The Atkins diet has been the subject of great controversy, as its recommendations are the complete opposite of the USDA food pyramid recommendations and that of most other health agencies in the United States.
The diet was developed by Robert C. Atkins, M.D. in the late 1980s and contrary to its critic’s statements, it is NOT a high protein diet. It is actually a high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate way of eating. The basic premise of the diet is to lower your carbohydrate intake to a level that allows for weight loss and maintains eating that level of carb counting until you lose all the weight you want to lose. Then you add in more carbs to a level that stabilizes your weight loss. This maintenance level of carb intake per day allows you to stay at a lower weight for the rest of your life.
Carbohydrates are counted in “Net Carbs” which means that you count the carbohydrates in food but subtract the fiber count from the carb count. For instance:
- 1 cup of broccoli = 6 carbs (but 4 of those carbs are fiber) so the net carb count would be 2 carbohydrates counted instead of 6.
There are 4 phases to the Atkins diet:
- Phase 1: During this phase, called Induction, you drop your carbohydrate intake to below 20 grams of net carbs per day. The goal of this level to cause a change in your body’s metabolism so that it begins to burn body fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates from food. During this phase, you can eat all kinds of fresh meats, green leafy vegetables, and fats such as olive oil or butter. The induction phase can sometimes be called Induction Flu, because, for the first 3-5 days of the plan, you may feel weak and shaky as if you had the flu. This is a common reaction, as it takes time for your body to make the switch from burning carbohydrates for fuel to burning body fat. It is recommended to drink lots of water, take a multivitamin, 400 mg magnesium, and 99mg potassium tablets 2-3 times a day to help with the transition. Drinking a clear, salty broth will help as well. After 3 days or so, these symptoms should lift, and you should begin to feel very good. Don’t skip meals, eat until you are satisfied, and don’t limit your fat intake. As you eat less carb, fat and protein intake will naturally increase.
- Phase 2: During Phase 2, you start to gradually begin to increase your carb intake by 5 grams of net carb per week, by adding more vegetables and berries. As you add carbs back in, you monitor your weight loss. If you continue to lose weight, you can continue adding carbs back in at 5 grams of net carbs per week. Once your weight loss stops for several days in a row, drop back 5 grams of carb and you should begin losing weight again. This is known as your OWL or Ongoing Weight Loss carb limit. You stay at this level until you are within 5-10 pounds of your goal weight.
- Phase 3: This phase is called the Pre-Maintenance. You begin to add as much as 10 carbs more per week, and as long as you are losing very slowly, you can add back in more vegetables, fruits, starches, and whole grains. This phase allows you to ease back into a more varied, but permanently chosen way of eating. When you get to your goal weight and maintain for at least a month, you will know how many carbs you can eat without gaining weight. This is called the ACE (Atkins Carbohydrate Equilibrium). For some people, the ACE can be as high as 120 grams of carb per day. Others, who may be more sensitive to carbohydrates, may only be able to eat 40 grams of carbs per day without seeing weight gain.
- Phase 4: Phase 4 is also called Lifetime Maintenance. During this phase, you just stay at your ACE level and maintain your weight. This level can be affected by exercise or hormone changes, so it may not be the same all the time.
If you are interested in learning more about the Atkins diet, I encourage you to read Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, New and Revised Edition or the newest book about the Atkins diet: New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great.
And here’s the scientific proof of the efficacy of Atkins. Check out the results of Stanford University’s A to Z diet study. The study compared the Atkins diet to 3 other popular diets and followed the study participants for over a year. The final results totally favored the Atkins approach. The authors wrote “In this study, premenopausal overweight and obese women assigned to follow the Atkins diet, which had the lowest carbohydrate intake, lost more weight and experienced more favorable overall metabolic effects at 12 months than women assigned to follow the Zone, Ornish, or LEARN diets.”