How Does the Diet Work?

The controversial Atkins Diet is a strict, low carbohydrate regiment that many dieters use as a method to lose weight. Dr. Robert C. Atkins is credited with this weight loss eating plan. While the health merits of the diet are debatable, there is little doubt that people do lose weight if they stick to the guidelines.

This diet is based on the premise that carbohydrates make people fat. Energy is produced in the human body by burning fat and carbohydrates. The way the Atkins Diet works is that our body burns fat in the absence of carbohydrates to burn. So by limiting a dieter’s carbohydrate intake, fat is burned and weight is lost.


The chemistry behind this diet is tied to achieving a state of ketosis. The only way to achieve this fat-burning state is by drastically restricting carbohydrates. For the first two weeks of the diet, people are restricted to 20 grams of carbohydrates daily. According to Atkins’ theory, this high-protein, low-carb diet will temporarily increase cholesterol in some people, but will ultimately stabilize blood chemistry with lower cholesterol as weight loss is achieved. This extreme first phase of the diet lasts for two weeks. After the first two weeks, dieters move into a second, more moderate phase where the carbohydrate allowance is slightly higher allowing for the consumption of more fruit and vegetables.

While on this diet, people are encouraged to take vitamins. Under this restrictive diet it is impossible to consume the photonutrients and fiber necessary for a well balanced and healthy diet. That is one of the main reasons that critics find fault with the Atkins Diet.

Short-term Physical Side Effects

Anytime a person drastically changes eating patterns it will impact the way they feel. The downside of ketosis is that it can cause fatique, nausea, dehydration, headaches, bad breath and constipation. Exercise can help jumpstart weight loss, but dieters often find they experience a low energy level that makes working out much less appealing.

Long-term Health Concerns

Director of the General Research Center at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Robert H. Eckel, MD expresses his concern for dieters following the Atkins Diet:

“We have concerns over whether this is a healthy diet for preventing heart disease, stroke and cancer.”

Other concerns reported were related to possible bone loss and liver and kidney problems resulting from high protein levels in the Atkins Diet.

In a journal article published in “Clinics in Sports Medicine,” Dr. Rosemary E. Riley discussed the dangers of low-carb diets. One concern she expressed pertained to the impact of this diet on high blood pressure medicine. Acting as a diuretic, the Atkins Diet can require that medications be adjusted so they continue to work.

One other highly criticized element of the Atkins Diet is that it is too high-fat, and does not follow normal recommended dietary guidelines. For instance, the American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 30% of fat in a person’s daily diet. In the high-protein Atkins Diet, there is no limit to fat intake.


The Atkins Diet has proven successful for helping many people lose weight. Since dieters following this plan are allowed to eat rich foods like cheese, steak and many other high-protein goodies, this diet is a popular eating plan. Consulting with a trusted doctor is always advised before starting a new diet. The Atkins Diet is still considered very controversial and should be considered as only one possiblity for losing weight, along with other possibilities.


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