So it's not surprising that when Dr. Robert Atkins' 33-year-long fad diet finally came to a crashing end last week, a whole lot of us were glad. This was a guy who wanted to take away our bread. Even prisoners get bread. Bread is so basic that, unlike water, restaurants don't have the guts to charge for it. Certain foods cannot even be made without bread -- such as French toast and bread.
I felt relief and a sense of justice when Atkins Nutritionals, which makes more than 50 low-carb products and 100 nutritional supplements and no grammatical sense, announced that it is $300 million in debt and has filed for bankruptcy. Over the past year, the company has fallen apart as the country went from having 9% of its citizens on a low-carb diet to having 2%. I knew the Atkins plan was doomed when a diet designed to let you indulge in Lardcicles was losing its willpower and selling people low-carb versions of the rolls and bagels it had demonized. It got so bad that last September Atkins was sending surplus low-carb products to food banks in Appalachia, which to me just seems cruel.
I love the thought that Atkins acolytes will no longer be smarmily drinking their ridiculous low-carb wine and chastely munching on low-carb Doritos, because I have suffered through their unrequested speeches about ketosis that don't make any sense. You know what happens "on a cellular level" when you eat that junk? You get a lot more cells. It had got so dire that I had taken to eating carbs at restaurants as a punk gesture of rebellion, dipping mashed-potato sandwiches in granulated sugar and inventing something I call Cake-Ravioli Cereal, which, if I can ever figure out how to get it on a stick, will undoubtedly be a huge hit at state fairs.
My hatred of low-carb diets is somewhat surprising since in 1995 I managed to lose 25 lbs. in six weeks for a magazine article, in part as a result of a low-carb diet, and never put it back on. Plus, I met my wife because she saw my well-lit photos in that story. I'm not entirely sure what a diet would have to do to impress me, but I think it would involve some of that sweet, light-headed Trimspa giddiness that makes Anna Nicole Smith so crack happy.
Thus my thrill over the downfall of Atkins isn't so simple as being able to eat whatever I want, which, if it's not clear, is bread. It's not even due to the fact that I think Atkins' high-cholesterol foods are dangerous for your heart, no matter how much weight you lose by gorging yourself on gut-filling fats. No, when Atkins Nutritionals filed for Chapter 11, it was a justification of my entire world view. Life is full of immutable truths, one of which happens to be that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you'll lose weight. Another is that bacon and pork rinds in mass quantities are not good for you. Atkins claimed godlike mastery over these equations. And every time someone does that--whether it's about ginkgo biloba, Reiki techniques or lowering taxes to pay off the debt--eventually the immutable truths rear up, and all of us suffer. Although that's a small price to pay for making me feel superior.
But I know there will be another diet soon enough, whether it's The 3-Hour Diet regimen, which involves snacking, or the French Women Don't Get Fat approach, which involves eating a quick, light meal without your husband so he has time to see his mistress. Whichever diet it is, people will swear that it finally holds the solution. And they will believe it. It's part of the optimism Americans have about progress. It's the same attitude that allowed people to pour money into the Google IPO and watch Showtime TV shows. So I have to admit that even though these diets will never work, there is something beautiful in that people believe each time. I'd rather have a society with that attitude, after all, than one in which everybody and his brother looks good in a half shirt.