The Atkins Diet

With his book "Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution", Robert Atkins started a weight loss wave that swept across the whole world. His combination of low-carb, high-protein dieting was claimed to work miracles and at one point in 2002/3 over 10% of the adult population of America was said to be following the program.

Atkins based his program on the findings of Dr. Richard D. Feinman published in the 1960s in the Journal of the American Medical Association. These findings are now heavily disputed in some circles. At the same time millions have seen impressive short term weight losses. This inevitably leads the Diet Revolution into controversy.

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How does it work?

"To do the Atkins all you do is increase the amount of protein you eat and decrease the amount of carbohydrate" - it's as simple as that isn't it? Well this is the opinion of the "dieter on the street", but in fact the Atkins Diet goes much deeper than that.

The initial "Diet Revolution" book advocated a 4 stage approach to weight loss, but my impression is that majority of people who claim to be following the diet are in fact stuck in phase 1 and never progress towards the later phases.

Atkins Diet Phase 1: Induction

First of all you must remove almost all carbohydrates from you diet and replace them with liberal combinations of protein (from meat, fish, dairy & vegetable sources) and fat.

Foods you cannot eat in phase 1 include wheat (i.e. bread, pasta and pastry), grains (such as rice and corn), starchy vegetables (potatoes and root veggies) and dairy products (with the exception of aged and hard cheese). The only fruits you can eat in the induction phase are avocados, olives and tomatoes. You cannot eat nuts or seeds for the first two weeks of induction.

Technically speaking the limit to your carbohydrate intake in the first two weeks is 20 grams and this can be very hard to calculate. Basically speaking however, 20 grams of carbohydrate means NOTHING! Salad greens and a tiny amount of water-rich vegetables take care of your 20 grams. Avoid all sweets and desserts in the induction phase.

The idea of the Induction phase of the Atkins Diet is to "shock" your body into fat burning by denying it the easy-to-burn carbohydrates it would ordinarily turn to first for fuel. This appears to be very effective and I often hear of initial weight losses of 5-10lbs in the first week.

If you follow Atkins to the letter, your induction period will be at least 2 weeks and could last as long as 6 months depending on how much weight you have to lose. After 2 weeks, however, you'll probably be sick of such serious dietary restriction and you should enter...

Atkins Diet Phase 2: Ongoing Weight Loss

When you enter phase 2, you'll increase the amount of carbohydrates in your diet until you reach your carb threshold or Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing (or CCLL) as Atkins calls it. You do this by increasing your daily intake of carbs by 5 grams per week until your weight loss slows to a stop. Once you've reached this point, you decrease your carbs by 5 grams and then you will have found your CCLL. According to the New Diet Revolution you will be able to add more vegetables, fresh cheeses, nuts and seeds, berries and low-carb speciality food to your diet at this point.

When you have only 5-10 pounds to lose, you move out of Ongoing Weight Loss and on to...

Atkins Diet Phase 3: Pre-Maintenance

In this phase you increase your daily carb intake up in 10 gram increments each week as long as your weight loss continues. You will naturally experience a slowing of the weight loss here, but as the name of this phase suggests, this is the time when you are getting your body ready for maintenance and you are better off doing this slowly to give your body chance to adjust.

In this phase you will probably be able to re-introduce beans and legumes, fruit other than berries, higher carb vegetables such as squashes, carrots, peas and sweet potatoes and eventually whole grains. It's important to note that if you're following the Atkins Diet to the letter, your carb intake will still be significantly below your where you started and you will still not be able to eat sugary and wheat filled products (such as white bread).

According to Atkins' theories, as you increase the amount of carbs you eat, your CCLL will also slowly increase - in other words your body should become slightly better at dealing with carbohydrate calories. However, eventually you will reach a point where you start to gain weight. This is still part of the program... what you do next is cut back again by 5 to 10 grams of carbs until you reach what is referred to as your Atkins Carbohydrate Equilibrium.

As you can now see, following the Atkins program is not easy by any means, and chances are if you or people you know are following it, they will not have been doing it to this degree of accuracy. This is problematic because your gentle transition from Pre-Maintenance to Life Maintenance is critical, according to Atkins for maintained success.

What the pre-maintenance phase is also designed to show you is how carb-sensitive your body is - different people can tolerate carbohydrates better than others. Some people have extremely low-carb thresholds and will not be able to add many new foods after the Ongoing Weight Loss phase. If this is you, you simply have to stay there - disappointing though it may be, that's where you're meant to stay, according to Atkins.

Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance

Once you have maintained your goal weight for a minimum of one month, you are officially in what Atkins calls "Lifetime Maintenance". Again you can start to consume more cabs than you did in the weight loss phases. If your metabolism can tolerate increased levels of carbs, you can now eat all foods except the permanent no-nos of sugar, white flour and trans fats, which are FOREVER banned.

Why do people fail with Atkins?

In general terms you will fail at the Atkins program for two reasons.

Firstly unless you're particularly diligent, you are unlikely progress through to the remaining three phases after Induction and secondly because the initial weight loss by and large lulls you into a of success. Unfortunately for you if you've experience this initial sudden drop in weight, the majority of the weight you've lost is in water which was previously stored in your muscles and left when the muscles were starved of glycogen (sugars stored for immediate use by the muscles - where much of your carb intake ends up).

If you fail to complete the four phases of the diet and revert to your normal (and let's face it - probably excessive) intake of food, you will regain this water weight quickly and return to where you started.

According to an article in the 2001 scientific journal Obesity Research, you will experience similar fat loss with the Atkins Diet to other diets with similar calorie intake. The initial weight loss advantage evens out over time.

Click here for my take on Atkins
Click here for FAQs and Research into Atkins

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