The Atkins diet is one of the most recommend low-carb diets for weight loss - the idea behind this diet is, limiting your carb intake to less than 20 grams per day makes the body turn to an alternative fuel for energy - stored fat.
The result is that you burn body fat and lose weight.
The Atkins diet is not just a low-carb diet. While it suggests cutting back severely on carbs, it also emphasizes eating high protein and high-fat foods.
In theory, you won't have to worry about counting calories with this Atkin diet, because most starchy and highly processed carbs, which come with hefty calories are already off the table.
Like other low-carb or low-calorie diet, it gained its popularity by generating results.
Its skyrocketing popularity is also backed by several of big Hollywood stars such as Kim Kardashian, who famously tweeted her post-baby weight loss and credited the Atkin diet for its success.
According to the tweet, that's how she lost weight and got her glamorous figures back.
So let's dig deeper into this newly polarized diet and how it really works.
What Is The Atkins Diet?
This recently popularized revolutionary weight loss diet has actually been around since the early 70s— The Atkins diet was originally introduced and promoted by Dr. Robert C. Atkins, a physician and cardiologist who wrote a best-selling book titled Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution. If you care to read it, you can grab it on amazon.
The diet really took off in 2003-2004 and became the-go-to diet to follow on a weight loss plan.
In fact, US News gave the Atkins diet a rating 32 out of 34 for their top overall rated diets.
Their health expert concluded that the Atkins diet could outperform nearly all its competitors, including the Paleo and the Dash Diet and called the Atkins the "best diet for weight loss”, at least for the short term.
However, for long-term weight loss and weight management, nutrition, safety, and heart health, it shows unfavorable marks.
How Does the Atkins Diet Work?
According to Atkins diet official site — While on the Atkins diet, you cut back your carbohydrate intake, as well as sugar in order to let your body use stored fat as energy.
If it interests you, here is more on what's happening inside your body when you go on a low-carb diet like the Atkins.
When you cut down on carbs, the level of glucose in your body becomes low. Since your body's primary energy source, glucose (converted form of carbs) is not readily available, your body seeks out another energy source (stored fat) and begin burning fat for energy.
The process of burning fat produces chemicals called ketones, and its presence, which you can see in "breath and urine" is usually a sign that you are indeed consuming your fat for energy instead of glucose.
While it sounds pretty miraculous, please note diabetes.org warns ketones build-up in the blood makes them more acidic.
It's often a warning sign for type 1 diabetes that suffers from insulin deprivation. Consult your doctor before starting any diet, including this Atkins diet.
What Can You Eat on the Atkins Diet
Contrary to popular belief, you won't be cutting out carbs entirely, and you'll be eating lots of non-starchy carbs such as leafy greens.
You’ll be eating super foods like kale, chicory greens, watercress and spinach for vegetables. Fruits such as apples, cherries, grapefruit, and blueberries can enter your diet after phase 2 (there are 4 phases to this diet).
Here’s the Atkins diet food list you’re expected to follow:
- High fiber vegetables ( Kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, chicory greens (raw), watercress (raw), turnip greens (cooked) and more )
- Protein ( fish/seafood, poultry, beef, pork, eggs, plant-based )
- Healthy fats ( Extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, butter, coconut oil )
- Dairy ( cheese, Greek yogurt )
- Nuts and Seeds ( Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds )
- Low glycemic fruit ( berries, cherries, melon )
Foods to Avoid
When following the Atkins diet, the following foods should be avoided:
- Sugar (Soft drinks, fruit juices, cakes, candy, ice cream)
- Grains ( wheat, spelt rye, barley,rice)
- Trans fat ( processed foods Hydrogenated)
- Vegetables oils ( Soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil)
You can see the full Atkins diet food list for more on what’s allowed and not allowed.
At a glance, this diet seems very much like the Paleo diet (high-protein, high-fat and low-carb) — eating the same foods that our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors ate.
