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As Atkins exits, other diet gurus rush to lead

/ Source: The Associated Press

More dieters are ditching carb counts and biting into baguettes with gusto these days.

Some are eating like French women — who never get fat, according to one best seller. Or they’re taking their cues from celebrities like Suzanne Somers.

Some are counting the minutes between meals or checking a food’s glycemic index. And old-school calorie counting continues to have its followers.

This week’s bankruptcy filing by the late Dr. Robert C. Atkins’ old company provide fresh evidence of the low-carb diet’s demise, a downward spiral that began early last year. But no single new diet has filled the void.

Observers say the only sure thing — given the boom-and-bust nature of weight-loss trends — is that something will pop up eventually.

No strong contenders

“There isn’t one single strong contender,” said Anne M. Russell, editor-in-chief of Shape magazine. “If you look at what the single largest trend is, it’s weight gain.”

Chapter 11 filings by Atkins Nutritionals Inc. on Monday came about a year and a half after books like “The Atkins Essentials” rode the best seller charts, bread makers were back on their heels and Burger King introduced a Whopper without a bun.

But Atkins has been in decline since February 2004, said Harry Balzer, a food industry analyst at market researcher NPD Group. Balzer claims Atkins was one of those demanding diets that simply ran its course, going from fad to fade like so many others before it, including the Scarsdale and the cabbage soup diets.

How far and how fast did Atkins fall? By September 2004, surplus low-carb products were being shipped to food banks in Appalachia.

“I’ll try that bunless burger once. I might even try it twice,” Balzer said. “But boy, that ketchup just doesn’t stay on lettuce like it does on bread.”

People who watch diet trends say there’s a lull right now — what Dr. Christine Gerbstadt of the American Dietetic Association calls a “slump in diet trends.” Thus, new strategies are flourishing.

From South Beach to volumetrics

Low-carb might be waning, but no one should write its obituary just yet. About 2 percent of adults remain on a low-carb regimen, according to NPD. And The New York Times best seller list still includes “The South Beach Diet.” That diet, which limits high-sugar carbs like white bread, has celebrity sizzle thanks to adherents like President Clinton.

On Amazon, the No. 18 book Tuesday was “The 3-Hour Diet” from Jorge Cruise, who recommends timing meals and snacks to lose weight. Also popular is “volumetrics,” which promotes eating filling foods with fewer calories, like fruits and brown rice. Bookstore shelves are loaded with celebrity-endorsed diet plans like “Suzanne Somers’ Slim and Sexy Forever.”

Put it all together, and the advice can seem like a muddle. Nutritionists and fitness experts still stress a good way to keep weight off is to eat less and exercise more. Many point to recent government dietary guidelines, which emphasize fruits, vegetables and whole grains — and watching calories.

“There’ll always be some weird thing about eating four grapes before you go to bed, or drinking a special tea, or buying this little bean from El Salvador,” said fitness guru Richard Simmons, who struggled with a series of fad diets as a portly youngster.

“If you watch your portions and you have a good attitude and you work out every day you’ll live longer, feel better and look terrific,” he said.

Regardless, Simmons agrees it’s only a matter of time before a new diet trend takes hold.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we bounce back to another version of low-fat, which we had in the ’80s,” said Prevention magazine deputy editor Amy O’Connor.

O’Connor also sees a future for diets based on the glycemic index, a rating of how quickly carbohydrates are digested and rush into the bloodstream as sugar.

Balzer notes whole-wheat foods are making gains and trans-fat is a rising concern.

Ruth Kava, director of nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health, figures it might be something like a high-protein diet.

“Somebody will come up with something new,” she said. “There’s a lot of creativity out there in Diet World.