Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kimkins: The Perfect Storm, Part 3

What happens when a deceitful, disordered person promotes effective but defective diet plans which then grow into a dynamic but dysfunctional business?

That confluence forms the perfect recipe for disaster.

The ingredients?
The person, Kimmer/Heidi Diaz
The professional practices of Kimkins
The plans of Kimkins
The plan behind the plans at Kimkins
The people of Kimkins

Now, a look at the diet plans of Kimkins.


Kimmer is on record as saying that she initially lost weight as a 16 year-old single welfare mom by following Dr. Stillman's Quick Weight Loss Diet. This was known as the most severe and strict ketogenic diet possible - until Kimkins came along. The Stillman QWL diet promised and delivered quick weight loss, but had some associated health risks related to rapid weight loss. Though weight loss was fast, Stillman's was not considered a good diet to follow long-term, and maintenance was often problematic

Kimmer may have proven that true, as she has reported that her weight fluctuated up and down over the years, mostly up. She has also reported early diagnosis of thyroid problems. Still, weight regain and yo-yo dieting are common enough, and many of us have been there, and can understand those struggles.

About seven years ago, she joined Low Carb Friends, where it seems she initially followed some form of Dr. Atkins 1972 diet, as her FitDay entries and the recipes she later posted at the Kimkins site would seem to indicate. During this process, she also posted about multiple, lengthy fasting experiments, citing the medically-supervised fasts of Dr, Joel Fuhrman. Before too long, she claimed amazingly fast weight loss results, 198 lbs. gone in 11 months, though she offered no proof, and her published weight statements at the time do not seem to bear out her claims. Certainly, her own FitDay menus and recipes were more generous than what the Kimkins diet was later to become, and she seemed to rely on fasting for much of her 'loss', and for her claimed 'success' in maintenance. Nevertheless, she freely promoted her expertise with great certainty, and began to be sought as a diet guru by desperate dieters there. As her audience grew, she began recommending lower and lower fat and calories, so that others could lose as quickly as she had claimed to do. She took the low-fat cheese out of Stillman's, almost all fat, fatty meats, and dairy out of Atkins, and dropped their advice about water, exercise, supplements, multiple meals a day, and stepping up to maintenance in stages, among other things. Along the way, her personal tweaks and combinations of Stillman's and Atkins was dubbed Kimkins, and a diet disaster was spawned.

The Appeal of the Plans

Let's face it - most overweight people struggle with weight loss, because it is just plain hard, and sometimes seems almost impossible. Perhaps only one who has been seriously overweight for some time can understand just how helpless and hopeless that feels. Kimmer offered herself as a shining example of 'one of us' who found the magic secret, the keys to the kingdom, the holy grail of weight loss, and would share these mysteries with those would follow 'Kimmer's way'. It seemed too good to be true, as many who followed Kimkins were elated with amazingly fast losses. Seeing pounds drop quickly is a powerful incentive, both to stick to the diet, and to defend it against any detractors. It can be tremendously appealing and empowering.

However, things that seem too good to be true, usually are. Regrettably, Kimkins has dangerous side that sometimes shows up early on, but often not until much later, after the damage has been done. Now that the diet has been popular for a while and been followed by a larger population, health problems are beginning to appear more and more, and it remains to be seen what the full impact of the diet will eventually be.

The Problems with the Plans

Kimmer began with recognized diets designed and tested by MDs, who wrote complete books full of solid information and explanations, including precautions and safeguards, documented by peer-reviewed studies and years of clinical practices with many thousands of patients. That basis was sound, had it been left at that. The problems came in when she began to twist and tweak and push the diets past responsible limits and strip them of their safety rails. Though she tried to claim the Kimkins plans were safe and medically-approved because they were 'based on' diets originally developed by doctors, her changes made that no longer true. Her claim to be the prime 'test case' for the efficacy of her own plans has turned out to be horribly false. Now that a sufficiently large population sample has paid for the 'privilege' of being Kimkins 'guinea pigs' for a sufficient period of time, the harmful flaws in the diets are starting to show up with alarming effects.

