Welcome to Fitness Week! All week long we'll be posting stories about fitness, with a distinctly Fashionista spin.
I have been on a lot of stupid diets in my short life. There was the summer I went Paleo, for which my friends still mock me, and the six weeks when I stopped eating sugar completely, which I don't regret at all. Junior year of college I decided my body was a temple and shunned meat for a month. That ended abruptly one rainy Thursday with a sudden, manic craving for red meat, which I satisfied by dragging a friend out for a burger so rare it verged on "still mooing." I have been a meat eater since, although sometimes I find myself typing the word "macrobiotic" into Google.
I've become much more moderate in the last year. I eat a lot of whole wheat bread, cheese and veggies, and I try to control my sweet tooth. (I mean, I'm not not going to have birthday cake when it's offered.) But when Cheryl came into the office a few weeks ago to ask who wanted to be a diet guinea pig, I jumped on the offer. Old habits die hard, apparently.
The eating program in question, which I test drove for two weeks, is the Kim Kardashian Post-Baby Diet, a.k.a. Atkins. After putting on what ~the media~ decided was an unacceptable amount of weight during her pregnancy, Kim K dropped what some report to be 55 pounds after giving birth to little North West. Would it have the same effect on me, an average-sized human who has not recently brought a living creature into the world? I was prepared to find out. For journalism.
Let's get this out of the way: The Atkins Diet of today is very different from the villainized regimen that probably comes to mind when you hear the name. Instead of steak 'n butter, dinner is salmon and steamed broccoli. It's actually quite similar to that ambiguous and irritating "I'm eating really clean" line that people sometimes drop when you go out to an Italian restaurant. (I have been that guy.) You're not allowed bread, but encouraged to eat lots of veggies and lean meat, and some dairy, nuts and berries. As you lose weight, you are allowed to wean yourself back onto whole grains, Atkins nutritionist Colette Heimowitz tells me.
The "New Atkins Diet," as the company's literature calls it, breaks down into four phases: A "kick-start" during which you decrease your carb intake to roughly 20 grams per day until you are within 15 pounds of your goal weight, followed by a "balancing" period during which you find a slightly higher carb intake that still allows you to continue losing weight. "Fine-tuning" happens until you've reached your goal weight and can maintain it for a full month; here you continue to reintroduce carby foods while slowly losing weight. Then there's lifetime maintenance. Self-explanatory, and a little daunting.
Of course, not all health professionals throw their weight behind the diet. New York-based nutritionist Keri Gans says she doesn't typically recommend Atkins to her clients because it can be misconstrued as an opportunity to load up on bacon and cheeseburgers, although she acknowledges that Kim K's focus on veggies and lean proteins seems healthy. Cutting carbs can lead to big weight loss in a matter of weeks, but people need to develop a style of eating that they can sustain in the long term.
I was only doing the "kick-start" portion of the diet, which is the most aggressive in its limitations. Here is the highlight reel of my two weeks living as Kim K.
7 a.m. I get off on a good foot by doing exactly what nutritionists advise against, which is not planning ahead and stocking my fridge. I eat a plain Greek yogurt and a spoonful of peanut butter for breakfast, two things that just feel like they shouldn't mix, like tequila and whisky.
10:30 a.m. I'm supposed to eat two snacks a day to keep my metabolism revved up. According to Heimowitz, one of the rookie mistakes Atkins newbies make is not eating frequently enough because protein and fat curb appetite. I'm not really a morning snacker, but OK. Raw almonds and berries it is.
1 p.m. I'm not terribly hungry, but I get a salad from Whole Foods with arugula, hummus, an egg and some feta because cheese is ALLOWED, praise the lord.
4 p.m. Snack time is going to be an issue, I can already tell. Atkins suggests healthy things like hummus and cucumber slices or a Greek yogurt and slivered almonds with blueberries, but I have already exhausted these possibilities. I go get another yogurt and think about muffins.
