The Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet, officially the Atkins Nutritional Approach, is a low-carbohydrate diet created by Dr Robert Atkins. Dr Atkins believed that refined carbohydrates (especially sugar, flour and high-fructose corn syrup) are a major and important cause of the current obesity epidemic.

The premise of the Atkins Diet is carbohydrate restriction to force the body to switch from burning glucose to burning stored body fat, resulting in greater and faster weight loss. Eating fewer carbohydrate also causes blood sugar levels to remain more steady all through the day. This means there are fewer highs and lows in blood sugar levels (caused by eating refined carbohydrate), which can cause extreme hunger pangs and thus helps prevent overeating. Expect an initial weight loss of 5 – 10lbs (2.5-5kgs) per week.

How does the Atkins Diet work?

There are four phases to the Atkins diet:

  1. Induction
  2. Ongoing weight loss
  3. Pre-maintenance
  4. Lifetime maintenance.

1. Atkins Diet Induction Phase

The Induction phase is the first, and most restrictive, segment of the Atkins Diet and last approximately two weeks. The premise of the Atkins Diet is that forces the body into a state of ketosis, which causes fast weight loss. You will know you are in ketosis when you have a metallic taste in your mouth and/ or bad breath.

Carbohydrate intake on the Atkins Diet is very low, less than 20 net grams per day (average carbohydrate intake is 250 grams per day). Most of this small intake should be from vegetables (salad greens, broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, cauliflower, turnips, tomatoes). There are 54 allowed vegetables. Legumes (e.g. green beans) are considered too starchy and prohibited during the Induction phase of the Atkins Diet. Therefore, carbohydrate-rich food staples such as bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, milk and fruit, as well as indulgences including chocolate, cookies, cakes, sweet drinks and pastries are off-limits. Alcohol is also off the menu. What is allowed on the Atkins Diet? Almost unlimited amounts of meatspoultry, fowl, fishshellfish and cheese. You almost must drink eight glasses of water per day during the induction phase. Caffeine in moderation is allowed if you do not suffer with cravings or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

The Induction Phase is when most dieters experience significant weight loss. Losses of 5 – 10lbs (2.5-5kgs) per week are not unusual, especially if exercising.

2. Atkins Diet Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL)

During the Ongoing Weight Loss phase of the Atkins Diet you are allowed to increase your carbohydrate intake, but still keeping it at low levels for weight loss. During this phase, you increase your daily carbohydrate intake each week by 5 grams. The aim of the Ongoing Weight Loss phase is find the “Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing Weight”. This Critical Carbohydrate Level is the maximum amount of carbohydrate you can eat per day while still experiencing weight loss of between 1 – 3lb a week. Some people tolerate carbohydrate better than others. Therefore, this level is different for everyone. You continue with the Ongoing Weight Loss phase until you only have 5 – 10lbs left to lose.

3. Atkins Diet Pre-maintenance phase

During the pre-maintenance and third phase of the Atkins Diet you have almost reached your target weight. You increase carbohydrates intake every week by 10 carbs a week. Weight loss slows to about 1lb per week in preparation for weight maintenance. You can eat a few more starchy foods such as bread and pasta, though carbohydrate levels are still way below average levels.

4. Atkins Diet Lifetime maintenance

This last phase is aims to help to maintain your new eating habits and avoid weight regain. This phase allows for a slightly more varied diet, but is still very much restricted. If you begin to gain weight, you have the option to return to an earlier phase.


There is quite a list of side effects that can occur on the Atkins diet. Much of the Atkins Diet relies on your body going into a state of ketosis for fat burning. However, ketosis comes with a few undesirable side-effects, including bad breath, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, insomnia and nausea. Due to lack of fiber rich foods (as fruit, vegetables, beans, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals), constipation may also occur.

It is the potential long-term side effects of the Atkins Diet that concerns most health professionals and has generated the most controversy. The Atkins Diet is high in fat, particularly saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease. The Atkins Diet is also highly restrictive, which means that it may not provide a balanced diet and lead to there are to nutritional deficiencies.

  • Heart disease (high fat intake)
  • Osteoporosis (low calcium levels due to low dairy intake)
  • Cancer, premature aging and cataracts (lack of antioxidants due to low intake of fruit and vegetables)
  • Kidney problems and weak bones (high protein intake)

Verdict on the Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet can be a life-saver, especially for those who have a lot of weight to lose. Although health professionals have not embraced this diet due to the high levels of dietary fat, some studies suggest that it can have positive effects on overweight dieters who are losing weight.

However, those who have a family history or past medical history of cardiovascular disease (including high blood pressure, angina, heart attack, etc.) should probably stay away from the Atkins Diet.

Furthermore, the Atkins Diet tends to have a good record in facilitating weight loss, though it is not necessarily maintaining it. If you choose to follow the Atkins Diet, remember that research shows that those who successfully maintain their weight loss exercise. Therefore, make sure that exercise is part of your plan. Also supplement with essential vitamins and minerals.

For people who have tried almost everything else and have had little success in weight loss, may derive most benefit from the Atkins Diet. People tend to have a low tolerance for carbohydrates may find great success with this diet meal plan. However, it is incredibly restrictive, especially the Induction phase (first phase) and therefore you require a strong dose of will power for success on the Atkins Diet.

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