~ The original Kimkins is a stripped-down, low-fat version of Atkins.
~ Kimmer's Experiment (K/E) is a stripped-down version of Stillman's.
~ Boot Camp is Kimkins (or K/E) with even lower fat and very strict portion control, plus required exercise. It was was based on a fictitious 'success story' which has since been removed.
~ The Shake Option, added after protein shakes became favored by some of the members, was based on liquid protein-sparing modifed-fasting programs like MediFast.
~ The Vegetarian Option was simply adapted to appeal to that segment of the market.

All Kimkins plans as written are low carb, which gave them an air of legitimacy to many low-carbers. Responsible low-carb diets usually work very well for better health and well-being, reduced cravings, and good weight loss. Many who found Kimkins their entry into low-carb dieting have been thrilled with the benefits of low-carb eating. Many give Kimkins credit for results that rightly derive from Atkins.

In addition, despite recent disavowals to the contrary, all Kimkins plans are written and intended to be very low fat,which at first seems to make sense by common diet sensibilities. However, as I have heard so many reports of people having such severe side effects, I have researched more, and found that the combination of low-carb with very low-fat turns out NOT to be healthy after all. It leaves little for fuel or nourishment except lean protein, a condition long documented as "rabbit starvation", which is a "form of acute malnutrition caused by excess consumption of rabbit meat (and possibly other lean meats) coupled with a lack of other sources of nutrients. Symptoms include diarrhea, headache, lassitude, a vague discomfort and hunger that can only be satisfied by consumption of fat or carbohydrates." It can also contribute to something called hyperammonemia, with symptoms such as dehydration, lethargy and weakness, severe loss of appetite, even to the point of nausea, vomiting and anorexia. (SNATT, anyone?)

Kimmer has repeatedly stated that the plans as written are meant to be only moderate protein, thus effectively limiting even the main source of food allowed --- lean protein.

Thus, the overall inevitable effect of all Kimkins variations, as written, is that Kimkins is first and foremost a very-low-calorie diet (VLCD), with all the thoroughly well-documented harms associated with VLCDs. Though recently Kimkins staff and members have tried to downplay and even revise the very low-calorie aspects of Kimkins due to public pressure and threat of legal charges, there is absolutely no denying that the plans, as written, have always promoted and even required very low calorie consumption. Kimmer is well-documented in hundreds of places, at LCF, on the Kimkins site, in her newsletters and blog articles, PMs, and emails, recommending a calorie consumption of 500-600 calories or less daily. Even today, the Kimkins Vegetarian option has a top limit of 1000 calories, and Kimmer is on record as saying that it is the slowest of all Kimkins plans, because the calories are higher than the other options allow. For a long time, Kimmer promoted the Boot Camp menu as the ideal thing to follow, at 500 - 600 calories, and said the shake option, properly done with only 3 or 4 protein shakes would come in even faster than that.

While current studies seem to promise benefit from mild calorie restriction, many decades of ample scientific research consistently find severe consequences from VLCD programs. Read sources of VLCD research, including here for more details and documentation of effects such as: weakness, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, dry skin, severe hair loss, menstrual changes, intolerance to cold, sagging skin, gout, gallstones, osteoporosis, 22 - 25% reduction in metabolic rate, severely diminished thyroid function, and cardiac disturbances up to and including sudden death due to "ventricular arrhythmia after prolonged use (median 5 months) of very low calorie weight reduction regimens consisting entirely or largely of protein".

In addition, those on VLCD programs are much more apt to develop eating disorders, and are especially prone to binge eating. Furthermore, they do not fare well in maintenance. Research recommendations are that VLCDs should be followed for no more than 4 weeks at a time, with 2 month intervals in between, with extensive nutritional supplementation, and under close and careful medical supervision including cardiological monitoring before, during, and after the diet.