8 p.m. Atkins recommends cutting your alcohol intake, but I had a work dinner scheduled already, so I have a glass of red wine and some chicken. And a bite of bread. And a few fries. Whoops.
11 a.m. Decide to avoid the snack problem by eating lunch early. Clever, huh? I get a goat cheese salad with grilled chicken, which is awesome. Cheese is the best. Kim K is the best for letting me eat cheese while I lose her baby weight.
7 p.m. My apartment building's cooking gas has been off for over a month, which I guess is cool by my super. This is not cool by the Kim K diet, however, as it demands the sacrifice of yet another animal's flesh in the name of reducing cravings. I crack a tin of salmon and eat it straight out of the can with some tomatoes and avocado drizzled in olive oil on the side. Look at all these healthy fats! Go me.
6:30 a.m. I notice that my stomach has noticeably flattened out. Neat. I eat two spoonfuls of peanut butter and experience the unique choking feeling of attempting to dry swallow something very sticky.
7 p.m. Salami and gouda with raw tomatoes and carrots. This will become my favorite evening meal because it features cheese and salty meat, which is probably not Kim K-approved. Also, aren't carrots really sugary? I research carbs for a few minutes before getting bored and switching to Netflix.
6:30 a.m. Mix it up with half an avocado wrapped up in turkey slices and a Babybel cheddar cheese. Whoa!
3 p.m. Screw snacks. I'm over snacking when I'm not actually hungry. I get a coffee and say a quiet apology to my blood sugar levels.
5 p.m. Atkins has kindly sent me a bag full of snacks including sugar-free imitation Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, sugar-free fake M&Ms and mystery bars with a lot of protein in them. I am generally wary of fake sugars since they bloat me like crazy, but everyone else in the office is eating chocolate, so I go for the "peanut butter cups." After three days of no sugar, they taste both alien and ridiculously good. I crack open the fake M&Ms, too. YOLO.
7 p.m. My stomach has indeed puffed up. Cute.
4 p.m. Because my body has now made a full recovery from the fake sugar bloat, I have completely forgotten how bad it was. I have one of the Atkins bars, trusting that this time things will be different.
6 p.m. They're not.
9 a.m. A few spoonfuls of peanut butter before heading out to the Apple store in SoHo to get my computer repaired. I miss my Saturday morning lox and cream cheese bagel.
12 p.m. Having learned that my computer is beyond repair, I buy a salad, accidentally-on-purpose forgetting to tell them not to put bread in my bag. It's not even whole wheat. SUCK IT, ATKINS. I am a carbohydrate renegade, driven to the brink by my newly empty bank account.
12:30 p.m. Sitting on a bench and slowly tearing apart my bread, I think about how my mom eats. At 57, she has a legit supermodel figure. She eats slowly, doesn't eat when she's not hungry and never goes back for seconds. I used to eat that way when I was little, until the Internet and its myriad health bloggers got their hands on me. This bread is so good. I should just try eating more like my mom.
I won't bore you with all of the details of the next seven days, but I did lose weight — about five pounds of it in the end. Thanks to cutting out sugar, my skin looked great. That said, my weight loss was directly proportional to an increasingly grumpy attitude about being chained to this diet.
I learned quickly that I am one of those people for whom this particular diet is not sustainable. I was doing it for my job and for vanity, and that got old, fast.
As Atkins makes abundantly clear, the diet it prescribes is a lifetime deal. Like any substantial change to your eating habits, it's only going to last if you are driven by true conviction. Not the drive to lose a few before a friend's wedding that your ex is also going to attend. The kind that comes with really wanting to change your health. Of course, if you're following Atkins's guidelines, there are carbs in your future. It just takes time to get there, and when you do, you have to work carefully to maintain it.
But hey, if you're hitting the beach with your new beau in a week, there's no shame in temporarily cutting bread from your diet. Or, you know, if you're itching to put on a bikini and share some side boob with your millions of Instagram followers in the near future.