The Atkins diet has been in the health and weight management community since the early 1970s. Named after Robert Atkins, this diet advocates eating foods very low in carbohydrates. Robert Atkins struggled with his own weight and upon reading a medical paper titled “Weight Reduction” published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1958, he began to follow the tenets put forth in the paper and noticed positive results in his own weight.
His personal success led him to more fully develop the ideas in the medical journal paper; his ideas then became the basis of the Atkins diet. Robert Atkins went on to publish several books on a low-carbohydrate lifestyle.
Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution hit the bookshelves in 1972 and met with great success. He updated his ideas in the 2002 book Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution. Eight years later he published The New Atkins for a New You; this addition in the Atkins diet focused on including nutrient-dense foods.
A companion book, The New Atkins for a New You Cookbook followed in 2011 and offered a multitude of recipes for low-carb meals to help followers of this diet plan shopping and meals more easily
At its core, the Atkins diet coaxes the body’s metabolism to move from finding energy in carbohydrates to finding energy by burning stored fat. This process is called ketosis.
Dr. Atkins advocated that his diet provided the body with a metabolic advantage, but critics have argued against its ultimate effectiveness, claiming that in fact, long-term followers may, in fact, suffer some health issues mainly because the diet restricts both high glycemic carbohydrates such as sugar and white bread and low glycemic carbohydrates such as black rice and vegetables.
Limiting low glycemic foods such as vegetables also limits fiber intake as well, which may lead to constipation with the increased meat consumption this diet requires.
The Atkins Diet consists of four basic phases: the induction, ongoing weight loss, pre-maintenance, and finally, lifetime maintenance. During the induction phase, which typically lasts two weeks, the goal is to limit carbohydrates so severely that the body enters ketosis.
Dieters begin limiting their total carb into to 20 grams or less per day; of these 20 grams, more than half need to come from approved vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, or asparagus. Beans are forbidden during this phase since they contain starches that are easily transformed into carbs. Each meal should also contain about 5 grams of protein from an approved source.
This phase also requires participants to drink at least 8 glasses of water daily while giving up alcohol. During this two week phase, most dieters see a weight loss between 5-10 pounds weekly.
The next phase of the Atkins diet is ongoing weight loss. During this phrase, the total carbohydrate level may minimally increase as long as those carbohydrates come from an approved list. This phase lasts until the dieter is within 10 pounds of his or her desired weight.
Dr. Atkins created a “carb ladder” which instructs dieters in how to add carbohydrates back into their diet while still maintaining weight loss.
The third phase of this diet is called pre-maintenance; when dieters reach this phase, they can include more carbohydrates gradually. The goal during this particular phase is to find a carb level that best works with an individual’s body to maintain a healthy weight.
Followers are advised to continue drinking at least eight glasses of water daily as their bodies begin to leave ketosis. Once dieters reach their ideal weight on the plan and can maintain it for a month following the pre-maintenance regime then they’re ready for the final phase.
During the lifetime maintenance phase, dieters continue to limit and monitor carbohydrates, but to a lesser extent than in the previous three phases. The goal of this phase is to maintain one’s ideal weight.
If a follower begins to gain weight, the Atkins diet recommends dropping back into a previous phase to severely limit carbs, activate ketosis, and follow the plan back through the final phase.
A typical breakfast on the Atkins diet consists of scrambled eggs with bacon or 2 hardboiled eggs with a slice of cheese.
Lunches can include salad greens with 1 cup of turkey or ham and/or hardboiled eggs, a bunless burger with deviled eggs, or tuna salad over salad greens.
Dinners include choices such as baked chicken with broccoli and cheese, salmon with asparagus and a side salad, or steak with green beans and lightly seasoned broccoli.
Snacks on the Atkins diet include some types of cheese, vegetable sticks, protein bars and/or shakes, and the occasional cheesecake for dessert.
Research on this diet is controversial at best. While many dieters initially see a significant weight loss within the first few weeks with the drastic reduction of carbohydrates, an initial study only found that this diet found that dieters only loss up to 2.9% more weight than a control group.
This is an important finding as critics of this diet warn against the health risks of a high protein diet, particularly if the individual is eating high amounts of red meat instead of leaner sources such as fish or legumes on a regular basis; such diets may increase an individual’s risk for heart disease.