All that is a very far cry from an unqualified and unsuccessful dieter giving a brief list of vague guidelines, a food list, and a forum where untrained members give each other their opinions and advice.

Any recent attempts to scrub the site of foolish advice, to add disclaimers, to lay off the laxative and SNATT talk, to increase calories or to 'cycle' a week of Kimkins with a week of 'something else' is merely a belated attempt to protect Kimmer, not the members. Too many people have very clear proof of her hurtful insistence to cut lower and lower all the time, and to refuse to even consider changing her advice in any way, even in the face of pleading from her previous staff concerned about documented health problems of members. When it only affected others, she refused to even acknowledge the possibility she could be wrong; when she finally realized it would have repercussions for her, suddenly the plans began to change overnight. If they were so right and safe before, why change them now? Changing them now is an admission that they were unsafe and medically indefensible before. If Kimkins is how Kimmer 'lost weight', and "there is no faster diet, none", then what will be the Kimkins claim to fame when it is selling Atkins?

And what will be the fallout when those who once trusted her diet and were so thrilled to lose weight quickly later find that she used and misused us, at the expense of our health? Will we be glad we got the weight off in 6 months instead of a year or so, when our hair and skin and bones and muscle are thinning and aging rapidly, and when our thyroid function and metabolism has slowed to such a crawl that we cannot keep the weight off with any kind of reasonable diet? If we find ourselves disordered in our thinking about eating, like so many other ex-Kimkins dieters have been experiencing, swinging from binging to restricting and back again, will it matter then that Kimmer didn't know what she was talking about, and never could get it to work for herself, either? Will we realize then why she didn't provide an adequate ebook with solid science and strategies, or a maintenance plan that wasn't essentially yo-yo dieting? The VLCD-induced euphoria of rapid weight loss will be wiped out in a moment if we develop heart damage.

Bear this in mind: the very best parts of Kimkins come from Atkins or similar low-carb plans. We might not lose as fast that way, perhaps, but we can lose safely and with more satisfaction, avoiding damage and complications down the line.

Admittedly, some of us already have lower metabolic rates or thyroid issues, and do need to watch calories as well as carbs, as Dr. Atkins said. (Reminding the low-carb community of this may be Kimmer's one positive contribution.) Atkins' books, as well as others, show how to do that safely. The exact number of calories any of us needs to lose safely and successfully may vary from person to person, but still, we all do have a number, a basal metabolic rate, that we cannot drop below for long without negative consequences. We only fool ourselves if we think we have found the magic formula for weight loss that lets us circumvent the body's defenses and get away with it.

Kimmer has said repeatedly that there is nothing about adding fats that would be healthier. That is completely false! Essential fatty acids are just that --- essential --- and MUST come from the diet, not from stored body fat, or our health will certainly suffer.

Kimmer has said repeatedly that we don't need any certain level of calories if we are still overweight. That is also completely false, as literally scores of good peer-reviewed research findings prove time and again! The harmful effects of VLCD plans cited above were studied in overweight and obese patients who restricted calorie to 800 or lower, even with good nutrient sources and medical monitoring.

Kimmer has said repeatedly that eating disorders are a matter of the mind and emotions, not the body, and that eating low calories does not in any way equate to eating disorders. Once again, that is completely false! We are getting new reliable reports every day of ex-Kimkins members struggling with the effects of eating disorders. It may be that Kimkins attracts a high proportion of predisposed individuals, but many of these are people who never had eating disorders before Kimkins. These are women who trusted Kimmer, who bought a diet they thought was safe, who posted on the forums with us, and who now face a devastating struggle with a potentially deadly disorder triggered by their choice of diet.

This is what we need to realize: people with eating disorders suffer ill health, and 20% of them will die from their disorder.

They do not become ill or die from the thoughts in their head, but from their eating behaviors.

SO, even if we do not have the thoughts and emotional patterns of an actual eating disorder, IF WE EAT THE SAME WAY AS PEOPLE WITH ANOREXIA DO, OUR BODIES WILL SUFFER THE EXACT SAME DAMAGE!

