At A Glance
Based on Dr. Robert Atkins’ world famous book, The Diet Revolution & its updated version, The New Diet Revolution, this diet is the classic diet that calls for high protein & a low carb intake.
The Atkins Diet controversially claims that you can lose weight by eating any amount of protein and fat while restricting your carb intake. While on this diet, the main component that makes it work is the severe limitation of carbs, for example, foods like sugar, bread and cereals are totally not allowed.
Here’s How It Works
Dr Atkins’ theory is simple:
The main source of energy our body uses is carbs (glucose). As you drastically reduce the amount of carbs you eat, your body has to look elsewhere for its source of energy. This next energy source will be your stored body fat. Therefore, the restriction of carbs forces your body to burn this stored fat as energy instead. This process is called ketosis.
Secondly, carbs stimulate your body to create insulin. Insulin is what causes excess carbs to be stored as body fat. So in theory, when you take in less carbs, less insulin is produced which means less excess carbs are stored as body fat and also, your blood sugar levels remain more stable throughout the day.
Lastly, since you’re taking in more protein and fat, you’ll feel more full and satisfied and therefore have less hunger pangs.
Like the South Beach Diet, the Atkins Diet has 4 phases:
Phase 1 – Induction
The Induction Phase is the most restrictive phase of the Atkins Diet.
This is because carbs are limited to only 20 grams a day and this forces your body to enter very quickly into a state of ketosis, where calories are burnt at a very fast rate.
Foods allowed in this Phase are generally fatty meat, cheeses and heavy creams. The only carbs allowed in this Phase are green & leafy veggies.
Coffee & alcohol are not allowed in this Phase.
You’ll generally see the most weight loss in this period & there are reports showing people losing about 6 – 8 pounds a week in this Phase. On average, when you’re losing about 1 – 2 pounds a day, you’re in a state of ketosis.
Phase 2 – Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL)
The OWL Phase of the Atkins Diet is when you start to increase your carb intake, but remaining in a state where you’re still losing weight. The target is to increase your carb intake each week by about 5 grams.
On average, people eat between 25 – 50 grams of carbs daily in this Phase. Of course, the amount of carbs that you should be eating in the OWL Phase depends on your own individual metabolic rate.
If you’re realize that you’ve stopped losing weight, simply reduce your carbs again until weight loss resumes.
The main goal of the OWL Phase is to find your “Critical Carbohydrate Level For Losing” – the level where you’ve increased your carb intake but still continue to lose weight.
People normally start the OWL Phase by eating more veggies. For example, maybe you can add a few more stalks of asparagus, some salad or an extra cup of cauliflower. Then slowly, you can start adding some berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries) and maybe some sunflower seeds or macadamia nuts to up your carb levels.
This Phase lasts until your weight is within 10 pounds of your ideal weight.
Phase 3 – Pre Maintenance
In this Phase, your carb intake is increased once again & your goal this time is to find your “Critical Carbohydrate Level For Maintenance”. This is the maximum amount of carbs you can eat in day without gaining any weight.
As you’re increasing your carb intake, Dr. Atkins recommends that you follow the Glycemic Index, which he calls “The Atkins Glycemic Ranking”. The level of carbs in this Phase may well be above the level of carbs needed for ketosis so you’ll not have to remain in a state of ketosis forever.
Phase 4 – Lifetime Maintenance
This Phase is reached when you’ve achieved your ideal body weight. You still eat the amount of carbs that doesn’t cause you to gain weight and hopefully, maintain the habits that you’ve picked up during the first few Phases.
Whole, unprocessed foods are emphasized here and if you start gaining weight, you have the choice to go back to an earlier Phase.
Simple carbs like sugar, bread & starchy foods will always be severely restricted while on this diet.
And What Can I Eat?
As this is a high fat, high protein and low fat diet, there’s no need to cut out foods that you’re used to.
Foods like meat, cream, cheese, mayonnaise, olive oil and other high fat foods are allowed.
High amounts of butter, steak/red meat, fish, eggs and bacon are even encouraged.
However, carbs have to be permanently eliminated – for example, foods like cake, potatoes, pasta, pancakes & pies are not allowed. Even fruits and dairy products are extremely limited.
How About Exercise?
Generally, exercise is not strongly emphasized on the Atkins Diet.
However, Dr, Atkins does recommend walking as an exercise to help lose weight.
To make it easier for dieters, the company founded by Dr. Atkins is offering many pre packaged foods that is suitable for the Atkins Diet. This range of foods is known as the Atkins Advantage. These are all low carb foods packed for your convenience.
Energy bars in various flavors, like Cookies & Cream, are available for example.
Many books, cookbooks & products can also be purchased from them.
As this is one of the more popular diets around, many restaurants have also jumped on the bandwagon – they’re more than happy to serve low carb alternatives like burgers without the bun or steak without potatoes for example.
What’s The Cost Like?
This diet may be more expensive – foods like steak & bacon are definitely more expensive than fruits & veggies.
An analysis done by Forbes magazine found that Atkins is one of the five most expensive diet plans in the study.
Costs of this diet are roughly in line with Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers – although to be more exact, more expensive than Jenny Craig & slightly more expensive than Weight Watchers.
Even then, it found that the Atkins Diet costs about 80% more than a typical American’s typical food expenses.
A contribution to the higher costs would most probably come from the purchase of all those pre packaged convenience foods.
For all meat lovers, this diet may sound too good to be true – all the meat you want and still lose weight?
Well, it has been argued that a low carb diet may be more natural for the human body since carbs (rice, wheat, grains…etc) only became part of our diet at a later evolutionary stage.
Clinical trials also show that dieters following this diet do lose weight. Furthermore, this diet seems to raise HDL cholesterol (the good kind) while lowering triglycerides (the bad kind), thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
However, one controversial issue of this diet is the amount of fat you’re eating since this is a high fat diet. Government health agencies recommend no more than 30% fat in our diet but on Atkins, you’ll easily consume much more than this.
Also ketosis may give you the desired effect of losing weight in the short term, but in the long term? There are views that ketosis is not healthy over the long term as certain organs may be overworked to sustain ketosis.
Does the weight stay off though?
There aren’t any exact numbers to confirm this but there have been studies showing that people on Atkins tend to lose about twice as much weight as compared to a typical high carb, low fat diet recommended by most health organizations.
Furthermore, losing weight on the Atkins Diet doesn’t seem to increase the risk of high cholesterol & heart disease. In fact, cholesterol, triglycerides & blood pressure levels generally improve.
Confirming this is weight loss researcher, Gary Foster, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is surprised that the Atkins Diet is successful at producing weight loss without seeming to raise the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. He recently published a one year study comparing Atkins to other traditional weight loss programs and found that the above to be true…. well, at least at the one year mark. He is therefore working on a longer diet comparison study, this time of five years.
In theory, this diet sounds ideal for meat lovers and haters of veggies… However, you have to ask yourself, how long can you continue to eat a burger without the buns or a nice juicy steak without the potatoes?
This diet may indeed work in helping you lose weight, but nutritionally speaking, a high fat diet loaded with saturated fats doesn’t seem to make much sense in the long term.
If you’re thinking of starting this diet anyway, do read up as much as possible, do extensive research and consult your health professional first.