Dr. Robert C. Atkins created the Atkins Diet in the early 1970s with the publication of his controversial first book, Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution. Overweight patients and the rising levels of obesity in the U.S. prompted Atkins to develop a method incorporating his research from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Published in 2002, Atkins’ second book Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution became a world-renowned best-seller, boasting more than 15 million copies sold.
The foundation of the Atkins approach rests on seven essential pillars:
- Good carbs
- Good fats
- Low sugar
- Vitamins and minerals
The Low-Down on Low-Carb
By incorporating these seven essentials, the Atkins method aims to shift the body’s metabolism from carb-burning to fat-burning. The process is simple—eating carbs spikes insulin levels, which causes the body to burn carbs first, making fat burning a low priority. Atkins “acceptable” foods wean the body off these carbs, forcing it to turn to fat as an alternative source of fuel.
Shifting the body’s fuel source requires strict attention to net carb intake and adequate fluid consumption. Ingesting a diet with varying levels of carbs, fat and protein keeps insulin levels from soaring and plunging, resulting in stable blood sugar levels. This variation allows dieters to avoid the infamous “crash” that results from digesting high levels of glucose. While monitoring consumption is the main focus, Atkins also recommends moderate exercise and a daily multivitamin to obtain maximum benefits.
The Four Phases
The Atkins method regulates net carb intake by moving the dieter through four sequential phases:
Phase 1: Induction—Intended to send the body into ketosis, this is the most restrictive phase of the diet (but the most significant weight loss is seen during this phase!) Participants are encouraged to keep their net carb intake below 15 grams per day with the majority derived from high-fiber vegetables.
Phase 2: Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL)—The second phase focuses on gradually increasing net carb intake, starting at 25 grams, until you have established your personal carb balance, which , or the maximum number of net carbs that will allow you to lose weight and still maintain energy. Variety is reintroduced into the diet, first with nuts and seeds, and then following the carb ladder, which determines the order, quantity and type of carbs you should consume in addition to the Induction basics.
Phase 3: Pre-Maintenance—This is the home stretch phase in which you test your carb tolerance and establish the quantity of net carbs needed to maintain a stable body weight, also referred to as the Atkins Carb Equilibrium (ACE). The third phase prepares dieters for the final stage of the program, allowing them to shed those last few pounds.
Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance—The final phase introduces the Atkins lifestyle and prepares you to maintain weight loss, make adjustments as needed and ensure exceptions are a rare occurrence.
Read more about the Atkins Diet Phases here.
Advantages of Atkins
Phase 1, the recommended launching platform of the program, is intended to jump start weight loss and gradually ease you into lifetime management. However, you may begin and end the program in any phase—the important part is creating a manageable lifestyle. Atkins is adaptable to many ages, conditions and lifestyles, and is especially beneficial for overweight diabetics and individuals with grain sensitivity.
In the long run, Atkins dieters experience:
- “Atkins Edge”
- Increased satisfaction following meals
- Reduced cravings
- Elimination of false hunger
- Increased energy
- Weight loss
Craving reduction, increased energy and rapid weight loss aside, Atkins has its drawbacks. The prohibitive “approved foods” list and constant carb counting limit variety, and may make adhering to the program difficult in the long-run. Similarly, the Atkins method initially prohibits grain consumption, eliminating an entire food group from your diet. This may cause nutrient deficiencies, particularly in fiber and calcium. Atkins’ heavy reliance on animal products for protein may make this method tricky for vegetarians and vegans.
Before starting Atkins, consult your physician if you have:
- Egg or seafood allergies
- Kidney problems (like renal disease)
- Certain types of arthritis
The Bottom Line
Don’t let these risks deter you from the program as a whole. The Atkins method promotes a combination of physical activity and a hefty consumption of vegetables, protein and water, all time-tested steps to a healthier body.
Paying special attention to fiber intake, fat consumption (especially saturated fat) and variety will help prevent adverse effects. Dr. Atkins recommends regular doctor visits and balanced meals to keep your health in check.