Comparing Paleo and Atkins, they both are gluten-free and grain free, only consuming grass meat, fish/ seafood, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, nuts / seeds and healthy oils and fat.
The main food difference is legumes and dairy. While Paleo cut out legumes and dairy products completely, Atkins diet allows beans, cheese and yogurt.
There is another conceptual difference. While Paleo focuses on the quality of carbohydrates and foods they eat, there is no set standard for quantity. In essence, they are all about quality.
The Atkins diet on the other hand focuses on both quality and quantity of carbohydrate intake.
It's also worth noting that Atkins is more complex than Paleo. While Paleo is simple in its rules and clear cut on what to eat and not to eat, Atkins diet has 4 different phases, with each phase requiring a different set of foods.
Let's take a look at those 4 phases of Atkins Diet.
The Atkins Diet Has 4 Phases
Phase 1: Introductory Phase (2-3 weeks or until you are 15 pounds away from your goal weight)
This is the introduction phase. It is the phase where you jump start your weight loss and encourage your fat metabolism to kick in.
This phase is designed to makes a shift from burning carbs to burning fat.
Atkins Diet Phase 1 Meals:
You’ll be consuming 3 main meals and two snacks per day.
The plan also instructs that you stretch time between meals, but don't go any more than 3 to 4 hours without eating.
The Atkins also recommend eating 4-6oz of protein at least three times per day, but limit carbohydrate intake to 20g per day for about 2 weeks.
However if you have a bit more weight to lose, this diet recommend that you stay in phase 1 for longer than three weeks so you’ll lose the extra weight.
You’ll stay in this phase until you’re about 15 pounds away from your goal weight.
You carbohydrates in this phase are mainly from low-carb vegetables or vegetables that are low in the glycemic index list.
Phase 1 Summary:
- 3 meals + 2 snacks
- Protein: 4-6 oz per meal
- Carbs: up to 20g with low-carb, low GI carbs.
Phase 2: Balance Phase (Stay in this phase until you are 10 pounds away from your goal weight)
Phase 2 of the Atkins diet is all about balance. In this stage, you’ll slowly start to add carbs back into your diet like nuts and seeds, low-carb vegetables as well as as a small amount of fruits like blueberries, melons, yogurt, and cottage cheese.
You’ll stay in phase 2 until you’re about 10 pounds away from your target weight— the goal of Phase Two is to lose the majority of the excess weight and find your ideal carb balance.
In addition, yo’ll begin to slowly increase your carb intake in 5 g increments. For some people, this number can be as low as 30 grams to as high as 80 grams per day. Your personal number is impacted by your age, gender, activity level, hormonal status, and other factors as you continue to lose weight.
Phase 2 Summary:
- Add carbs in 5 g increments
- Slowly add low-sugar fruits, vegetables, dairy and nuts.
Phase 3: Fine Tuning Phase (Until you reach your goal and maintain it for a month)
Phase 3 is the fine tuning phase. In his phase, you are closer to your target weight— probably around 10 pounds away from actually hitting your goal weight, which you’ll achieve in phase 3.
You’ll stay in phase 3 until you reach your goal weight and maintain it for a month.
The main objective of phase 3 is to lose the final excess weight and continue to increase your carbs intake to find your balance or your tolerance for carb intake while still maintaining your new weight loss.
You will also be gradually increase your daily net carbs intake in 10-gram or stick with the 5-gram from phase 2, if you prefer. Continue to reintroduce new carb food, as long as you continue to slowly lose weight and then maintain your current weight.
If a certain food gives you craving after you eat it, you remove it or cut back on eating it. This part of the Atkins diet is unique and is how you personally feel after eating a certain type of foods.
Phase 3 Summary:
- Keep introducing new carbs and find your balance.
- Add carbs in either 5 or 10 gram increments.?
Phase 4: Maintenance Phase (ongoing phase)
Phase 4 is all about maintenance. This is where you’ll be going forward.
