Skip to comments.The Bull About the Beef - Has the Atkins diet really transformed the American economy?
Posted on 09/15/2003 6:12:23 PM PDT by SamAdams76
When Unilever PLC, the British food giant that owns Slim-Fast Foods, announced in July that U.S. profits had dropped 23 percent, it quickly pointed an accusing finger at the Atkins diet, the trendy weight-loss plan high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Atkins, Unilever's chairman explained, has set off shock waves in consumption that have cut Slim-Fast's profits, and there's no way to fight a fad.
Suddenly, Wall Street is blaming the diet craze for all sorts of economic upheavals, and the deafening buzz is almost enough to drown out economic sense. Time, the Economist, USA Today, and countless media outletsmarveling at the idea of slimming pork chops and heavy creamhave touted the commercial impact of the Atkins plan. The diet has been blamed for falling wheat prices and booming beef sales.
But is there really an Atkins economy?
Three months ago, the British Federation of Bakers made headlines when it announced that bread sales have declined 2 percent per year since Dr. Atkins' book was re-released in 1997. Wheat consumption has dropped from 147 pounds per person to 139 pounds in the past six years. And in May, the Tortilla Industry Association held a high-profile seminar titled "An Industry in Crisis: The High-Protein, Low-Carb Diet and Its Effects on the Tortilla Industry."
Atkins-friendly foods, on the other hand, are booming. News reports have credited Atkins for an increase in U.S. beef sales in 12 of the past 14 quarters. Prices on cattle futures have climbed from 65 cents per pound in 2001 to 82 cents per pound today (suggesting the beef market has grown by $3 billion in 3 years). Consumption of bacon and eggs are at 10-year highs. Beef jerky sales are up more than 40 percent in the past two years, and pork-rinds have tripled their market share to $496 million per year.
Entrepreneurs are rushing to join the party. Atkins Nutritionals Inc., the food company started by Atkins before his death this year, sold $100 million worth of 90 low-carb products last year. Weight Watchers is introducing a low-carb pasta. Michelob hawks its new beer Ultra with the slogan, "Lose the carbs. Not the taste." (Michelob refuses to specify how the beer is selling but says it has "exceeded expectations.") And in California, New York, and, improbably, Texas, you can get freshly prepared Atkins meals delivered hot to your door. No one can specify the size of the Atkins market, but experts estimate it's at least $1 billion per year.
"It's rare that a diet will have an impact on national trends," said Harry Balzer, the author of the annual Eating Patterns in America. "Atkins is the exception."
But Atkins is winning more credit than it deserves, say economists. It's an example of how media excitement about a cultural trend leads to misinterpretation of an economic trend.
The evidence most commonly cited to prove the Atkins diet is roiling the economy is a study by the Natural Marketing Institute that claims 25.4 million Americans12 percent of the adult populationhave tried the Atkins diet. But those numbers deserve a little skepticism. NMI's executive project director, Joe Marra, said the company doesn't specifically ask about the Atkins diet. Rather, under the methodology used by NMI in its survey of 2,000 families, anyone who forgoes bread for a few days in an attempt to lose a few pounds is considered an Atkins dieter.
But almost everyone else, including experts from the consumer information giant NPD Foodworld, pegs the number of Atkins dieters at closer to 3 percent of the nation's adult populationabout 6 million peoplebased on statistical sampling.
The Research Institute on Livestock Pricing reports that the average American per-capita consumption of beef has increased 1.8 pounds per year since 1997another 525 million pounds per year. If the 6 million Atkins dieters are consuming all that additional beef, then they are eating 87.5 pounds more meat per year than they previously did, which would mean they're now eating steak and burgers at every meal except breakfast. And that's just beef. Pork, chicken, eggsif all the increases in Atkins-friendly foods are due to Atkins dieters, it's a wonder anyone has lost weight: They would have to be eating almost nonstop. (And those who note the surge in Atkins-friendly food tend to ignore an equally vigorous countertrend: Sales of Krispy Kreme donuts grew an amazing 25 percent last year, to $492 million, with cookies, potato chips, and other Atkins-verboten products following suit.)
So, why the increase in demand for beef, pork, and chicken? Atkins probably plays a small part, but it may have much more to do with everyday economics than any fad diet. Convenience, more than anything else, is what drives consumer trends, say experts. "Time is of the essence," said Balzer. "The trend in the last 15 years has been towards more convenient options. Cereal bars, toaster pastries, frozen breakfast sandwichesthat's where the growth has been."
"Today's family has two working parents," said Wayne Purcell, professor of agricultural and applied economics at Virginia Tech.* "They want something easy to prepare, and the meat industry is finally providing that."
Meat is suddenly convenient. Beef Magazine reported that last year more than 500 new "beef convenience" products were launched, and sales of frozen and heat-and-serve beef have hit $1.5 billion, up from virtually nothing a decade ago. For the first time beef is transitioning from a commodity to a branded product, with quality improving as a result. "Ten years ago people just bought steak, and it might be pretty tough," said Purcell. "Now they buy Omaha Steaks filet mignon, ready to heat up in minutes. Companies are putting out much better meat in order to compete."
But if the Atkins diet is supposed to help America lose weight, the push for convenience has the opposite effect. Economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research and University of Chicago persuasively argue that one of the biggest reasons for the nation's current obesity epidemic is that food is now so much cheaper and easier to prepare. "Forty percent of the recent growth in weight seems to be due to agricultural innovation that has lowered food prices," write Darius Lakdawalla of the RAND Corp. and Tomas Philipson of the University of Chicago.
