What is the Atkins Diet?
The Atkins Diet is a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for weight loss and maintenance as well as good health. The diet strictly limits some foods, while allowing other foods that many other weight loss diets ban. For example, you cannot eat any refined sugar, milk, white rice, or white flour, but you can eat plenty of meat, eggs, butter, and cheese.
You eat mostly protein and fat, with a limited amount of high quality carbs. The diet is highly structured, especially in the initial phases. Claims for the diet include weight loss without hunger, improved heart health, and better memory.
The Atkins Diet is based on the theory that people who are overweight eat too many carbohydrates. Too many carbs causes the body to store the extra sugar as fat. When you cut down on carbs your body burns its stores of fat for energy—instead of burning carbs. Plus, an excess of carbs can cause spikes in blood sugar, which makes you hungry and gives you the urge to splurge on foods that are not good for us.
What the Atkins Diet Costs
You can follow the Atkins Diet from the information on the website or from the revised edition of Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, which retails for under $25.00. The Atkins Diet has a product line that includes low-carb snack bars and shakes, breakfast bars, low-sugar candy bars, baking mix, and pasta. However, you do not have to buy the prepackaged Atkins foods to participate in this diet. You can buy all your food at local grocery stores; the cost may be more than you are used to paying because high quality proteins and oils are expensive.
How the Atkins Diet Works
The Atkins Diet has three phases.
Phase 1 is called Induction. You give your diet a kick-start in this phase, switching your body from burning carbs to burning fat. You can expect to lose up to fifteen pounds during Induction, which lasts at least two weeks and as long as several months. You need to lose at least two pounds before moving on to Phase 2. During Phase 1 you:
- Eat three regular meals or four or five smaller meals every day, not going more than six hours without a meal.
- Eat at least four ounces of protein at every meal.
- Eat no more than 20 grams of carbs a day, which equates to about six cups of loosely packed salad greens and two cups of cooked vegetables. Not all vegetables are allowed—only the non-starchy ones.
- Eat mostly proteins and fat: fish, poultry, meat, and eggs, cheese.
- Follow a very specific list of what you can eat and how much of it you can eat.
- Follow a list of guidelines exactly.
Phase 2, Ongoing Weight Loss, is the time to add more carbohydrates and different foods back into your diet. This is the time to find out how many carbs you can eat and still lose weight.
Phase 3 is Pre-Maintenance. When you are ten pounds away you’re your weight goal, you keep adding carbs and losing more weight. You can eat whole grains and more fruits and vegetables. This is a time of slow weight loss; it may take several months to lose that last ten pounds.
Phase 4, Lifetime Maintenance, happens when you have reached your weight goal. By this point you know what foods–and how much of them—you can eat to maintain your desired weight. You limit carbs to less than 90 grams per day, which is about one-third of what most people consume. This is your diet for life.
You can use a number of free interactive online tools to support your diet, including:
- Meal plans
- Online community
- Carb counter
- Recipe database
- Online courses
- Weight and carb tracking programs
- Nutritionist’s blog
- Weight loss forum
Benefits of the Atkins Diet
The quick loss of weight in the induction phases may encourage dieters to stick to the diet.
The diet eliminates most processed foods and alcohol. For most people the diet results in a decrease in daily caloric intake.
Because of the emphasis on red meat and fats, the Atkins Diet tends to be more attractive to men than many other weight loss diets.
The Atkins Diet website is very informative and provides a number of useful tools.
Concerns about the Atkins Diet
The long-term health effects of the Atkins Diet, as well as the diet’s effectiveness for weight loss, have not been scientifically proven.
Depending on the food choices dieters make, a low carb diet like the Atkins Diet can be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
Possible side effects include ketosis, a state that occurs when the body burns fats. Ketosis can cause fatigue, dizziness, nausea, irritability, dehydration, insomnia, and bad breath.
The high intake of protein could result in kidney problems or osteoporosis. The lack of adequate fruits and vegetables can create a deficiency of antioxidants, which could in turn contribute to heart disease, premature aging, cancer, and cataracts. Limiting fruits and vegetables limits fiber, which can create problems in the gastrointestinal system, particularly constipation
The Atkins Diet is not suitable for vegetables.
Exercise is not a significant part of the Atkins Diet.
Talk to Your Doctor
The Atkins Diet is controversial. Research has yet to prove that low carb diets burn fat better than other diets. The long-term health effects of low carb diets—both benefits and risks—are not known.
Your healthcare provider can evaluate the Atkins Diet in light of your individual health and weight issues. He or she can determine if the Atkins Diet is a safe and effective diet for you.
If you decide to participate in the Atkins Diet, be sure to consult with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns while you are on the diet.