Diet Guru Or Quack?

He's got a weekly radio show, a book that's sold more than 6 million copies, and a burning desire to transform the way Americans eat. But Doctor Robert Atkins' diet revolution is as controversial as it is popular, because despite his following he is ridiculed by the scientific community.

This bothers him: "It belongs in mainstream medicine," says Atkins, who says he is impatient for his peers' recognition.

For more than 30 years, Atkins has zealously challenged the conventional wisdom that the epidemic of obesity and diabetes is caused by eating too much fat, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin. He says carbohydrates like pasta, rice and bread are the real villains.

He even calls the federal government's dietary guidelines "criminal."

Atkins believes that carbohydrates like bread make us fat because the body burns them quickly, leaving us constantly hungry. When you stop eating carbohydrates, the body is forced to burn it's own fat for fuel, and the pounds drop off. Or so he says.

It was the only diet that worked for Tracy Mullin, who lost 55 pounds trading in low fat muffins and bagels for meals like chicken cooked in butter, drenched in cream. Says Mullins: "I don't even call it a diet anymore. It's my lifestyle."

Dr. Atkins, who is a cardiologist by training, claims he's seen 60,000 patients lose weight, and even lower cholesterol. There are no scientific studies supporting his dietetic dogma, while there are dozens of studies linking a high fat diet to heart disease.

Obesity specialists warn against the Atkins Plan. "High-fat, high-protein diets can have medical consequences such as kidney stones and other problems like that if followed for long periods of time," says Dr. Steven Heymsfield, an obesity expert at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital.

Even Dr. Kevin Cunningham, an internist who shed 60 pounds on the Atkins plan, admits it's not for everyone. "At the end of the day, there is no magic to this diet. You end up eating less calories."

Dr. Atkins remains undeterred by all his critics. After all, his books and products continue to be gobbled up, feeding that never-ending American desire for thinness.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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