It's simple supply and demand: When supply becomes more prevalent, demand is easier to satisfy. We're not eating more steak because of the Atkins diet, they say. We're eating more, simply because we can.
I was a skeptic of this way of eating until about the end of March when I finally got disgusted with myself for getting fatter and fatter year after year even though I became much more careful about what I ate.
The food pyramid was killing me but I just didn't know it at the time. I dutifully ate the 6-11 servings of grains a day and thought I was making wise health choices by eating tons of bagels, glass after glass of orange juice, heaping plates of pasta, rice, potatos and so on.
But I kept getting fatter and fatter. On April 1st of this year (No April Fooling), I weighed a tad over 300 pounds. It was out of control and getting ridiculous. My waist size 48 pants were now too tight on me and I was starting to get the 3XL shirts and the inevitable "elastic waistband" trousers.
So in early April, I decided to go "normal-carb." Now this wasn't the Atkins plan but something very similar. I cut my carbs down to under 100g a day (the average American eats 425g a day and I was easily having over 600g a day). I eliminated all processed foods from my diet and started buying only from the outside perimeter of the supermarket (meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, yogurt, nuts, berries). No more refined sugar. No more white flour. No more juices or snack foods. Just good plain food in its natural form.
The weight immediately started coming off. I was amazed. This normal-carbing really does work! Suddenly I was 285, then 280, then 275, and then people started noticing. My pants were falling down around my ankles. I was cutting new notches in my belt. My face started losing it's "double chins."
By the end of June, I was down to 260 and there was no turning back then. I started shrinking out of my clothes so fast that sometimes I didn't even get a chance to wear them. Let's just say that I made the people at Goodwill very happy this summer.
Last Sunday I was at 220 and I now wear size 38 trousers - soon going down to a size 36. Eventually, I will be at about 185 pounds and a waist size of 34.
This normal carbing works. Just to prove it, I will post the following pics of myself, something I never thought I'd do on this forum:
This is me about a year ago last September with my sons Brian and Christopher. This is in front of Nathaniel Hawthorne's house near the North Bridge in Concord. At the time, I was in the neighborhood of 285-290 pounds and I remember that day well. I was hot, tired and hungry. Right after this picture was taken, we stopped at an ice cream stand and I had a huge ice cream sundae. A few months later, I would be at 300 pounds.
This picture was taken about three weeks ago during a fishing trip as we were approaching Gloucester Harbor. I had a vigorous 5 mile walk that morning and I am just full of energy in this picture. I was down to 228 pounds that morning and has just gotten down to a waist size 38 (10 inches less than it was before). I am already almost 10 pounds less than that today.
I have been leaning towards "Power of 10" which is based on weight lifting (slow motion), low carb (lots of water), and rest.
Can you recommend a book/plan?
Of course I am fairly active
I have documented what I have done, keeping a logsheet of all my foods eaten and exercise. I might put a website together using that information and who knows, I might be the author of a diet book myself someday.
In a nutshell, this is what works for me: I get up at 5AM every morning and walk for at least one hour (more when I can). I then have a good breakfast of eggs and bacon (lately yogurt instead of bacon) to start my metabolism. If I am hungry, I'll have nuts and berries too.
At lunchtime, I have a very light lunch, usually have a tin of sardines in olive oil or a hunk of cheese and then I walk again. Usually for at least 45 minutes. (Sardines are great for lunch because you can pack them on the road - just don't forget the plastic spoon to eat them with.)
Dinner is usually 8-12 ounces of meat or fish with vegetables dripping with olive oil and sometimes butter. Olive oil has become a real mainstay of my diet, by the way. I have at least 2-3 tablespoons a day.
For snacks I will have nuts or cheese. Nuts can be smoked almonds, pistachios, cashews, macadamias or peanuts. Never more than an ounce or two a day however. Cheese is usually in 2oz cubes. I cut it that way as soon as I get home from the supermarket and wrap it up. Once in a while, I'll have beef jerky for a snack but I'm trying to wean myself off it because it does contain some sugar.
That's pretty much it. I drink at least 72oz of spring water a day. And I have tea flavored with Splenda usually in the morning. I used to be a coffee drinker but since getting up at 5AM every day, I no longer need it and find that I prefer hot tea. Then I have a beer or two (or wine) at night. That's sort of a bad habit (drinking it at night) but so far it doesn't seem to have impeded my weight loss efforts.
After dinner, I have absolutely no food at all until after my morning walk.
Absolutely. I really started noticing this in the summer (after about 3 months on the diet). I found myself clearing my desk at work in no time at all and making much quicker decisions. By early afternoon, I'm often out of stuff to do! I'm normally an avid reader but this past summer, I took it to a new level. I read some 15 books over the summer (not including the diet books that I devoured in the spring) and I have both papers read in the morning before I even go to work (and after my morning walk).
My energy level with this plan is enormous. Even though I get up at 5AM, I still go to bed around 10 to 10:30. But once I go to bed, I'm out like a light. No more problems with insomnia. In fact, I have had the most vivid dreams. I really should start recording them.
BTW, I just turned 41. But six months ago, I could have easily passed for 50. But I felt even older than I looked. This past summer was probably the best summer of my adult life. I was doing things this summer that I haven't done since I was a young man. Such as pulling myself out of built-in swimming pools without using steps or a ladder, climbing trees and rocks and flat-out running. In fact, I tire out kids with no problem. Many of them just can't keep up with me.