This is what people with drastic hair loss and amenorrhea and muscle wasting due to malnutrition, and with thrashed thyroid function, esophageal spasms, and even heart damage are discovering. They were once happy to be losing on Kimkins, too, until their problems started. It often takes a while to show up, and we can expect to see even more of it in the months and possibly years to come.

A Better Plan

If you want to do Kimkins as Kimmer has always intended and promoted it - realize you are playing with fire, and you'll get burned, sooner or later. ALL of the Kimkins plan variations are woefully deficient nutritionally, and some worse than others. Though the rapid weight loss is exciting at the time, many are now wishing they had taken a slower and safer path, having found that after effects simply are not worth it.

If you want to lose weight safely, please follow Atkins or another reliable low-carb method, at as high a calorie and nutrient level as will allow you to lose at the standard and safe rate. Don't even bother to call it Kimkins, because it won't be; Kimmer never built those safety precautions in for you. You need a healthier diet and a healthier support system. You have many options available

I did not follow Kimkins nearly as strictly as many have done, and not nearly as strictly as Kimmer advocated. I felt actually wonderful most of the time, unless my calories and fats went too low, as I have discussed previously. Still, I must admit to having had some 'slight' side effects, the occasional fleeting moments of dizziness or heart palpitation that I chose to dismiss at the time. Near the end, my skin tone and muscle tone suffered, and my hair is coming out at an alarming rate. I hope I have avoided anything worse. It is distressing to realize that how I have eaten and what I have encouraged was just plain wrong. I hope I can help someone avoid my mistakes by speaking up, though I sincerely wish I had learned and realized all this much sooner. I was lied to, as we all have been, and I guess I just wanted so desperately to believe it was true.


rene said...

(((becky)))) thank you for your words. yes, she played on our desperation to believe that it could be true, that there was some magic formula to end our struggles with obesity. she played our hearts and our heads with little regard for our health.

Carol said...

Thank you so much Becky for helping everyone to understand the issues involved in this debacle and being so forthcoming with your own struggles. The damage was not only done to our bodies but also to our minds, in the form of E.D. thinking--fear of food, fat, and calories. It just makes recovery that much more difficult. Thanks for the info. (Kittycat7)

Doggygirl said...

I'm beginning to seriously wonder what psychologically drives Kimmer to "control" people by convincing them to choose starvation. Obviously desparate dieters present an unfortunately "ripe" population for this. But I truly think Kimmer has some very deep psychological problems.

I am so sad for her victims.

Christin said...

"It is distressing to realize that how I have eaten and what I have encouraged was just plain wrong. I hope I can help someone avoid my mistakes by speaking up, though I sincerely wish I had learned and realized all this much sooner. I was lied to, as we all have been, and I guess I just wanted so desperately to believe it was true."

Oh Becky don't I know this to be all too true... Love you and I only pray that those reading this will understand and hear. ((HUG))

Jess said...

"what Christin said"

Once Upon A Dieter said...

Another clearly presented post without extremism and ringing truthfully.

I hope the remaining Kimkins members read this and flee.

Great series!

The Princess

theTRUTH said...

Thoughtful and intelligent post. Hard to argue with, but they will, I am sure. Can't wait for the next one!

wishbone said...

Well Said!!

Laura said...

Becky, you are a really good writer. Have you considered a career? Thanks for your articulate telling of this sad story.

Cutie said...


Sherrie said...

Great post, I think you came across really well.

Susique said...

xoxox Becky, well said. Im feeling less and less STUPID for falling for a con-artist. My own butt is sore from me kicking myself! How many times did I look at her before and after photo and say "that just isnt right" as I chewed on my little dry piece of lean chicken....grrrrr!

size8jeans said...

Thanks for this. I am thankful I never fell for the Kimkins scam. I was on Atkins and happy with it. I lost weight - slowly, but it did come off. I would never choose starvation or eat less that 1200 calories a day.