By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/17/2004 7:41:23 PM ET 2004-05-17T23:41:23

Like millions of Americans, James and Suzy Gelman went on the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet because they thought it was a way to lose weight quickly and eat lots of the foods they love.

“My main eating problem is portion control, and Atkins offered a way to eat a lot of steak, and chicken and that type of stuff,” says James Gelman.

Even physicians have been attracted to the diet. Dr. Linda Stern of the Philadelphia Veterans Administration Hospital liked it so much she decided to study it. What was it about the Atkins diet that appealed to her?

“I had just gotten back from a vacation where I had gained a few pounds, and I tried it," says Stern.  “And I was surprised to see how quickly and easily I lost the few pounds that I had gained.”

But does the weight stay off? Stern experimented with 132 obese patients — half went on the Atkins diet, while half ate a standard low-fat diet.

“The results: After six months, the low-carbohydrate group lost significantly more weight than the group following the low-fat diet,” says Stern.

And that finding, along with several similar studies, made big news — especially because cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease actually improved on the Atkins diet.

But in research released Monday, Stern finds that while the Atkins diet worked better for the first six months, after a year, the weight of the two groups became almost the same. Other studies are reaching the same conclusion.

Dr. Glenn Gasser of the University of Virginia predicts this longer-term research is the beginning of the end of the Atkins fad. “My guess is that, in a few years, people will look at themselves in the mirror and they won’t see much difference in this low-carb diet they’ve been on for a number of years, and will go on to something else.”

That is what James and Suzy Gelman have decided. “Moderation — it’s a boring concept, but it seems to be the one that works best."

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