The Kimkins Diet Controversy

Kimkins Diet Description and Dangers

raw chicken breasts
On the Kimkins Diet, the vast majority of the calories come from low-fat protein foods. Dorling Kindersley/Getty Imgages

Note: This was initially written at the beginning of August 2007. What started out as a diet review turned into a diet scam news story. To follow the story, keep reading beyond this page. Some things have changed, including the identity of "Kimmer," but I have chosen to leave this page intact rather than revise it, for historical reasons.

I have received quite a few questions about this diet, so I am presenting this information about it.

However, I want to state up front that I am giving out this information specifically to warn people away from this potentially dangerous diet.

What Is Kimkins?

Kimkins is a diet created by a low-carb dieter who goes by the screen name of Kimmer. It is essentially a diet that's very low in calories, fat, carbs and fiber. The diet is partly based on the original Atkins diet (1972 version), hence its name. In 2007, articles mentioning or explaining the Kimkins diet were featured in People and Women's World magazines, which piqued public interest.

Who Is Kimmer?

"Kimmer" has declined to give her real name. She claims to have lost almost 200 pounds in less than a year and kept it off for five years on her diet. However, there is no independent confirmation of this, and she refuses to meet in person for interviews. She is neither a healthcare professional nor a nutrition expert. In fact, in interviews, she seems unaware of the possible nutritional implications of her diet and has dodged questions about basic nutrition, such as essential fatty acids.

What Do People Eat on Kimkins?

Kimkins has several different variations, some of which are as low as 500 calories per day. Lean proteins prepared with minimal fat are the predominant foods. Vegetables are optional, but a day's eating must not total more than 20 grams total carbohydrate -- this means that effective carbs plus fiber must not be more than 20 grams per day.

However, her sample menus have totals much less than this -- at most, about 5 grams effective carbohydrate plus 7 grams fiber. Compare this to Atkins Induction, where 12 to 15 grams effective carbohydrate from vegetables alone is now recommended.

No other foods are on the diet -- no fruit, nuts, milk, etc.

What Are the Potential Problems with Kimkins?

The diet is very low in fiber, essential fatty acids, and many nutrients. This is essentially a starvation diet, which does not contain many of the basics for life, let alone optimal life. A multivitamin and mineral tablet is recommended, but this ignores phytonutrients, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients. In lieu of fiber, or even fiber supplements, Kimmer recommends laxatives, a potentially dangerous practice if taken on a regular basis.

It's very low in calories. Diets that are extremely low in calories do not work in the long run. Eventually, the need for survival takes over and appetite increases. In the meantime, many health problems can result.

Very low-calorie diets should only be undertaken under the close supervision of a physician, if at all. Additionally, much of the weight coming off during such a regimen will not be fat, but muscle and other lean body tissue.

What Is the Controversy around "Kimmer" Herself All About?

In addition to the mysteries about her identity, "Kimmer" has been accused of many practices which have riled people up, including:

  • Banning members (who have paid money) from her website if they disagree with her.
  • Blaming people for not being strict enough if they don't continue to lose weight very quickly (up to a pound per day). People eating only 400 calories per day have reportedly been encouraged to continue.
  • Sheltering people who show signs of eating disorders, and encouraging them to keep going (or at least not intervening with their self-descriptions of eating very little).

Blogs from banned members and people who have suffered health consequences from the diet are popping up all over the Internet.

My Take on Kimkins

Kimkins is certainly a potentially dangerous diet, and I would warn anyone tempted by it to stay away. In addition, "Kimmer's" claims of extensive weight loss maintained for five years with the maintenance diet she has described (in at least one interview) seems extremely unlikely to me. In science, there is a saying: "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof." Beyond short-term weight loss, Kimmer has not produced any proof that her diet has even helped one person -- not even herself.

Further Developments Since Writing This Initial Review

Sept 16, 2007

Since I wrote my review/warning about the Kimkins Diet, there have been further developments, and I have more information about the Kimkins Diet site. I think this is important information for anyone considering the Kimkins Diet approach, so I am faithfully reporting what I have learned.

