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Battle of the diet doctors

By GAIL COLLINS

NEW YORK -- The battle between two of the nation's best-selling diet doctors expanded Wednesday when one of the heavyweight authors hit the other with a $5 million libel suit.

Robert Atkins said he served Nathan Pritikin with court papers early Wednesday as the two men left a television studio where they had wrangled before the cameras.

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'I was a gentleman. I waited till the show was over,' Atkins said.

Atkins and Pritikin have been feuding publicly about their respective diets for more than a year. 'I don't really go after him. He goes after me,' Atkins said. 'This is the first time I've seen fit to retaliate.'

Atkins, who held a news conference to announce his suit and promote his own diet, said the libel and slander suit was based on 'a whole series of statements that date back for years.' He said the suit would be filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.

The final straw, Atkins said, was an interview Pritkin gave earlier on WNBC-TV in New York in which the rival diet doctor 'said the Atkins diet causes death, sets you up for heart disease and stroke, creates a state of temporary diabetes and clogs your arteries.'

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Before he was served with the suit, Pritikin tangled with Atkins on the NBC-TV 'Tomorrow' show Wednesday, charging Atkins' diet can cause cancer, heart disease, constipation -- and bad breath.

Atkins denied this, and countered that Pritikin's own low-fat, low-calorie diet was 'marginal' and so boring most people couldn't stick with it.

Atkins allows dieters to eat as much as they want of such foods as lobster, spare ribs, coffee and heavy cream. At his press conference Wednesday, he claimed Pritikin was confusing his diet with high carbohydrate, high-fat regimes. Virtually no carbohydrates -- sugar and starch -- are allowed in the Atkins plan.

Atkins suggested Pritikin 'probably feels that to succeed with his rather ambitious projects he must destroy the credibility of other dietary projects that are in competition with him.'

'The Pritikin empire involves a lot of things -- a longevity institute, lecture series, books,' he said.

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