Thursday, July 19, 2007

Much Ado About Kimkins

A reader asked me to comment on the big controversy swirling around the Kimkins low-carb diet plan. The backstory is this: Kimkins, a plan created by a woman who I know only as "Kimmer," has been getting a lot of publicity lately because of an article in Woman's World magazine calling the program "better than gastric bypass." Then low-carb blogworld guru Jimmy Moore started the Kimkins program and has been having a lot of success with it.

But the controversy swirls both about the diet and about Kimmer herself. Kimmer keeps a low profile--she doesn't do interviews, for example, and the "self-portrait" photos on the Kimkins website are of what appears to be completely different people. So, she's a bit of a mystery. I don't know what her reasons are for staying hidden and using photos that may not even be her. Frankly, I don't care.

The issue for me is the diet.

Does Kimkins work? Yes, it does. Absolutely. The basic Kimkins diet is not very different from Atkins induction, except with low fat as well as low carbs, and keeping up with your calorie intake. You eat 20 or fewer grams of carbs (and don't subtract fiber grams), no sugar alcohols or other special "low carb food," lean protein, a couple of cups of salad or a cup of a green veggies and "enough fat" to make it palatable. That's it. There's also a "quick start" version that is a bit more spare.

The thing that turned me off the program -- for me, as a personal decision -- was not the program itself. Like Atkins induction, if you follow the program and pay attention to how you follow it, you can keep it pretty healthy.

But if you really get involved in the Kimkins website community, you'll see where the controversy comes in.

First, fiber consumption is not recommended because it "bulks you up"; taking a half-dose or so of Milk of Magnesia daily is encouraged to "clear things out" and is something Kimmer says she does.

Most folks on the Kimkins discussion boards are eating about 700-800 calories a day and obsessing over it if they "slip up" and eat "too much." If you find yourself losing less than 5-7 pounds a week and e-mail Kimmer about it, she will examine your food logs for the previous week and point out where you're going wrong. I did this a couple of times. I was eating about 900 calories a day and only losing 1-2 pounds a week, so I sent Kimmer my menus--she suggested I reduce the fat that my mushrooms were sauteed in and just use water or Pam, that I cut all cheese from the diet because of the fat, and make sure my protein was the leanest possible. So I did that, and I still, at about 800 calories a day, was losing about 2 pounds a week on the scale. But the scale wasn't telling the story because I developed a whole lot of saggy skin and felt weird. I'm not sure how to describe how I felt but I think the word is "empty." I didn't want to eat--a "desirable" state the Kimkins folks call "SNATT" (slightly nauseous all the time). When I finally broke ranks for Christmas and started eating a bit more, I was ravenous. It was like part of my five senses had shut down and suddenly had awakened.

It finally occurred to me, away from the seduction of the scale, that I had been starving myself. Had I started out from a thinner weight, there would have been little difference between my own diet and that of one of the pro-anorexia proponents.

So, does Kimkins (the diet) promote eating disorders? For me the answer is that, in the long run, you have to take responsibility for your own health regardless of what eating plan you follow. Personally, I could never see that avoiding fiber and taking laxatives made sense from a health standpoint, so I didn't lose weight at the "better than gastric bypass" rate. Unless he's changed his methods, I think Jimmy Moore is also adding fiber into his diet. If you follow the program, use your brain, and don't get sucked into the online community too deeply, Kimkins can be a fairly healthy, very low carb diet. As I said, pretty much very strict Atkins induction as it was originally devised (as opposed to the later version where the good doctor relaxed a bit on the sugar alcohols and other low-carb processed foods).

So, with that, here's my final take on Kimkins. Like any eating program, you have to be responsible in how you interpret it. You could technically adhere to the Weight Watchers "points" program while eating only junk food--but you know that isn't healthy. You can technically adhere to Kimkins while cutting fiber from your diet and cutting your calories down to nothing, but you know that isn't healthy either. I had stalled on Kimkins but when I cycled back to Atkins and started adding more calories and fat into my diet, I started losing again.

I had thought I wanted to lose the weight very quickly and then worry about learning how to eat in the real world. If that's you, then Kimkins works--not as a lifelong plan but as a measure to take weight off quickly.

But what I learned about myself is that I couldn't sustain that level of deprivation for a long-term weightloss period. I learned that I'd rather lose it more slowly and have a little more flexibility in my life.

Bottom line: know yourself, what you need, how things work for you, and use your common sense. Would I go on Kimkins again? It's unlikely--I'm more likely to restart Atkins induction.

But if you have further questions, just ask!

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