My Contacts with the Kimkins Company

After my Kimkins review went live at the beginning of August, I was contacted by Christin, the PR person at Kimkins.

It was a request that I remove my article, claiming that it had false statements in it. Also included was an invitation to a free account so that I could look at the Kimkins site for more information. I accepted the invitation, and said that accuracy was very important to me and I was open to revising the article in the face of different information. Christin and I exchanged several emails about both my article and the Kimkins plan. The only real discrepancy in my original review was that I said there was "no milk" allowed. It turns out that there is a snack list which includes a 4 oz serving of Dannon Carb & Sugar Control yogurt (1 per day) and 1 oz part-string cheese per day. However, snacks are not allowed on some of the Kimkins plans.

Christin also wanted to make it clear that Kimmer has never claimed to have formal training or expertise as a health care or nutritional professional.

Otherwise, we went back and forth on many points.

For example, I said the diet was low in fiber. Christin answered with a list of allowed vegetables which are high in fiber. I replied that not very much of those vegetables are allowed - if total carbs, including fiber, can't be over 20 grams per day, that is not going to be much fiber, especially when fiber supplements are required to be included in the 20 grams.

Other points had similar outcomes.

During our correspondence, Christin also admitted that there is no difference in the recommendations for a healthy person in their prime vs an elderly person who's body might have fewer reserves to withstand a low-nutrient and very low calorie diet. I also found out that in general less than 20 grams of carbohydrate are recommended. For example, the vegetarian option, which is stated to be "higher in carbs" is still a maximum of 20 grams. These are just a couple of examples of new things I learned which concerned me regarding the Kimkins Diet. Interestingly, I was to find out that Christin herself was very concerned, and later left the company. But more on that later!...

Simultaneous with all of this, Kimmer asked her members to email me with their weight loss stories, saying I had requested it (not true). I received well over 100 reports of weight loss from Kimkins members as "proof the diet works."

Brief Site Review

Here are some impressions and information I gleaned from my time on the Kimkins Web site:

There are five different Kimkins plans. One is almost all protein - no fats, no vegetables, no cheese, etc. One ("the most popular option") comes out to about 500-600 calories per day. The vegetarian option is limited to 1,000 calories per day. There is a shake option which is 800 calories per day.

The plans are written in a very basic way, and each says to "take a complete multivitamin every day plus other desired supplements." When I asked basic questions about more details of the diet, I was repeatedly referred to various threads on the forums. It's not clear why this wouldn't be on the main part of the site, and all in one place.

The main attraction on the site is the discussion forums. Unfortunately, although there is undeniably a strong and supportive community, people are clearly being encouraged in very extreme eating behaviors, especially very low calorie consumption. There are many examples of people eating only a few hundred calories per day, and being cheered on, or encouraged to go even lower if they aren't losing. I found two long threads called "Egg White Challenge" where members were eating -- you guessed it -- nothing but egg whites.

Another thing that shocked me is that there is a popular catch-phrase among Kimkins followers abbreviated as "SNATT", which is viewed as a desirable state. There are SNATT T-shirts and SNATT mousepads in the online store of the site. What is SNATT? It stands for "semi-nauseous all the time". Why is seen as this good? Because you aren't hungry if you're nauseated. To state the obvious, being nauseated is NOT A GOOD SIGN!! It is your body telling you that something is wrong!

Latest Doings, or 'But Wait, There's More'

In the past two weeks a lot of developments have occurred.

Staff Abandoning Ship

At the beginning of September, three key administrators have left Kimkins, including Christin, the PR person I corresponded with. Christin was also the "success story" whose photos appeared in Woman's World magazine. (This article drew tens of thousands of people to the site.) 

