the greater risks. Greater risk, obesity.

KING: What about bacon?


TRAGER: I think bacon in moderation because of the nitrates may be something worth thinking about. I think, Dr. Atkins on show just the other evening I heard in his quote he talked about some of the unprocessed foods and more natural things like bacon.

KING: Rego Park, New York, hello.

CALLER: Hello, my question is for Dr. Trager.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: People on the Atkins diets lose 30 pounds. I happen to be in the weight business, and they all gain it back. A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. The reason they lose on Atkins is because they're eating less calories. There's a book out, "The Truth About Carbs" and you ought to read it.

TRAGER: Lets talk about that actually. The recent clinical studies show people do lose weight following Atkins, and it's not water, but actual weight. And when they adopt this as a lifelong strategy, just like any technique you have to stay with it. And that was Dr. Atkins message with "Atkins For Life," the last book he published in January. That you need to change your strategy for life and until do you that, whether it's Weight Watchers or any of the other programs the minute you go off of it you will put your weight back on. Now, we've heard tonight from some of the callers the joy that people experience when they eat this way. The way it's changed lives. And I think more and more people, right now by some estimates 30 million people have seen this joy and participate in it. I think we have to focus on that that it's a choice for people. It may not be for everybody, but for many people the clinical research shows it's an effective tool to lose weight.

KING: Veronica, you carry on with the foundation, right?

ATKINS: Absolutely, very much so and I will prove a lot of things. By the way, a calorie is not a calorie. There was a study recently published by Harvard that says it isn't so.

KING: Meaning there's a good calorie and a bad calorie?

TRAGER: No, Larry, what the study actually showed was that people following the Atkins approach could eat more calories and one study 300 more and another study 700 more while still losing weight than following a low fat, calories approach.

KING: Thank you both very much. Veronica, it's good to see you looking so well.

ATKINS: Thank you so much, Larry.

KING: Veronica Atkins and Dr. Stuart Trager, they both came to us from Miami. I'll come back in couple of minutes to tell about tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: We're going to have a terrific night of coverage at the Wisconsin primary tomorrow starting with this program at 9:00 Eastern. With Bob Dole, George Mitchell, Wolf Blitzer. And then at our man Aaron Brown takes over with full coverage from 10:00, and then Wolf Blitzer comes back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, live with a complete wrap up.


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