'The idea that I was healthier before, swilling coffee with three sugars, is absurd'

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The Independent Online

I've lost a stone and a half on a not terribly strict version of the Atkins diet since June, and feel a great deal better for it. While Atkins is routinely described as a "no carbs" diet, what it really tackles is sugar intake, and perhaps even sugar addiction, in all forms. No sugar is allowed at all - no alcohol, no sugary vegetables such as carrots, not even mayonnaise with added sugar - which is why the diet also, rather eccentrically, debars fruit.

Rumour has it that the diet doesn't suit women as well as it does men, perhaps because it demands a more radical change in food intake. Women tend to avoid fat more than men, rely more on fruit and vegetables and eat sugary things often, in my experience. Most of the men I've spoken to who've tried the diet found it suited them well, while most of the women said it made them feel ill after a couple of days. One woman saidshe felt so terrible she didn't believe it could be good for her, so instead just ate hardly any food for a couple of weeks to shed the weight she wanted.

This doesn't seem like a particularly healthy idea either, and it seems to me that most medical experts aren't looking at the bigger picture when they slag off Atkins. Being overweight is bad for you, and on the dull no-fat diets that nutritionists recommend, people simply become dispirited and stay overweight. At least on Atkins, sugar goes, which I don't think any medical expert denies is a reasonable thing.

I'd recommend not taking Atkins too seriously. I've found that continuing to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day doesn't stop you losing weight, while cutting out refined sugar, pasta, potatoes, bread and rice is enough to inspire weight loss. I've also found that the occasional modest binge on chocolate and a few drinks now and then doesn't impinge so very much either.

I feel much better for losing my huge stomach and leg-o-mutton arms, not only because I look less repulsive, but also because I no longer suffer the terrible mid-afternoon energy dip that I did before. This could be because I've cut my huge intake of sugar and caffeine, but it is probably helped by the fact that I've also been doing regular cardiovascular exercise, as Atkins recommends.

The idea that I was healthier before, swilling coffee with three sugars all day and never lifting a sporting finger, is absurd. In an ideal world, Atkins might not be a great idea, but in an ideal world, we wouldn't need diets.