Return of the Carb Counters! Atkins Diet Aims to Make a Comeback

The regimen that made bacon into a diet food lures a new generation of paleo-curious eaters.

(Photo: John Kuczala/Getty)


Sep 17, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Around the turn of the millennium, there were any number of tedious cocktail party discussions to be had: Could Ralph Nader ever become president? (No.) Would the merger of AOL and Time Warner revolutionize the dynamic between old and new media? (No.) Was Ricky Martin actually straight? (No.) But perhaps the most tedious began with your interlocutor announcing, “I just started Atkins.”

Ugh. Well, kids, get ready for a whole new era discussing the byzantine business of “counting carbs.” It turns out that the Atkins diet is raring to make a comeback, though for those of us who endured debates about whether or not tomatoes counted as carbs, it may seem like the diet never left us. (Kind of like Britney Spears.)

NPR reports that sales of products with the Atkins brand have grown by 44 percent in just the last two years, a phenomenon the newly reinvigorated company behind the brand, Atkins Nutritionals, credits to recent science that supports the weight-loss advantages of low-carb diets as well as the growing popularity of an even more radical high-protein regimen, the paleo diet.

“The resurgence of low-carb and paleo ways of eating definitely enhances our presence even more,” a spokeswoman for Atkins Nutritionals tells NPR. The company is adding $10 million to its marketing budget this year, a 50 percent increase.

Turns out that while Britney Spears was having her two-day Vegas marriage annulled and shaving her head, Atkins Nutritionals was enduring its own form of burnout. The Atkins diet’s namesake, Dr. Robert Atkins, died in 2003, and two years later the company he founded filed for bankruptcy.

Like the one-time headliner sliding down the marquee, the brand bounced around before landing in the portfolio of the Atlanta-based private equity firm Roark Capital Group.

The fact that the firm also owns Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s (in addition to its name being derived from the protagonist of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead), probably gives you some idea of how committed RPG is to advancing a healthier alternative to American’s traditionally carb-laden diet versus capitalizing on the Atkins name. To wit, pop over to the Atkins official website, and you’re immediately bombarded with ads to Atkins’ newest line of frozen dinners. The fact that the company has Courtney Thorne-Smith hawking their products gives you some idea of the demographic they’re now going after—former Melrose Place addicts, the Gen Xers who’ve now had a couple kids and are expanding into middle age.

As for the supposedly new science supporting the benefits of low-carb eating, that seems to rest on a limited study published in June 2012 that, according to NPR, “found patients on a low-carb diet kept weight off longer than those on a low-fat diet.” What’s not mentioned is that during that same month, the results of another study were released—this one linking low-carb diets to an increased risk for heart disease.

Neither study was anywhere near conclusive, which just goes to show that if you’re going to replace your morning bowl of Special K with scrambled eggs and bacon, you gotta figure that you may lose 15 pounds in a month but might be upping your chances for a coronary.

And does science, whatever its findings, really play a role here? Did it ever, when it comes to the original Atkins craze? Here was a “diet,” after all, that allowed you to eat bacon! Sausage! Chocolate! Heavy cream! I’m no nutritionist (and I’ve never counted a carb in my life), but I’m betting that you can’t eat a whole box of Atkins-banded “Endulge” snack bars (Chocolate Caramel Mousse, anyone?) and shed a pound.