Before the low-fat-diet insanity of the 1970s onward, sanity about diet and obesity was fairly common among the medical associations of the world.
Shown below is the abstract of an article published by George Thorpe, MD in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) in 1957 . This article predates the better-known work of Atkins by sixteen years!
The abstract is as simple as it is clear: to lose body fat, eat meat, have some vegetables, avoid sugar and grains. This was the standard procedure for weight loss, or “slimming”, until the 1960s. It was the standard procedure for a good reason: it worked. Given this, it’s not clear why Atkins took so much heat for repeating what was previously conventional wisdom.
Actually, maybe it is clear. Through the 1980s, low-fat eating became common. Cholesterol and saturated fat were the enemy. People felt like they had no choice but to stop eating fat, otherwise they would surely get heart disease. The choice was clear: either suffer with tasteless and dry food for your whole life, or suffer with chest pains and shortened life in the cardiac ward. In this world, Atkins was a heretic.
The good news is that it wasn’t true. Atkins was right. If we had only held to what we already understood to be true about nutrition in the 1950s, we would have been just fine. Probably better.
Sharp reduction in average daily energy intake while maintaining high carbohydrate consumption leads to hunger and loss of lean tissue (muscle mass). This creates the “yo-yo diet” or “rebound” phenomenon. When energy supply is chronically inadequate on a low-calorie diet, the body uses up muscle and other bodily tissues (protein) for energy. Due to reduced muscle mass,, the metabolism slows down and it’s harder to burn fat. The dieter either doubles down on the calorie restriction misery, for weaker results, or else gives up and returns to his normal diet. Of course, going back to his old way of eating will replace the lost fat and muscle mass with new fat mass. Losing fat and muscle, then regaining only fat, is a dangerous and unhealthy result from yo-yo dieting.
The indigenous Eskimos knew how to do it right. The above paragraph describes a textbook ketogenic diet, with the vast majority (80%) of the calories coming from fat, the rest from protein, and almost no carbohydrate. A healthy, non-restricted energy intake of 2000-3000 kcal facilitates burning body fat when the components of the diet (fat and protein) do not cause hyperinsulinemia. In other words, consistently low blood levels of insulin enable the body to regulate fat storage and consumption in a healthy manner.
A simple and clear recipe for weight loss without hunger, discomfort, or muscle loss.
I received the reference to this article from P. D. Mangan.
The original PDF article, from which I clipped the excerpts above, may be found here.
By the way, the 50s I refer to in the title are actually the 1850s, not the 1950s. Dr. Thorpe was scooped by around one hundred years! Banting’s famous Letter on Corpulence was written at that time. This information has been known both empirically and clinically for a very long time.