The Atkins Diet: Everything You Need to Know
The Atkins diet focuses on restricting carbohydrates and consuming protein and fat

The Atkins diet is a low-carb diet plan that is often recommended for weight control. The diet focuses on reducing carbs and consuming protein and fat.

Originally popularized by Dr. Robert C. Atkins, the Atkins diet has become well-known throughout the world, with proponents claiming that the diet helps with both weight control and overall health.

What is the Atkins diet?

The Atkins diet plan has evolved slightly over the last few decades, but the basic idea of the diet has stayed consistent: it restricts carbs while encouraging the consumption of protein and.

There are a few key differences between the original Atkins diet and the more current variations of the diet plan. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, there are now a few ways to customize the diet according to your current weight and goals:

  • Atkins 20: 20 grams of carbs are consumed in a day; good for people with diabetes or those looking to lose 40 pounds or more.
  • Atkins 40: 40 grams of carbs are consumed in a day; good for those looking to lose less than 40 pounds.
  • Atkins 100: 100 grams of carbs are consumed in a day; good for those looking to maintain their present weight.

The Atkins diet can be difficult to follow for an extended period of time, so even if you lose a lot of weight on this plan, it can be easy to regain the weight once you stop.

How does the Atkins diet work?

The Atkins diet focuses on restricting carbohydrates from bread, starchy vegetables, whereas high-protein foods, nuts, and seeds are encouraged. The Atkins diet works in four phases:

Phase 1: Induction

To kickstart weight reduction, you eat 20 grams of carbohydrates or less a day for at least 2 weeks. Phase I lasts until you are 15 pounds away from your ideal weight.

Your body will be forced into ketogenic metabolism, where your body burns fat for energy due to the absence of carbohydrates. During this phase, you will mostly consume protein, fats, and low-carb vegetables, such as leafy greens.

Phase 2: Balancing

You start eating 25 grams or fewer carbohydrates per day and gradually increase your carbohydrate intake until you are within 10 pounds of your target weight. Nuts, seeds, strawberries, blueberries, melon, cottage cheese, and yogurt can be consumed. If you aim to lose 14 pounds or fewer, you can skip the restricting first phase and begin here.

Phase 3: Fine-tuning

You adjust your carbohydrate consumption until you maintain your target weight for a month. Many people wind up consuming 80-100 grams of carbohydrates each day. This phase has fewer dietary restrictions and allows you to begin eating beans, starchy vegetables, and grains. You can slowly assess how you react to certain carbs.

During this phase, it is important to make sure you are staying on track with your desired weight. If your weight reduction plateaus, reduce your carbohydrate consumption again. 

Phase 4: Maintenance

The goal of the last phase is to keep your weight stable. It is all about having minimal restrictions yet maintaining healthy choices. You can increase your intake of carbs and adjust accordingly if you start to regain some weight.

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What foods are allowed in the Atkins diet?

Examples of foods are allowed on the Atkins diet include the following:

During phase 1

  • Protein: Eggs, poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, goose, quail, pheasant), read meat (beef, pork, ham, bacon, lamb, venison), seafood (tuna, salmon, catfish, trout, flounder, oysters, shrimp, crab, clams)
  • Fats: Plant-based cooking oils, such as vegetable, safflower, sunflower, sesame seed, canola, and olive oil
  • Dairy: Milk and yogurt are not permitted during phase I, but full-fat cream, cheese, sour cream and butter are allowed.
  • Vegetables: Bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radicchio, lettuce, spinach

During phase 2

During this phase, you can gradually increase the number of foods to include in your diet, especially carbohydrates. Most dieters increase their carbohydrate intake by 5 grams each week. In phase II, all phase I foods are permitted. Furthermore, the following items are reintroduced into the diet:

  • Berries
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Grains
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Alcohol

During phases 3 and 4

In these two phases of the Atkins diet, you may continue to increase carbohydrates if you can maintain a healthy weight. All foods from previous phases are permitted.

What are the pros and cons of the Atkins diet?

Pros

  • Can help manage blood sugar and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels
  • High protein and fat content keeps you feeling full for longer
  • Allows you to follow the diet in progressive phases
  • May have lasting benefits on your health if it helps you change your eating habits in the long term

Cons

  • Lack of fiber in the diet can cause constipation and dehydration
  • May cause headaches and fatigue in the early phases due to reduced sugar intake
  • May be hard to sustain and does not address behaviors that may be causing you to gain weight in the first place
  • Can be easy to regain the lost weight once you return to previous eating habits

If you decide to follow the Atkins diet, be picky about what you consume and make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals. Keep in mind that most people can lose weight on practically any calorie-restricted diet, at least in the short term. Studies on long-term results, however, suggest that low-carb diets are no more successful for weight reduction than other weight-loss programs.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/24/2022
References
Image Source: iStock image

Science Direct. Atkins Diet. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/atkins-diet

Cleveland Clinic. What Is the Atkins Diet, and Is It Healthy? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-the-atkins-diet-and-is-it-healthy/

Fields L. Atkins Diet Plan Review. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/a-z/atkins-diet-what-it-is