A Guide to the Atkins Diet

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What You Need to Know

  1. The diet works on the principle that, for many people, carbohydrates contribute more to weight gain than fats.
  2. The diet consists of four stages, with the first presenting the toughest challenge- for the first two weeks only 20g of carbs are permitted each day.
  3. The aim of this is to achieve ‘ketosis’, a state where the body alters its insulin levels to stop fat diet stored.
  4. The later stages are about stabilising your carbohydrate intake and finding the maximum level of carbs you can consume without putting on weight.
  5. The plan is popular amongst many people who’d normally avoid dieting, as foods such as red meat and cheese, which are normally frowned on by slimmers, can be eaten.
  6. Critics argue that the diet only achieves weight loss through reduced calorie intake, and that reducing carbs has little effect in of itself.
  7. Some experts believe the Atkins diet could increase the risk of heart disease and kidney conditions.
  8. It has been found that switching to a high protein diet will normally result in a considerable increase your weekly food bill.

What is the Atkins Diet?

Though devised by Dr Robert Atkins back in the 1970s, the Atkins diet didn’t have much of a following until the turn of the new millennium.

Since then it has become one of the most-popular diets in the world, thanks in no small part to its celebrity followers – Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston and Sarah Palin are among the big names to have been linked to the plan.

How it Works

Dr Atkins argued that the over-consumption of carbohydrates – which many people have difficulty processing – is often the main cause of weight gain, rather than levels of fat intake.

The Atkins diet focuses on monitoring and controlling carbohydrate intake, with so-called ‘bad carbs’ particularly prohibited.

The diet requires that you stick to certain foods and shun others in order to reduce your carbohydrate intake to just 40 grams a day.

According to Dr Atkins and his followers, by staying below this level, the body enters a stage called ‘ketosis’ where insulin levels are adjusted so as to prevent more fat being stored.

Once you reach this point, Dr Atkins explained, your body will start using fat as fuel, doing away with the need for carbohydrates, meaning you won’t miss them.

Following the Atkins Diet involves sticking to four separate stages:

The Four Phases of the Atkins Diet


1) Induction:

Arguably the most difficult stage of the process, the induction stage also promises to be the most rewarding.

Put simply, the induction stage is geared towards enabling the body to enter a state of ‘ketosis’.

For two weeks, you are required to limit your carbohydrates intake considerably. That is, you need to cut overall consumption to 20 grams a day, with between 12 and 15 grams of this to come from any of the 54 types of vegetable or fruit permitted by the regime.

For the duration of the Induction stage, you will also be required to drink eight glasses of water a day and cut out alcohol completely. Many experts recommend that you take a multivitamin tablet each day while doing this.

If you follow the requirements of this stage to the letter, you should enjoy some rapid weight loss as your body enters ketosis and starts eating up your fat for fuel. At this point, your cravings for carbs should also ease.

2) Ongoing Weight Loss

Once you have completed the first stage, you should go straight into the second stage, namely Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL). Now, you are allowed to increase your daily carbohydrate intake by five grams per week.

However, it is recommended that you do this by focusing on the so-called ‘induction acceptable’ vegetables in the first week, going on to add dairy, nuts and seeds, berries, alcohol, legumes, starchy vegetables and finally whole grains in subsequent weeks.

Note, however, it’s likely you’ll see your weight remaining steady.

This is known as a ‘weight loss plateau’ and it’s recommended that you use this to work out your own personal ‘Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing’, which you can then stick to so as to get back on track.

Unlike phase one, there is no fixed time period for OWL. Instead, you should carry on with this stage until you are within 4.5kg of your target weight and then move onto stage three.

3) Pre-Maintenance

As with OWL, stage three involves stepping up daily carbohydrate intake levels.

It is advised that you step up your intake by ten grams a day until you find the maximum level you can consume each day without putting weight back on.

This is known as the ‘Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance’. Once you have found this level, you are ready to move on to the fourth, and final, stage of the Atkins Diet.

4) Lifetime Maintenance

As its name suggests, the final stage is all about carrying your new-found eating habits forward and, more importantly, keeping the weight off. Here, there are no rules, but the diet does advise steering clear of processed foods and high levels of carbohydrates.

Additionally, if you start putting on weight again, it is recommended that you go back to one of the earlier stages to address this as soon as possible.

Other Reported Benefits

Losing weight in general can help protect you from a range of serious conditions, including cancer and diabetes. This could help you avoid high premiums for health insurance.

Additionally, with its focus on fruit and vegetables, following the Akins Diet can potentially also improve your overall health and wellbeing, boosting your immune system and increase your energy levels.

Alleged Drawbacks

Critics of the Atkins diet point out that any weight lost through following the regime is due mainly to reduced calorie intake rather than cutting back on carbs.

Additionally, the American Heart Association once warned that high-protein, low-carb diets such as the Atkins could increase the risk of heart disease, while concerns have also been raised of a possible link between enhanced protein consumption and kidney disease.

Other potential drawbacks, which even the Dr Atkins himself acknowledged, include bad breath and nausea, particularly in the first couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, Forbes magazine has pointed out that, compared with other diets, following the Atkins is relatively expensive, with the cost of recommended foods adding up to a tidy sum each week, as well as the dubious health benefits.

Further Reading


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