Diet Plan Information: Atkins Diet


What is the Atkins Diet Plan?

The Atkins diet is a diet plan focused on consuming low carbohydrate (low carb, low-carb) foods and is typically recommended for weight loss or weight maintenance. Originally suggested in 1972 by Dr. Robert Atkins in his book Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution: The High Calorie Way to Stay Thin Forever, the Atkins diet has been wildly popular for the last several decades.


How Does the Atkins Diet Plan Work?

There are four phases of the original Atkins diet plan, referred to as the 4-Phase Plan.

  1. Phase 1 – Induction: The induction phase of the Atkins diet gets the weight loss rolling with a diet that consists of less than 20 grams of carbohydrates daily for two weeks. Your diet will consist mostly of fats, proteins, and low carb vegetables. This forces your body to start using fat instead of carbohydrates as fuel.
  2. Phase 2 – Balancing: Phase 2 focuses on finding your carb tolerance by upping your daily carb intake by 5 grams. Weight loss during this phase comes more slowly than in Phase 1 as you are adding an extra 5 grams of carbs per week until you find your tolerance (up to 40 grams daily). For example, if you started off at 20 grams of carbs for your Phase 1 week, you would up that to 25 grams of carbs daily in the starting week of Phase 2. If you continue to lose weight, the next week you would up it to 30 grams of carbs daily for the next week. During this phase, you can add cheese, nuts, seeds, and Atkins food products to your diet.
  3. Phase 3 – Pre-Maintenance: During the pre-maintenance phase, you will up your daily carb intake by 10 grams per week (up to 100 grams daily). So, if you were at 35 grams of carbs daily for a week, you would up that to 45 grams of carbs daily for the next week until you find the balance that helps you maintain your weight.
  4. Phase 4 – Maintenance: Phase 4 focuses on maintenance and maintaining your healthy weight with neither losing nor gaining weight. Based on Phase 3, you’ve figured out how many grams of carbs you can consume daily without gaining weight. If you find yourself gaining weight again, simply lower the daily consumption of carbohydrates to regain control (sometimes called the “Atkins Edge”).

Currently the original Atkins plan is called the Atkins 20 Plan, referring to the grams of carbs that would be consumed on a daily basis. There are new plans that have since been added including the Atkins 40 Plan and the Atkins 100 Plan, respectively allowing up to 40 grams and 100 grams of carbs.


Weight Loss on the Atkins Diet Plan

As stated before, any diet will work as long as you’re willing to stick to it. That being said, there are a number of studies that show that the Atkins diet plan is effective for both weight and fat loss.

A 2003 study by the University of Cincinnati and Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that women on a low carbohydrate diet lost substantially more weight and body fat than those on a low fat diet. Over six months, the group on the low carbohydrate diet lost an average of 18.7 pounds while the low fat group lost 8.6 pounds (Brehm et al., 2003). Again, note that both groups still lost weight.

More recently, a 2017 study that examined a number of studies over the past few decades concluded the following: “Nine of the 10 clinical trials supported the ability of the Atkins Diet to
produce clinically meaningful short-term weight loss, and six of the eight long-term clinical trials supported the effectiveness of this diet for long-term weight loss” (Anton et al., 2017).

The takeaway? You can and will lose weight on the Atkins diet if you follow the guidelines and stick to them.


Is the Atkins Diet Healthy?

The healthiness of the Atkins diet has been the subject of debate ever since Dr. Atkins wrote his original book in 1972. At that point in time, it was believed that consuming high amounts of fat was the leading cause of heart and cardiovascular disease. Contemporary scholars all but discredited Atkins. “Atkins’ theories are at best half-truths, and the results he claims lack credibility” (Hirschel, 1977).

However, newer studies have found no significant correlations between consuming saturated fat and heart disease (Siri-Tarino et al., 2010). There is a growing body of evidence that sugar is more detrimental to peoples’ health than fats are. “A diet high in added sugars has been found to cause a 3-fold increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease” (DiNicolantonio, Lucan & O’Keefe, 2016).

Because of the increasing popularity of low carb diets like the Atkins diet, more and more studies have been conducted not only on the efficacy but also the safety of low carb diets. Most of the studies were short-term (less than one year) and found no negative effects on cardiovascular health. “A very low carbohydrate diet is more effective than a low fat diet for short-term weight loss and, over 6 months, is not associated with deleterious effects on important cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women” (Brehm et al., 2003).