More admins have left Kimkins before and since.  One of the admins, Becky, has detailed her journey in this blog:

Becky's Blog

More Developments, Including Kimmer's Identity

Kimmer Identity Revealed - with Pictures

Although "Kimmer" has stated that she did not wish her identity to be known, and that she uses many pen names, it turns out that her real name is Heidi Kimberly Diaz. After a lot of fact-checking, I am satisfied that this is the case. In addition, a private detective was hired by Heidi's ex-partner to take photos, and someone who reportedly knows her has come forward as well.

It has been shown that Heidi/Kimmer is not the person in the "after" photos which she has circulated. This is one of the photos of Heidi taken by the PI. It is clear that Heidi did not "lose 200 pounds and keep it off for over five years" as she has claimed.

More Accusations

There have been recent reports that money was collected from the Kimkins site for Heidi's foster children, but that according to authorities she has not had foster children for several years. She also may have been involved in other scams.

Lawsuit in the Works

It has recently been revealed that a class-action lawsuit may be pursued against Kimkins. If you are interested, write to kimkinslawsuit@yahoo.com.

Closing Thoughts

I think in some ways we're all looking for a miracle, and any of us can be susceptible to getting caught up in something that looks like it will deliver. But when it comes to your health -- stop, investigate, get more opinions, and pay attention to the signals your body is sending.

And listen to people with experience, such as these brave folks who have stepped forward to try to prevent others from walking into a potentially dangerous situation:

From Christin, ex-Kimkins Public Relations Director, speaking to current Kimkins members:

"It breaks my heart that these people who used to be my friends have now labeled me as an outsider; a "hater." [...]Doesn’t it seem odd that [Kimmer] would not provide me with the medical proof that I asked for?

And I asked not only as a concerned friend, but as the Public Relations representative in order that I might represent what I believed in wholeheartedly. But I was given nothing to stand on. [...] I understand. I was just as disillusioned as you are trying not to be...maybe even more so. I was on the cover of a magazine telling the world of a program which I had assumed to be safe!"

From Becky, Ex-Kimkins Admin, telling her Kimkins story:

"I couldn't help noticing a growing minority who were NOT doing well at all. [...] For many, their moods were poorer, their energy was down, and their weight loss was stalling more and more. Some complained of weakness and dizziness, even fainting. A few reported losing wads of hair. At least one posted that she had to be hospitalized. I saw many more signs of eating disordered thinking and behaviors."

From Julie:

"I had always been leery of laxative abuse but “Kimmer” asserted quite vociferously that there was new research showing that laxative dependency was a myth.

I’m really not stupid. I swear. I went to college, I graduated from law school. Yet still I bought into this crap. So here I am taking laxatives on a daily basis and barely eating. Doing whatever I could to make sure the number on the scale dropped everyday. After all, it must drop everyday. If it doesn’t, then you are doing something wrong."

"I began losing hair at an alarming rate. Now I know hair loss is not uncommon with a large weight loss but it really is at epidemic levels among kimkins members. Along with the hair loss and dizziness, the burst of energy I had in the beginning completely disappeared. I was lethargic and listless with a short attention span and mood swings. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing. I think now that was due to dehydration and mineral loss."

"I don’t necessarily blame “Kimmer” for my stumbling into eating disordered behavior because I made a decision to join the site and go on a diet. Anyone can take any diet and go to extremes. But when I joined kimkins, I did not realize that I was joining a site where eating disordered behavior was encouraged, welcomed, and even celebrated."

From Linda, formerly eating disordered, who found those behaviors triggered by Kimkins:

"I was very, very sick for the last 2 weeks. But I didn't care. I couldn't get out of bed. But I didn't care. I was in such the [anorexia] mind set. I loved it. I felt like I could fly. Is that weird? I must have been slowly dying. I have been a cross-country runner for 20 years, sometimes running 15-20 miles at a time (not counting marathons). While doing kimkins, I could barely run 5 minutes without feeling like I was going to pass out. But I didn't care. I was high. It was a high even better than runners high. I was on top of the world because I wasn't hungry."

