Over the many years that the Atkins Diet has been discussed, there have been an awful lot of rumors and misconceptions that have been spread about how effective the diet is and about the health effects of consuming so many low carb foods.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there as to how the diet works. Granted, there is some controversy and there are some drawbacks to the diet, but what diet doesn’t have detractors and downsides? Ultimately though, because you aren’t hungry all the time, it just works much better than calorie-restricted diets.
How the Program Works:
Basically, the Atkin’s diet plan attempts to limit your body’s intake of carbohydrates so drastically that your body stops burning carbohydrates as its main source of energy and starts burning through its fat stores. This process is called ketosis.
Ketosis, though, is only one reason why it is so successful. In his book, “New Diet Revolution,” Dr. Robert Atkins argued that, not only does the body expend more energy while in the state of ketosis, but the diet also helps to suppress appetite.
Dr. Atkins believed that proteins and fats would help the body feel more full. If true, the Atkins Diet is a double-whammy of decreased caloric intake and increased caloric usage. However, there have been several arguments, most notably from the medical journal “The Lancet,” that suggest that dieters consume fewer calories on low carbohydrate meal plans due to “culinary boredom”.
The Atkins Diet uses a series of phases, which will be discussed at length in a moment, to bring your body into a state of ketosis. This is done by replacing foods in your diet that contain large amounts of carbohydrates with foods that contain low amounts of carbohydrates or even zero carbohydrates. Many scientists and researchers believe that the human body has a natural disposition for accepting sugars and carbohydrates as its primary energy source. In fact, these people believe that cutting out carbohydrates from your diet is unhealthy because you are essentially tricking your body into believing it is starving, which is why your body then switches to burning fat. However, it has been argued that Inuit people lived on a diet that would have been ketogenic, and ketogenic diets have existed throughout history as a result of severe environmental and societal changes.
Once your body achieves a state of ketosis, most experts suggest that you slowly increase your carbohydrate intake until you find the amount of carbohydrates you can consume while still maintaining weight loss. The amount of carbohydrates at which this occurs differs from person to person, and it is completely possible that an individual will, in fact, lapse out of a ketonic state. However, a person who undertakes the Atkins Diet will still be consuming far fewer carbohydrates than the average person will, and this, combined with a regular exercise plan, can lead to dramatic weight loss and much better health.
Phases of the Diet:
The Atkins Diet is comprised of four phases: Induction, Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), Pre-Maintenance and Maintenance.
Phase 1, or Induction is the strictest and is perhaps the most difficult part of the diet. Over the suggested period of two weeks, an individual going through Induction is not to exceed an intake 20 net grams of carbohydrates per day. This sharp reduction in carbohydrates is designed to force a person’s body into a rapid state of ketosis. Many dieters will see a dramatic and significant weight loss throughout this phase.
Foods allowed during this phase include all meats, hard and semi-soft cheeses, several green vegetables and sources of fats and oils like butter. Atkins cookbooks and all of the books penned by Dr. Atkins will outline what foods are and aren’t allowed during each phase more thoroughly.
Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL):
During Phase 2, or OWL phase, you will slowly increase your carbohydrate intake every week by about five grams. You should still continue to lose weight, and you will stay on OWL until you are within about 10 pounds of your target weight. This phase will give you more freedom as to what you eat, as you are permitted to add more acceptable vegetables to your diet, fresh cheeses, nuts and berries, certain alcoholic beverages and legumes. While that order of foods is the week by week order by which Dr. Atkins suggests you add foods to your diet, you can probably add foods in any order you like as long as you are careful and counting the net carbs.
In Phase 3: Pre-Maintenance , dieters will continue to increase their carbohydrate consumption at a rate of 10 grams per week. The final goal of this phase is to learn how many carbohydrates you can consume while still losing weight. New foods you can eat can include starchy vegetables, fruits and whole grains, as well as whole milk.
You’ve now reached Phase 4: Maintenance. At this point, you should be taking in the maximum amount of carbs that allows you to feel good and maintain your weight. The phase is called “Maintenance” for a reason, as you still have to put in hard work to make sure you don’t relapse into consuming massive amounts of carbohydrates. If you feel you’ve fallen off the wagon, you can always revert to an earlier phase and start over.
Pros and Cons of the Diet:
There are several dietary benefits and risks that are involved with this diet. Some medical studies have suggested that it lowers a person’s risk for heart disease and lowers levels of certain cholesterols in the body. However, other studies suggest that the diet can lead to bone demineralization and an increase in kidney stones. Other researchers have suggested that the Atkins Diet actually increases a person’s risk for heart disease.
Anyone on a diet that is extremely low in carbohydrates will experience substantial weight loss. Opponents of the diet suggest that the initial weight loss is due to a loss of water weight, but this is a debatable fact.
The Atkins Diet, once you get used to it, offers a wide selection of foods to eat. While the Induction phase can be very restrictive, you do get to eat eggs, meat and other rich foods. By the time you’ve reached the Maintenance phase, your carbohydrate intake may be at a level that allows you to enjoy many of the meals you used to enjoy in the past. While you might never be able to eat very many baked goods, you will have enough options that you won’t have to.
The diet can be expensive. Buying large amounts of protein in the form of meat can be much more expensive than buying cheap stomach fillers like pasta, rice and beans. Additionally, some of the Atkins Diet books can lead you astray because they include recipes for lobster tails and steak dinners when cheaper options like grilled chicken breasts and burgers are just as effective and appropriate for the diet.