Who Was Dr. Atkins? Here's the Man Behind the Atkins Diet


Ok, who's the guy that thought it was a good idea for us to cut bagels out of our diet? He was a cardiologist named Dr. Robert Atkins and he died more than a decade ago (although it likely wasn't a lack of carbs that killed him —  in fact, he was overweight, at 258 pounds, when he died).

Dr. Atkins was born in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 17, 1930. He briefly pursued a career in comedy as a teenager and later attended the University of Michigan for undergrad. He attended Cornell University School of Medicine for grad school where he earned a degree in internal medicine cardiology. 

Read more: Here's Why Atkins, Paleo and Other Low-Carb Diets Don't Guarantee Weight Loss
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He was inspired to create the ruthless, self-titled Atkins diet upon noticing he was significantly overweight. "I appeared to be 45," the then-33-year-old Atkins was quoted saying in the 1975 book Super Doctors written by Roger Rapoport. "I weighed 193 pounds and had three chins. I couldn't get up before 9 a.m. and never saw patients before 10. I decided to go on a diet."

His bright idea was that we could eat lots of fat and lose weight – as long as we significantly cut down on carbs. His diet encouraged people to "choose bacon and eggs over fruit salad," the New York Times reported, and that proposed that "lobster dripping with butter was better for weight loss than a bran muffin."

Opponents of the diet argued that while it can be effective for immediate weight loss, it's unsustainable and unhealthy. Frederick J. Stare, head of the nutrition department at Harvard University when Atkins' first book was published, shunned it before it was even published. "The Atkins Diet is nonsense... Any book that recommends unlimited amounts of meat, butter, and eggs, as this one does, in my opinion is dangerous. The author who makes the suggestion is guilty of malpractice," Stare wrote in 1972.

But that didn't stop Atkins from making a shit ton of money off the diet with a few best-selling books. His first book, Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, published in 1972, was one of the best-selling books ever.

Atkins took a fatal slip on ice outside the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine in Manhattan, where he also lived, in 2003. But medical records that were released following his death showed he had a long history of serious heart conditions and was 258 pounds upon his death, the New York Times reported. 

Yet the people at Atkins said the records were incomplete and that he was actually 195 pounds at death and gained 60 pounds from fluid during his coma. Many doubt that's possible. "I knew the man,'' Dr. John McDougall, a member of the Physicians Committee, told the New York Times in 2004. ''He was grossly overweight. I thought he was 40 to 60 pounds overweight when I saw him, and I'm being kind.''