As for side effects of the Atkins diet, there are relatively few. Some people report a feeling of weakness, dizziness, or fatigue, especially when beginning Phase 1 of the Atkins diet. Make sure to talk to your doctor before starting any sort of new diet or lifestyle change as everyone is different and will respond to diets in various ways.


What Can You Eat on the Atkins Diet?

One of the most common questions about the Atkins diet is: “What do you eat on the Atkins diet plan?” The answer varies greatly depending on the phase of the plan you are on. Unlike many diets, the rules and restrictions of the Atkins diet can vary weekly. Below is a general guide on what each phase’s menu should look like.

  1. Phase 1 – Induction
    • Grams of Carbs per Day: less than 20g
    • Atkins Menu: meat, supplements, healthy fats, low carb vegetables
  2. Phase 2 – Balancing
    • Grams of Carbs per Day: 20g to 40g
    • Atkins Menu: meat, supplements, healthy fats, low carb vegetables, nuts, fruit
  3. Phase 3 – Pre-Maintenance
    • Grams of Carbs per Day: 40g to 100g
    • Atkins Menu: meat, supplements, healthy fats, low carb vegetables, starchy vegetables, nuts, fruit, whole grains
  4. Phase 4 – Maintenance
    • Grams of Carbs per Day: varies, but likely less than 100g
    • Atkins Menu: meat, supplements, healthy fats, low carb vegetables, starchy vegetables, nuts, fruit, whole grains

What Can’t You Eat on the Atkins Diet?

Although there are plenty of Atkins approved foods, there are still some that you should avoid altogether if you’re looking to lose weight. These foods include:

  • Added Sugar (soda, fruit juice, candy, ice cream)
  • Processed Grains (white bread, white rice, flour tortillas, pasta, white flour, pastries, breakfast cereals)
  • Certain Vegetable Oils (corn oil, canola oil)
  • Low-Fat Foods (often contain much more sugar than traditional foods)


Pros of the Atkins Diet

  • Weight Loss: As mentioned before, if you stick to the Atkins diet and guidelines you’re going to lose weight.
  • No Calorie Counting: The Atkins diet doesn’t force you to count every calorie you put into your body which means that you’re less concerned about each bite you take and more focused on enjoying your food.
  • No Restriction on Protein: For many people who are looking to lose weight but maintain muscle mass, the Atkins diet is appealing because there is no upper limit on the amount of protein that can be consumed.
  • Feel Fuller Longer: Consuming more fats and protein and less carbs and sugar often leaves people feeling fuller for longer periods of time, reducing their overall caloric intake.


Cons of the Atkins Diet

  • Restrictive Diet: If you have a sweet tooth, this diet will be hard to maintain as it doesn’t allow for refined or processed sugars. Even natural sugars found in fruits are not allowed during some phases of the Atkins diet.
  • Carb and Net Carb Counting: Even though you don’t have to count calories, you still have to count carbohydrates. This can be tedious, especially in the beginning of the diet when you’re still learning which foods are acceptable.
  • Supplementation Needed: Taking extra supplements like magnesium, potassium, and more are essential in order to prevent nutritional deficiency, especially during the induction phase.


Books on the Atkins Diet Plan

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of books on the Atkins diet that have been written over the past several decades. Many of these books include information on Atkins nutritionals, possible side effects of the Atkins diet, recipes for the Atkins diet, and more.


Evidence-Based Studies on the Atkins Diet Plan

Given the Atkins’ diet relatively long history, there are numerous studies that have been conducted on both its efficacy and its safety.

  • Saturated Fat and Cardiovascular Disease: “A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease” (Siri-Tarino et al., 2010).
  • Saturated Fat versus Sugar Related to Heart Disease: “To reduce the burden of coronary heart disease, guidelines should focus particularly on reducing intake of concentrated sugars, specifically the fructose-containing sugars like sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup in the form of ultra-processed foods and beverages” (DiNicolantonio, Lucan & O’Keefe, 2016).
  • Low Carbohydrate versus Low Fat Diet: “Based on these data, a very low carbohydrate diet is more effective than a low fat diet for short-term weight loss and, over 6 months, is not associated with deleterious effects on important cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women” (Brehm et al., 2003).
  • A Randomized Trial of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet for Obesity: “The low-carbohydrate diet produced a greater weight loss (absolute difference, approximately 4 percent) than did the conventional diet for the first six months… The low-carbohydrate diet was associated with a greater improvement in some risk factors for coronary heart disease” (Foster et al., 2003).

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