People have been trying to lose weight ever since they found being heavy was often unhealthy and being slender made them look good naked. A lot of exercise programs and funny-looking tools were invented, many fitness coaches became instant celebrities, and gyms pretty much built an industry. Other than the exercise boom, there was also a lot of research put into knowing what to eat to not only keep you healthy but also prevent you from gaining too much weight.
Scientists experimented with plenty of different types of diets and most of them agreed that in order to lose weight, you have to reduce the number of calories you eat per day. This was (and still is) a good rule to follow. However, one doctor decided to take it upon himself to do more research and found the link between low-carb consumption and weight loss.
The doctor’s name was Robert Atkins. He challenged the science of eating less to reduce weight by advocating the idea that you can lose weight if you just eat right. This gave birth to what we now refer to as the Atkins Diet.
What is the Atkins Diet?
The Atkins Diet is a type of low-carb diet many now use for weight loss. Some say this diet closely mimics that of the popular ketogenic diet, wherein you are restricted to a certain amount of carbs per day, but you have the freedom to choose how much fat or protein you eat as long as you don’t go over the calorie limit. Many say the Atkins diet pioneered the low-carb trend as well as opened the world to the inherent health benefits of a low-carb diet (1).
It all started when Dr. Robert C. Atkins, a popular cardiologist, wrote a best-selling book about the diet in 1972. Far from how it’s viewed today, the diet received criticism and was considered unhealthy by mainstream health authorities. Despite the many forms of criticism the diet initially received, it was soon proven one of the most effective means to lose weight (2).
It may sound like you would end up starving, but it’s far from the truth if you do it right. Yes, it is low in carbs, but you get to eat all the fats and proteins you think your body deserves. While it does closely resemble the ketogenic diet in terms of the food you can and can’t eat and the carb restriction, that’s where the similarities end.
What makes this diet different, and perhaps easier to transition into, is how it’s composed of four phases: Induction, Balancing, Fine Tuning, and Maintenance.
To summarize the four phases:
- In Phase 1, your goal is to be able to eat ONLY 20 grams of carbohydrates. This should be done daily for 2 weeks. Fill yourself up with proteins, fats, and veggies, but make sure you watch for the carbs especially for vegetables.
- Phase 2 should be the stage where you slowly reintroduce a small number of fruits to your diet, some nuts, and low-carbohydrate vegetables.
- For Phase 3, if you are about to reach your planned weight, add a little more carb. This is to help you manage your weight loss or weight gain and keep you within your target range.
- Phase 4 is all about fine-tuning or filtering all the carbs that you put inside your body. You see, not all carbs are bad for you. You just have to learn how to choose and find out what is good for you and then include them in your diet.
How Does the Atkins Diet Work?
The theory behind the Atkins diet is much like how the ketogenic diet works in that the body, realizing it doesn’t have glucose for energy, switches to fat stores as fuel. Dr. Atkins said there are crucial unrecognized factors in our eating habits that make us fat. Among those is our consumption of refined carbs, especially sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and flour.
When on the Atkins Diet, your metabolism switches from burning glucose as fuel to burning its own stored body fat – or basically the whole process of ketosis. When our glucose levels are low, our insulin levels are also low. It is only when both glucose and insulin are low is when ketosis starts. (3).
Due to the low amount of carbs, the menu of someone doing the Atkins diet is high in fat and protein. Initial concerns surrounding the Atkins diet revolve on how its menu consists of high-fat recipes.
The designed recipes were found to be high in saturated fat and critics were concerned on how they might increase the risk of acquiring cardiovascular diseases. Fortunately, recent studies have shown that there is no direct correlation between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular diseases (4).
In this regard, the Atkins diet is also structured to make sure your calories come from quality sources. This way, the body is getting the right amount of energy it needs despite the low-carb staple.
How Effective Are Low-Carb Diets For Weight Loss?
The Atkins diet is essentially a low-carb diet. Carbohydrate intake is restricted, and fats and protein intake are increased. With this in mind, it is important that we take a look at the potential benefits of low-carb diets for weight loss.
Several studies have looked at how a low-carb diet weighs against a low-fat diet in terms of weight loss specifically, and the majority of these studies have provided evidence that low-carb diets tend to be superior when looking at weight loss.
One study recruited a total of 148 individuals (5). A total of 59 participants were asked to follow a low-carb diet, while the rest were asked to follow a low-fat diet instead. The low-fat diet focused on carbohydrates as the main source of energy.
Weight and several vitals were taken before the study commenced, and again at a 12-month interval. Scientists found that weight loss was much more significant among the individuals who were part of the group that followed a low-carb diet, compared to those participants who were part of the low-fat group.
Other Benefits of the Atkins Diet
Just like typical low-carb diets and the ketogenic diet, the Atkins Diet possesses health benefits backed by science.
1. It Promotes Satiation
The Atkins Diet promotes a lot of fat and protein, two nutrients are known to fill you up fast and prevent you from becoming hungry for long periods of time. Some even mix the Atkins Diet with intermittent fasting, where some would eat only once or twice and fast for more than 16 hours.
2. It Slims the Stomach First
It’s no secret when you eat too much, the body stores excess glucose as fat. This fat is stored often in our abdomen as it is near the stomach. Since the diet practically removes carbs from the diet, the body will then not be able to store as much fat as it normally does plus it also gets to remove previously-stored fat to burn it for energy.
3. It Reduces Risks for Cardiovascular Diseases
The problem with excess carbohydrates is it negatively affects the body’s chemistry when it becomes chronic. We’re talking about elevated levels of LDL, triglycerides, and blood glucose among others. These are all markers for increased risk of heart disease.
When you remove large portions of carbs from your diet, you are in effect reducing the chances of your body storing fat. When the body doesn’t store as much fat, your markers won’t be elevated and instead be managed better.