From KCRita on the Kimkins Survivors blog:

"My hair fell out. I was SNATT all the time. I experienced leg cramps on almost a daily basis–some so bad I nearly ended up calling 911. I could go days without eating, and I was proud of it (not sure I could call those days KK, tho) Hey, I was THIN! And at my age, that was Amazing! I did not care that I wasn’t giving my body the nutrition it needed to thrive–I was wearing size 4’s for the first time in my life.

October 3-4, 2007: A two-part expose appeared on KTLA television news exploring and denouncing the diet.  Separately, it was found that many of the photos used for the "success" stories on Kimkins.com, including the "after" photo of Kimmer in Woman's World were stolen from "Russian Bride" Web sites.  (No, I'm not kidding, it's absolutely true.)

December 2, 2007 - A television follow-up on KTLA included a confession by Heidi Diaz. This video is no longer available, and neither are the others, though they were up for several years.

Timeline of the Kimkins Diet

2002 - Heidi Diaz, under the screen name "Kimmer", develops her version of a low-carb diet on the Low Carb Friends diet discussion boards. She reports dramatic weight loss. Some people try her diet and discuss it on the boards. This goes on for several years, with a fair amount of controversy.

2006 - Amid much negativity, in June 2006 Heidi left Low Carb Friends and with a partner who later left, founded Kimkins.com, a fee-based Web site.

January 2007 - An issue of People magazine features people who have lost a lot of weight. One of them credits Kimkins along with another diet. This is the beginning of attention to Kimkins from outside the low-carb community.

June 2007 - Woman's World magazine features Kimkins on the cover. At this point, the Kimkins Web site explodes with new members, taking in over a million dollars in the month of June alone.

July 2007 - Controversy in the low carb community outside of Low Carb Friends builds quickly. Heidi does an interview on Jimmy Moore's Livin' La Vida Low Carb Podcast, which brings her further exposure. Inside Low Carb Friends, a dedicated group of members has been working hard for some time to expose Kimkins as a scam and a fraud.

August 2007 - Anti-Kimkins material (mainly blogs) on the net are now spreading like wildfire. People are beginning to report serious side-effects of the diet, and controversy has ramped to a fever-pitch.

Kimkins hires a PR director to help deal with the problems. Behind the scenes, we later learn that key administrators are seriously questioning the diet. This leads to them quitting or being fired in early September.

September 2007 - Kimkins administrators leave, including PR director Christin Sherburne, who later reports many symptoms including chest pains and low heart rate.

A private investigator was hired to determine the true identity of Kimmer, and photos are posted. A lawsuit is organized.

October 2007 - The story is broken on KTLA-TV. Photos are exposed as fraudulent.

Also, as I had a guest membership on Kimkins, I responded when Kimmer posted something false about my review. In that message, I warned members to be careful about their health  I was banned from the forum 10 minutes later.

November 2007 - Heidi Diaz is called for a public deposition where she finally tells the truth about her identity, finances, and her fraudulent claims. Kimkins is discussed on a national morning TV show. Another PR director, who appeared on that show, left Kimkins.

January 2008 - Kimkins on Good Morning America

February 2008 - Women's World Issues an Apology

March 2008 - John Tiedt, Attorney in class action lawsuit, releases report on the depositions of Heidi Diaz.

To this point, the diet is unchanged. There is no minimum recommendation of vegetables, carbs, or even food on most of the Kimkins plans.

If followed to the letter, the option labeled "most popular" would contain less than 600 calories and could be much less. Most worrisome of all is that people would not necessarily know if their bodies were being damaged until it was too late.

March 2016 - The Web site is still up, and the diet appears to be essentially unchanged, although it's hard to tell from the outside.

Final Note:  Assuming that you've read this far, you now know that the Kimkins Diet is not similar to Atkins or any healthy low-carb approach.  If you are interested in how to follow a healthy low-carb diet, check out:

A Low-Carb Food Pyramid

Low-Carb Grocery List

7 Myths About Low-Carb Diets

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