Why keto and low-carb have become so popular

In the early 1960s, a newly minted cardiologist named Robert Coleman Atkins was feeling poorly. He was depressed. He had packed on 90 pounds over the long, stressful years of college and med school. He tried cutting calories, but he just got tired and hungry, and his waistband wasn't getting any any looser.

Once upon a time, common sense said that exercise builds up your appetite. That starch and sugar make you fat. That if you fatten your cattle and pigs on corn, then corn can fatten you up, too.

But during the mid-century modern era, a new type of advice had become mainstream: eat less and exercise, and then you'll lose weight. Yet, somehow, the young doctor couldn't make that work for him. He saw that it didn't work for his patients, either. It seemed like these days, more and more people were having to watch their waistline.

Then he learned about some WWII research connecting carbohydrate restriction to fat loss.  He investigated. He tried it. The science made sense. The approach worked. He began recommending it to his patients. He opened a clinic. In 1972, he published his first book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution.

It was the first of the 17 books Dr. Atkins would eventually write, all recommending a diet based in whole foods, rich in low-starch vegetables and low-sugar fruits, moderate in protein, ample in dietary fat, and — we all know this part — low in carbohydrate.

He found the people who thought they needed to restrict their calories, and offered them a different solution to the problem of being overfat. He called out the expected/accepted solution of the day: restricting calories. He described how his solution avoided the pain points of the expected/accepted solution –namely, hunger and persistent cravings, even after meals. He described how his solution also was more effective.

Later, by the 1990s, the expected/accepted solution had changed. Now, people were told it wasn't enough just to eat fewer calories than they wanted. They also needed to eat less fat, specifically. Dr. Atkins found the people who thought they needed to do that, and offered them his same solution to the problem of being overfat. 

Again, he called attention to the expected/accepted solution of that day, and then described how his solution avoided those pain points and also was more effective.

Dr. Atkins, tragically, died in 2003 after he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk, fatally injuring his head. He died just as the greater low-carb movement was taking off, thanks to podcasters like Jimmy Moore, science writers like Gary Taubes, online communities like lowcarbfriends.com, amateur researchers like Chris Masterjohn (he's no amateur today!), and a host of medical doctors like Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, who runs the excellent dietdoctor.com site, which provides a wealth of information on the science underlying ketogenic diets. And of course, thanks to a growing number of people who had actually tried the Atkins diet, or a similarly healthful approach like the Drs. Eades' Protein Power.

In the years since, the idea of cutting sugar and not worrying about fat has gained traction. Today, it's reaching a critical mass. More and more, people are discovering, despite the fear-mongering of authorities (who really should know better by now) who insist that deviating from today's official dietary approach is downright dangerous — even though said approach is itself is unique in human history.

(Well, except for the ancient Egyptans, the only group of humans in history to ever follow anything like the USDA food pyramid. And also the only previous group of humans in history to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay anything like the way 20th century Americans did.)

As in the early 1960s, the science behind restricting carbohydrate and being lenient with fat makes sense. And it works. 

So the message that has made low-carb/keto take off goes something like this. 

[PAIN POINTS] Are you tired of going hungry and never feeling satisfied after a meal? 

[STANDARD SOLUTION IS INEFFECTIVE] Have you tried the recommended correct way to slim down over and over and over? Are you frustrated because the official advice just doesn't seem to work when you do it? 

[THE EXPERTS DON'T GET IT] Do your trusted advisors insist that you just are not following their advice correctly — even though you are? Do they just tell you that you need to [cut calories][reduce dietary fat] even more?

[VALIDATION] It's not your fault. Science shows that the advice you're following leads to the exact results you've been getting.

[ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION] There is a better way.

[WHY STANDARD SOLUTION IS INEFFECTIVE] Find out why [counting calories][reducing fat] locks you into a cycle of gaining back all you lost and more. 

[ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION] Reducing carbohydrate solves your problem. Here's why: A, B, C, D. Here's how to do it: E, F, G, H. Here's what to say to people who don't understand why you're doing this: I, J, K, L. Here's a jillion testimonials: “I struggled for years. I can't believe how easy this is to follow and how effective it is.” etc. etc. etc. 

Maybe you're one of those testimonials right now. Or maybe you're still exploring and experimenting. If you're like me and many of my friends over the years, you've tried it all. And wondered why it didn't work. And decided the problem must be you. It's not.

There is a better way.

To rework Michael Pollan's famous dictum, eat real food. Mostly fat. As much as you like.

When you actually do that, you won't eat “too much.” You can try, but you won't even be able to keep it up.

Relax. Enjoy. Make and share a great meal. Welcome home.

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