The Atkins diet was created in 1972 by cardiologist Dr. Robert C. Atkins when he published the book Atkins’ Diet Revolution to publicize his research on low-carb dieting. The idea behind the Atkins diet is to help your body switch from burning carbs to burning fat for energy. When you consume only a very limited number of carbohydrates your body is forced to switch into fat-burning mode. This means it will be using dietary fat as well as stored body fat for fuel. This metabolic state is known as ketosis. The exact amount of carbohydrate restriction needed to reach this point varies from person to person, but it’s generally recommended to cut carbohydrates to between 20 and 40 grams a day (for reference, 20 grams is the equivalent of 2 slices of bread or ¾ cup of almonds). You will also need to be mindful about your protein intake. The body can convert protein into glucose (aka. sugar) so it must also be moderately restricted in order to enter ketosis.
The Atkins Diet consists of two different plans: Atkins 20 and Atkins 40. Atkins 20 is for those who have a greater amount of weight to lose (40 pounds or more), are prediabetic or are diabetic. This plan restricts carbohydrates to only 20 grams a day during the first few weeks of dieting and, therefore, is a little more limiting in the food options available. Atkins 40 is for those who have less than 40 pounds to lose or for those who need a little more variety in their diet. Despite slight differences in the foods available to you during the first two weeks, the Atkins 20 and Atkins 40 plans functions in the same way. Each consists of 3 phases.
You limit your carbohydrate intake to 20 or 40 grams a day for two weeks. It usually takes 2 weeks of low-carb eating for the body to switch into ketosis, which is why the introductory phase is 14 days long. During this time period you will be eating lots of fat, fatty protein, and low carb veggies (think spinach, kale, broccoli, radishes, and cucumber, salmon, eggs, and avocados).
After you have switched into fat burning mode, you transition into Phase 2 (Balancing). During this next phase, you slightly increase your carbohydrate intake by adding in small amounts of nuts and fruit. The goal is to increase the variety of your diet while maintaining ketosis and continuing to lose weight. Since you are adding carbs back into the diet, your portion sizes will have to decrease slightly for you continue to shed pounds.
When you are about 10 pounds from your goal weight you can transition into Phase 3 (Fine-Tuning). During this phase, you add in even more carbohydrates, but still not enough to promote weight gain. For example, you may now add the occasional sweet potato or squash into your diet.
Once your weight has plateaued, you enter the maintenance phase. At this point you will have to take note of how often you are incorporating carbs into your diet because this is probably the maximum amount that you can consume without leaving ketosis and potentially promoting weight gain. Proponents of the Atkins diet say this is how you should eat for life in order to maintain a stable weight. At this point in time, your diet will be varied enough to include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, low-carb veggies, occasional starchy vegetables (such as turnips, carrots, and sweet potatoes), limited amounts of high sugar fruits (such as bananas and grapes), and legumes.
During Phase 1, Atkins recommends taking a multivitamin while your selection of foods is fairly limited. He suggests an extra strong dose of vitamins B and C to help reduce tiredness, as well as magnesium and potassium to help mitigate flu-like symptoms that sometimes manifest during the transition to a ketosis. Additionally, he recommends potentially taking selenium, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, bioflavonoids, and antioxidants such as vitamin A, C, and E. All of these help support detoxification – something that is particularly important if you are burning fat (the body’s storage site for toxins). And finally, he recommends taking L-carnitine to increase fat-burning and support the transition to ketosis.
During Phase 2 and 3, you can reduce the number of vitamins you are taking since your food options will be more varied. That being said, if you are still experiencing tiredness or sugar cravings, Atkins recommends that you continue to take the supplements from Phase 1. Additionally, some dieters find that a fiber supplement is useful at this stage to combat constipation that can sometimes occur after a few weeks of being on the Atkins Diet. And lastly, Dr. Atkins recommends taking an omega 3,6,9 oil capsule to promote overall heart health.
By Phase 4 Dr. Atkins says you should be well adjusted to your low carb lifestyle and most likely won’t need to take any supplements, unless any of the specific issues mentioned above persist.
An extensive amount of research has reviewed the Atkins Diet. Generally, research seems to indicate that low carb diets, such as the Atkins Diet, are superior when it comes to quick weight loss (low carb diets have a strong diuretic effect and promote the loss of water weight), but in the long-run these diets do not seem to produce significantly better results than calorie restricted or low fat diets. Below are two examples of studies demonstrating these results.
In 2006 The British Medical Journal conducted a study reviewing the effectiveness of the Atkins Diet, the Slim-Fast plan, Weight Watchers, and Rosemary Conley’s Eat Yourself Slim Diet plan. Researchers found that the Atkins diet resulted in significantly more weight loss during the first 4 weeks, but over a period of 6 months didn’t prove to be more or less effective than the other diets.
A 2006 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine compared the effectiveness of low carb versus low fat diets. In their review, researchers found that those on an Atkins-like diet had lost more weight at 6 months, but by 12 months the difference between the two groups was negligible.
Research demonstrates that the Atkins diet is very effective at promoting weight loss. Additionally, it emphasizes whole foods and doesn’t require dieters to rely on specific packaged foods or “diet” products. This gives you the freedom to choose which foods to eat and allows you to tailor the diet to your lifestyle. You can even go out to eat as long as you stick to low carb foods! The Atkins diet is great for those who don’t want a diet that feels overly structured. Other than the limitation on carbs there is no calorie counting and very little restriction. It’s also free. There are no membership fees and no necessary products to purchase.
For most people, it requires big changes in eating style- especially during Phase 1. For some people, the 20-40 grams carbs limit per day can be too challenging. Additionally, you may experience fatigue, bad breath, and headaches. It can also be more challenging to follow the Atkins diet if you are vegan or vegetarian since plant-based protein sources are generally also high in carbohydrates. And lastly, the long-term impacts on health are questionable. If you aren’t good about consuming plenty of low carb veggies, the focus on fat and protein could lead to nutrient deficiencies. Furthermore, some studies have suggested that the saturated fat found in meat and dairy could increase your risk of coronary heart disease.
The Atkins diet often leads to substantial short term weight loss, but because it is challenging to eat a low carb lifestyle long term, many dieters end up re-graining the weight they lost.
When you are limiting your carbohydrate intake, it’s hard to satisfy your sweet tooth. Furthermore, total deprivation could lead you to binge on sweets when faced with temptation. MealEnders can help you out here. One MealEnder has only 2 grams of carbs.
Purchasing the book is the best way to learn everything you need to know about the Atkins diet. If you aren’t sure you want to commit, then check out their website.