4. It Helps Prevent Hypertension
Hypertension or having high blood pressure is considered a symptom of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Remarkably, studies show a link between low-carb diets and low blood pressure.
5. It Improves Mental Health
Food has been linked to mental disorders for a few years now, with studies showing depressed patients often consumed high amounts of sugar and unhealthy processed fats on a regular basis. They’re also found to gravitate toward carb-heavy foods. Likewise, studies also show people on a low-carb diet have a more optimistic outlook on life as well as better cognitive function (6).
What Can You Eat on the Atkins Diet?
Below is a food guide on what you can eat on an Atkins Diet.
Fish, Fowl, Meat, and Other Healthy Fat and Protein Sources
We’re talking about herring, salmon, sardines, tuna for fish; chicken, pheasant, quail, turkey for fowl; beef, lamb, pork, veal, venison for meat; crabmeat, clams, shrimp, lobster, squid for shellfish; omelets, boiled, other types of eggs. You are also welcome to indulge in butter, olive oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, and other healthy fats.
Plant fats are universally recognized as healthy. Any diet won’t be complete without a bit of plant fat in the mix. Not to mention you don’t need to have a lot of plant fat in your diet to reap the benefits. For animal fats, you really want to get the most out of fish fat especially for its omega-3. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid and studies show adequate amounts lead to improved overall health.
Water is always good to drink. In fact, you can just drink water all the time. However, water can get pretty boring, so it’s good to have regular black coffee and pure tea on the side. Club soda is also fine as well as flavored seltzer – the zero-calorie kind.
Then there are also beverages with sweeteners. We usually insist on avoiding them, but you can also have some so long as they use zero-calorie sweeteners.
Vegetables & Fruits
When it comes to vegetables, you want to focus on eating the ones with the least carbs for the amount of nutrients they provide. Some examples are alfalfa, chicory, olives, lettuce, spinach, tomato, garlic, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, cabbage, yellow squash, and bok choy. To make things taste better, use salad dressings like red wine vinegar, lemon and lime juice, ranch, and Balsamic vinegar.
For fruits, you are welcome to eat mango, figs, cherries, raisins, guava, apples, dates, papaya, and even bananas so long as you are careful about the carb content per serving or bite.
Tips on Improving and Maintaining the Atkins Diet
As with any weight loss diet, your body will initially try to resist losing too much fat, storing them for “emergency purposes”, as it sees this new diet as a threat. The body then shifts the fat to another area rather than release it as energy and it does this regardless of your effort to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. This is what we call homeostasis or the body’s attempt to maintain what you currently have regardless of whether it’s healthy or not.
To ensure homeostasis, make sure you do the following:
1. Do Regular Full Body Workouts
Pair the Atkins diet with regular full-body workouts to ensure you burn the fat no matter where your body stored it. A few sample workouts include barbell training, plyometrics, kettlebell training, and different types of cardio such as running, rowing, and rope skipping.
2. Ease Into the Diet
There’s a lot of good to be said when it comes to gradual changes and the Atkins diet is no exception to this rule. If you surprise your system with Atkins or any other diet for that matter, it will then store fat as if it’s running out. This is why we recommend a slow, but steady transition before you go all out with the diet.
3. Follow the Program Closely
A program can only be as successful as the person’s determination and discipline. The Atkins Diet is more than just what to eat and what not eat but a personal challenge to you as an individual seeking not just a desired weight but more importantly, a lifetime goal.
Is the Atkins Diet Right for Me?
The Atkins Diet is perfect for people who just love the idea of eating anything fried on a sunny day. Bacon, sausage, eggs. Fry them, bake, or even put them on a grill. It doesn’t matter; they’re all allowed.
Then we also have dairy in the form of cheese, butter, and cream. You might first worry about how they’re high in saturated fat, but we all know saturated fats have little to do with heart disease. However, there are still a few things you have to be aware of when it comes to the Atkins Diet.
1. It Is A Restrictive Diet
The Atkins diet relies on select food sources that are mainly chosen for their lack of carbohydrates or low-calorie content. As such, the phases in this diet will enforce a sort of system on the person that at times may feel restrictive or depriving.
2. It May Cause Headaches
Going on a low-carb diet may cause you to initially have bouts of headaches. This is due to carb withdrawal which causes a drop in blood sugar. Fixing this involves increasing meal frequency.
3. It Is Not for Vegetarians
If you’re fond of vegetables or dependent on them for your nutritional needs, you will find this protein and fat-heavy diet to be more of a pain than relief.
What Are The Other Common Side Effects of the Atkins Diet?
The most significant risks associated with the Atkins diet would be present during the initial phase when the body is placed into a state of ketosis. Ketosis is known to cause a number of potential side-effects, but the majority of these side-effects tend to go away as the body transits into ketosis and starts to utilize ketones as an energy source.
In particular, the following side-effects have been associated with the Atkins diet:
- Fatigue may be experienced
- A reduction in general performance
- Bad breath is relatively common as well
- Headaches may develop
- Some people may become irritable
- Constipation can sometimes occur
- A general weak feeling
- Vomiting and nausea are possible
These side-effects are often referred to as “keto flu.” Since the Atkins diet only restricts carb intake to a level similar to the Ketogenic during the initial period, these side-effects will usually quickly resolve.
The Atkins diet is one of the most popular low-carb diets out there at the moment, along with the ketogenic diet. The diet has been associated with numerous health benefits and is an effective tool for people looking to lose weight, as those who would like to add healthier meals to their daily diet. The first step to following the diet is not only to understand what types of foods should be added to meals in order to experience the benefits that the Atkins diet may hold but also be acknowledged about foods that should not be part of this diet.