That Atkins Smell

First of all, my intention is not to diss Atkins people, nor the Atkins Approach itself. I work from home and am the parent of two boys inside the home (my eldest is an adult and lives in the northeast); I’m a cheapskate who doesn’t believe in turning on the air conditioner until the temperature hits the 95F mark. I’m 100% certain I’ve offended someone somewhere along the line wafting past as I ran out before school pickup in a panic for milk.

You don't realize it, but, yes, Mr. Atkins Man at Stater Brothers, you DO smell.

You don’t realize it, but, yes, Mr. Atkins Man at Stater Brothers, you DO smell. Truth.

And of course if an eating plan is working for any one person, that’s the more important thing, for that person, and if the program is livable the person is entitled to it.

But I have to say…that smell. That Atkins smell. The first time I ever smelled it was in 1998, when I was working at my sister’s company. Every once in a while I would get a whiff of cat-litter-and-some-unappealing-spice and I’d think, “What the hell IS that?”

Eventually my sister brought up the name of a certain co-worker, who was amazingly fit and “lived on those crazy protein drinks.” She added confidentially, “If you ever smell cat pee, look around and you’re sure to see V—a.”

I talked to this co-worker at one point (standing a few feet away). The “protein drinks” were very low carb (I believe 3g/powdered scoop, something I recalled later when I did the same brand of shakes). She lifted weights and was cutting while bulking up. I remember she said she made her drinks with water rather than milk, so, no milk carbs there either. When I asked what else she consumed, she said “Meat and a limited amount of vegetables.”

With the exception of the shakes, which by no means are a staple of the typical low-carb diet but are allowed if the carb consumption is suitable, it was obvious she was doing VLC (very low carb).

She looked great but…oh my. I will never, ever forget that smell.

I’m sure I must have smelled like that on Atkins too. I’ve been in ketosis any number of times. In fact, I recall getting a waft or two up my own nose of my very own self and thinking, “Oh my GOD.” I don’t know what it is about that particular scent. It doesn’t just offend in the way other non-pleasant smells offend. It is somehow…aggressive. It almost screams, “Get away from me.”

There may be a chemical reason behind this. Or it may simply be my perception.

Fast forward to tonight. I was walking by a group of three people, a man and two women, and there it was…the Atkins Smell.

It was clear as day, and every bit as off-putting and aggressive (to me) as ever. And it was absolutely unmistakable, though the last time I caught some was probably years ago. Either not many people around here do low-carb, or I haven’t been within a few feet of any who do. Or it could just be the fact that not everyone in ketosis smells.

Again, I’m nobody to tell anyone else what to do, how to eat or whether their scent offends me personally. To many, low carb means great health. It means both weight and appetite control. I’ve been on all the low-carb boards, including the Big Two who shall remain nameless. There are people who are absolutely THRILLED with their lifestyle. It works for them and having been caught in the diet-go-round for so many years, I say, God bless them. Keep doing what works.

But my own personal association with the Atkins Smell is one of restriction, desperation, and trying to twist and brainwash myself into thinking I was enjoying it. It brings to mind the not-so-veiled threats and finger-wagging of Taubes and Eades, Wheat Belly and Life Without Bread and dire warnings about how wheat is going to give me arthritis, lupus and MS and may even be making me “high.” It recalls every single negative thought and fear I’ve had about myself and about eating in general that I’ve ever had in my life…all rolled into one.

So when I caught The Smell tonight, it was bittersweet. I’m glad I’m no longer there. So very glad. And I’m sad for others for whom low-carb doesn’t work, either emotionally or physically, but who are hammered down by thoughts of how “bad” they are for not “sticking with it” and how they’re “killing themselves” by eating a diet that includes wheat. (By the way, yes, there’s science on this and I’m not disrespecting that, either. But one does have to weigh the health risks of eating GMO wheat – which technically all of our wheat is now, in the strictest sense – v. the deprivation-and-binge-go-round and resultant weight gain with diabetes and heart failure that comes from, well, just not being able to stick with such a restrictive way of eating.)

Definitely a moment that gave me pause. And made me grateful for what I have right now, and for having options in general.

Good luck and good health to any and all reading this post tonight, and, whatever eating plan you adopt, may you find peace.

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