At this phase, you hit your weight loss goal and are at your healthy, target weight.
In phase 4, what you'll eat is foods that you tested and seem to work well for you. Those are the foods that you didn't experience gaining weight eating in Phase 3. Continue to eat them for the quantity that doesn't trigger weight gain.
If you start to see the pounds creeping back on, you’ll have to re-evaluate the foods you’re eating and remove them accordingly .
According to the Atkins diet official site, if you can adapt and accept phase 4 as a lifestyle and act accordingly, then you most likely will never have to diet again.
Not that you won’t ever gain a few pounds, but now, you posses the tools and skills you need to turn any weight situation around selecting the right foods for you and your body.
You’ll know which foods you can do without and eat the ones you love in moderation.
Now you know how the Atkin Diet works, the only remaining question is "does the Atkins diet really work and can it help me lose weight?".
The answer is in the studies performed on popular diets including the Atkins.
A study back in 2007 from Stanford University School of Medicine compared four of the most popular diets for weight loss including the Atkins. The other three were Zone, LEARN, or Ornish diet. These four diets were chosen to represent the full spectrum of low to high carbohydrate diets.
- The Zone Diet – a low carb option that focuses on a specific 40:30:30 ratio of carbohydrates to protein to fat, a balance said to minimize fat storage and hunger.
- LEARN – an acronym standing for: Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships, and Nutrition, which follows the US Department of Agriculture’s food period pyramid and is low in fat and in high carbohydrates.
- Ornish – The Ornish diet is very high in carbohydrates and very low in fat, is based on the book Eat More, Weigh Less by Dr. Dean Ornish
- Atkins – Being the lowest carb diet on this list
The lowest-carbohydrates Atkins diet showed the most favorable weight loss results.
Out of more than 300 pre-menopausal, non-diabetic, and overweight women in the study, those randomly assigned to follow the Atkins diet for a year not only lost more weight than the other participants, but also experienced the most benefits in terms of cholesterol and blood pressure.
Overall, the study found the low carb diet, Atkins to be extremely effective both in losing weight and improving overall health.
And there is more!
At the end of the year, the 77 women who were assigned to the Atkins diet showed an average of 10.4 pound weight loss, which was double of the women in the LEARN groups who lost 5.7 pounds and Ornish groups who lost 4.8 pounds, and was over three times the amount lost in women on the Zone diet who lost 3.5 pounds.
The study also noted that the women on Atkins reported a lower body mass index, or BMI, as well as a decrease in blood pressure and triglyceride levels. The Atkins dieters also saw an increase in their HDL cholesterol levels, which is considered the ‘good’ cholesterol.
The above findings were published in the March 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Lose weight, improve heart health and lower risk of type 2 diabetes ( low-carb diet)
Other studies also have found a low carb lifestyle diet similar to the Atkins diet to be beneficial in more areas than weight loss. They saw a decrease in risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states: “Women who ate low-carbohydrate diets that were high in vegetable sources of fat or protein had a 30% lower risk of heart disease and a 20% lower risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to women who ate high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets”.
Though those results were not unconditional.
Harvard points out “women who ate low-carbohydrate diets that were high in animal fats or proteins did not see any such benefits”.
Another study concluded that substituting protein for carbohydrates or even healthy, monounsaturated fats, is what helps you lower blood pressure, improve lipid levels, and reduce your overall cardiovascular risks. This is very similar to Atkins promotes.
From what's being proven by research and studies, the Atkins diet seems like a very effective diet for weight loss and fat loss.
Although it might take sometime to get used to different phases in the diet, if you can stick with it long enough, you won’t be disappointed.
Let's not forget to mention that as a rule of thumb, any diet that is low in carbs and promotes healthy eating through healthy foods like vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fat will most likely help you lose weight and improve your health. And the Adkins diet is no exception.
Disclaimer: Always check with your health professional to find out what diet works best for you.