What Is the Atkins Diet?
The Atkins Diet
promotes itself as a long-term eating plan for weight loss and maintenance
that emphasizes eating lean protein and low-starch vegetables. In this diet
plan, simple carbohydrates such as flour and sugar are highly restricted or
eliminated altogether. Dramatically changing eating habits is the cornerstone
of the Atkins Diet.
The Atkins Diet is a high-protein, high-fat, and low-carbohydrate
According to the Mayo
Clinic, this diet plan has been around since 1972, when cardiologist Robert
C. Atkins created it. Dr. Atkins said that dietary fat isn’t what makes people
overweight, suggesting instead that carbohydrates are to blame. By restricting
carbs, dieters are told they can drop considerable amounts of weight without
giving up foods they enjoy.
How It Works
According to Dr. Atkins and the Atkins Diet, carbohydrates
cause a spike in blood sugar levels. This causes the body to store fat. By
significantly reducing carbohydrate consumption, the Atkins Diet reportedly
burns stored fat and regulates blood sugar levels.
According to the Mayo
Clinic, there are four phases of the Atkins Diet:
1: Carbohydrates are limited to 20 grams per day. This is where
the most dramatic weight loss occurs.
2: Carbohydrate intake is slightly increased. Here dieters can
add back certain vegetables, berries, nuts, and seeds, slightly increasing
carb intake without stopping weight loss. This is the longest stage of the
diet, and you stay here until you are about 10 pounds from your weight
3: Called “pre-maintenance,” this stage allows you to add 10
grams of carbohydrates to your diet each week, including starchy
vegetables and some whole grains. If weight loss stops, you cut carbs
again, just enough to maintain a steady weight loss until you reach your
4: This is a lifetime maintenance stage with a target carb intake
of 45 to 100 grams per day.
The Atkins Diet promises to help you lose excess weight and
keep it off by consuming fewer carbohydrates, which purportedly burns greater
amounts of fat. The Atkins Nutrition Approach involves a reduced glycemic load
(carb content), with the goal of keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
The diet plan promises to be a lifetime approach to weight loss, not a
Dr. Atkins and supporters say that this diet makes weight
loss simple and easy. In the first few phases, the program promises fast and
dramatic fat loss without deprivation.
Pros & Cons
Low-carbohydrate diets have proven to be effective for
weight loss for a limited period. These diet plans call for a
reduction in snack foods and alcohol, which are often high in simple carbs and
sources of "empty" calories that lead to weight gain. In the past,
the Atkins Diet was popular for allowing its followers to consume large amounts
of fat (burgers, cheese, bacon, eggs, etc.) and still lose weight, as long as
the carb count was low. Consuming a large amount of animal fat, and therefore
cholesterol, is not good for your health. It increases your risk for heart
disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Because of this, the Atkins Diet has
since repositioned itself and now promotes lean protein and a wider variety of
fruits and vegetables.
While reducing their encouragement of high fat foods is good,
a low-carbohydrate diet may be difficult for people to stick to on a long-term
basis. With so many foods deemed “off limits,” the diet plan can
quickly get boring.
In some cases, the Atkins Diet can also create unwanted side effects. These include:
- bad breath (due to a condition called ketosis)
- constipation (due to lack of fiber)
For some, these are tolerable during the initial weight
loss, but become more troublesome as the diet continues and the weight loss
Over the years, the Atkins Diet has proven itself as an
effective method of weight loss, especially in the short term. For the average
American, it's hard to pass up the opportunity to eat steak and eggs with a
side of cheddar and still shed unwanted pounds. What concerns some medical
professionals are the potentially high-fat content and the lack of balance in
the diet. However, the Atkins Diet's updated emphasis on lean protein and its
shift toward a variety of fruits, vegetables, and some whole grains is a
Many Americans eat too many carbohydrates in the form of
convenience foods, fast foods, and sugars, and these carb sources should be
reduced. However, all phases of Atkins diet are still too low in carbohydrates
to be healthy, according to accepted standards. The USDA
recommends that adults get 45 to 65 percent of their daily calories from
carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are necessary in the diet for energy,
vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Before starting any kind of diet plan, talk to your doctor
to see if it’s right for you. If your mind is set on seeing what all the Atkins
hype is about, be sensible about it. Opt for chicken or fish as opposed to the
all-you-can-eat bunless cheeseburger buffet. Make sure you reach your allowance
of daily carbohydrates by eating fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods.
Also, beware of the bounce back. Many people experience accelerated weight gain
when they eventually abandon any strict diet.